“Capturing Rain in a Teacup?” What does it mean to be spiritual but not religious?

rain cupWhat does it mean when people say, “I am spiritual, but not religious?”

To you, does it seem trendy? Does it have any meaning at all? Is it sacrilegious?

Or does it resonate?

I recently heard a conversation between Krista Tippett and author Pico Iyer as they discussed these questions. Tippett said that she had once heard Iyer use a metaphor calling spirituality water, and religion tea.

She then offered her own version of the illustration.

She suggested that spirituality is as water but religion as a cup, the vessel that allows us to draw spirituality unto ourselves, and to offer it to others.

She added that the cup also confines it, and that the vessel is often imperfect; that it is sometimes dropped and broken, making it dangerous and incapable of holding any water at all.

Later, I was sharing this conversation with my family as we sat on my parents’ screened-in lanai off of their home near the Gulf Coast in Florida.

As we talked, the rains came.

First in a few drops, and then in an utter deluge.

From the lanai, we can see the lake. The rain caused the lake’s surface to dance and sparkle. Its life became apparent in new and dynamic ways.

As I watched, it occurred to me that there is another weakness embodied by the cup—by religion. It presents spirituality only to parts of our body and our existence—not to our wholeness.

In that downpour of rain, a cup seemed so trivial, so small—and so silly.

I excused myself from the lanai, and stepped out into the rain. I allowed it to drench me. Head-to-toe I became immersed in the glorious water from the heavens.

Before coming to Florida last week, I had divided my time between San Diego and Uganda for years. California is in the midst of a drought, and most of my recent stays in Uganda have been during the dry season—meaning that I have experienced very little rain in a long time.

But here, the free and abundant gift of Florida’s summer rain—which falls every day—is truly marvelous.

I love anticipating it.

I love feeling it as it falls directly onto my skin—or as it makes heavy the air around me on the lanai.

I love the fragrance—before, during—and after the rain.

I love how it makes the landscape green and abundant. And fertile.

And while I also enjoy and appreciate a nice cup of tea, and while I shall continue to savor my own, I shall be oh-so careful not to allow the cup to become the focus of my being.

Lest I miss the rain—and the whole blessed point of it all.

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