All humans have three things in common: We’re born, we live, and we die. For such simple facts, these truths raise profound questions for us.
We know about our bodies: we eat, sleep, work, and have children, for instance. We know about our feelings, about love, sorrow, joy, anger, or boredom. We form relationships with other people, we dream, we plan, we play, we get hurt, and most of the time, we take these events for granted and do what we need to do for another day.
But then sometimes something profound or miraculous or disastrous happens—like holding a baby, or falling in love, or being with someone who is dying—or some catastrophe strikes. At that moment we become aware of just how big the world is and how small we are in relation to it, and then we ask, “Why…?”
“Spirituality” describes, at least in part, that search for meaning and answers to our questions about life and death. We cannot answer them on our own, so we turn to others for help, like our friends, parents, religious leaders, or sometimes even strangers, just someone who can help make sense of life.
“Religion” is what we call the various ways in which different groups of people have found to answer these questions. The more people who have found a religion helpful and the longer they have practiced it together, the better they have organized it so that they could pass it on to others. Over time, the communities develop language, rites and ceremonies, and objects, all to express the profound experiences they have had and the truth they have found through them. The language and rites can be beautiful or frightening or confusing, yet at their core, they are still about those three simple facts: We’re born, we live, and we die—Why? What difference do we make?