Can You Be Spiritual Without Having A Religion?

Almost my entire life I struggled with the concept of religion and my palpable attitude towards church was most distressful to one person in particular, my mother. A very religious woman, she would drag me every Sunday with, as she described “the worst puss on my face”.   She can expressly recall the day I became her problem child with this short tale:  “I said, ‘okay let’s go to church’ and my six-year-old Donna got up, folded her arms and stomped her foot on the ground, crying out, ‘No!  I’m not going to Church eneeee more!’”


Every other Sunday morning I would sit in the back of our station wagon and pray for a reprieve as we left our Long Island home and traveled the bumpy BQE to Brooklyn to visit our Nana.  The second we pulled up to the 71st Street curb, I would jump out of the car and run right for the door of her little apartment.  As I waited in the hallway for her to let us in, the smell of tomato sauce simmering on the stove would pierce through my nose, reminding me of the warm, cozy day that lay ahead.  This ritual encompassed the best of my childhood memories, except for one grueling aspect; having to leave her as soon as we got there to go to, you guessed it, church!

So determined to get out of what I considered torture, I remember spending one trip faking car sickness all the way so I could stay behind and help Nana cook.  Feeling triumphant, I watched as my mother and sisters headed out the door to attend Mass around the corner, but it was short-lived.  Just a half hour later, as Nana and I sat at her little table and broke apart fresh ravioli, she noticed my sad demeanor and asked, “Are you feeling any better my little Donna Ann?”  This time I didn’t have to fake nausea as my stomach churned with guilt just thinking about the lie I had told.

Being Catholic and going to parochial school left many scars on my self-esteem, but not all were caused by the nuns and priests. Yes, Catholicism is complicated and in the past very dogmatic and severe, which goes against everything I was and still am, but looking back, I can understand how my undiagnosed learning disabilities caused the most distress.   Having an attention deficit made it impossible for me to sit still.  My hearing problem called APD (auditory perception disorder which makes words sound muffled and twisted) created confusion and caused me to tune out most of the time.  And finally, because I was a slow learner I never felt intelligent enough to grasp the concepts.  So while other people, like my Mom, felt comforted and had a feeling of goodness about going to church, I felt anxiety and guilt that started every Saturday afternoon and lasted right through Sunday night.  I thought of myself as a bad girl for not being able to sit still like all the other parishioners.  And finally, I was bored.   All were factors in making me hate, and I really mean it, Church.

Of course no one, most especially myself, understood what was going on, so Mom continued to drag her ‘foot-stomping child’ every week until I was a teen and old enough to say no.  After that, she started to beg me to join her. Possibly because of my upbringing, possibly because I just wanted to please her, I went on rare occasion, bringing a crossword puzzle just to cut the boredom.  Believe it or not, it was her idea to bring it.  She thought if I was at least sitting there, somehow I would be struck by a beam of white light and be healed forever of my distaste for religion.  What my mother didn’t understand was that even though I wasn’t religious, I was still influenced by it and constantly aware of my intent to be good and share goodness.

In fact, many years of my life were spent trying to find the truth about our existence here and what we should be doing.   My shame over not being able to worship, and the realization that I cannot seem to learn like everyone else, made me determined to find answers on my own.  And even though most of the hours I was in church were spent making paper airplanes out of the weekly bulletin, I still gathered a lot of information that helped me on this journey.

At some point, I decided to search out the genuineness of Catholicism through my spirituality.  It bothered me that I was so spiritual and believed so much in a higher power, but I couldn’t stand being part of a strict form of religion.    I opened myself up to gleaning truths from all different sources, including hearing messages through meditation.  Although I can’t say who the voices belonged to, I did often listen to explanations that finally made sense to me.  (If you ask, you will get answers.)  Some are still confusing to this day, but, there is always one strong and unswerving message:   We were put here to discover the essence, or Soul, within us and to live up to “its” greatness.

I have also been told by this “wisdom” that there is a place inside of you that knows all, can tell all, and wants to be all that “You” can be.  Go ahead and call this inner essence your soul, inner guide, ego, self, shadow or any other name.  In the bible, the phrase Holy Spirit was considered the energy inside of a body that gave it life or essence.  The Jewish refer to it as nefesh.  In the orient, the Chinese refer to it as Chi, Japan it’s Ki and in India it is called prana or shakti.  Finally, there is Buddhism’s definition of interconnectedness which is the idea that all humans are connected to each other and the Earth by a common life force.  Since I am born Catholic, however, and have no experience with any other religion, I happen to reference what I am familiar with; the Bible’s description of the trilogy.

sunIrrespective of what you use to see your truth, all religions are telling us basically the same thing:  You have a higher power; you are able to tap into it at any time; you can use it to create a better life for yourself and to seek out your higher purpose.  Whether you get to that conclusion through a formal religion, meditation or simply asking the Universe for answers, if you are ultimately led to your higher purpose and are living a spiritual life, does it really matter how you got there?

Since we are all so different, doesn’t it make sense that there would be a need for so many religious explanations?  Everyone believes theirs is the correct faith.  Isn’t it arrogant to assume that any one group or person knows everything, most especially since almost all religions are teaching us the opposite; that there is a higher intelligence out there we should be listening to?

It has been my mission to instill in each person I meet the need to discover their own “Soul Essence” and allow the “voices” albeit from a priest, rabbi, monk, or some ethereal power, to resonate a truth they can hold on and live up to.  Then and only then will we all be in agreement about the gift of “spiritual” energy that is a part of all religions; namely, love.  When we accomplish that, we will not feel led to judge anyone by their belief in a religion or how religious they are, but instead, judge our own lives by how spiritually driven we are by the religion we decide to follow.