Question of faith: Are religion and spirituality the same thing?
religion go together hand and glove, like a dancer and the dance. Spirituality
is the impulse to live a life of beauty and awe; religious systems channel,
support, train and direct that spiritual impulse. In Judaism the tension
in this duality is expressed as KEHva and kavaNA. KEHva in Hebrew means
fixed, regular; for example, the statutory prayers prescribed for specific
times and occasions. KavaNA means intention, directing the heart; in this
case, praying with mindfulness and feeling. The rabbis of old, who themselves
prescribed the prayers, believing that their ritualized exercises -- spiritual
"practice" -- trained one toward leading an ever more blessed
lif! e, cautioned, "Don't make your prayer KEHva" -- routine,
unconscious. Just as the ballet master teaches steps, but then urges the
student even during routine exercises: "Dance!" -- so too our
sages urge us to remember that it is our spirit that brings life to the
dance, and dance to life.
Spirituality and religion are interweaving strands of
human beings' experience of the Holy. Spirituality is a sense of personal
connection to other people, the environment and a higher power; religion
is the outward expression of a community's experience of spirituality.
Religion provides a structure that can include creeds, liturgy, sacraments,
holy writings, music and symbols, revealing how the community has experienced
the mystical connections between God and people, and providing a framework
for repeating the experience. Often the religious forms do evoke deep
spiritual response, for individuals and for the community. It is this
spiritual connection that gives religion its meaning. Without it, religion
is empty and idolatrous. Jesus challenged the religious leaders of his
time to abandon forms that kept them from truly loving God and their neighbor.!
The challenge is still ours today. Vital religious faith can thrive only
when religion finds ever-new ways of responding to people's spiritual
experience. Spirituality thrives when it finds expression and nurture
in religion. And human beings thrive when they attend to both.
published by the Star Tribune, Tuesday February 7, 2006