The SBNRers

OK, But What Do You Mean by “Spirituality”?


A group from my congregation got together one evening, and, after discussing various spiritual and mystical events that we had experienced, wrote this definition of “spirituality:”


Spiritually is an emotional or sensual sense of something beyond oneself that is greater than oneself, often experienced as serenity, calm, or boundless connection.


This was not a definition arrived at after much prayer and fasting. We were having a pizza party. But this definition still rings true. Realizing that each of us is the Other and that there is no other; realizing that all will be well in this huge cosmic explosion. That’s spirituality.


S.B.N.R. (Spiritual But Not Religious )

Definitions and distinctions can be tricky, but the difference between “religion” and “spirituality” is important, since that distinction gets thrown around quite a bit.

“Spirituality,” as I see it, is the impulse to awe and wonder—that “sense of something beyond oneself that is greater than oneself.”

Spiritual practice is about doing things routinely that get us to that place more often than we would were we not to do spiritual practice.

We do lots of things with this spiritual impulse and spiritual practices, including art, philosophy, dancing, and hiking. Anything that pushes our impulse of awe and wonder toward what we call transcendence—toward getting outside our autopilot selves—is “spiritual.” When we get there, we experience “serenity, calm, (and/) or boundless connection.”

“Religion” is another matter. A particular religion proposes (and sometimes requires) a particular set of actions and beliefs that the religion has developed over time. For example, Hatha Yoga in Hindu practice leads to “yoking” with the divine. Union with the divine is also the aim of sacraments practiced in Christian traditions, or prayer in Muslim tradition. In religions, the spiritual impulse is harnessed, if you will, to a set of predetermined practices. The end is the same, however: turning off the autopilot.  Getting outside yourself. Getting in touch with the Other.

Spirituality, then, is the impulse and the goal; religion is the technique. So, when someone says, “I’m spiritual but not religious,” chances are that person likes to paint, dance, play kazoo, hike, or what-have-you, to find the sense of awe and wonder that leads to transcendence; to “serenity, calm, or boundless connection.”

Sometimes people mix two or three or more religious traditions. 

A logical next question is: “Well, then, is Unitarian Universalism a religion?” That’s a difficult question. Unitarian Universalism is both/and in the above definition. As an “umbrella” tradition, we respect both hiking and Hinduism as forms of spiritual practice. We also practice the arts, garden, and work for justice. Unitarian Universalism is an umbrella. It is also a religion based on the two sides of the family before the 1961 merger, Universalism and Unitarianism. 

As I see it, Unitarian Universalism is both/and, with some of us practicing the traditions inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian religious traditions, others practicing other religious traditions, and some being “spiritual,” following our own paths.

That’s what I find fun about Unitarian Universalism!


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