Religious, not Spiritual

I remembered a factoid from one of my pastor’s homilies that the root of the word “religion” comes from the Latin “religio,” which means to be “bound again.”

To the uninitiated, this makes the idea of religion not sound very attractive. I can see why so many people like to say they are “spiritual but not religious.” But after praying about it I’ve decided I am more like “Religious, but not Spiritual.”

I checked on this etymological factoid later and found that, as with all historical tidbits streamlined for popular consumption, the roots of the word “religion” are not quite that simple.

Sure,  “religion” does come from the Latin root “religio,” but the origins of that root are disputed. Cicero asserted that “religio” comes from the verb “relegere,” meaning “to re-read or go over a text,” religion being a text-based tradition requiring study and transmission. The Christian writer Lactantius, among others, assert the most popular hypothesis that “religion” comes from “religare” which means to be “bound again.” Augustine preferred that version to Cicero’s, but offered that it also could come from “reeligare” meaning to “choose again.”

From what I have read so far, I am not sure I have a preference. As a Catholic Christian, I bind myself to study the Gospel of Jesus Christ and transmit it with the way I live my life. I am bound by the obligation to serve others in Love — a bond made most immediate to me in my role as husband and father.

When I rise each morning, I put on my wedding band, pocket my wallet and keys, grab my “wireless leash,” aka my phone. All of these are symbols of my vocation and life’s mission. I take them on each morning as a prayerful practice, taking up the yoke Christ offers me before going out into the world where I am bound to serve in myriad ways.

As with distractions in prayer, I get distracted in life. I drift away on a regular basis (sin,  you can call it) and must “choose again” each day, each hour, each minute, to come back.

On the face of it, to the modern sensibility, this sounds like a big drag. Nobody nowadays wants to be tied-down, to be bound, by anything.

But in my heart of hearts I long for Love and Mercy. What better way is there for me to encounter Love and Mercy than to submit my whole self to them? This means I submit my hands, heart, head, feet, body, soul, and spirit all at once — a complete package. I cannot describe myself as “Spiritual” because I seek to be all in when it comes to Love. I can’t just give my “spirit.”

So I seek to be “Religious, not (just) Spiritual.” And I’ll take “Religious” in any sense of the word since all of them work for me.
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Worth Repeating

Today I woke up next to the woman I love, my best friend. I kissed my children, who are even more angelic when they are sleeping. I made a breakfast from good healthy food. I took a beautiful sunrise drive across the lake to a job that I love with people I like for a mission that I believe in. My prayers of thanksgiving seemed almost redundant.

Tired of this sit

I have a late night adoration hour. I use this time to just sit, blessed and idle, at the feet of our Lord. I do not read, nor do I bring with me any way to tell time. I just sit until the next person comes, which tells me my hour is over.

But sometimes my replacement doesn’t come. And I sit for two hours.

I usually become aware of this about 20 minutes into the second hour, when my “butt alarm” goes off. I don’t know exactly, but at the 1 hour, 20 minute mark I reach the point where I just cannot sit comfortably in any position for more than 2 minutes.

I would like to get up and do a walking meditation, but I share my adoration hour with someone else so I do not want to be a distraction. I realize that, while most of me is all “blessed and idle,” my butt is working hard. I totally understand why it complains.

A Prayer for Mr. Hitchens

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

When I read this last bit of the canticle during this morning’s Lauds, I thought of Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens is most likely going to die of esophageal cancer. The fact that one of the world’s most famous atheists, notorious for his devotion to smoking and Scotch, is facing his own end, may seem like an opportunity to some.

For those inevitable religious who may indulge in schadenfreude, I am ashamed for you in advance. I know it’s hopeless, but I plead with all the faithful to deny the media that kind of hypocritical spectacle. And I don’t join those hoping for Hitchens’ deathbed conversion, especially those who seek it for what it would do for “the cause” of Christianity. If Hitchens has a change of heart, I hope it is a private one. I hope his defiant intellectual integrity remains intact at least in public.

But here’s what I do pray for, aside from his healing and peace — that God will shine on Mr. Hitchens in his darkness and in the shadow of his death.

I hope that whatever love Mr. Hitchens has in his life, whatever kindness, gentleness, and empathy, is his salvation. I imagine him waking in the presence of God thoroughly astonished to be there. Though Mr. Hitchens intellectually denied the existence of a supernatural deity, I certainly hope He had Love in his life. God, regardless of what he called it.

And I hope the God of Love, in His tender compassion, finds a place for the unrepentant and defiant atheist. The doctrine of my faith tells me it is not likely, but what we do not know of God’s power and mercy dwarfs what we can doctrinally say about His justice. If anyone can do it, God can.

Too bad saints cannot issue retractions from Heaven. It would be one I would love to read.

Identify, yes. Idolize, no.

