In this episode I want to talk about ‘spirituality’: What is it? How does it relate to religion? Is it still relevant or valuable? And why would you need spirituality or spiritual practice anyway?

And I’m hoping that the conversation today will inspire you to ask some questions about your own thoughts and experiences around spirituality. And that maybe those thoughts may help you be a little more intentional in your life.

So what do I mean when I talk about spirituality? In this episode, I want to share a few thoughts as a kind of overview of how I define and experience spirituality. In the next few weeks, I’ll expand those ideas to give a more detailed big-picture view of spirituality. And then for the next few months, I’ll be exploring the different elements in my view of spirituality in greater depth.

So firstly, for me spirituality is about—to use Sam Harris’ book title—waking up. I prefer to speak of showing up—fully, authentically, and courageously in our lives and relationships. And by this I mean, being fully and authentically present, and engaged with our own lives and the people in our lives. Spirituality is about being mindful, being aware, of what makes life more meaningful, rich, fulfilling, and deep. It’s also about transcending our obsession with ourselves, our perspectives, our needs, our preferences, and our lives. It’s about living fully and vibrantly. Or, to use a phrase that Jesus used in the Gospel of John, spirituality is about growing into an increasingly abundant life.


A few months ago I was chatting with a friend about what I called ‘spirituality’. He responded and told me that he finds the word ‘spirituality’ unhelpful. For him, it is still too associated with institutional religion. In fact, he said that he felt that spirituality was the domain of religious institutions. I wasn’t really surprised by this. I suspect that lots of people, especially those who have broken up with Church, feel the same way. But I wasn’t sure what word or words we could use instead of ‘spirituality’. My friend and I chatted a bit about that, but we couldn’t really find anything that fitted, or at least not for me.

After that conversation I started thinking about the idea of spirituality and how it sounds to different people. And I am convinced that for many people my friend is probably right—it sounds religious. It sounds like something to do with God. But what if you’ve broken up with religion, and what if you’re not sure about God, or maybe you’ve come to the conclusion that God doesn’t exist? Does that mean spirituality is irrelevant or useless to you? Well, maybe not. I’ve been reading Sam Harris’ book Waking Up. You probably know that Sam Harris is one of the ‘four horsemen’ of what is known as New Atheism—along with Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. So Harris is not about God or religion, and yet he is very much committed to spirituality. And he makes a pretty strong case for retaining the language of spirituality. This is what he says:

“There is no other term—apart from the even more problematic mystical or the more restrictive contemplative—with which to discuss the efforts people make, through meditation, psychedelics, or other means, to fully bring their minds into the present or to induce nonordinary states of consciousness. And no other word links this spectrum of experience to our ethical lives.”

And so, in the light of that, I am going to keep using the word spirituality here on the EvoFaith podcast—at least for now. But I want to be clear that I’m not talking about religion. And while I believe that some people will include some concept of, and relationship with, God in their spirituality, that is not compulsory. Or at least it’s not in my perspective.

So what do I mean when I talk about spirituality? In the rest of this episode I want to share a few thoughts as a kind of overview of how I define and experience spirituality. In the next few weeks I’ll expand those ideas to give a more detailed big-picture view of spirituality. And then for the next few months, I’ll be exploring the different elements in my view of spirituality in greater depth.

So firstly, for me spirituality is about—to use Sam Harris’ book title—waking up. I prefer to speak of showing up—fully, authentically, and courageously in our lives and relationships. And by this I mean, being fully and authentically present, and engaged with our own lives and the people in our lives. Spirituality is about being mindful, being aware, of what makes life more meaningful, rich, fulfilling, and deep. It’s also about transcending our obsession with ourselves, our perspectives, our needs, our preferences, and our lives. It’s about living fully and vibrantly. Or, to use a phrase that Jesus used in the Gospel of John, spirituality is about growing into an increasingly abundant life.

How does this resonate with you, if at all? Do you find spirituality a helpful or unhelpful word? And how does your definition and experience of spirituality differ from, or align with, mine? Feel free to leave a comment and share you perspective.

Now, how does this view of spirituality relate to religion. Well, firstly, spirituality does not equal religion, and religion does not equal spirituality. It is totally possible to be devoutly religious and not be practicing anything that can honestly be called spirituality. It is also possible to engage deeply with spirituality and not be religious in any way. Of course, it is also possible to be both non-religious and non-spiritual. And finally, it’s possible to be both deeply religious and deeply spiritual. But, regardless of what our relationship with religion and spirituality may be, it is important to recognise that they are two completely different things.

In my experience—which includes being in ministry for almost 40 years, and ordained for half of that time—religion is primarily about being part of a particular community, organisation, or institution of belief, worship or liturgy, and practice. I know there are exceptions, but generally—and especially when it comes to the mainstream religions—I think this is pretty accurate. Generally religions include doctrines, or ideas about key points of faith, that devotees need to conform to and believe. Those who reject the ideas of their religion are generally considered to no longer be part of that religion, even though they may continue to participate. Religions also include a set of norms and expectations around behaviour, belief, societal roles, gender, sexuality, and ethics, among other things. So essentially, religions are cultures.

Spirituality can happen within a religious context, but religion and faith are not necessary to experience and practice spirituality. Rather, spirituality, from my perspective, is about living intentionally, or on purpose, rather than just letting life happen to us. It’s about seeking meaning, not just for ourselves, but in response to life’s big questions: What is a good life? How do we build a world that is kinder and more humane for everyone, and in which everyone can have a good life? What is the meaning and importance of love, life, suffering, and death? How do these big realities impact our place in the universe and how we live?
Working with these questions and seeking to live a more meaningful and intentional life, do not require us to believe in a God. And they allow for lots of different ways of thinking about God or not-God, the universe, and ourselves.

So, do you experience and practice spirituality? If so, how do you do that? What value does it bring to your life, if any? How do you see the relationship between spirituality and religion? And again, I’d be grateful if you would share your thoughts in the comments, or drop me a note on social media or via email.

So, as a final thought, my experience is that spirituality has an openness and freedom that can sometimes be found in religion, but rarely. And the value of authentic spirituality is in how it empowers us to live on purpose, and not just be mindlessly carried along by circumstances and events. It enables us to connect more deeply with ourselves, with others, with the world, and with something bigger than ourselves—call it God, or the Cosmic Consciousness, or Spirit, or whatever works for you.

In the next episode of the EvoFaith podcast I’ll be exploring why everyone is spiritual, and why our best lives can only be found within some kind of spiritual—but not necessarily religious—framework.

And that’s it for today’s episode. I really hope that it has you thinking a bit more deeply about spirituality and its place in your life. I hope it inspires you to be more intentional about showing up fully, authentically, and courageously in your life and relationships. And I hope you’ll join me next week as we continue this conversation.

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So, thank you for listening. Thank you for watching. And I’ll catch you next time!

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