What is spirituality for me? I always thought that spiritual life was connected with the church, essentially with religious education, beliefs, and practices. Now I understand that I have been using the words "religion" and "spirituality" interchangeably when they are actually separate concepts.
By virtue of the connections I have made within my intentional community this year, I have learned that spirituality is a universal experience but unique to each person. While spirituality can incorporate elements of religion, I have come to recognize that spirituality is a much broader concept. Indeed, some may find that their spiritual life is intimately tied to their association with a church, temple, mosque, or synagogue. Others may pray or find comfort in a personal relationship with God or a higher power. Others seek meaning through their connections to nature or art. Like your sense of purpose, your personal definition of spirituality may change throughout your life, adapting to your own experiences and relationships. In spirituality, one may ponder, “Where do I find meaning in life?” Meanwhile, in religion, common questions might be “What is the truth?” and “What is right and wrong?” Religion and spirituality are not the same nor are they completely separate from each other. And where the two overlap is each person's individual experiences that impact how they think, feel and act.
While one may identify as a combination of religious and spiritual, being religious does not automatically make one spiritual or vice versa. When I was young, religion wasn't something I particularly liked, it was just something I did with my family and therefore it was part of who I was. For me, growing up Catholic meant family, stories passed down from my grandparents, catechism classes, praying every night before bed, and guardian angel pins. Although I didn't think much about spirituality back then, I always found peace and comfort in family traditions, like when the family went to church every Sunday. As I grew older, this comfort faded as I realized how easily these rules and rituals can become corrupt, divisive, and a tool for power struggles. As much as my questioning and drifting have made me feel on the fringe of the institutional Church, they have undeniably brought me closer to God.
The state of my religiosity is complicated, to say the least, but whose is not? Looking back, I can see how religiosity could have been prioritized over spirituality in my upbringing. However, and in light of my personal experience this year, I have discovered that spirituality in my vocabulary means making sense of lived experiences with the support of faith.
I believe in God. Not because my parents tell me to. Not because my church asks me to. Rather, because I have experienced the presence and work of God in my life, and how wonderful God is.
To tell the truth, my religious and spiritual path is a constant conversation with myself full of questions. However, one thing that I took away from our retreat and the particular spiritual guidance I received is that I need spiritual guides and mentors to help me become who God created me to be. While I have doubts, I need to be able to express them out loud without judgment and I need to authentically exist in the midst of belief and be supported while doing so. Much of life is spent in a state of ambiguity, and the response to ambiguity is not necessarily to find certainty but to find unconditional love and support.
In my year of service with Good Shepherd Volunteers, we have been encouraged to do exactly this, “just love”.
María José (MJ) Míranda
Washington Heights Community '21-'22