“I’m spiritual but not religious.” How do we stack up to other successful spiritual people through the ages….

From Bishop Robert Barron

During my friend’s Master’s defense, she stood before her committee, nervously pinching her necklace between her thumb and forefinger. I remember her words clearly: “I consider myself spiritual, but not religious.” She was trying to express the thought and meaning in her design. She hoped her design would inspire something beyond materiality and superficiality without resorting to traditional motifs or symbols.

Most of us have encountered these words in some respect or another. Someone may elaborate by saying, “Well, I think there is something higher, something spiritual in us, in our world, but I don’t think that religion captures it. Religion tries to get at it, but I think ultimately religion restricts it, or abuses it.” The prominent New Atheist Sam Harris puts it this way:

“Our world is dangerously riven by religious doctrines that all educated people should condemn, and yet there is more to understanding the human condition than science and secular culture generally admit.”

We can see evidence of this aspiration being built, in an ironic way, in the architectural project included above.  Commonly known as the “disappearing church,” this project is award-winning. What kind? A religious architecture award. Reading Between the Lines, its official title, was voted on by readers of Archdaily—a popular architectural blog. I find it ironic that it’s considered religious because the only thing religious about it is that it takes its form from the Christian church in the main town. The building evokes the image of a traditional Christian place of worship, only to vanish before one’s eyes into the landscape. The space doesn’t offer itself for worship, but for observing the landscape. It suggests that the disappearance of the Church allows one to see the world anew, in a spiritual way (though even that idea needs some starting point, i.e., the Church).

I think this project is a perfect example of the spirit of the modern movement in architecture. Modernism in architecture hails abstraction and simplification, and it parallels a secularization of religion.

“Less is more.”

“God is in the details.”

“Form follows function.”

“The freedom of ornament is a sign of spiritual strength.”

These quotes from early twentieth-century architects capture the spirit. Modern thought took our built environment on a new journey. The way of tradition and subtlety in design gave way to originality and invention. New materials such as steel, large plate glass, and reinforced concrete became new toys to build an abstract utopia. (Fun fact: Reading Between the Lines is composed of 30 tons of steel.)

As materials started to be mass produced, designs became modulated, and buildings became machines. “Form follows function” soon devolved into “form is accidental to function.” Rather than seeing the form of a building as being integral and wedded to its function, modernists designed buildings simply to fulfill program requirements. We went from schoolhouse to Bauhaus.

Buildings became box-like, unadorned, and white. Whether or not it was a principle interest of the designers, works of modern architecture became a blank canvas for viewers and users to imbue meaning. The mind was thought to be freed to see the spiritual in the abstract (take away the crucifix and what is religious or spiritual there?). Yet, I think that unless someone is given direction (e.g., this is a church, think church things) or some sign (e.g., the crucifix) there’s no meaning present. The spirituality of a design is proportional to its presentation of traditional religious design and thought. The abstraction is a privation of the tradition.

Philip Johnson once said, “I don’t see how anybody can go into the nave of Chartres Cathedral and not burst into tears.” While enjoying quiet solitude inside San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, my silent contemplation was broken by a man gasping for air. He walked in, clutched his breast, and looked up in awe. I literally saw beauty take his breath.

True religious churches imbue transcendence. True religious lives imbue transcendence. Any attempt to attain transcendence apart from religion will only lead to frustration. That’s because the whole dialogue and understanding of the spiritual is rooted in religion, and the truest form, expression, and existence of it is in Jesus Christ.

St. Paul preached that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church(Eph 3:10). That wisdom (namely, Jesus Christ), which all spiritual desire longs for, will be found in the Church. Designs remain hidden in the mind of an architect until the building is constructed. Likewise, in his Commentary on Ephesians, St. Thomas explains that the manifold wisdom of God’s revelation remained hidden in the minds of the Apostles until preached. Thomas writes:

“However, once the concepts are realized externally in the construction, in the house after it is built, anyone can learn from the building what previously was concealed in the architect’s mind. Yet, they are not taught by the house but in the house.”

