For Christians spirituality is often reflected in our one-on-one relationship with God. The comfort that comes with just being with God, listening to Him (Her or It) and following those revealed teachings. As Sister Bridget Clare McKeever, PhD, OSS, an instructor of Spiritual Directors, said,

Of course, belonging to a traditional religious denomination means also the risk of becoming stagnated, if the religion is somewhat rigid. So, I think, there needs to be a mature self-differentiated belonging. It can act as a corrective.

A person’s spirituality is also helpful to a religious denomination, because it can bring balance. Formal religion systemically has a tendency to become quite conservative, that is, to emphasize the stable. That’s just the nature of any organization. It’s a necessary ingredient, but it is very much helped by the counterpoint of the spirituality of individuals in the group, which is freer, less systematic and more systemic. In the Catholic church, for instance, religious orders and communities have represented the spirituality side, the mystical side; whereas the church, the established hierarchical church has represented the stable side. And there is an inevitable tension between these two. [Spiritual Maturity, Gratitude Press]

It is not just the Catholic church that exhibits tension between the theological and the mystical side. Most church hierarchies distrust the spiritual element, believing that the way to maintain order is to maintain doctrinal purity, and they often define spirituality as “the following of the beliefs of the church.” In John 5, Jesus says, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”[John 5:39-40] That statement is as true today as it was over 2000 years ago. However, what is meant by “come to me” is an issue. Some believe that to accept Jesus as their personal savior is coming to him and brings salvation when it is followed by adherence to a particular set of precepts. Others have a more fluid, less doctrinal, connection with Jesus and are nourished by and grow in an intimate one-on-one relationship with him. The first behavior is based on beliefs, the other on experience. Where do you stand in this matter? Or do you meld the two?

Spirituality is more dynamic than theology. It’s about relationship with ourselves, with the divine and with life. A spiritual person may or may not belong to a religion. According to the 1990 American Religious Identification Survey, there were 14 million people in the United States who identified themselves as not belonging to a specific religion in 1990. In 2001 that figure was 29 million, making it the fastest growing and the third largest category behind Catholics and Baptists. [Deseret Morning News, 12/1/03,B1,2] As well as a myriad of other suppositions, you might surmise from this statistic that people have picked up a lot of dissatisfaction, or psychic clutter, through interactions with organized religion, and rather than having a vehicle available to deal with their clutter, have simply chosen to leave the church. As Sister Bridget Clare says above, “there needs to be a mature self-differentiated belonging.” Yet many of us are neither mature nor self-differentiated. It is our clutter, not the churches,’ that may drive us away. Some of the clutter may be based on the most innocuous comment by an untrained Sunday School teacher whom we had endowed with a position of authority. Some may be based on our youthful thought processes. Both of these possibilities are evidenced in this example from my life:

As an eighth grader, I was in a Sunday School class in which the teacher had written on the board a list of the steps to fornication. It began with hand-holding, followed by kissing. What I understood him to say was that if we got on that list, in any place, we would naturally travel to the top. Oh, my gosh! I had already held hands and had been kissed at a party when playing spin the bottle. I’m doomed,” I thought.I’m doomed to spend eternity in hell.” Religion was pretty black and white in my thinking at that age, and in my interpretation I was given no alternative, such as confession or repentance, if I was already on the way to hell. I felt that I was doomed to fornicate and be punished.

Oh, the pain that accumulated clutter produces!

— excerpted from Confession is Good for More than the Soul

About the Author

Leslie Reynolds-Benns, PhD, author, most recently of Confession is Good for More than the Soul. Speaker, trainer, workshop leader, community activist and wedding officiant. Sign up for a FR*E*E 4-part mini e-course – CREATING YOUR OWN REALITY – at