Lately I’ve been worshipping at the church of Ian White Maher. Are y’all listening to his weekly meditations? Wow, he is woke!

In a recent offering, “A peculiar courage,” Ian hones in on the “spiritual but not religious” and nails it on the limitations of that identity. Friend so completely speaks my mind.

“But the trouble with so much of “spiritual but not religious” is that it has become a leisure pursuit that we pick up or put down when it is convenient. We mix and match what we like without wrestling with what we don’t like. When we’re able to pick and choose, we always just pick and choose what is comfortable. We skip from Thich Nhat Hanh to Marianne Williamson to Deepak Chopra but find we are still facing the same unhappiness and sense of being overwhelmed because the main problem with spiritual but not religious is that it is about us as individuals. Healing, transformation, salvation – and I don’t use that word in a heavenly sense but more in an ecological sense – lie in the experiences that sustain us as communities.”

This hits home because Ian is describing me. Flitting about from one teacher to the next, picking and choosing my own unique Enneagram Four brand of spirituality. And yet, the challenge he is issuing so clearly is that the very things I need, that I am seeking, cannot be found on my own. To recover from the ill effects of individualism and capitalism, I must be part of religious community. Ian describes the ways that “spiritual but not religious” is conjoined with a culture driving towards isolation and separation. Its antidote? Religion. Or etymologically: to be bound together.

The spiritual but not religious conversation is one I have been continuously curious about ever since I first encountered it from Lillian Daniel. Almost 5 years ago she described the limits of self-made religion and I knew she was speaking to me.

It is a conversation I most fully tapped into the day I last quit congregational life, coming home after an annual meeting at a UU church. I remember flopping on the bed in tears, lamenting to my partner, “but, I think I’m religious!?” I sought some liberation from the individualistic, isolating experience I was having. That paradox of feeling alone in a crowd, when I was seeking to feel tied up with other people. I sought religious life, or as Ian describes it, having decided to “give expression to God as part of a community.”

Ian continues:

“…We need a spiritual practice that has depth. That holds us accountable, that supports us in the giving of our gift to the world, that allows us to practice a transformation we can experience as a group of people rather than on our own…Our spirituality, when focused and developed in community, is able to produce changes not only in us but also in the world.”

I’ve listened and re-listed to Ian’s meditation on this “peculiar courage.” I’m hearing it as a deep challenge. A provocative reminder to continue to seek out collective, communal, shared spaces for spiritual knowing. Not just books, or journaling, or all the other private, safe places I go. But people and the hard interpersonal challenges that come with a collective expression of the Divine. Sharing experiences way more colorful and powerful than anything I can conjure up.