Am I Spiritual or Religious?

ju-on-90376 cropI’m telling my “story” tonight at a women’s meeting. My friend asked me to do it last weekend and I immediately said, “Sure.” I have no idea what my “story” is but I’m sure I can think of something!

It seems I have lots of little stories – like chapters, maybe. I can break my life down by ages, places I’ve lived, academic/career stages, relationships with men, being a mother. One thing is for certain, God has always been there. From my earliest memories I’ve always had a sense of the divine. I knew He was there. I loved Him, and He loved me.

Sometimes that was the whole extent of it. I knew He was there. I loved Him. He loved me. Like the sense of touch or smell. One of the ways I experience my world is through the lens of my “sense of God.” I don’t call it a “sixth-sense” because that phrase makes me think of a fortune teller. I don’t really call it anything. I experience it and know it’s there. It’s always been there.

Our senses Mr Webster tells us are, “the faculties of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, by which humans and animals perceive stimuli originating from outside or inside the body.”

So, maybe perceiving the spiritual, the divine – which certainly can be a “stimuli originating from outside and inside my body – has been a big, consistent, unquestioned, ever-present thing for me. Just like touch or sight or smell..

As I’ve been journaling about what to say in my “story,” (I have no idea why I keep putting that in quotations?) I wrote a lot about knowing God, never leaving Him or abandoning my faith and spirituality. Many in AA have do experience leaving their faiths behind. Some joyfully find it again once sober, having that “spiritual experience” the AA Big Book tells us about.

When I got to the part in my story where I stopped going to meetings and participating in AA, I thought about my reasons why. I was sober almost two years, when I decided I wouldn’t go anymore. It had been building in me over a few months but I kept trying to overcome this because I’d heard the stories of alcoholics who had been sober for years stopped going to meetings and eventually relapsed. But, nonetheless I stopped going to meetings completely.

I had absolutely no intention to relapse. I loved sobriety. However, 18 months later I did. One glass of wine in a romantic bed and breakfast overlooking a lake in North Georgia in October…. leaves changing, time away from the children with my husband, feeling good and serene. Then, “Man that glass of wine looks good. I’ll have just one,” I told myself. Within three weeks, I was having the whole bottle of wine.

This first long-term AA experience did not include fellowship, which I understood to be a very important component of recovery. Fellowship with other alcoholics. I heard other women experiencing this “fellowship,” and they all seemed to LOVE EACH OTHER. I really liked all of them and was happy for them they found new friends in AA. I was happy “ for them” they had lots of new friends. But I didn’t need any more friends.

What was going through my mind at the time? I don’t know. Perhaps it was a confluence of factors: my temperament, my life experiences, my lack of trust of others, my introvertness. All I knew is AA was helping me and I loved it; but I already had many friends and five sisters who are my best friends. I went to a meeting each day but left immediately after in a hurry afraid someone might ask me to have lunch or something.

So, why did I leave AA back then and go it alone? Well, I had been sober almost two years, had no desire to drink and everything was fine. We started to have financial problems at home, so dealing with all that took me away from things, as did getting a new job which seemed to take up all my free time. Since I had no fellowship with other alcoholics, there was no one to stop me from rationalizing and justifying my decision to myself and those around me.

But what is the REAL reason I left? It was a self-righteous internal defense of my Catholic faith.

I started hearing – day after day, meeting after meeting a lot of “Catholic-bashing.” Maybe it was always there and I never paid any attention to it; but back then it seemed so prevalent in my AA meetings. Sober, I was drawn to learn more about my Catholic faith and why we do and believe the things we do. It became a very real part of me, of who I am; so when my AA “friends” in meetings spoke negatively about it, I took that as a personal affront. Like talking bad about my family. You just don’t do that around me!

Maybe I was looking for a reason to leave? So, that became my reason and I sat waiting for it in each meeting. Things people say in meetings (still):

  • I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so I had a twisted understanding of God.
  • I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so my concept of God was a “punishing” God. If I did something wrong, I was told I was going to hell.
  • I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so all I had to do was confess my sins to a priest, say one Hail Mary and go right back out there and do it again without guilt.
  • I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so I have so much shame and guilt to overcome.
  • I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans) so I had no personal relationship with God. We went to Mass every Sunday and that was it. I never knew God until AA.
  • I grew up Catholic (wink, wink, nods, everybody groans); but it wasn’t for me. Now I’m spiritual but not religious.

