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Articles by Gregory Barrette
Spirituality is the Coffee and Religion is the Cup - Greg Barrette

What is the difference between spirituality and religion? Spirituality is the essence of Truth. Religion is the container into which that essence is poured.

Everyone needs a structure of beliefs to hold the essence of Spirit. Imagine a coffee cup. If you tried to drink coffee without it, the hot essence of the coffee would scald your hands.

Spirituality is the coffee. Religion is the cup. You might imagine spirituality without religion, but its unbridled power and vibrancy could "burn" you. You need a container of beliefs to hold that experience.

On the other hand, in our culture, religion is often revered and spirituality shunned. Many of us walk around with empty cups in our hands. Much religion is all cup but no coffee, all outer belief but no inner experience, all structure but no essence.

I once heard this explained by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale in 1978, when I was a student in seminary. I had been called on to chauffeur participants to a conference in Kansas City. The keynote speaker, Dr. Peale, was sitting in the back seat alongside a well-known executive of a Fortune 500 company.

Peale was the author of the famous self-help book The Power of Positive Thinking, the title of which he first read in an article by Charles Fillmore from the 1930s, he told me later. He spoke of his love for Unity's teachings and said that he had dedicated the Activities Center at Unity Village. He came back to speak at the dedication of the new Silent Unity building a few years later, as well.

I overheard the executive talking to him. "Dr. Peale, I just have to ask you this question: What should I do with my son? He's 17 years old and refuses to come with the family to church on Sundays. We've tried everything--threats, rewards, arguments. Nothing we do makes any difference. How can we get him to join us? Doesn't he need religion?"

"Heavens no. Unless your son questions and even rejects the teachings that were handed to him by his parents, they will never have a chance to gain a life of their own. His beliefs need to become a living experience within him. This is one of the healthiest things he could do. Only when he decides for himself what he truly believes, will it become something real for him. Until then, it's only a second-hand faith. That's worth very little. You have to give him a chance to internalize what he believes. And that includes rejecting what you believe until he might choose to make it his own at a later time."

Spirituality is the direct experience of truth. Religion is the way we explain that experience to ourselves and how we hold it in common with others.

We may believe that we no longer need a structure or cup to hold the essence of our spirituality, but every human being needs to step down the power of the Infinite to a usable form. Ineffable Spirit is just too lofty for the mind to conceive. It needs a suitable container.

The trick is not to confuse the coffee with the cup!