What Do Spiritual But Not Religious People Sing?

What Do Spiritual But Not Religious People Sing? September 27, 2016

photo by Ellen Debenport


Oh lordy, lord.

We actually sang about Jesus in my church last Sunday, and you could feel the confusion and tension in the room.

We hardly ever sing about Jesus. Ordinarily, we change those two syllables to “Spirit” or just sing something else.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Jesus.

We believe he was a real man who lived 2,000 years ago and taught mind-blowing truths. But we focus on the divine within us. We’re not sinners in need of salvation. Rather, we are becoming aware of our own divine potential.

So I understand why a Jesus song was a surprise.

It wasn’t one of those schlocky Jesus Is My Boyfriend songs. It was a solo of the beautiful standard, “His Eye Is On the Sparrow.”

I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me.
(by Charles Hutchison Gabriel and CD Martin, 1929)

It followed my talk (we don’t call them sermons, either) in which I went out of my way to emphasize the inescapable divine presence in which we live and move and have our being, saying we are always loved and guided.

I knew the song was coming. The music director and I talked about it two or three times beforehand, wondering whether it would fly. We decided to try it, just this once in a blue moon, because it fit the topic so well.

We knew a few people wouldn’t like it. We also knew a few others would be deeply comforted to hear an old, familiar song.

The applause was polite. And truth be told, I’ve only received one email of concern so far. Too churchy, the writer said.

Well, yes. We were in church.



I wonder whether we lose something in our efforts to be spiritual but never, ever, ever religious.

Do we really need to reject every single thing we heard or did in a mainstream church? And how can we create a spiritual community without looking a lot like religion?

People who swear they feel spiritual on the golf course every Sunday morning don’t have this problem.

photo by James P. Mann on
photo by James P. Mann on

But many Spiritual But Not Religious people still want some kind of group experience. They want to read and study together, to hear new ideas, and to feel the warmth and acceptance of being among like-minded friends, especially if they fear their viewpoints are not welcome in the larger world.

Call it a center, a community or a sangha. When a group gathers at 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning to sing, pray and hear a minister speak, I call it church.

Church comes from a Greek word meaning “those called out.”

A number of Spiritual But Not Religious people are refugees from the rigid churches of their past, but they haven’t given up on finding a spiritual path. They still feel called out.

Called to what? You have to answer that for yourself.

What calls you to learn more about the universe and your role in it?

What pulls you into meditation?

What makes you long to know your own soul?

Why do you believe there’s something larger than you are, even if you can’t clearly identify it?



I believe the drive we feel toward spirituality is the evolutionary impulse hard-wired into each of us.

Evolution is not just physical; it’s about consciousness. As a species, I believe we seek not only more practical understanding of the world but a greater awareness of its metaphysical underpinnings.

group meditating under trees
photo by kafka4prez on

That is, we know there’s more to life than we can see.

And we long to understand it.

Spirit is defined as “the force within a person that is believed to give the body life, energy, and power.” (Merriam-Webster)

It’s the animating force of our existence, the power that breathes us. We can’t make our hearts beat without it, and we naturally want to know what it is.

That’s the spiritual search.

It has been defined thousands of different ways throughout history. Some groups formed rituals and bureaucracies to support their beliefs. We call those groups religions.

Could they all have been wrong? Could every teaching, every reading, every song they created over centuries have nothing of value for us today?

If we dissected the messages in every book of prayer or every hymn lyric, I have no doubt we would find some major differences in our understanding of the divine.

But we also might find beautiful and different ways of saying the same things about beliefs we didn’t know we shared.

With so much division in our world, I’m going to relax my standards about what aligns precisely with my beliefs and my vocabulary.

The words we use, the songs we sing . . . As long as they express love and a sense of the Infinite in my life, I’m not going to worry so much about whether they fall into the Spiritual or Religious column.

The line between them is fuzzy anyway. And maybe it no longer serves us.


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