Thursday, March 20, 2014

March's Book: A Religion of One's Own by Thomas Moore

Part of coming full circle, moving back to St Paul, is confronting the church question. All the years we lived here and raised our family, we were extremely involved in church life. Bruce and I each served on the church council and on any number of committees. I was actively involved as well in the regional organization of our denomination. We attended church every Sunday unless we were out of town, and the kids went to Sunday School and participated in youth groups. Church was a major part of our life. In fact, for several years, when I worked at Luther Seminary, it was my work life and my volunteer life, as well. 

When we moved to Ohio, we struggled to find a church home, but had a hard time finding the right match. We attended two different Episcopalian churches and developed good friends in those settings and then found a small Lutheran congregation, but we found we were trying too hard to fit in, even though we considered ourselves "genetic Lutherans." 

By the time we moved to Madison, we were "unchurched," and frankly, we were pretty comfortable with that. Going to church when we visited our family in Minnesota always felt good, and of course, holiday time meant church time. Occasionally, we would attend a morning service at a Lutheran church or Holy Wisdom Monastery or the Unitarian Church, but didn't felt compelled to commit. 

Now we have returned home, and I think we both feel more of a pull to find a church home. We are very drawn to the Lutheran church where our daughter and family are members, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. The liberal social justice atmosphere, the superb preaching, good music, diverse activities, and nearby location, as well as the chance to worship as a family, all appeal.  I like the size---not too big and not too small. I am sure we will become members there.

Do you sense any hesitation as I write this? 

The Right Book at the Right Time 
Once again, the right book at the right time appears. A Religion of One's Own, A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World by Thomas Moore. Moore's other books, including Care of the Soul, Soul Mates, and Dark Nights of the Soul, all have a permanent place on my bookshelves, and this one will as well. 

The years of being without a church home coincided with a deep spiritual growth in my life. Yearnings I had been feeling for a long time had room and time to expand and gain audience. It was during the Ohio years that I trained to be a spiritual director and had many opportunities to lead retreats and groups. I actively pursued my interest and use of a wide variety of spiritual practices and traditions. I challenged myself--and continue to do so--to uncover my essence and return to wholeness and connection 
to the Divine. 

Still, however, I felt some measure of guilt when I realized I was one of those people who could be classified as "spiritual, but not religious." What about the role of community in my life?And was I just being lazy? 

Being Religious

Moore, who calls himself a "religious humanist," makes a distinction between religion and formal religion. Formal religion is the institution or organization, and religion is a "creative and concrete response to the mysteries that permeate our lives."

          When you're religious in a deep way, you sense
          the sacred in things--a faint and mysterious
          pulse…Personal religion is both an awareness
          of the sacred and concrete action arising out of
          that awareness.  p. 4

Moore adds that developing a religion of one's own doesn't ignore the gift of the formal religions, but instead looks to them for insight. However, a religion of one's own "takes root and flourishes in an individual life." A life that demands being engaged and becoming a creator and not a follower. 

          When I speak of a religion of one's own,  I'm not
          talking about a selfish, ego-centered, loosely
          patched together spiritual concoction. I'm 
          recommending a courageous, deep-seated, fate-
          driven, informed, and intelligent life that has 
          sublime and transcendent dimension. It can be
          shared in a community. It can be accomplished
          inside or outside a traditional religious organization.
          It is suitable for pious members of a religious group
          and for agnostics and atheists. To be religious even in
          a personal way, you have to wake up and find your
          own portals to wonder and transcendence.  p. 12

Evolution of a Personal Religion
Over the years there have been times when being affiliated with a formal religion has shut me down. I struggled with the sexism and exclusive or at least limited nature of what was offered. Sometimes I could ignore what I heard in favor of standing in prayer with others, but eventually that was not the answer. I needed to seek. 

And oh, how exciting the search is. Writing this blog is part of that search. Participating in The Hedgerow Initiative at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality in which scripture is examined and studied and interpreted in broader, more expansive ways is another avenue. Being faithful in prayer and making room for daily meditation is another. Attempting to live with awareness of the extraordinary in the ordinary and being present to the Presence within myself and others is part of my evolving personal religion. 

Moore explores the paths and possibilities for creating a personal religion, suggesting the following as we are engaged in the process.
           * Redefine traditional terms and ideas.
           * Don't be too literal about community.
           * Feel that you have the right to learn from and practice
              anything from the world's spiritual and religious
           * Understand that many things, if not everything, that 
               are usually considered secular are sacred, if you
               have the eyes to see it.
            * Be a mystic in your own ways.
            * Wisdom, compassion, and method. 
            * Use the arts for your spiritual education and welfare.
            * Be intelligent about everything involved in your
               spirituality, but also use your intuition.
            * Embrace eros; don't be afraid of it. Build your
               religion on joy and bliss. pp. 269-271

The Church Question
So where does that leave me on the church question? Open. I look forward to Sunday mornings in a way I haven't before, for I think I bring more to them than I did in the past. I don't depend on church to define and fulfill my spirituality, my personal religion, but to enhance it. 

I will continue to ask the question and to reflect, for this is part of my spiritual growth in the wisdom years. 

An Invitation
What is your definition of religion? How does your personal religion and formal religion intersect and has that changed over the years? I would love to know.      



  1. You have distilled so much here. Thank you! Mostly, I'm into the "mystery" that you quote about in this post. Not so much the liturgy, the ceremony or the pull of formality, especially not the "help- us-sustain-this religious/spiritual pathway-and-process-for-others" demands that seem so (sweetly) pressing. I can only handle my own humanness right now. I'm nobody's example. Yet, come to think of it, I have a child whom I'm raising to learn about religions--via studying one, Catholicism--so I have to be ready to converse at any moment.

  2. Thanks so much for adding to the conversation. Moore calls himself a "religious humanist," and suggests we create our own "cathedral," and our own "Bible." I love the possibility, but also the accountability in that--of being true to one's own search.


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