Letters to Jesus (Transcendence and Contemplation)-1
The Jesuit spiritual writer, Fr. Anthony DeMello, says that spirituality is “being awake” and that religion is the tool meant to awaken us. In a sense then, I guess religion is that without which religion cannot be transcended to spirituality. It makes some sense and certainly holds with the classical spiritual notions of ascent, ladders, stages and castles.
Religion is the nanny or babysitter to spirituality. Author and poet Kathleen Norris talks about “waiting” and learning not to rush to judgment, and about being attentive and vigilant. Church, liturgy, hymns, participation in worship, sermons, sacraments and scriptures have, each in their own way, a piece of religious heritage that nurtures us on and provides us with clues. There is no time limit. The repetitions of religion may or may not resonate within a particular time in our lives, but if we wait, they will. How well You knew that the establishment of fundamental religion must come first. Then, if we wait and are patient we will become more and more awake.
But there is the danger that we simply possess the tool of religion without using it. Here there is no awakening because we become hypnotized by the external superficialities of religion. The awakening DeMello is talking about becomes possible in a spiritual evolution that takes off from the launching pad of an acceptance and practice of a rich religious heritage. There is no ascent, no step, stage, ladder or castle without this. And so, while we would not be correct in allowing religion to become an idol, it is yet the sine qua non of spiritual growth and awakening.
Religion and the church, while promulgated and supported by You, suffer greatly at times from rubbing up against humanity. There are elements that have attached themselves to organized institutional religion that, indeed, are stumbling blocks to our awakening. It seems oddly true that identifying these and weeding them out is part of the transcendent growth that religion fuels.