That house is the Catholic Church, protected by the successors of the Apostles. The world isn’t “dangerously riven by [Catholic] doctrines,” as Sam Harris would have it. The world is led to true beauty and transcendence by that doctrine. One only has to be willing to receive it and be taught in the house.

“I’m spiritual but not religious.” While my friend said those words, she found comfort grasping her medallion. Unbeknownst to the room was that it was the Miraculous Medal hanging over her heart. She was seeking refuge in the image of Mary, the Mother of the Church.

This article was written by Br. Irenaues Dunlevy, O.P., who was born the youngest of four children in Columbus, Ohio. He grew up in the rural southeast suburb of Canal Winchester. After leaving the area for college, his family joined the Dominican parish of St. Patrick’s in Columbus. He received a Bachelor and Masters of Architecture from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. and practiced for a religious architecture firm in the DC area. Br. Irenaeus entered the Order of Preachers in 2013.



If we are “spiritual” what do we get?

We get peace. We might answer: “Do not be afraid. Everything is possible with God.”

We might simplify further and say, “We get a good night’s sleep.”

We get freedom and a clear head. We get the joy of living not for ourselves but for and with others. We get a shot at eternity.

We might ask, “If you are spiritual, do you pray?” Many have said, “no prayer, no spiritual life.”

We might recommend this book, which suggests, after much study, that we who want to be or get closer to God, do at least four (not one or three) things frequently..

Image may contain: text

  1. We Pray and Meditate
  2. We study (spiritual works, like the scripture)
  3. We pour ourselves out in loving service to others
  4. We evangelize. A Christians talks about his faith — he is not ashamed. A person in AA or another 12 Step recovery program, does 12 Step work.


Do We Pray?

“A soul should not resolve, on account of the dryness it experiences, to abandon prayer.” — St. Teresa of Avila

“No prayer, no spiritual life.” –St. John Paul II

“Nothing so much purifies our mind from its errors, or our will from its depraved  affections, as prayer.” — St. Francis de Sales

“Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.” — St. Pio of  Pietrelcina (“Padre Pio”)

For thousands of years, human beings have been praying. We modern Americans may need to give it a try too. I know it’s not cool but being cool won’t keep me sober or get me to heaven!

Prayer is what “practicing” spiritual people do. They also study, do service for others, evangelize, meditate…..

Our daily practices of our Christian faith opens the door to more intervention of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. Once we realize “All things are possible with God” and “Do not be afraid” have given us inner peace and strength, only then can we take risks in serving others more totally and spiritually.
Our goal is to be saved unto eternity — but if we constantly cower in fear on this earth we cannot find and do the mission God sent us here to perform.
Our lives do not belong to us. Rather, God gives us life as an opportunity to find the mission He has for us!


This little “anti-anxiety” prayer was a part of every Catholic Mass for centuries:
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil,
and grant us peace in our day.
In your mercy keep us free from sin
and protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Another anti-anxiety prayer is this one:
God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help
of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!


Laying out his vision for the future of U.S. Catholicism at the midday prayer service he said that it was wrong to keep silent or look the other way on abortion and urged them to protect its 'innocent victims'
Pope Francis stops for a moment of silent prayer at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, September 23, 2015

Another way to test out faith is this: Do we suffer?

Are we afraid? In the scripture, Jesus says “Do not be afraid” dozens of times…..

Christians suffer. No suffering no resurrection.


Do we have power — from a Higher Power or from the Holy Spirit? Do we rely upon God or self?

Image may contain: one or more people

Holy Spirit by Edward Leen

Image may contain: 1 person, text

By St. Francis de Sales

When I am troubled, do I seek help in prayer or in the pharmacy?


Do we pour ourselves out in loving service to others?

(Christians pour themselves out. This makes room for God, the Holy Spirit, your Higher Power, etc.This is why humility is stressed over and over and over.)


No automatic alt text available.

Book: Standing Naked Before God by Molly Phinney Baskette

We suffer when we screw up, but we suffer doubly when we conceal our screwing up from each other and from ourselves. As the good folks in AA say, “we are only as sick as our secrets.”

