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By David Poultney in All Sorts

connections between religious rituals and spirituality

It is my sense that even in Churches we are a little self conscious and wary about talking about spirituality, either giving account of ours or enquiring after someone else’s. Particularly in more liberal congregations spirituality is often a private affair, something we should perhaps be self conscious of and guarded about. But if we do not talk about it how can we understand what it is for, how can we nurture it?
We are probably becoming used to the tag “spiritual but not religious.” Behind it is the idea that we might not be religious but we can be spiritual people, indeed sometimes it comes with the charge that religion can wound and inhibit spirituality; something I would not deny. I once heard an interesting take on this by a Jewish speaker from the Reconstructionist branch of Judaism. Jewish Reconstructionism tends to dwell on the theological cutting edge, its practitioners generally reject any God “out there” and see Judaism as both the creation of and part of the evolving experience of the Jewish people. However religious practice is cultivated whereas Christians who come to similar understandings often reject a continuing practice of religion. Reconstructionists hold that observing the rituals, keeping the fasts and feasts and marking the life cycle in traditional Jewish ways helps transmit values, identity and culture.
There are obvious differences between Jews, who in all their diversity are less than twenty million people and who share a sense of peoplehood, and Christians who number over two billion and cover an enormous diversity of cultures and ethnicities. However could it be that the rituals of Christianity convey and contain something that is of value even when the faith has ebbed away? It is interesting how when churches decide to close often the greatest resistance is from members of the local community who might have never darkened the door of the local church. We saw this very much in the insistence that the Anglican Cathedral in Christchurch be rebuilt as it had been. Likewise many of those who are most passionately fond of The Book of Common Prayer, The King James Bible and even the Latin Mass are not “religious.”
Perhaps Methodism doesn’t have such taonga – well maybe the hymns of Charles Wesley – but I think there is a challenge there for those of us who prepare liturgy to craft words, practices, rituals which nurture something deep within us. Something that remains even if the tenets of religious faith are loosened and affiliation to a religious body ends. Something which perhaps sparks imagination enough to keep people involved with the faith community.
Spirituality belongs to all of us, whether or not we are religious. Clearly for many people their practice of a religion nurtures their spirituality, for others the experience has proved stifling.
Spirituality is there in our longing for a sense of connection, in our understanding our place in an unfolding narrative, be that our place in the unfolding of our family from one generation to the next or indeed in the unfolding of life itself. Spirituality is there in our search for an integrated self, for peace of mind and ethical integrity. May our Sunday words and rituals, our hymns, our poetry and our open exploration nurture our spirits; wherever the spiritual journey takes us.
David Poultney