Which is which?

Ritual, religion, spirituality. Are they significantly different? The same? I think about this sometimes and have the opportunity to talk to people about it on a fairly regular basis. So I will report here what I have arrived at for the moment.

Spirituality seems to me to be an individual thing- personal and very intimate. Religion, I think, is a communal thing – an affirmation of grouphood. Perhaps a way of joining prayer for gathered strength. For those that believe in the power of prayer, the power of communal prayer is larger, stronger than individual prayer. Ritual for me is a heritage thing – an affirmation of identity. I also think that often ritual is the glue that binds our spirituality and our religious ideas together, or at least finds them common ground.

If you are someone that grows in spiritual practice, then sometimes you find that rituals help to bring you that most sacred space. I consider my religion and my spiritual life to be things that have grown separately. But there are those times that they merge. For example, when I set my seder table with my grandmother’s things and prepare to welcome loved ones to that table, I feel near to her and those that came before. It creates a sacred moment in which my spirit, my religion,my ritual, my community and my past all come together.

And when I meditate, some of it is about prayer. And some of prayer is about how I came to a relationship with a Higher Power. And some of how I came to a relationship with a Higher Power is through my religion and the rituals that are a part of it. Circular, no? So in this way, rituals bind the personal. But in a very major way, rituals bind the community.

There are many views in major religions about the utility of some rituals. There is some idea of “modernizing” religion by eliminating some ritual. But I was told by a religious eastern orthodox woman that ritual “warms” religion, keeps it from getting cold. I thought that was a wonderful description. In the same way, ritual warms our spiritual, non-religious, practices. We sit in certain places, listen to certain music, scent the air or sit in nature’s scent, sit by the ocean or contemplate the stars. We each of us with our own particular rituals for spiritual practices that have nothing to do with religion. 

I love the final shavasana and meditation at the end of my yoga class and my shabbat service rituals with equal intensity. Sometimes they lead to the same place, often not. But all my paths take me to personally important and sometimes enlightening places.

Shabbat Shalom

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The Nature of Love

 

So, my friends.  We always think, when we hear the word love, of romantic love.  And don’t get me wrong, romantic love is a wonderful thing if it is part of your life.  But it is wrong thinking to think that romantic love is what should always be top of mind when you think of “love”.

My cats love me, in their own peculiar way.  They need to be close a lot of the time when I am home because I often am not.  They groom me and bring me various live and half-eaten prey to show how much they love me.  Dogs, fortunately, do not bring prey but theirs is a most unconditional form of love.  They do not care what you do or when, they just love you.  Cats are a little pickier but always come around.

And religion, ritual, spiritual practices tell me that G-d loves me.  The best version of any of these tells me that my concept of a G-d should be loving and caring and not punitive despite some of the biblical allegories that might drive you to believe otherwise.  I choose to believe that if there is a power greater than myself, it is caring; that the universe means me no harm.  Bad things happen, they are part of life not the vengeful creations of a punishing G-d.

Despite my own insecurities and self-doubt, I know today that my friends love me.  Now there are the women.  They are the friends whose love is wrapped in sympathy, empathy and hard truth.  They are the friends that fill my house with laughter when we play cards and whose paths, in many cases, parallel my own.  They are the friends that understand what my life is like at the present time and that is  a priceless gift.  Then there are the men.  I have learned that it is indeed possible to have really stalwart and steady male friends without the need for tension, chemistry or romance.  They have brought me meals, listened to me rant about the shortcomings of certain other men in my life.  They show up to fix things or reach things I can’t.  They refer me to services I need as a single homeowner.  They have my back all the time and don’t laugh at me as much as the women do.  They are the friends that just show up and care whether they understand or not. And men and women alike, I love them back.

And there is my son, with whom I am friends.  He is the friend that showed up every day to clean the pool and take out my trash when I couldn’t.  He is the friend that knows me inside out and doesn’t take any bullshit answers. He is the friend that thinks I should have romantic love in my life. He is the friend that shares his fears and understands mine.  We have come to this wonderful adult place.  And of course, he is my baby and I love him more than I will ever love anyone!

