A delightfully salty 98-year-old woman taught me an important lesson about spirituality. She was a hospice patient of mine, and on one occasion we discussed her lifetime of religious experiences.
She was raised in a Southern Baptist family. As a young woman she met a nice Catholic boy and to marry him she became one herself, to the utter shock of her family. After he was killed in World War II, she wed a Methodist, but things went kaput when he ran off with his secretary. Jerks come in all religious flavors, although she described him in much more vivid language.
Becoming a Presbyterian was her next step; a Bridge club friend invited her to church. After a run-in with the preacher she left that congregation and met a sweet Pentecostal guy who was a superb dancer. It didn’t last long. She enjoyed dancing, but not during a worship service.
At the urging of other friends over the years, she’d also dallied with the Church of Christ and had a brief flirtation with the Lutherans. Nothing seemed a perfect fit, but she learned a lot of doctrine along the way.
She lamented not having any direct experience practicing Judaism or Buddhism, although she’d studied them thoroughly and had adopted principles of both into her spiritual portfolio.
Eventually she became an Episcopalian, because she decided to visit a church where she was pretty sure no one knew her. Plus, the priest bore a striking resemblance to Tyrone Power. She couldn’t recall any specific sermons he gave, but dang it if he wasn’t gorgeous.
I’m not making this up.
How, I asked, with her amazingly diverse experience, did she define herself spiritually? She assured me she enjoyed great spiritual clarity. To describe herself, she quoted Thomas Jefferson: “I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.”
Spirituality itself was her passion, not any one brand of religion. On her drive across life’s sacred landscape, her journey convinced her God was unimpressed by denominational labels. The important thing was cultivating a bond with the Holy, and recognizing the holiness within herself, in others, and all of creation.
She said, “Everything is spiritual when you believe our very existence is nothing short of miraculous. God must love us very much to give us such a gift. It’s a spiritual awakening that’s renewed every day with awe and wonder and thanksgiving.”
Her spiritual selfhood transcended particular doctrines, creeds, interpretations of scripture, or styles of worship. She admitted to having questions and doubts but understood that as part of her life education. Finding absolute answers was not her goal, and her concept of faith went beyond the notion of everyone needing to agree on what to believe.
Instead, hers was a spirituality of humility, curiosity, and acceptance. It was about relationship: her love of God, and her loving embrace of other people and all things.
At 98, she appreciated that her time in this realm was nearing the end of a chapter in a much larger book. It was a moment of waiting to turn to the next episode. In the pages to come she believed more spiritual discovery was ahead but was quite thankful for all the excursions she’d already taken.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” she said, “and couldn’t anyway if I tried. So why not be happy? I’m so glad I was able to explore.”