Thursday, November 21, 2013

November's Book: Speaking of Faith, Why Religion Matters--and How To Talk About It by Krista Tippett

One of my spiritual practices is reading, using a meditative, devotional, or thought-provoking book as a guide for exploration and reflection. One Thursday a month I will share reflections with you from my current reading. 

One of the best aspects of driving frequently between Madison and St Paul is listening to good radio. I am one of the millions of National Public Radio junkies and am grateful for my subscription to Sirius radio in my car, for even when I am in the "dead zone" around Tomah, WI, I can still listen to public radio! One of my favorite programs is On Being hosted by Krista Tippett. Originally, the program, which offers spacious conversation about religion, meaning, ethics and ideas, the big questions at the center of human life, was called Speaking of Faith. That is also the title of Tippett's first book,  Speaking of Faith, Why Religion Matters and How to Talk About It.

Tippett is a journalist and former diplomat in West Germany and received the M.Div degree from Yale. A project with the Benedictines at St John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN, led her to imagine the kind of radio program that became a reality in Speaking the Faith. The book is a chance for Tippett to extend the radio conversations during which she primarily is the listener. "With the book, I show my hand...The conversations I have with my guests are powerfully revealing, and I felt that I had a kind of obligation to do this--to trace the line I ask my guests to trace between religious ideas and real life." (p. 4 of the Reader's  Guide.)

Religion and Spirituality 
One of the topics the book explores is the difference between religion and spirituality. For many people there is no difference, but Tippett describes religion as the "containers of faith" and spirituality as "faith's original impulse and essence." (pp. 173-174) She remarks, however, that she prefers not to be too rigid in that distinction. 
      Religious traditions are bearers of manifold beauty and
      a weight of human reverence across time. They sustain 
     disciplines and rituals human beings crave as much as 
     they crave raw encounters with the divine. From our first 
     breath, we need structure and routine as deeply as we 
     delight in mystery. In some mysterious way, 'containing' 
     religion helps to unlock the sacred within us. It enables 
     us to participate in the human encounter with the divine 
     even when our own spirits are dry even in those times, 
     we can say the words and sing the songs and find courage 
     in them, borne along by the hope and trust and company 
     of others. p. 174

Metaphors for Religion and Spirituality
I like the idea of religion as a container, for it makes me aware of how not only what fills the container can change, but also the container itself can change. Sometimes the container is not big enough and what is in the container overflows and, in fact, cannot be contained. Sometimes what is in the container is shallow and is barely noticed, but the container can protect what remains. 

Over the years of my spiritual journey my container has changed and continues to change. In fact, the container is not as important to me right now as it has been in the past. That is not to say that in the future the container, its shape and size, may not resume more importance or priority in my life. I suspect it will. 

When I have given workshops on spiritual practices or led spiritual direction groups, I offer another metaphor for the difference between religion and spirituality. Think of religion as marriage and spirituality as love. It is possible for one to be in a marriage without love and and also for there to be love without marriage. For many people it is important to have both. 

Tippett offers Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso's illustration of the difference between religion and spirituality. Sasso says Moses had a direct encounter with God on Mount Sinai and that was a spiritual experience, but the Ten Commandments he received through that experience are religion.  

One Definition of Spirituality
I think the essence of spirituality is the way I experience the connection to the sacred aspect of life, the spirit of life. That connection takes a variety of forms:
* The connection to our own inner, creative core,
* The connection to other people,
* The connection to nature,
* The connection to a greater power, the Divine, God,
* Or any combination of the above. 

How do you define spirituality?

Ongoing Conversations
 Thanks to Tippett's "conversation partners" on the radio program, as well as those from the past she has read and studied, she has learned that "everyone has relevant observations to make about the nature of God and ultimate things--that the raw material of our lives is stuff of which we construct our sensibility of meaning and purpose in this life, of how the divine intersects or interacts with our lives, of what it means to be human...I believe that we have too often diminished and narrowed the parameters of this quest We've made it heady or emotional and neglected to take seriously the flawed, mundane physicality, the mess as well as the mystery, of the raw materials with which we are dealing." p.127

Sometimes when I am asked what I do, and I say I am a spiritual director, I may hear the response, "Well, I am spiritual, but I'm not religious." I have yet to hear "I am religious, but not spiritual," but does that mean one is naturally spiritual if one is religious? 

While reading Speaking the Faith that question became a conversation not only with Tippett, but also about or with many of my spiritual heroes, such as Thomas Merton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karen Armstrong, Elie Weisel, Joan Chittister, Parker Palmer, Roberta Bondi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rachel Naomi Remen, who figure in Tippett's own spiritual journey.  And in these conversations come ongoing opportunities to explore my beliefs about religion and spirituality and their roles in my life. 

An Invitation
What do you think about the difference between religion and spirituality? Do you think there is a difference? How has the dynamic between religion and spirituality been alive in your life? 

I look forward to your comments. 

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