So, romantic love – it would be nice. But I have, as you can see, lots of love in my life; and it is good.

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Slacking ~ Sacred Work

This is the month of Elul, the sacred time in which we prepare ourselves for the new year and for the holiest of days – Yom Kippur.  Although it is called the day of atonement, its meaning I think is much more interesting.

We are called on, in this time of preparation, to look at our year, our lives, our internal and external selves.  We are supposed to see what we could have done better, what we can do to be our better selves, to improve.  What we have to apologize for, to make amends for so that each new year begins as a clean slate, lunar calendar that is.

And I admit, I have been slacking.  Life intrudes as always and makes it hard to make quiet space for the reflection we are asked to  do.  And even more important, I think it should be done with pen and paper, not just in my head.  So this confession is to inspire me to make that space.  To do the work.  It is never easy if you do it right, it requires serious internal digging, but the rewards can be remarkable.

Looking at my physical self, I know I can do better, food, weight, exercise, meditation.  The list is self evident and requires a bit of a deeper look.  My communal relationships, of course I can do better, again. Reaching out to people, feeding my friendships, building relationships. I can always do more. My emotional self, I can always work on not living in feelings.  As I know feelings aren’t facts.  I can always work on gratitude as an antidote to the hard feelings and enjoying the good ones in the moments they happen. My spiritual self, we are back to meditation, prayer and the internal work of this most wonderful time of year.

So, not really slacking, just a little slow in putting pen to paper and doing the digging. The pen is the most effective shovel I know of, just have to pick it up. This is the start.  [tweetshare tweet=”Hopefully by Yom Kippur I will be ready, a clean slate once more for the year to come, or at least having cleared some of the detritus away.  L’shanah tovah umetekah. A sweet and wonderful new year, just a snitch early.” username=”@trienahm”]

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CHURCH REVIEWS??

I was listening to public radio in the car the other day when an essay came on about a new trend on the internet. When people who are church goers are moving from time to time or town to town they can look up the local churches on these web sites. Now these are not the web sites of the actual churches, these are “comment” web sites where anyone can leave a review. This is a weird concept, to say the least. It is weird on a lot of levels. My first and most visceral response to this is the idea that you would choose a house of worship by going on line. I mentioned this to an acquaintance who said that it might eliminate some and make the search easier. I even think that is weird. In some fundamental way, a house of worship is not just a spiritual home but also a family of a sort. To me, it is the sort of thing that you have to experience; first hand. Your immediate actual family you don’t get to choose, the other families you create throughout your life, you do. How do you choose a family without meeting them, hugging them, laughing and crying with them? At least you might want to have a sense of them, a real sense, not a virtual sense. How do you find a spiritual home without praying in it, listening to its leaders, its clergy? But ok, let’s assume you don’t mind finding your spiritual house on the net. On the show I listened to (at least one side of the story) they talked about what a great service this could be, making transitions for folks moving, with an emphasis on military families. What credibility do these “reviews” have? Who are the reviewers? What if the writer is someone with a personal ax to grind against a particular clergy person, or institution? Or its lay leaders? What if the writer is a hater of a particular religion? And regularly spews hate on the local representatives of it? How do you choose a religious home, or a spiritual family based on the opinion of strangers? The show likens the choice to that of choosing a hairdresser, grocery, family doctor, mechanic, etc. While I am certainly not likely to denigrate the importance of the right hairdresser, I’m thinking that the choice of a religious institution might be slightly more important, especially if you are a parent (keeping in mind that your kids really don’t care about your hair). If you are religious in the sense that you look to your house of worship to reinforce your core values and help you teach them to your kids; to create that “family” that acts as extended rold models for your kids, then its influence may extend beyond even that of the family doc in the long view of things. Do you really think it makes sense to allow anonymous (ok they might put their names) folks with their own agendas to drive this decision? Maybe you should choose your dentist on facebook.

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