Minnesota Mamaleh: “Spiritual But Not Religious”

Kjersti, Mary and Me

There. I said it. I’ve been hemming and hawing over that phrase for weeks now. It keeps popping into my head. While I’m playing with my kids. Pop! While I’m driving. Pop! While I’m washing the dishes. Pop! And then reflexively, protectively, I shy away from the idea. The thought. The concept.
But I know exactly who would belly up to my kitchen counter right now and dive right into this convo. At 11:30PM. Even though all of our many, many children will be up oh-so-very-soon. A group of Mamas. Among us, a devout Mormon. A searching Catholic. A practicing Catholic. A spiritual explorer. And me. A reform-ish Jewish Mama who has recently been described as, “kind of making up her own thing.” Hmmm
While the above may sound like the set up to an extremely offensive, albeit probably funny joke, it’s not. We met at an ECFE class earlier this year and it was love at first-group-belly-laugh. We went to class for the kids, for sure. But unrelentingly, unabashedly and simply wonderfully: for us. Because when we’re together, we talk, share, soul-search, learn and grow.
A few weeks ago one of the Mamas, Kjersti, sent the group an email entitled, “Meeting About the Quest for Enlightenment.” And those of us who could make it literally jumped at the chance. We knew two things: Kjersti was going to be videotaping (is that still the right word?). And we would be sharing our religious and spiritual histories. She gave us many thoughts to work with. But these words, these words caught my eye and made my heart skip a beat. Or two.

Religion is a set of rules and guidelines encouraging a particular way of life within a community.  Spirituality is an individual experience or connection with a greater awareness somtimes called God.  This might be experienced through a religious practice like prayer or meditation.
But it could also could be a realization you’ve had in a dream, following a traumatic experience, meeting someone who has transformed you or your view of the world, a feeling of deep peace or inner knowing, a coincidence that is too amazing to dismiss.

I’ve always assumed that these two pieces had to come from the same puzzle. That they had to fit together with perfect edges and curves. But couldn’t stand alone. I’ve solely used the word religion, maybe religiosity. But never, ever, spirituality. Because I wasn’t sure how, or that I was even allowed, to take that piece right on out. Separate it. Examine it. Embrace it.
But through all of our words, experiences, memories, hearts I realized that what I adore, explore, welcome and want to pass onto my children is spirituality. It’s within me. It’s personal. It’s mine. While I crave community, I really hate being told what to do. And push back against anything, and anyone, that tries to box my heart in.


I say the words “sending good thoughts” instead of “praying for you,” I stumble over the word blessed and my kids sing a Raffi song (a beautiful song, but Raffi nonetheless) as their evening prayer.
In the very same breath, I love my Judaism for its culture. And it will always (always) be my soul, my being. But the have-tos? The doctrines? The stories-as-facts? The dos-and-then-believes? That isn’t me. And never will be.
I have no mold for your religion, for my kids’ religion and quite frankly for my own religion, because what I believe is personal. And my own. It’s spiritual. There’s a phrase that I can own. Is this right for everyone? Of course not. And is that okay? Indeed.
The morning after we got together, Mary found this article about the dangers of being spiritual without religion’s boundaries, rules, expectations. There was an overwhelming feeling, aura, message of fear from some of the contributors. Fear of what, I’m not exactly sure? Non-comformity? The unknown? Inexplicably (to me), it spoke of selfishness and the inability to learn to do good, to be good without the boxed in lines that religion provides for many.
Embedded in the article (which we all read and responded to. Of course.) was information about SBNR.org. “Spiritual But Not Religious” has its own acronym. And its own Facebook page. You better believe it’s real, baby! It’s real to millions of people. Millions. And here we thought that I was just making things up as I went along, people!
I don’t have all (any?) of the answers. And I’m okay with that. In many ways, it’s freeing. Questioning. Learning. Not knowing. I feel so at peace learning with my children. Never telling them what to believe, how to believe, which path is theirs’. Letting go of that control, that need to know how it all works and turns out and allowing for exploration, learning, being. Sigh. That’s what its all about. For me.
We Mamas were meant to meet. My heart and soul both know that. We’ve affected each others’ parenting, creativity, reading habits and support systems, for sure. We’ve also each found inner strength within the folds of the group. In our own ways, we’re paving our own paths. To approach a difficult conversation. To redeem a sought after dream. To gain confidence. To take risks.

Carol and Mary

For four of us, one of those risks was being videotaped (again, is that the right word?) baring our souls. And for the other one?
It was putting together this video clip. And entering a contest where if she wins, she’ll dialogue with others about their spiritual quests. With a little help from Oprah. Obviously.
The clip is a teeny tiny fraction of our conversation that night. From motherhood, to Lord of the Rings, to knowing God right-by-your-side, to lighting Shabbat candles (well, red, round, scented candles. But spiritually Shabbat candles, nonetheless.). You get a taste of our dialogue and the quest that we’re all still sharing. Open your heart. Dig deeper. Watch the clip. Click to vote.