Life has a strange way of showing us our paths, of shaking our beliefs. Believe it or not – before Alex’s death I was very closed minded. Just a couple of months before he died we sat at the kitchen table; Alex, me and Emily, my eight year old daughter. Alex said to me: “Mom, I’m not religious. I don’t believe in going to Church.” And I got defensive.
If I had known what I know now I would have opened the conversation, I would have talked with him. But I shot him down. My daughter was in the room and I told Alex not to speak like that, because she was sitting right there. I thought it might have a bad influence on Emily, I didn’t want her to feel negatively towards religion.
Alex told me he was spiritual, but not religious. I didn’t know what he meant then. I was raised Catholic, and we raised Alex and Emily Catholic. I was religious, but I wasn’t necessarily spiritual. It took my son taking his life for me to become spiritual.
The distinction between religion and spirituality can be confusing for people. Non-believers sometimes see them as one, but most of us are not religious and spiritual, we are one or the other. Then what is the difference?
By many religion is seen as some kind of organized faith, worshiping a God, or several Gods, usually within a strong community. Religious individuals are usually part of a bigger group, sharing their faith and doing good for their neighbors.
A spiritual individual is pictured as more of a lone wolf. A spiritual journey entails an inner search, that should result in our own truth, perhaps based on a few religions, but not bound by their rules. It’s quite the fashionable statement: ‘I am Spiritual but not Religious’ – there is an entire movement based on this principle.
Yet the religious and spiritual often judge each other. The religious call the spiritual lazy, egotistic, unwilling to connect with a community and help the world. The spiritual call the religious closed minded and say they lost their spirituality within the strict rules of religion. It seems religion and spirituality do not often go hand in hand.
But let’s look at what they both have, using the words of Swami Brahmananda: “There is no true religion or spirituality without kindness and love”.
Alex, young as he was, understood this. By telling me he was spiritual, he meant that he was on a journey within himself, searching for his own truth. I wish I would have listened to him then, talked with him. We might have been able to make part of the journey together. But I am grateful that I have now embarked on a spiritual journey of my own, even if his passing triggered it.
I am still religious, but I am also spiritual. And they are at their best going hand in hand, as one. Because we must search within ourselves, but not forget that there is more out there, something bigger than us. And to share our spiritual truths with others, to help others, to always be kind, compassionate and loving. I am happy Alex taught me this and grateful to continue with my son’s Spirit beside me, within me, on this beautiful journey.