Better Together @ UNF Secretary, Emily Schroder, offers an authentic, honest, and moving reflection on personal religiosity, relationships, identity and “being known.”
On Personal Religiosity
by Emily Schroder
It’s interesting how much I question my religiosity- or perhaps I should say “reassess” it. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it makes sense to constantly introspect about your spirituality because you’re constantly changing; you’re constantly taking in new information and new experiences that lead to the logical conclusion of becoming new yourself. So why shouldn’t we always be peering inwards to see if our spiritual philosophies, dogmas, and beliefs still align themselves with who we are in that moment? I am not a stagnant being, so the way I see myself and the world in relation to the macrocosm that is God or the Force or whatever is likely to flow in tune with my own personal changes.
So why do I understand this logic on paper, but not in my everyday life? Why is it so uncomfortable to not have a permanent religious orientation- to not have a box that I can label and consistently live within? Sometimes I believe it’s the society I live in; it is a society obsessed with categorization and making identification a quick process. “I know him/her” is used much too commonly; to “know” someone in this culture is to have exchanged a few messages with her on Facebook or to remember her first name. It is not to have spent hours on end listening to her story; to have walked with her in all seasons of the year, soaking up the energy that is her existence, learning the speech patterns through which she expresses her life force, noting the types of touch and tones that put her at ease when she is in need of compassion. No- in our culture, “knowing” someone takes little effort, little time, and little acknowledgement of what lies beneath the surface. It is merely the recognition of a face in a crowd. It is painfully simple.
So it makes sense why people find it so uncomfortable to be unable to identify someone’s religious orientation immediately. You can’t possibly understand what I believe by asking me the “religion” I adhere to. You can’t really know how I govern myself spiritually by exchanging a few sentences with me. It will take a good amount of time for me to express my spirituality sufficiently, and it will take a good amount of time for you to understand it. You’ll have to walk with me through many seasons and exchange silences with me that speak louder than I ever could. You’ll have to witness my energy in various situations- see me interact with a child, take the hand of my lover, nurture my animals, and protect what is important to me. How else could you “know” my stance on the macrocosm? How else could you “know” me at all?
And how else could I “know” you?
This is what makes me uncomfortable even with my own spirituality. I reach towards a simple answer; a religious label or doctrine that I could simply attach myself to, that would answer all the big questions for me. In one or two words I could “explain myself” to anyone who asked and they would more or less know “what I am.” I find myself grasping for this because I, too, am a part of this culture. I like to think that I can “know” someone and someone can “know” me through a brief encounter. I have been trained to categorize and generalize, and when I can’t do that to myself, I have a brief panicky feeling that something is wrong with me. Why can’t I be categorized? Why can’t I find an appropriate niche in the label-loving tribe that is American- maybe even human- culture? What makes it so hard for me and so easy for everyone else?
But this is the crux of the issue: it isn’t so easy for everyone else. At the core, we are all yearning to be known- truly and genuinely known– but it is so difficult to feel worthy of the time. The level of intimacy it requires does not form quickly. We have things to do in those seasons where we could be walking with one another. We have bills to pay, impressions to make, accomplishments to pile up on our resumes. We have checklists we must complete in order to validate ourselves and to fill that emptiness that our social institutions have created in us by repeating “you’re not good enough” time and time again. It is so hard to find someone or someplace to take you as you are, because there is no time for them to know you.
This is why I, and surely many others, have grown so uncomfortable with our lack of concrete identification. We do not come prepackaged, yet people have so little time to read anything but the labels. We are lost in a sea of categories and generalizations to which we can’t conform, so we awkwardly float alone. Even those who are comfortably religious are harmed by this dynamic. But this needn’t be the case. We have no reason to be uncomfortable with ourselves, or with other people. This is where the revolution of knowing has to start. If, little by little, we begin to foster deeper connections and more intimate interpersonal relationships, we will already be creating a counterculture that values one another at the core level; a counterculture that says “I have time for you, because you are worth it. Knowing you and being known is of value. You mean more to me than anything material, and I choose you.”
And in saying that, how could others refuse? How could our world not change?
Maybe that is my religion. Perhaps that is my spirituality. There are so many things I don’t know and probably never will, but I do know that there is no moment in which I feel closer to God than when I’m wholly in the presence of another human being; when I am actively knowing, and genuinely being known.