I am tired of giving to charities.

Column by Rev. Jess Shine on 16 March 2023 0 Comments

Let me say that again for the people in the back. I’m tired of giving money to charities. I’ve served the church in development and parish life for over 20 years. I don’t believe giving is wrong. The Bible tells us God loves a cheerful giver and infers that we can’t out give God. So why do I say I’m tired of giving to charities?

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What is the difference between religion and spirituality?


Dear John,

Thank you for your question.  It seems especially pressing today since so many people, especially young people, are identifying as “spiritual but not religious.”  What is behind this particular sign of our times?  I hear you asking.

The word “religion” today conjures up dogmas, doctrines, institutions, hierarchy, buildings, organized worship, rules, positions on topics of the day ranging from extreme right (“Christian nationalists” or “Opus Dei”) to a more thoughtful effort to discern how to apply values to complex moral issues. 

I think many people find these sociological and complex versions of religion to be a heavy weight to carry at this time in history when so much is shifting beneath our feet.  We are moving from the age of Pisces (symbolizing dualism by two fish swimming in the opposite directions) to the age of Aquarius, which is much more mystically based, water being a sign of depth and panentheism (fish in the water and water in the fish, God in the water and the water in God) and therefore spirituality.  Think of John of the Cross: “Launch out into the deep.”

In a nutshell, spirituality is our experience of the Divine.

Religion and spirituality do not have to be at odds.  But in a time of cultural upheaval that we are living through, many see them as such.

Thomas Aquinas actually defines religion this way: As a habit of “supreme thankfulness or gratitude.”  This definition of religion avoids much of the sociological burdens named above.  His definition zeroes in on spirituality, for the first step in spirituality is the awe, wonder, beauty and delight of existence itself—and “supreme thankfulness or gratitude” follows from that.  As Heschel says, “awe precedes faith.”  These experiences are what the mystics call the Via Positiva.  Gratitude for existence itself.  “Isness is God,” says Meister Eckhart.

Spirituality is about living our lives from a deep place.  A place of Yes (William James called mysticism the “Yes” faculty).  And No—the prophetic work that Rabbi Heschel calls “interfering” with injustice.  Both taken together are a root or radical response to life which is my definition of what prayer is all about.

How does one renew religion when it has gone sour or irrelevant, boring or insipid?  Carl Jung says, “only the mystics bring what is creative to religion itself.”  One looks more deeply into the depths of one’s soul, what St. Paul and Meister Eckhart call the “inner person” or the “new self” as distinct from the “old self.”  In today’s parlance, the “true self,” as distinct from the “false self.”

Heschel says that “there lies in the recesses of every existence a prophet.”.  How get to those recesses? The Via Positiva names the depths of joy and gratitude.  The Via Negativa names the depths of silence and letting go, suffering, grief, and the dark night of the soul.  The Via Creativa names our giving birth from our depths.  And the Via Transformativa names the depths of justice-making, compassion, healing and celebration.

When religion is healthy, it is assisting us to travel this deep spiritual journey.  When it is enfeebled, it takes love (mystics are lovers) as expressed in these four paths of creation spirituality to bring the real meaning of religion back.  All forms evolve.  Of course.  That is what evolution means, the living, dying and rebirth of forms.   Religion, like all else, is subject to evolution.

~ Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox




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