We all like to think of ourselves as ‘good people,’ but that’s only half the story–and to tell only half the story is to live only half our lives. Standing Naked Before God is a book about telling the whole story–one amazing, vibrant progressive Christian church’s countercultural practice of public confession of sin.

No automatic alt text available.

Photo: Mercedes Benz Sport Concept Car, 2015. Could you give it away?



Do we stay in the present moment (or live mostly in the wreckage of the future or the wreckage of the part)?


Do you see Christ in the marginalized, hurt, aged, suffering abused, and etc?

Image result for padre pio, photos

Do we worry or have a lot of anxiety?

Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and protect us from all anxiety, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.




Some variations on these themes…..


“Pray, pray to the Lord with me, because the whole world needs prayer. And every day, when your heart especially feels the loneliness of life, pray. Pray to the Lord, because even God needs our prayers.”

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina
“Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”
– St. Pio of  Pietrelcina

Stay in the boat.  Several of my friends and family were among the Vietnamese Boat People who came to the United States “the hard way.” My bride was among many who spent weeks at sea with almost no food and water. Many talk of their desolation. When things are going badly for either of us, I always remember to “Stay in the Boat.” This simple phrase has come to mean, stay in God’s hands, pray and keep going. We never know what will happen next in God’s plan…..

This means we are always in community. We are never alone. (Human beings should be more afraid of being alone — God made is to be in community.)

The timing is not up to us. We pray, help others and try to follow the Way of Jesus, but for many, including Mother Teresa, we are unable to speed up God’s plan.

No prayer, no spiritual life. Be humble enough to know we need a lot of help. Sometime I have trouble “keeping at it” — but then, God always jolts be back awake and aware of why we are here.

Cherish what you have. Be grateful. Tell God you are grateful. Whatever we are experiencing — it could be worse. When I don’t “feel grateful,” I think of my friend who says, “Feelings are not facts and they change. Do the actions you must do and trust me, you’ll feel better. Life is more about actions than feeling.”

Rid yourself of disordered attachments. The idea of “disordered attachments” jumped off the page at us while reading one of Father Benedict Groeschel’s books. He suggests, along with just about every Christian  spiritual guide, that we have to rid ourselves of all the sinful things we hold on to. A good start is to try to obey the Commandments and move away from the “Seven Deadly Sins.” When my Spiritual Director asked me about the Seven deadly Sins when we first met, I told him “I think I have EIGHT.”

When men get to heaven, I wonder how many want to give God a Treatise on Adultery? If we feel that adultery paves the way to God, we might need to look into the mirror and get more help! No disordered attachment gets us closer to God. Ask your wife.

Image may contain: 1 person

Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel

We’re on the clock. Each day I am further away from my own birth and 24 hours closer to meeting God. John Wayne said in more than one of his films, “We’re burning daylight.” Let’s not waste too much time.

Do not be afraid. This may be the most frequent four word direction in Scripture. We put ourselves in God’s hand and we no longer need to worry. Some say, “The antidote to fear is faith.” Padre Pio said, “If you are worried: pray. Once you are praying, you don’t have to worry.”

If you want self esteem, do esteemable stuff. Serving others in Christ’s Name — Padre Pio

Follow God’s will. God made us to be and live the lives he made us to live. Wanna make a bet that in His plan, we get rid of our disordered attachments and sins at some point? Maybe God figures we’ll eventually find Him — or he’ll find us. Complaining often that we don’t know what God’s will is for us won’t help. Get rid of the disordered attachments and follow the directions in the scripture never fails. And its OK to ask for help!

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Pray, meditate, frequent the sacraments and do loving service for others and guess what happens?  We get the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” We get God’s power (in the amounts He allows).

Do we rely upon food, drugs alcohol, sex (you name it)?



Related Part I:

Catholic Church Teaching on Human Life and Suicide:



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to ““I’m spiritual but not religious.” How do we stack up to other successful spiritual people through the ages….”

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: