It’s common these days for people to say "I am spiritual but not religious." I take this to mean that someone can experience “spirit” apart from formal religious formation. It presumes we do not need a religious faith community or tradition to provide us with access to an awesome awareness of the mystery and grandeur of life. And I can readily agree we have access to that awareness intuitively without formal intermediary direction.
But I have been wondering if there isn’t something more to be said about being spiritual. Are our souls searching for more specific, richer, deeper ways to reference our spirituality beyond the sense wonder we experience in nature and the gratitude we experience for just being alive? I don’t know whether others share that search, but in any case I consider it an important question.
I believe beyond the personal awareness of Spirit in our lives, our spirituality, there is another dimension that is more profound when our spirituality is relational and vulnerable. I wish I had a satisfactory word to describe this level of spirituality. But what I have come up with is “plumb line" spirituality. A plumb line is a tool in which a “plumb,” or weight, is attached to a line than can be used to accurately determine if something is "vertically aligned with the center of gravity,” or is used to measure the depth of water. In other words, a plumb line is used to measure clarity about stature and depth. And I am suggesting we might want to measure our understanding of spirituality by squaring up its capacity in terms of how it dares to measure its clarity of depth against the "plumb lines" of our most vulnerable and profound experiences in life.
When we face our personal vulnerability, or that of others, we take our spirituality to a much more profound level of awareness. When we hold someone who is grieving, or when we must face our own death, of the death of loved ones, we need better language than we are simply “spiritual” in those moments. We enter into a level of consciousness where we have no adequate way to describe the depth of our feeling bereft while also feeling the lift of empathy and compassion. Our spirituality then enters into the realm of deep mystery and the bitter/sweet experience of uniting our own deepest self with the deepest self of another and ultimately with a more intense awareness of our full humanity., or what I am calling “plumb line” spiritual awareness.
Routine spiritual practices such as rituals, mindfulness, meditation and prayer are pathways to facing the vulnerable and profound sense of our “plumb line” spirituality. In my own spirituality of prayer and spiritual discipline I try to maintain an awareness of both my deepest gratitude for my blessings while also holding compassionate empathy for the suffering and fears of so much of the world. And perhaps the most common practice of this kind of “plumb line" spirituality is an awareness of opportunities to listen attentively to another's heartfelt stories of fear, pain and joys as they are willing and able to vulnerably share them with us.
No, we don’t need a “religion” to guide our “plumb line" spirituality. But we do need community and a Spirit-centered faith to help us “love our neighbors as we love ourselves” and to be a fully human and “spiritual” as I believe we are created to be. May we all find ways to guide and support our “plumb line” spirituality during the challenges of our spiritual journeys.