I am not a particularly spiritual person, but I am quite religious. I like to think that I am a Pharisee in the good sense of the word. Generally speaking, spirituality is exalted over mere religion. To be spiritual is to be possessed of an inner sensitivity to the presence of the divine. It is to experience the spiritual in an immediate way. It is to partake of something of the mystic, the person who has direct contact with the Great Beyond. In contrast to the inner authenticity and superlative sensitivity of spirituality, religion is merely a matter of forms, institutions, rituals, commandments, and the like. Spirituality is dynamic, individualistic, and egalitarian. Religion is static, collective, and hierarchical. Spirituality is alive. Religion is dead. Spirituality is good. Religion is bad. Or so it seems to me when I hear a phrase like â€œHeâ€™s not religious, but he is very spiritual, if you know what I mean.â€? I think I do.
In this sense, I am not spiritual. I donâ€™t have lots of ecstatic experiences. God does not constantly whisper in my ear, nor do I surf from one profound moment of inner sensitivity to the next. To be sure, there are moments in my life when I feel that I have directly heard the voice of God, but such experiences for me can be counted on one hand with many fingers remaining. I see these moments as gifts, rather than as models for the life of my faith. Indeed, on the whole I do not feel my faith as some sort of mystical or even â€œspiritualâ€? set of experiences. Rather my faith consists largely of things like ritual, commandments, institutions, authority and hierarchy. I suppose that someone might say of me, â€œHe is quite religious, but not particularly spiritual, if you know what I mean.â€?
In that sense, I suppose, I am Pharisaical. I am no doubt touched with more than my share of hypocrisy, but this is not really what I mean when I say that I am a Pharisee. Rather, what I mean is that I take the forms to be important. Indeed, it is in the forms that I generally search for God. Last week we had stake conference. I was excited by the prospect, and I enjoyed attending. On the other hand, the talks were not particularly memorable. Indeed, less than a week later, I can remember little of what was said. Nor did I have some spiritual moment at the conference. I did not open the inner core of my being and commune with the Great Beyond. Rather, for me the most meaningful part of stake conference was the sustaining of general and stake authorities. It is not that the sustaining gave me a little thrill because of my abiding conviction in the infallibility or superlative virtue of my leaders. No doubt there are many great and good men among those that I sustained, but I donâ€™t believe in prophetic infallibility and I know that leaders have lapses.
Rather, I loved the solemnity of it. I loved the fact that my act of sustaining marked my connection not simply to a community defined by the inner bonds of the heart but an institution defined by claims of authority and historical continuity that exceeds any individual authorship. I loved stake conference in part because it marked a moment of heightened membership in the Church as a corporate entity, a moment when ritual, authority, and hierarchy were fused together. In short, it marked my participation in an order beyond myself, an order present not in the ethereal realm of inner experience but in the fleshy life of an institution. At the moment I raised my hand to the square, I was part of the fleshy rather than spiritual Kingdom of God.
Oddly enough given the way that the emotive force of corporate belonging and Mormon identity overwhelm inner or immediate spiritual experience in my faith, I have little patience with those who would reduce religion to an exercise in nostalgia. I am, I suppose, a DNA Mormon, but at the end of the day I would find DNA Mormonism alone to be thin gruel. I understanding the enormous attraction of historical and communal identity, but although such identity is a major â€“ perhaps overwhelming â€“ part of my religious life, I like to think that there is more to my Mormonism than nostalgia.
Rather, I think in terms of bodies. We say that God has a body. It is a profound affirmation of the importance of the concrete and the particular over the abstract and the universal. I like to think that this means that God is quirky. I also believe in the Body of Christ, in the Church. But I do no belong to the invisible or spiritual Church, the universal Body of Christ. For me the Body of Christ is not especially spiritual at all. Rather, it is a body, a real body of concrete institutional particularity. It is in the thickly embedded particulars of Mormonism that I find more than simply historical identity or corporate belonging. I also find God.