I can’t call Stephen Slater a Hero. Just can’t. I admit I feel for him. I admit to a sympathetic vicarious thrill at his flambouyant outburst. And I give him serious points for style, grabbing a beer and sliding away and all.

But, even by his own previous statements on an attendant forum a few years before, his behavior was childish and unprofessional. I’m sure he knows it and I hope for his sake he doesn’t let the hype convice him that his behavior was justified.

I do think his story points out a great lesson for us. That how we as customers treat service people is an important base measure of how civilized our society is. I hear my daughter complain regularly about customers’ behavior when they come through her checkout line. The most bitter complaints come from customers who abuse her when she has to enforce policies she did not set and has no power to change. She just checks groceries, folks. She does not set prices, coupon policy, or the number of items allowed in the express line. Give her a break, okay?

Service people do more than serve us what we want and need. They help ensure that public resources are most available and accessible for all. When we are all in a public place, Superrationality dictates that we need to be aware that everyone else there is there for some need and we all need to share this space, time, resource in a way that works best for everybody, not just me. Often I find myself in line somewhere actually being grateful for the whole phenomenon of it. That people actually acquiesce to standing in line as a default. To me it’s a sign of cooperation, civility, and justice. When I have the presence of mind to see it, I can actually enjoy the quotidian social wonder of taking my place in a queue.

For me, it’s a good barometer of my prayer life. When I am in my mindless ego-drone state, I am Mr. Exceptionalism. Yeah the rules are good, yadda yadda, but my situation is different. When my praver hygeine is caught up, I can be aware of my behavior and the needs of others. Especially service people and my fellow customers.

Oh, and for the love of Pete, I hope that the identity of the woman whose behavior was the cause of all this is not discovered. She owes an apology, but she does not deserve the crapstorm that will hit her if her name hits the media.

Plus, if we think about it, we have all been this woman at some point. We can all think of moments where we’ve rationalized exceptionalism, where we are convinced that the rules can be bent in this case, just this once, for me.

I do it while driving several times a week. I sheepishly hung up my cell phone in the car the other day, recalling how I often huff at other drivers to “get off the damn phone and drive!” Pot, Kettle, black, way too often.

So I find two great measures of my own Christian maturity; how thoughtful I am in public service situations, especially to those who serve, and how gentle I am with those (including myself) who fail to overcome their own exceptionalism.

What's in your thought bubble?

This video might be the most useful three minutes of your day. Not so much for the health care talk, which you may or may not agree with, but for the innovative use of media. I’ve never seen a more effective, efficient method of communication, speaking to all learning styles at once. I hope this thought bubble thing catches on. See their impressive promo video.

This has gotten my own thought bubble, which admittedly is kind of bloated and frenetic even on a slow day, going on overdrive. What a tool for catechesis, illustrating futures scenarios, even for prayer.

I can see the thought bubble as a model for the examen. What’s the ratio of holy stuff to profane stuff in your thought bubble lately? Reminds me of a really good article I read a few months back about Sloth. This deadly sin is not so much about laziness as it is about having zeal for the trivial and indifference to holy things, like face-to-face relationships, listening, being present. I think a thought bubble examen would be a great way to combat sloth in my own life.

What’s in your thought bubble?

I pray, I am, He is.

I’ve a habit of provacatively stating to my fellow churchy-ites that I don’t really care if God exists. What I mean by that is that I feel no need for proof of a God beyond my understanding and believe that the whole proof of God thing is kind of silly. I pray, I am, because He is. That’s enough for me.

So I read an excellent review of Karen Armstrong’s A Case For God. Warms the confirmation bias cockles of my heart.

“A god whose existence you can prove is a god to whom you cannot pray… Prayer — not proof — is where religion rises or falls.”

Far from making a case for God’s existence, the book points out that such efforts are misguided and a hindrance to faith. I totally agree. Making God’s existence a matter of science is putting Him under the authority of a (admittedly useful) human construct. Ultimately she makes a case for reviving the apophatic tradition of theology that the modern age has buried. Maybe this will help folks develop a more balanced idea of who God is. Meanwhile, I pray, I am, He is.

Wobbles. But Doesn't Fall Down.

Any Gen-Xer like myself will recognize that phrase. That’s how I feel about this blog. And I do quite resemble a Weeble.

I’ll go into a several month “wobble” with no posts. Whole years will have a scant dozen original posts. But I’ve been doing this blog since the word “blog” was coined and I just cannot let Overflow fall down.

I recently lost my mojo. I was walking past my office upstairs, worried about some jejune client work matter, when I caught a glimpse of my poetry books out of the corner of my eye. I realized that I had no poetry in my life at the moment.

And that’s when I further realized — I’ve lost my mojo. No poetry, no art, no contemplation, no reading, and pretty damned minimal with the prayer life as well.

No wonder I’ve lost my blogging juju. I have no inner life left to articulate.

So I’m feeling around in the dark for my bootstraps so I can give them a yank. Maybe this weeble’s wobbling back upwards? We’ll see.