Spirituality or Religion: Do We Have to choose?

This post is an excerpt from Gethin Abraham-Williams’ new book: Spirituality or Religion: Do We Have to Choose?

Scientific discoveries, travel, and huge population shifts in recent time have led us to describing our planet as a global village. It is a situation that is both exciting and dangerous. We can either find a way of living at peace with each other, within communities and between countries, or we can revert to a primeval chaos in a pointless clash of civilizations. Since people define themselves in terms of their religion, it matters that the dialogue between people is also a dialogue between faiths, which is likely to be most productive as a dialogue that sees spirituality as the common thread.

When, in response to the message of the little starling, Brân brought his armies to rescue his sister Branwen from her life of misery in the kitchens of the Irish court, they first had to cross the river Liffey. With the bridges destroyed to impede their progress, and the waters unsafe because of the loadstone on its river bed to suck them under, they found themselves stranded. Brân, however, was as tall as he was brave, and in the moment of crisis, when retreat rather than victory seemed their only option, he became himself the bridge over which his men could cross. Ever after on the Isle of the Mighty it was passed down from one generation to another that ‘he who would be a leader must also be a bridge’.  Where religions clash because it is of their nature to preserve what makes them distinctive, it is spirituality’s gift to provide a bridge that enables faith to speak peace to faith. Spirituality is more concerned with what religions have in common than in what keeps them apart. ‘Spirituality liberates us from our religious ghettoes’, the Hindu monk and Delhi social activist, Swami Agnivesh teaches. ‘It dismantles barriers and enables interreligious partnerships. This is basic to the liberation that spirituality affords.’

Little bridges are therefore built every time people of different faiths meet in homes and halls to share their life experiences, listening to the other’s scriptures and hearing the resonances in their own. Bridges that may sometimes sway alarmingly in the wind, but that somehow don’t give way. Bridges that connect separate banks, enabling the crossing of one to the other; bridges that are built when people of faith are invited to share in each other’s feasts and discover the spirituality that informs and sustains those whose name for God is different from their own. Where confidence abounds, honesty is possible.