All these statements may be true for the individual expressing them in a meeting; but at that time in my life I took each of these very, very personally. Too personally, actually. That was my problem. Resentment built, which I’m told in meetings is the #1 offender and leads us back to drinking as our solution. And I just didn’t like anybody there anymore. Catholic bashing was not discouraged. It seemed to be a group-think mentality to me. Of course everybody hates the Catholic Church!

While sensitivities were increasing and evolving with all other religions, it seems it was/is still quite politically correct to bash our Faith. So, whatever. Today, none of this bothers me (unless I’m PMS’ing) – it seems easy for me to separate my experience from anyone else’s. I simply see it as that person has their own journey and they have the right to be wrong. lol. This is where she is in her life; and God is leading her down her path to Him.

But I do make it clear to my “friends” that I am Catholic and I love it. So, I think that causes them to think twice before expressing negative opinions about it. At the very least, they know they’re not going to get a wink, wink, nod, groan from me.

I think the theme in meetings, “I’m spiritual but not religious” is what irked me the most back then. It usually was expressed in a way that religion is “bad.” And spiritual is “good.” Some didn’t mean this in any spiteful way about religion – just expressing their understanding of things. And that’s cool.

But some did. In tone and undertone and the rest of their sentences in their shares, they meant it as as they’re right, enlightened, smarter, too smart to be brainwashed and tricked by man-made rules in religion.

So, that was my big thing. And I left AA just like that, relapsing about 18 months later. Over the next seven years, I went back out there and earned my “alcoholism” degree. If AA required us to bring a resume to our first meeting to prove that we belong there, I’d be immediately hired.

So many consequences: 2 more DUIs, 2 rehabs, bankruptcy, divorce. And even though the divorce saved my life and enabled me to finally get sober for good, I definitely realize our drinking was the main factor of our downfall if only making it impossible to have a true relationship. My confessor once told me, “An alcoholic married to their drinking buddy is a death sentence.” That was almost true for me.

So back to that whole “spiritual but not religious” thing… not wanting to make the same mistake again and stop going to meetings over something like this… I explored this topic. I believe spiritual and religious go together, can’t be separated – I’m not one or the other. I’m both. It’s a very modern day thing to separate the two. Today, (maybe the last 50 years?) the term “spirituality” has come to mean a person who doesn’t go to church or adhere to organized faith practices, but lives according to an individualized moral code. And, today “religious” has come to mean being overly concerned with rules and regulations, narrow-minded, judgmental. One sounds “good.” The other sounds “bad.”

I’m reading lots of interesting things about this — it turns out what I have always intuitively known (spiritual and religious go together) — has a big tradition in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Faith is the totality of our belief system, the common gathering point, the religion, agreement on a set of principals and truths we all share as humans. God wants us to connect with each other in communion.

Yet, Catholic SPIRITUALITY is the way we live out that Faith personally, at home, in our families and in our individual lives. It’s how I best experience God in my life. It’s how I live this big Catholic faith, PERSONALLY. Everybody is different. My way to God is definitely Catholic; but it’s a different path than another Catholic might have.

Understanding we are One Body with many parts; and based on our individual temperaments and life experiences each of us is drawn to one or more of these ways of spirituality over another. Modern (ie. arrogant) thought tells me since I am an “individual,” unique as a snowflake, I will find “my own way” of spirituality. This all sounds good unless and until our “way of spirituality” leads us to following Oprah. LOL. Modern day spiritual gurus don’t have the fullness of the Catholic faith as their foundation. They have themselves as their foundation. They may have good intentions but inevitably lead us down the wrong road.

The truth is I am just not that unique. My “personal” way of spirituality has been practiced for many hundreds of years, and so has yours. It’s actually not anything unique to me and me alone. Like-minded Catholics for 2,000 years have explored these various spiritualities, lived them, written about them, studied them, expanded them… My way is already out there somewhere. No need to reinvent the wheel!

Here are some forms of Catholic spirituality. Pick one!

Benedictine spirituality
Dominican spirituality
Franciscan spirituality
Ignition (Jesuit) spirituality
Opus Dei spirituality
Carmelite spirituality
Missionaries of Charity spirituality
Trappists spirituality
Augustinian spirituality
…and more and more paths of spirituality —- all different personal paths to the same end: union with God and salvation of our souls with the Catholic Church at their foundations. I lean most toward the Dominican way of spirituality, with a mix of Franciscan and Augustinian.

Ok, I am writing WAY too much. I should edit but I don’t have time. Oh well. I’ll write another post some day soon describing these different spirituality paths. Sorry for any typos. Bye.

27 thoughts on “Am I Spiritual or Religious?

  1. The term religious is a red herring . Means nothing to me today.I went to Catholic grammar , school . high school and college but never go to Mass today and my relationship with God has never been better.I said way too many prayers earlier in my life and never pray today. I talk wih God, Ask for his help to accept whatever may happen , It seems to work.

    • cool. i usually hear the stuff i talk about in my post from catholics just a little bit older than me. i feel like it’s a generational thing like whoever was instructing the baby boomers on the faith had no idea what they were doing and did know know the catholic faith themselves. i have no idea how old you are it just sounds like the sentiments of catholics of a certain generation. i blame those nuns and priests who were charged with passing on our beautiful faith to these children. they did a horrible job.

    • In other words, you stopped saying prayers and started praying. There’s a world of difference. As a practicing (I’ll get it right eventually, probably when I get to Heaven) Catholic, I had to stop saying prayers and start praying. 12 Step programs taught me that about Catholicism. I know you said that you stopped praying and just talk to God. Talking to God (and listening to Him) is praying. That’s where I’m coming from when I say that you stopped saying prayers and started praying. Forgive me if I seem pedantic, but, it’s what I learned about prayer.

      • aw thank you for your comment! i’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond i’ve been so slack with my blog! sloth is my biggest seven deadly and confession subject matter!
        yes! praying vs saying my prayers. i agree. however (“but” … ha ha) but i do both now. more like all of the above. sometimes i just “say” my prayers. I think God likes that too ❤️ – even tho He knows I don’t always “feel” like praying or talking, I still do it which I hope pleases Him. Maybe like cooking dinner for my boys even when i don’t feel like it. maybe sorta?
        and heck yeah i use the term “practicing” catholic loosely too! i’m “practicing” because i’m not very goood at it and need the practice!
        oh and also sometimes i “say” my prayers rather than “pray” them because my brain needs it – i say Hail Marys over and over like the Rosary but I also do this with the Memorare and Come Holy Spirit..” I’m such a selfish dork tho i change the words in Come Holt Spirit to “enkindle in ME” rather than “enkindle in the hearts of your faithful” — makes it more personal for me and i like that better

  2. Part of a talk I was supposed to give this Friday, before I was superseded by someone else (no resentment here!)

    My Religious Faith and The 12 Steps
    Let me start with a simple prayer, that you take the words I am about say into your heart, if there is a place for them there great! If not, then discard what doesn’t belong. Don’t become upset or offended a, but just take what you need and leave the rest.. In His name – Amen

