Daily Reflection
February 10th, 2004
Dennis Hamm, S.J.
Theology Department
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Can you have spirituality without religion? How many times have you heard someone say (and maybe you’ve said it yourself), “I’m not interested in religion; I’m interested in spirituality”?

I think I know what people are getting at when they say this. It is possible to do religious practices—go through the motions—without those practices coming from or speaking to the heart. For example, you could be going to Sunday services more in response to the social pressure exerted by the expectations of family or friends than from your own conviction. But there is a sense in which this distinction between religion and spirituality is only a half-truth. The false part of that distinction is the assumption that one can somehow practice a disembodied spirituality.

Spirituality is a way of seeing that leads to a way of being. Unless you are somehow “reinventing the wheel” of spirituality, you are getting your “way of seeing” from a religious tradition. And a “way of being” is an acting out of that way of seeing eventually requiring some shared expression of the shared vision. Well, when you are talking shared tradition and shared expression, of course, you are talking religion. At the same time, religion is always in the service of spirituality, and without a vibrant spirituality religion is dry, or even dead.

The genius of that reading from 1 Kings 8 is that it is in touch with these realities. Here we have Solomon praying at the dedication of the first temple after he has constructed it. All the religions of the Ancient Near East had temples, a sacred space in which they understood their god or gods to be especially present and accessible. Now here is Solomon dedicating Israel’s first temple in Jerusalem—a magnificent structure built of cedar and stone—and in his prayer of dedication he is saying in effect, “We know that we cannot contain you in a box. You are more than any earthly space or structure. But when we gather here to pray, look down from your heavenly dwelling and bless us.” Although Israelite spirituality realized that the presence of Yahweh was more than any human structure could contain, they went right ahead and constructed the best structure humanly possible to symbolize and relate to that uncontainable presence.

In Today’s Gospel reading Jesus confronts some of his Jewish peers for allowing some of their religious traditions to distract them from the essential spirituality of their Jewish faith. That doesn’t mean that he was attacking the Israelite religion as a whole. He was trying to reform it.

And when, in the early 6th century of our era, the Italian twins Benedict and Scholastica got in touch with a new sense of the communal dimension of Christian spirituality, they invented a new religious structure, the monastic community. During the subsequent fourteen centuries, Benedictines have had to labor and pray hard to keep their religion in touch with their spirituality and their spirituality in tune with their religious practices. The same goes for us. Solomon, Jesus, Benedict and Scholastica all teach us that religion without spirituality has no soul, and spirituality without religion has no body. Religion and spirituality—you can’t have one without the other. If you think you are pursuing spirituality without religion, it is time to “get physical.”


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