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Isn't it pretty?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Spirituality vs. Religion

In class the other day, we were discussing using spirituality and religion in the counseling field. i was a little bit surprised by the discussion that was generated. The words suggested in relation to the word "spirituality" included: nature, balance, meditation, peace, calm, higher being, connection with others, yoga and candles. In contrast, the words associated with "religion" were: faith, prayer, God, organized, institution, history, man-made, structured, rules and money. I was quite surprised by the negative connotations that seemed to be associated with religion. I am the only person in the class that I consider identifiably "religious," meaning simply that I have no idea what religions the other people in my class identify with by looking at them, though I know at least one other girl in my class is Jewish, though not Orthodox. I guess in a way, I live in a bubble. My friends are mostly (though not all), other Orthodox Jews, and because I know so many people who have become religious later in life, I thought it was a phenomenon not specific to Judaism; I kind of figured it was more wide-spread than that. But so many people in my class had such negatively visceral reactions simply to the word religion that it seems I was wrong. Though I guess it makes sense - spirituality without the structure of religion is very appealing, and very easy. It's a feel good without the guilt, a connection without demands. It's do what you want. And a lot of people like that. Heck, I like it, I just can't live it and feel like I am being true to what I know is right. It made me sit back and try to figure out how I defined the terms, and the truth is, I had a difficult time. First, the concepts are extremely abstract and therefore difficult to define. Second, there is such a vast spectrum of what they mean to each individual that I had a hard time figuring out to define them, and who to base the definition on. And finally, for me religion and spirituality are so intertwined that I had a really hard time separating the two into functionally different categories. For me, lighting candles, something that is proscribed by religion at a specified time, is extremely spiritual. Bringing light into the world and ushering in our holy Sabbath is both religious and spiritual, and I don't know how to separate them. To me, feeling spiritual when making a bracha can be difficult, but I know that the element is there for the taking. Even the most mundane of tasks, which are required by the religion I am a part of, have spiritual elements to them if I just allow them to. When I look at the above lists, I think it is sad that so many negative things have been associated with religion over the years. I guess I understand where it is coming from - people have done horrible things over the generations in the name of religion. I don't deny that. But I can't separate spirituality from religion - the two go hand in hand. Religion to me gives me connection to others and a sense of a higher being. Spirituality gives me faith and enhances my prayer. It made me think a lot about how I will handle counseling students who come with such different religious orientations from myself. While I would never push Orthodox Judaism on anyone, Jewish or otherwise, will I be able to handle students who share such negative views of religion, for whatever reason? Will I be able to counsel students without my religious beliefs getting in the way? It's a lot to start thinking about.

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