What Is The Difference Between Religion And Spirituality?

With a lot of what is going on in my life lately, anyone spending time around me would probably hear me mention the word God at least several times during any of my conversations. I know at least more than once, I’ve had people tell me in those conversations that they are not religious. What’s funny is that neither am I.

For some reason, the first thought is of religion when one might hear the utterance of the word God. For the longest time, I probably felt the same way. I grew up in a family that attended a United Methodist church on just about every Sunday. My father was a layman there and my mother a bell choir ringer. My parents donated faithfully to the church every Sunday. They volunteered for many of its events. They even did religious weekend retreats and weekly Bible studies. On the outside to everyone else, we seemed like the perfect family. We weren’t though. In fact, we were far from it. Like many might today, my parents often used the Bible as a weapon for their arguments. “That’s not very Christian like” might have been a phrase used during one of them. The way they acted at home was so very different from the way they presented themselves at church and in the public. While we might have been deemed a good Christian family to others that we knew back then, I had secretly vowed to part ways from it all when I left home. Being religious brought up a lot of negative connotations within me because of what I endured growing up. On top of the paradox that my parents lived behind closed doors versus how they lived in public, I also remember many sermons at church that were about how all human beings are sinners and that we are guilty more than not. I remember that to keep a good religious label meant donating more time and money to building a better church. And that’s just with what I remember as a child on what being religious meant. Today, the Bible is being used as a dagger in so many different ways, one of which is affecting me directly. Homosexuality is still deemed one of the ultimate sins by most major religions and I have been rejected from ever being a part of at least five different churches now in my life because of it.

Through my work in the rooms of 12 Step recovery, I have learned that spirituality is quite different from religion. I once heard of a very simple way to understand the difference. Religion was defined as the study of all its laws and principles that came within its own practice. Spirituality was defined as simply applying them in one’s life. My 12 Step work has led me to expand this definition more by realizing that I don’t need to go to church to hear God’s higher calling for me. And I don’t need to attend a weekly service to learn what is in my greatest highest good.

Being spiritual for me instead means serving God in whatever capacity I can every single day. It means starting my day by asking God to guide me in all my thoughts, words, and actions. It means asking God to keep me free from all addictions and obsessions throughout that day. It means keeping myself open to giving and receiving by praying and meditating daily. And it means giving thanks and gratefulness to God when each of my days come to an end. While I do own a Bible, several of them for that matter, I also own many other religious books and texts and none of them are the basis for living my life today. While each of them may lay forth good principles to living a healthier life, being spiritual in my life has led me to taking my instructions on daily living directly from God.

So am I religious because I use the word God often in my life? Absolutely not. I am spiritual because I live by my spirit within and I do my best every day to listen to what my Higher Guidance may be asking me to do. For me, it doesn’t come from a building that has a cross in it. It doesn’t come from a structure with an alter at the front of it’s hall. It doesn’t come from studying books that were written a very long time ago. It doesn’t come from a constant reminder that I was born a sinner and need to repent often. It doesn’t come from learning laws and principles that someone else is preaching to me. Where it does come from though is from my own daily practices which include praying, meditating, and communing with God alone. In those times, I ask how it is that I can live a more peace-filled and loving life here on Earth and then I wait for the answers to come. They always do. And when they do, I apply them to my daily living and in doing so, I continue to maintain a life of living spiritually.

Peace, love, light, and joy,

Andrew Arthur Dawson

Getting To Know Myself

For the longest time I did my best to avoid spending time with the one person I had to be with every day. Seeing myself in the mirror when I started each day often brought on feelings that seemed as far away from love, happiness, peace, and joy as one could be. In all reality, I hated myself. I hated who I had become. And I had lost most of any of my own self identity. My life had become a hodge-podge of other people’s personalities, and their likes and dislikes. I made a decision a year ago, that it was time to go back to my childhood, to the last time that I could remember when I was getting to know the real me, the one that had been born into this world unique and special.

