Moving away from formal religion—toward a one-to-one relationship with God.

The_Creation_Michelangelo-150x150The problem is that we have lost religion—in the deep meaning of the word. We have formal religions that contain the seeds of genuine religiousness, but they are weakened by…fundamentalism, moralism, empty ritual, misunderstood teachings and general irrelevancy. ~Thomas Moore

Are you one of the millions worldwide who classify themselves as “spiritual but not religious”? I count myself among that group and if you’re like me, at one point in your life you were part of an organized religion. You may have attended church or religious services on a regular basis, but abandoned this practice because you just didn’t get much out of it.

Yet, the spiritual world still calls you. You have a yearning to connect with something greater than yourself. So you fill that need with a hodgepodge of spiritually-related activities. You pray and/or meditate. You read spirituality books. You take yoga, engage in mindful exercise or go outdoors to find a spiritual connection with nature.

You’re creating your own one-to-one relationship with God, a religion of your own.

One person who knows where the spiritual-but-not-religious (SBNR) are coming from is Care of the Soul author Thomas Moore. He has written a groundbreaking new book that gives valuable instruction on how we can create and enrich our own spiritual practice. In A Religion of One’s Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World, he talks about a future where we “move away from being a follower to being a creator of religion.”

Moore reminds us that we can just as easily discover the divine outside the church as inside it. In this new spiritual world, we look to formal religions for insight, but create and follow our own path.

We can, in fact, create a personal religion rooted in the practices and rituals of our own everyday lives. On this path, we treat “the natural world and everyday activities as sacred.” We sense the divine in nature, through the appreciation of art and music, by feeling “our soul stir at family gatherings and visits home, in deep friendships and romantic relationships.”

If you’re one of those of us on the SBNR path, Moore stresses that “the discovery or creation of religion of your own, is not an option. It’s a necessary step in your spiritual unfolding.” It is, in fact, a calling, a part of our essence that we cannot ignore if we want to achieve true spiritual fulfillment.

As members of the SBNR community, the key is to deepen and further enrich our spiritual practice—to move beyond paying lip-service to the “spiritual but not religious” designation and place ourselves squarely on a path of spiritual growth and development. Developing a real one-to-one relationship with God only works with our real intention and commitment to make it work.

The good news is we are not starting with a blank slate. No matter the limitations of your current practice, there is room for growth and we “don’t have to rely entirely on our originality” to enrich our spiritual pursuits. Moore instructs us that:

Language, ideas, techniques, methods and rituals are there to be borrowed. We can learn from many different traditions how to meditate, how to honor special days…how to go on a pilgrimage, how to pray, how to fast and abstain…how to forgive and heal and offer gratitude.

Among the spiritual activities Moore recommends is reading and studying classic spiritual texts, which might include teachings as diverse as the Bible to the wisdom teachings of Native Americans. He also calls out the Lectio Divina practice of the Benedictine monks, which involves four simple acts: read, meditate, pray, and contemplate.

Moore also places great importance on the use of sacraments in your practice, which he defines “as an outward sign signifying inward grace.” He calls out the example of Thoreau at Walden Pond and how he had his own set of “sacraments.” Thoreau saw acts as simple as taking a bath or rising early as connecting him with “the gods.”

The fact is, with the right intention, virtually every daily activity can be seen as a way to connect with the Divine. Moore even mentions one of my favorite soul-enriching activities: sipping a cup of coffee in the early morning hours, in quiet contemplation. The potential activities that can help you experience this connection are as endless as your imagination. Moore writes of the following historical examples:

Emerson lectured, Thoreau built a cabin and wrote a diary, Dickinson wrote poems, Kevin Kelly arranges flowers, Simone Dinnerstein plays Bach, you make gardens, I sturdy and write books. Just as we each may have a religion of our own, we may also have our own rituals and narratives and express our intuitions in ways that are most comfortable to us.

It’s all about staying “in tune with the rhythms of nature and the pulse of your life”. In following your own path, you discover, sometimes through trial and error, what activities work best for you. In time, you create a spiritual practice that is true to you, removing the veil of religion, until nothing separates you from God.

This post previously appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, July 30, 2014.

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7 responses to “Moving away from formal religion—toward a one-to-one relationship with God.

  1. This was interesting. Some mirroring of my path. Though now I would call “Nature” what you call “spirituality.” Indeed, as you mention Thoreau, he once wrote “what others call religion, I call love of nature.” For some of us, Nature is enough, without a human face or the artificial super-nature additive. I wish you well.

  2. I am in favor of people finding a spiritual path that works for them, and I do not believe that any one religious tradition contains all truth or meaning. I am also deeply appreciative of the natural world, in which I see signs of the Source of Life, whom some call God (including me). In our times, there are many who belong to churches, temples, mosgues, synagogues, etc. who are there because they are on a path toward becoming more whole and more human and simply want to be part of a community on a similar path. Therefore, I am of the opinion that it is not formal religion that is the only problem, or even the main problem today. It is that “religion” has been misapplied by so many that the term, though perfectly good, has become synonymous with empty ritual or practice. It is these very same rituals and practices from various traditions that have deepened millions of lives over the centuries. So while I appreciate Thomas Moore’s writings, I don’t find the idea of relationship with the Divine so new. It is the message Jesus offered as he gathered a community of disciples (students) around him to learn a way of life that (re-)connected humanity with God. I appreciate your blog, Tom. It gives us food for thought. Peace, Mark

  3. Danish philosopher, psychologist, theologian, poet, critic and religious writer, Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855) – also wrote critical texts about organized religion, Christianity. – The Sickness Unto Death, is a book written by Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard in 1849 under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus. A work of Christian existentialism. – In The Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard personifies an attitude with the average citizen (spissborger). This is an individual who is unconsciously fleeing from the opportunity to live an authentic life. This average citizen often appears as “morally superior” to others, but really this is an unreflected individual. The individual are being swallowed up by social norms and others expectations, without even being aware of this. The result is that the individual becomes alienated (fremmedgjort) both from himselves and the society. – An individual’s values must be the result of an “existential awareness”. The important thing is to preserve the independence and responsibility in interacting with other people, and it’s precisely this ability the character never did develop. – A synthesis of individual freedom and existential integrity, however, can only be reached when the individual have seen through all the deception of society. Should someone discover their freedom in relation to others, the realization must begin from scratch, as an expanding opportunity that blows away one’s definition of self. A realization of this can only come into existence, through the establishment of another center for an individual’s values, identity, the self, our freedom, etc. For Kierkegaard it is God (Christianity), but then released from a variety of religious and secular beliefs related to him – that opens the self from inside and establishes a different center for the individual’s identity, values, the self, our freedom, etc. – Kierkegaard didn’t believe in finding the perfect “system”. To the “system” as the solution to everything. Because any system is based on rational principles, and subjectivity is not rational. A person who has fulfilled the unconditional self-examination, Kierkegaard requires, have reached the limit for how far the intellectual sense can lead us. – This change puts everything in proper relation to man.- Spiritually, it means that God brings Christians to new life from a previous state of subjection to the decay of death (Ephesians 2:2). (Regeneration).

  4. Pingback: Honest-hearted people are losing faith in humanity and humanity losing faith in God | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten

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