(as seen in the Pocono Record/USA Today Network)
Spiritual. This is how many people describe their beliefs. But what exactly does this mean? Literally, spiritual means ‘relating to things of the human spirit rather than material or physical things.’ But in a more religious context it can encompass a wide range of ideas.
For some it means they embrace the idea that there is more to life than what we see, while rejecting the dogma of organized religion. They feel a connection to something beyond themselves. They may call it the Divine, the Universe, the Sacred, God, or it might even remain nameless. And because spirituality can be an open-ended concept, it is not incompatible with religion or belief in God.
Gallup's 2022 Poll on Values and Beliefs finds 17% of Americans saying they do not believe in God, dipping to a new low. Other polling sources come out with similar results. But if you think everyone is honest when responding to polls, I have a nice bridge to sell you. These polls are how people self-report and I think many people are afraid to say they are not religious.
Additionally, Gallup did not offer the category ‘spiritual’ as an option. If they had, my guess is the numbers would have looked very different.
I have met with many couples who want to connect to their faith traditions, but in ways that are more compatible with a 21st century view of the world which includes science, evolved ideas on women, marriage equality and other contemporary issues.
You may recall that in 1600s Galileo came in conflict with the Catholic Church for proposing that the earth goes around the sun and not the other way around. This didn’t sit well, and he suffered greatly for his pursuit of knowledge. It’s a great example of what happens when dogma trumps progress. Ok, this isn’t the 17th century, yet modern ideas still often conflict with religious ideas, and you can find many examples of this right here right now in our country.
So how does one honor spiritual ideas and values in a wedding ceremony? There are as many ways to express it as there are different paths of spirituality itself.
Sometimes I simply make a statement of fact, saying that the couple share a sense of spirituality, and perhaps try to describe even using their words. For example, ‘they find peace and meaning in nature.’
Other times I include specific poems, excerpts or quotes from various sources that reflect their worldview. There is wisdom everywhere, and it doesn’t take long to find.
Some of my favorites sources are in poetry and literature, along with classics such as Rumi, Kahlil Gibran, Celtic writings, Lau Tzu, and Buddhist thought; but it is the couple themselves who will direct me to the right inspiration. The texts of Hinduism (the Vedas), and of course the Torah and the Bible all contain beautiful and meaningful words. There are scientists such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Carl Sagan, and naturalists such as John Muir, who have written eloquently about our place in the universe.
Beyond words, there are rituals that connect us to earth, air, water, fire, nature, culture, ethnicity, history, art and family. The possibilities are endless, and it’s always challenging and exciting to explore how we humans view our place in the world.
To me, being spiritual means putting great value on love and goodness in the world. What could be more beautiful than that?