Religion & Spirituality: Institutional Worship vs. Divine Intimacy (2/2)

Religion vs. Spirituality

Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? [Luke 6:46].

Imbued with sacred symbols and solemnity, providing sacraments and liturgy, our religion establishes guard rails as we travel toward the spiritual understanding.

Our doctrinal creed is traditionally prescribed. But, what is the measure of a religious institution? How do we come to adopt one organization over another?

O YOU who have attained to faith! Why do you say one thing and do another? Most loathsome is it in the sight of God that you say what you do not do! [Quran 61:2-3].

Counterfeit Religion

While our faith seeks sincere expression in a devout daily life, our religion remains far removed from outward action, ensconced in theological thoughts and rhetorical doctrines. Our institutional worship continues to be a conceptual and ritualistic imitation of devotion, not a living practice.

You want to mess up the minds of your children? Here’s how – guaranteed! Rear them in a legalistic, tight context of external religion, where performance is more important than reality. Fake your faith. Sneak around and pretend your spirituality. Train your children to do the same. Embrace a long list of do’s and don’ts publicly but hypocritically practice them privately… yet never own up to the fact that it’s hypocrisy. Act one way but live another. And you can count on it – emotional and spiritual damage will occur. [Charles (Chuck) Swindoll].

Our public persona may apparently prosper in self-deception and convenient virtue. Yet, within us, the darkness only increases and we are left tumbling through illusions and mired in dishonesty.

A respected holy man, being the guest of a sultan, ate less than he wished when sitting at dinner, and when he rose for prayers he prolonged them more than was his normal practice. He did both of these things in order to enhance the opinion entertained by the sultan of his piety.

O Arab of the desert, I fear thou wilt not reach the Ka’bah / Because the road on which thou travellest leads to Turkestan.

When he returned to his own house, he desired food to be laid out for eating. He had an perceptive son who said: “Father, hast thou not eaten anything at the repast of the sultan?” He replied: “I have not eaten anything to serve a purpose.” The boy said: “Then likewise say thy prayers again, as thou hast not done anything to serve that purpose.”

O thou who showest virtues on the palms of the hand / But concealest thy errors under the armpit / What wilt thou purchase, O vain-glorious fool, On the day of distress with counterfeit silver?

[Adapted from The Rose Garden (The Gulistan) Sheikh Muslih-uddin Saadi Shirazi, Book II, Story 6].

Institutionalized Religion

Can we rehabilitate our institutionalized religion? We do not often examine how well our inner spirituality matches our religious congregational affiliation. How well does what we believe inside align with what is happening in our external worship?

So I go to church, not because of any legalistic or moralistic reasons, but because I am a hungry sheep who needs to be fed; and for the same reason that I wear a wedding ring: a public witness of a private commitment. [Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season, p. 143].

Do we have to turn off all the lights to see the sky? Do we need protection from inflexible dogma and rival doctrines and denominations, all demanding exclusive access to our soul? Is it necessary to isolate ourselves and be alone to contemplate the Divine?

Seeing no light outside, in the prevailing darkness of modern religions, we may look inside to find our personal God, always present, always listening, always answering — but always private.

God is God: If He is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will, a will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to. [Elisabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor, p. 265].

We may seek refuge in seclusion trying to draw nearer to the Divine Reality. Deserts, forests and mountains call us to withdraw from society and live a solitary existence. However, our deeper feelings of love, charity and piety call forth our empathy for the suffering of others and our compassion to do something about it.

Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church … nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in Thy Presence. [Susanna Wesley].

A Religion Pleasing God

How then do we get our inner spiritual awareness to manifest itself? How do we move the Divine Reality from our inner consciousness to the outward reality in which we actively participate?

Make it a rule, and pray to God to help you to keep it, never, if possible, to lie down at night without being able to say: “I have made one human being at least a little wiser, or a little happier, or at least a little better this day.” [Charles Kingsley].

Dedication to the Divine requires that we adopt a spiritual plan of action, religiously implementing it every day, every minute — constantly asserting the good and rejecting the evil, remembering and obeying God.

He, who by good deeds covers the evil he has done, illuminates this world like the moon freed from clouds. [Dhammapada 173].

May God guide us to build our life with His pleasure in mind. May our religion inspire us to sincere Divine service. May we join in the common effort of living with kindness, compassion and justice.

CONSIDER the flight of time! Verily, man is bound to lose himself unless he be of those who attain to faith, and do good works, and enjoin upon one another the keeping to truth, and enjoin upon one another patience in adversity. [Quran 103:1-3].

Related posts:

Religion & Faith: Institutional Worship vs. Divine Intimacy (1/2)

Further reading:

The Distortion of Spirituality by John Ortberg

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