It seems difficult to have a conversation about God and religion these days without hearing the word "spirituality." More and more people have come to define themselves as spiritual, while fewer and fewer people self-identify as religious. For those who once considered themselves religious, many now have come to denote themselves as "spiritual and religious." Polls taken by Gallup and USA Today show that the number of people who have said they are both spiritual and religious rose from just 6 percent of the population in 1999, to 47 percent of the population in 2009. This spiritual phenomenon has captivated synagogue and church goers alike.
While most people define this elusive idea of spirituality as a wholly personal endeavor, I want to offer the possibility that spirituality can be enhanced and honed within the synagogue and church. In the new Jewish prayer book (Mishkan Tefila) that we use at Congregation Beth Ha-Sholom, the editor introduces an idea about Jewish worship in the synagogue of the 21st Century. Rabbi Elyse Frishman points out that in any worship setting, people enter with an assorted set of beliefs yet are able to pray the same liturgy together as a community in a meaningful way.
On a typical Shabbat service (Friday evening service) at Congregation Beth Ha-Sholom, for example, some people come for the sense community, while others might find the music moving. Some people may be agnostic, while others come with particular theological beliefs; and some of us are Jews, while others are not. We each bring our own balance of spirituality and religion.
The strength of such a community lays within its spiritual and religious diversity. Frishman labels this concept as "polyvocal;" we each bring our own personal voices to the worship community in order create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, our individual spiritual expressions can be strengthened by a prayer community.
Spiritual seekers often find meaning in personal activities such as meditation or yoga. They tend to disassociate with religious institutions because they are branded as institutional, structured, hierarchical, governed with rules, authoritative and dogmatic.
For the majority of the 20th century, this might have been a rather accurate portrayal. Spiritual seekers want meaning, connection, transcendence, energy and nature. These are notions that spiritual seekers assume that religion fails to offer. However, those who attend synagogue or church regularly will tell you that religious institutions are much more spiritually oriented these days than you might imagine.
If you are looking for spirituality, the church or synagogue should perhaps be the first place you might look and not the last.
Franklin is a student rabbi at Congregation Beth Ha-Sholom in Williamsport.