    I say that because words are powerful. I was lied to in school, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I think I would have rather been hit with a stick, those wounds can heal. Words and the feelings and emotions they triggered, have become a part of me and are forever. Words can trigger thoughts in our heads and those thoughts are critical to our wellbeing. I’ve said many times “I’m not wired right, which means I don’t think right.” I don’t think I ever will.
    The steps do not require any religious knowledge or training on the part of the individual, neither do they require that person to belong to any church. If we told any newcomers that you must join this_ fill in the blank _______ church, they would leave immediately.
    The question I struggle with, does it require you to have a God of some kind? So many people are growing up now with no Religion in their life at all, and fewer and fewer opportunities to get to know who are what God is. My observation is it is hard to be spiritual, if you don’t know what a spirit is. It can be confusing at times too, to know where this spiritual programs begins and where my religious program begins. I need to make this clear, they are separate, for without the spiritual program of the 12 Steps, you have a significantly reduced chance at improving your religious program, if for no other reason that it takes time to do what we do when we are chasing our addiction(s).
    I suffer from depression from time to time, but a priest asketd me what part of you is depressed?
    He said you can suffer from Mental Physical and Spiritual/ some or all. He calls it desolation or a dryness of the heart. Conversely you can be in a good place which is called Consolation – we sometimes refer to this in the program as in the pink Cloud.
    10 commandments, the 7 deadly sins. This isn’t a theology talk, but I think it is safe to say that you need to know what your weaknesses or temptations are. The 7 deadly sins identifies those weaknesses in me. Do not be alarmed if you see a number of this traits in yourself. I think I am vulnerable to everything on the list, some worse than others. I think of the 10 commandments as sort an inventory, I’ve done this or that, but the 7 deadly sins, are what my weaknesses are.
    Remember I said and say I am addicted to everything! Unfortunately, that isn’t just a catchy phrase. Give me a cup of coffee I have to have 3. Cookies, tools, a clean yard, (yes I will do the neighbors if necessary) and the list goes on.
    So if the 12-Steps isn’t a religion, what the heck is it? Sure is a lot of God in the Steps. I counted the word “God” in 4 of the 12 Steps. 3,5,6&11.
    In another Program, they talk about “The Beatitudes” which there are 8 of them. One I think that is directly part of the 12-Step program is: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” For it is this we get the works, which I think is closely aligned to our Step work.
    1 Feed the Hungry – a hungry man can’t be taught for the pain is too great.
    2 Give drink to the thirsty – we die without water
    3 Clothe the naked – Shame embarrassment, physical cold/hot.
    4 Shelter the homeless
    5 Comfort the imprisoned
    6 Visit the sick
    7 Bury the dead
    Spiritual Works
    1 Admonish sinners (forgiveness)
    2 Instruct the uninformed (sponsorship)
    3 Counsel the doubtful (Meetings, fellowship, Sponsorship)
    4 Comfort the sorrowful (Phone calls)
    5 Be patient with those in error (patience which builds gratitude)
    6 Forgive offenses (again forgiveness which builds character instead of being a character!)
    7 Pray for the living and the dead – pray for those both inside and outside of these walls and those that have gone before us.

    Without going into more detail here, you can see that in being a good sponsor and a good sponsee that there might be a connection to living the part of the beatitudes with the 12 Step work.
    Anesthesia is a kind of medicine that masks pain, but it’s not the kind of medicine that heals the underlying sickness. Isn’t that what being an Addict is all about?

    • oh and yeah aa and the steps are in some ways it’s own “religion.” i think my aa friends would freak out to hear me say this lol. but in just being intellectually honest i looked up the definition of religion:

      There is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.[1][2] It may be defined as a cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, world views, texts, sanctified places, ethics, or organizations, that relate humanity to the supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual.

      it doesn’t worry me because aa makes it possible to live my religion and imposes no specific belief system so we are free to believe what we want. so that’s cool.

  3. The thing I love most about your blog is that it is YOUR blog, YOUR story. You’re not trying to change anybody’s opinion. You recognize that people have that own beliefs. I love this. You inspire me. Thank you! Happy New Year!

  4. Nimber9, What a beautiful awakening. I am now 13 years sober, but stopped practicing Catholicism about 4 years into recovery. That’s my journey, my discovery, my awakening. It is unique and personal to me. It is not contingent on another understanding. I see the depth of your truth here. It is yours and you have embraced it.
    I love the tenet “practice these principles in all our affairs” but what are “these” principles? I find the principles to be Universal in nature: Acceptance, Trust, Surrender, Honesty, Humility, Forgiveness, Accountability, Mindfulness, and Gratitude—to name a few.
    Of all that I do and do not know I have come to love everyone’s path. I still pray to the Blessed Mother daily and ask that she guide me. Because for me, it all fits together perfectly. And that is something I never understood. I was confusing “words” with “Truth” … today I can simply Love.

    • excellent! MTE. we were just talking in the meeting this morning how fr dowling went to bill w because he thought the steps were taken from the spiritual exercises of st ignatius but they weren’t! they’re universal spiritual principals practiced by most religions.

  5. Thank you SO much for sharing this. This same kind of Catholic bashing is why I stopped going to Al-anon. I do miss many aspects of the fellowship/program, and often think that my life would be better if I went back. Please pray for me on this, thank you!

