When Jesus was speaking to the woman at the well, she said to him, "I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem." This woman was focused on religious tradition and practice. Jesus answered her, "…The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him." (John 4: 19-20, 23-24 NRSV)
Jesus' response is astonishing because he, a religious Jewish man, seems to put the emphasis on what is spiritual rather than what is religious. He indicates that the deeper reality of religion is spirituality. To understand this in another way, it might be helpful to consider the meaning of the two words religion and spiritual. The word religion in Latin actually refers to piety and the word spiritual comes from the French word esprit and refers to the breath or breathing. Your breath (your spiritual nature) is given to you by the Creator. You cannot make yourself breathe, nor can you will your breathing to cease. You are intimately connected to the One who gave you the breath and every time you inhale and exhale, your spirit longs for a deeper relationship with that One who is beyond your wildest imaginings.
When you think of being spiritual rather than religious, you are probably feeling that you don't want to simply practice a piety that is antiquated, or that causes you to feel guilty for what you have and have not done in your life. But, when you feel spiritual, you will naturally be led to embrace a practice of piety. There is an immense amount of freedom in how you give voice and substance to the spiritual longing you feel within. Perhaps your piety will involve simple silence and centering. Perhaps it will be lived out in the way that you show care and compassion to others. Perhaps you will articulate it through the way that you pray and surrender yourself to the God who loves you with infinite constancy. Perhaps you will manifest it through embracing such virtues as patience, kindness, truthfulness, or unconditional love. Being religious doesn't mean simply surrendering yourself to a church institution. Rather, being religious is choosing to live a life that honours and claims the relationship with God that your soul so deeply craves.
An extract taken from an article written by The Rev. Canon Renée Miller
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