“Spiritual but not religious” is how many people identify themselves. I hesitate to label myself this way as I begin to uncover the truth, or lack thereof, in my own religious upbringing. Those who identify as such catch some flak for it, I think, because we don’t commit to a particular community. We don’t gather to celebrate our spirituality in a church, synagogue, temple or mosque. So what does our spirituality look like? Is it “watered down,” unfounded or ungrounded? I hope not.
I once heard that it is unacceptable to be a “cafeteria Catholic,” choosing various parts of the faith that one liked and discarding the parts that one doesn’t like. I found I had done that. I like the parts of Catholicism about preferential option for the poor, serving others and walking with people in their brokenness. But I didn’t like the hierarchy, patriarchy or history.
So now I see the spiritual life as “outside.” That “outside” is both literal and figurative. For me it is a journey outside of myself, outside into nature and outside of the comforts and norms to which we acquiesce. Maybe it’s a focus on what science explains to be so amazing: redwoods that have stood for thousands of years, the physics of lift for a flying bird, the euphony of rain. It’s outside of buildings but also outside of one’s self. Spirituality seems to require the first step of listening – listening to others whether they are 7 years old, 47 years old or 97 years old, the President of the company or the janitor of the facility. It also requires listening to every moment; listening to the water drip in the shower, your shoes hitting the pavement, wind in the trees, air as it circulates a room, the breath of the person next to you and the laughter of a stranger.
There is a spirit that runs through and connects all those things. Maybe to get in touch with one’s spiritual self is to just stop, go “outside” and listen; but truly listen. So often we try to think of a best response to someone that we don’t actually listen to them. So often we try to think of a best response to a situation that we don’t listen to that situation. Before the planning and action, why not listen? When an upsetting situation or event arises I try to come up with a solution immediately. Maybe I just need to listen to the situation before attacking, as if it needs quelling. When a good or positive situation arises I try to think about how I can keep it going and preserve the good. Maybe I should just listen to it and let it go.
There is the spirit that gives people, animals and plants life. There must be a spirit that gives each moment and social movement life. When a community gathers to support equal rights, when a community stands up against injustice, when a community collaborates to bring about social change, it invokes a spirit. How do we nourish that spirit? How do we give spirit to the spiritual life?
Emily Kraus is an Administrative Assistant with the Division of Student Affairs who is also pursuing her Masters degree in Bilingual Bicultural Education at DePaul’s College of Education. She is a former University Ministry student leader who completed her DePaul undergraduate degree in 2006 .