What does it mean to be ‘Spiritual’?

Many people identify as spiritual but not religious. In conversation the word, spiritual, has come to mean a sort of vague ‘good’ that isn’t focused on anything and has responsibility to no one. When I ask what that means to them, they typically say, something like, “I believe there is a force greater than us.” Spiritual comes from the word, spirit, which means soul or consciousness. So what are they saying, “I’m conscious”? Or “I have a soul”? I don’t think so. This identity as “spiritual” is typically positioned as opposite to “religious,” and more specifically opposite to “organized religion.” When I ask, why are you opposed to organized religion the answer is something like this, Because organized religions build armies and make war.

Good news, no religion in America is doing that. What do religions organize to do? Here’s a list common to just about every religion:
Feed the hungry
Collect clothes for the poor
March or protest on behalf of the underdogs
Raise money to construct and maintain a place of worship
Set up schools to teach their children
Provide comfort to the grieving
Visit the sick
Provide shopping and transportation for the elderly and disabled
Raise money for overseas projects for those in the third world
Sing and worship together
Dance and eat together

One of the most organized things my congregation ever did was this:
A friend of mine had cancer; she went into a coma in the hospital. Her husband did not want her to be alone in there day after day. He told the rabbi that he wanted people to be with her everyday from morning till night. So we created a schedule. Everyone took an hour or two every month. We sat with Linda from about 9am until 10pm everyday for a year. We read to her, talked to her, sang to her, held her hand. She never opened her eyes but maybe she heard us. Once when I was with her, a nurse asked me, “Who is the woman with the beautiful voice who sings to her?” I said, “You’ll have to describe her; there are three women I know of who have professionally trained voices.” After a year Linda died. But she did not leave her family ‘alone.’ We were there and we are still here with them. Always.

I have a friend who told me last week that his spouse is terminally ill. I expressed my condolences and added, “We’ll all be with you; we know how to do this.” A few days later he texted me, “The rabbi called me. That made me feel really good. I’m in awe of all the support. Gobsmacked.”

I invite you to take a more sophisticated look at “religion” and “organized religion.” Are others taking up all the slack while you’re being “spiritual” all alone? Do you hear the news announcements of Glide Memorial Church feeding thousands of homeless people and think, good idea? When the synagogue organizes a Christmas party for foster youth do you think, I can do that! When you see the Jewish contingent marching in the Gay Pride Parade do you think, I support that! When you see volunteers reading to children in school to help them come up to grade level reading do you know which book you’d like to read?

Go ahead, jump into an organized spiritual community! Help out. It may be only one hour a month but it may get someone through a rough time. And then again, they may get YOU through a difficult time someday.

Want to be truly “spiritual”? Get going and DO for others who have less than you. Every religion, every philosophy, puts that first.