“I’m not religious. I’m spiritual.”
I have heard this more often than not in the past 15 years. It is how I’ve described my own Faith system for more than 30 years now.
And it is exactly why my compulsion to serve in a spiritual role led me to my recent induction as a First Responder Chaplain.
When my daughter was born 27 years ago, I sought a church that would meet my/our spiritual needs in a broader capacity. I enjoyed the ritual and community of church, but not the dogma. My search went on for years as I researched and explored many different faith systems.
Along the way, one thing became clear – spirituality resonated with me, religion did not.
I grew up in a very Roman Catholic household. My mother’s brother was a missionary priest stationed in the Amazon and their two sisters were School Sisters of Notre Dame nuns. My uncle would say mass in our living room when he was home. It is here that I developed my love of ritual, I’m sure of it.
I went to a Women’s Catholic liberal arts college where we attended mass either in the lounge in our pajamas or in the beautiful chapel and full of dancing, singing and poetry.
After college I attempted to find that same sort of relaxed, inclusive, interactive atmosphere, to no avail. Studying other religions, philosophies and ways of life not only enabled me to expand my knowledge and understanding, it also enabled me to collect rituals, beliefs and practices that resonated as True for me.
I learned how similar all religions are in their core teachings, and how much of what we know as organized religion was appropriated from nature religions and Eastern philosophies.
For my own spiritual fulfillment I found solace in the nature religions with added appreciation of Eastern Philosophies.
In 2003, I became an ordained Minister in the Universal Life Church, because I wanted to offer an alternative officiant for anyone identifying as ‘spiritual, not religious’.
Since that time I have offered what I refer to now as Interfaith Ministry. While the dictionary defines ‘Interfaith’ as “relating to or between different religions or members of different religions,” I do not. That same dictionary defines faith as follows: noun -1 complete trust or confidence in someone or something -2 strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
I believe Faith goes beyond the boundaries of religion.
People can have faith in one another, in God, in the Universe, in Jesus, in a Creator, in Yahweh, in Muhammad, in Buddha, in Life, and in themselves. Faith is not reserved for those who find solace in religion. Faith is what we call the system of beliefs a person holds. Period. Thus, interfaith is relating to or between different faith systems that may or may not include religion.
So, it is here that I landed in order to offer spiritual support to any person in need. I can as easily sit and read the Bible to a non-practicing Catholic woman, as I can read The Good Book to a Humanist, as I can read from A Course In Miracles for New Age believers, as I can read poetry and prose for those more secularly minded.
More than a few times I’ve been in a situation where chaplaincy services were offered to me and I regretted accepting them. I am not a fan of having other people’s beliefs imposed upon me, but that is exactly what happened. There was no room in the conversation for exploration and true processing of my feelings and emotions in that time of suffering. I found no comfort in their words and their beliefs. I found myself shutting down and saying whatever I could to get them to leave the room as quickly as possible.
So I set out to provide actual interfaith, nonjudgemental spiritual support sans agenda. I wanted to provide what I couldn’t seem to receive from anywhere. Perhaps it is my social work training, or maybe it’s my innate nature, but in my mind spiritual support is supposed to provide comfort. Comfort does not come by disputing a person’s belief system, unless the belief system itself is creating the suffering.
I have attempted to serve in a more official spiritual capacity for many years, however most roles are Christian based and require Theological training (heavily Christian) which I have not chosen to pursue. So, when I met a woman who talked about just becoming a First Responder Chaplain my ears perked up and I enrolled into the very next training.
The training was definitely geared towards Christianity but because of it’s 501(c) status, they could not refuse training to a non-Christian. In addition, I received no ill treatment because of my different belief. In fact, it was clear that they respected my different faith system and saw where I could provide support that they were uncomfortable providing. Win/Win. That said, I will tell you there were things that I felt were imposing and I let that be known.
My intention is to serve those who
- have followed a solo spiritual path
- are at a crossroads, in celebration or in crisis
- in need of guidance, support or ritual within their framework of faith
- and find themselves without a spiritual advisor.
To provide this service to, and in conjunction with, our First Responders to make death notifications or offer support in times of trauma is a privilege I do not take lightly. Not everyone who receives bad news or is involved somehow in a traumatic event will be comforted by traditional means.
I do not think that my perspective is unique in this, although I do think it is a well kept secret. To some extent there is still backlash experienced when one is vocal about not being Christian, so those who have alternative faith systems tend to be silent about it. However, more and more I have been privy to officiating rites of passage for groups with mixed faith systems and the experience is more beautiful than you can imagine.
The key to live harmoniously is to focus on what unites us, not on what separates and divides us. To close ourselves off from others because on the surface they appear to be ‘different’ doesn’t serve our highest good. Our highest good is served by creating brotherhoods and sisterhoods; by forging unimaginable alliances; by not investing ourselves in being right, but in being happy.
Happy people don’t do harm. They don’t seek to judge. They don’t seek to impost their beliefs on another. They don’t seek opportunities to convert others to their way of thinking and believing. Happy people recognize the happy in others. Happy comes in all shapes and sizes.
Chaplaincy, Spiritual Guidance or whatever else you name it, needs to be about one thing…holding the Space for Light to enter. That Light might be the breath in your body, the love in your heart, the God within you or the gods above you. It is not for me to dictate that to anyone. I take it as my solemn responsibility to hold a mirror up to reflect and magnify the Light in each person I serve, in whatever space I’m in, in whatever way brings comfort to those around me.
Peace Be With You