“Religion is for people who are scared to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.” ~ Bonnie Raitt
If I were to classify myself as spiritual or religious, I definitely fall on the side of spiritual. I’m quite fond of Raitt’s quote and it rings true for me, but I know plenty of religious people that have been through hell, and used their faith to help get them through.
Kindness is my religion.
So, what is the difference between spirituality and religion? I battled finding the right words to delineate the difference, and found a very concise explanation online: “Religion is often about loyalty to institutions, clergy, and rules. Spirituality is about loyalty to justice and compassion. Religion talks about God. Spirituality helps to make us godly. The two need not be at odds. Religion at its best is spirituality in community.” Shapiro, Rabbi Rami. (May-June 2012) What is the Difference Between Religion and Spirituality? Retrieved from http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/what-difference-between-religion-and-spirituality
People’s beliefs have always intrigued me. I am not one for debate so much as getting inside another’s head. I have friends that are atheist, agnostic, Catholic, Muslim, protestant and Buddhist. Some don’t like to categorize themselves at all. I can call all of these nonbelievers or believers friends because we have come to an understanding.
When I was a newbie teacher, I was able to put up a small Christmas tree in my classroom (all of my students were Christian or at least celebrated Christmas). When I moved onto a more diverse district, I didn’t want to leave anyone out. So, along with a Christmas tree, our classroom was decorated with a Menorah, a kinara and Diwali oil lamps; we also had a mini post-Ramadan feast. The students and I learned a lot about other cultures and holidays and the non-Christian students were proud to show us their traditions. I was annoyed the next year when my principal told me I couldn’t teach that unit again. But, I understood and respect the separation of church and state. As of December 2012, 77% of Americans identify themselves as Christian. Although some may argue that because Christians are the majority in this country, we shouldn’t have to be so “politically correct” in the classroom. But, why should non-Christians have to conform to the majority’s religion?
As a spiritual person, I believe that I could walk into most any church and find some sort of common ground (unless it’s the Westboro Baptist Church. I’d like to stay as far away as possible from those psychos). I have taught Sunday School and I believe in Jesus’ teachings. However, I don’t agree with everything written in the bible. While recently in the hospital, a pastor stopped by, held my hand and said a prayer for me. This felt intimate and comforting – even just for someone to hold my hand. It’s funny, but while in the hospital you kind of lose all dignity as you are poked, prodded and examined, but no one holds your hand. Just that act made me feel human again and not some pin cushion.
I believe in kindness and miracles and love and helping others and rooting for the underdog. I believe we have souls and that beauty is a gift to be noticed. I pray, and sometimes I wonder if anyone is listening. Is it God, the angels, the universe, my grandmother? It brings comfort and hope, even though some cynics would call it a crutch. I also believe in hard-work – prayers (answered or not) may give you a spark, but you need to keep the embers glowing and light the fire yourself. I think we are a network of people and the more generosity of spirit we exhibit the better off our world will be. I believe we need to love ourselves in order to love anyone else and that random acts of kindness make this world more beautiful. I believe in living with love in my heart and I do my best not to take a bad mood out on someone else.
Sure, I have my moments of misanthropy when horrible acts are carried out to hurt other humans. It’s easy to lose faith in humanity. But because I love my friends and family, I want to make this world a better place, and I figure I need to start with me. If I’m a mean crabby patty, then how can I expect others to show kindness?
I’ve recently started meditating. While this is not always a spiritual practice, for me I feel connected to something warm and beautiful. Recently someone made me mala beads, which are like rosary beads for Buddhists. The beads have helped my practice of meditation. I focus on a mantra or positive thought for each bead until I’ve gone around the entire string. A mantra is like a little prayer. I pray for my son, myself, my friends. I often wonder if the people I’m thinking about feel the kindness and warm energy at night while I’m meditating. My mala beads are gorgeous, and were made out of stones that I requested for their certain healing benefits.
My mala beads made of Amazonite, Red Calcite, Amethyst and Howlite stones, strung together with silk. Made with care at http://www.malamemala.com
I’ll leave you with some quotes from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. In the story Hazel, a teenager who is battling cancer, is an atheist. Her father explains to her how he feels about spirituality:
“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it – or my observation of it – is temporary?”
At the end of the book, Hazel contemplates what her father had told her:
“I was thinking about the universe wanting to be noticed, and how I had to notice it as best I could. I felt that I owed a debt to the universe that only my attention could repay, and also that I owed a debt to everybody who didn’t get to be a person anymore and everyone who hadn’t gotten to be a person yet.”
Do I think I alone can make a difference? Yes. Do I think if kindness is spread by more people our world will be better off? Definitely. Do I think there are positive forces out there? Certainly, because without them I wouldn’t have the love of my friends and family, my son, the kindness of strangers, prayers from a pastor or the beauty of the stars, always twinkling above us, awaiting to be noticed.