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Traditional religious communities were transforming long before the pandemic, but the rise of COVID-19 to pandemic status accelerated the change in how many Americans view religion. For many, traditional religious community doesn’t do it, and, according to Pew Research, a quarter of Americans now identify as spiritual but not religious, a term that identifies people who view themselves as having a spiritual life apart from those traditionally identified with major religions, such as churches, synagogues, mosques, and sanghas.

A rich personal spiritual life can be deeply rewarding. After all, it means the opportunity to develop an authentic sense of spirituality as well as to formulate one’s own beliefs without any pressure to conform to a creed or other preconceived doctrines. It can even be exhilarating to take radical responsibility for one’s own spiritual development. For many spiritual but not religious people, their individualistic faith is an antidote to dissatisfaction they experienced in previous religious communities, and developing their own sense of the spiritual is liberating and healing.

The spiritual but not religious life can also be deeply lonely, though. Most of the world’s major faith traditions identify community as an important part of practice, both for the support that comes from being a part of a committed community and for the accountability that comes with developing spirituality with a group of people equally committed to living out their convictions. After all, a completely solitary spiritual journey is one that can harm others if it is not grounded in a commitment to understanding and including other people.

Spiritual companioning can be a way for the spiritual but not religious to partner with a person in a relationship of accountability and deepening. In this sort of relationship, the spiritual companion listens deeply to the seeker, reflecting back what the companion hears and encouraging the seeker to reflect on the meaning in their lives as well as where they are seeing the sacred, however they understand it. The role of the spiritual companion is not to tell the seeker what to believe, but to point them towards the wisdom that is already within them.

For the spiritual but not religious seeker, spiritual companioning can be a great way to deepen one’s relationship to the sacred outside of traditional religious communities. For many, the experience is deeply healing, allowing one to learn to trust their own sense of the Holy again and finding some peace on their own journey.

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