    • i think it’s a common experience for practicing catholics in aa. i guess it’s just one of those things we have to deal with knowing it’s truly just a small percentage of aa people that do it. and i bet it comes more from their own insecurity about leaving their childhood Faith. something they will have to work through. i know i would be drunk (which means dead) if not for AA. i really really have embraced it – i’m a little scattered with the steps sort of doing them all the time and through my faith. i’ve gotten stronger in my conviction about what works for me in AA but i make sure i always only speak for ME. i never use words like “you” or “everyone” when i share. it’s all “what i do, what works for me, etc.” the part you liked about AA is all still there. we all “get it.”

    • took me a while to overcome this but i’m glad i did because i really need aa for long term sobriety. once i came to understand the problem was with ME not them – what can i change in ME to help this situation and stop letting their opinions affect my serenity… then I was able to be more compassionate to their perspective.

  6. “In tone and undertone and the rest of their sentences in their shares, they meant it as as they’re right, enlightened, smarter, too smart to be brainwashed and tricked by man-made rules in religion.”

    This quote from your blog sums up what I’ve heard from a bunch of “spiritual but not religious people”. It appears to me that a lot of that is really, “I’m spiritual but not a member of an organized religion.” That’s really very different. But, given I’m an addict, I have to always look at the question of surrender and humility. Would my disavowing myself from my traditional religious upbringing (Catholic!) be about some toxicity in the Church, or about my wanting to do my thing my way and having no one tell me what is right and wrong, good and bad, that there is such a thing as sin, that I need to pray and follow a discipline. “We (addicts) are undisciplined,” the Big Book says. I could be wrong, and I don’t spend a lot of time wondering about particular people because I have enough to inventory when I take stock of my own life. Still, I have suspected that this “spiritual but not religious” has a lot to do with not wanting to submit and bumble myself.

    Pondering a little more philosophically, I came to a conclusion that St. Archbishop Fulton Sheen might be proud of – “Spirituality and religion are inseparable, like a soul and a body are inseparable. Spirituality without religion is a ghost; invisible, powerless to affect the world. Religion without spirituality is dead, a rotting, fetid corpse in the streets.” My definition of religion? “The outward expression of the inward state of my spiritual life. My spirituality becomes a religion when it gets expressed in my beliefs, conduct, and worship. If it happens to be Catholic beliefs, Catholic conduct, and Catholic worship, well, get me to a Baptistry. Oh, wait, too late! LOL

  7. I grew up Catholic and was one of those Catholic bashing people in early sobriety – a “recovering Catholic.” The longer I’m sober, the more I realize that AA and Catholicism have much in common (4th and 5th steps equate to confession and a promise to sin no more). Maybe it’s that generational thing, but I didn’t hear the message of Catholicism. It wasn’t real and practical for me. AA provided the practicality – my first sponsor would tell me, “You can’t say those things to people. Its rude at best.” So, I learned how to behave in AA which led to an ability to genuinely care about others and myself. From there, my spirituality grew. I no longer bash Catholicism. Maybe I had some of those horrible teachers or maybe I was deaf.

    • i love this comment! i can tell you’re in recovery ha ha! you’re so reasonable!
      i really am lucky/blessed my catholic experience growing up was very loving unconditional happy positive forgiving (soooo forgiving – divinely forgiving!) . like you i grew spiritually too and i stopped taking it personally when someone “bashed” the Faith. I think maybe my choice of the word “bashed” was a little hyperbole to make my point. most people just sort of mention it and move on – i dont see it as “bashing” so much anymore but rather as that individual sharing their individual experience which is as true for them as my experience is for me 🙂

  8. Just found your blog and read about spirituality vs religion and totally related. I’ve been sober in A.A. 33 years and I have come to realize I don’t need to defend myself. My truth is my truth. your experience is your experience and can not offend me and my experience is my own and shouldn’t offend anyone else If we adhere to being open minded. I can disagree with your idealology and still learn from you if you are an atheist Buddhist or born again . A.A. is made up of people who would not normally mix and that Is what makes it such a rich experience .
    I’ll be reading your blog in the future thanks

    • wow! 33 years yay you! love what you said about someone else’s experience can’t offend or frighten me and vice versa — we sit in enough meetings we realize how we are all so alike on the inside!

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