I look at my childhood today with a very different set of eyes than what I had when I started this a year ago. There were so many painful memories I was holding onto from my dysfunctional family that I actively lived with self-pity because of them all. It’s easy in this world to numb myself from those type of memories. For awhile I used drinking and drugs to forget them and me. Later I would find other things such as gambling, sex, love, high doses of caffeine, geographical cures, and mega shopping to hide from all of those dark corners in my life. Eventually, none of it worked anymore. I fully believe that one can hide from all painful experiences for a period of time, but eventually, they find a way to rear their ugly head. In my case, in came through severe levels of physical pain.

I’m more grateful today for the physical pains I still continue to face because they have led me to doing the one thing I didn’t want to ever do. They have forced me to be still and be with that person I’ve been trying to avoid since around the age of 12. They have made me be with me, without any distractions, and without any interruptions. Much of my time is spent alone today praying, meditating, taking light walks as best as I’m able to, writing, and reading. Through all of it, I am beginning to learn what my own likes and dislikes are. I am beginning to learn what I really love in this world. Best of all, I’m beginning to let go of all those things that I took on in my life that came from other people’s lives and not my own.

The more I continue to spend time alone, the more I see how much of me was really about everyone else I kept myself occupied with for most of my life. As a child, I did the sports my mother wanted me to do. I enrolled in classes and majored in an area that my parents felt I would be best at. I tried many drugs in college just to be accepted by others. I shoplifted during that time of my life to be considered cool by a few people I was hanging around. I joined a fraternity as well because all of the people in my family were members of a Greek organization. I jumped job after job after graduating because I thought the financial success of being in better paying corporate jobs would make others appreciate me more. I sold almost everything I had at one point and bought a bed and breakfast to make an ex-partner’s dream come true so that he could happy. I later temporarily enrolled in a Master’s program in college because others told me I’d be good at it. I tried fishing and golf for a period of time because it was the pastimes of someone I was obsessed with. I even got into motorcycles and Harley-Davidsons because of another person I was chasing after. The list is infiniteness in all honesty. Ironically, at the current time, I’m not into or part of any of the things I just mentioned.

I lost sight a long time ago on what made me happy because I grew up in a family where I tried to make them happy by doing what they wanted me to do. From that point forward, I spent my life following that pattern with person after person, friend after friend, and relationship after relationship. That was until a year ago when it all changed and the physical pain became too great for me to keep living that way. Since then, I promised myself to follow a new path, one that was forged with God at the center of it. And one that has allowed me to discover the real me.

Thankfully, I realized it was never too late to begin again in my life. I may be 40 years old but there are days when I feel like a kid again as I learn all over what I really like in life. While I may have been doing some of them during all those co-dependent years, now I am exploring each of them and more because of my own inner desires. In just over a year, I have learned that I like a lot of science-fiction/supernatural related things, vanilla ice cream in a bowl and not in a cone with peanut butter topping versus hot fudge, being on sandy beaches staring out at the ocean or snorkeling within them, watching movies by myself at home or at the theater, playing a card game named Euchre on my phone, talking about God’s presence in my life anytime and anywhere, being active in my AA recovery, spending hours on putting together a 500-1000 piece puzzle, sitting under the moon and stars next to a campfire in my backyard toasting a marshmallow, eating spicy Sushi rolls and very burnt pepperoni and green olive based pizzas, and occasionally getting a big, juicy, double bacon cheeseburger with a regular cajun fry from Five Guys.

I know that the list of these things is only going to grow and change over time, but at least today, there’s no one else telling me what I should like or dislike, believe or not believe, and follow or not follow. Well, I take that back, there is one. And that’s God. But I’m ok with that, because I know under God’s helm, I’ll get to know myself better than I ever did in most of my life………until now.

Peace, love, light, and joy,

Andrew Arthur Dawson

You Are Already A Superhero!

Many years ago, I wrote a column for a local newspaper down in Virginia. The following entry was one of those articles I once submitted for publishing. With some minor updates, I have re-printed it here as I feel it’s message of positivity is relevant given the state of our world right now.


X-Men: First Class, The Amazing Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, The Wolverine, The Avengers…These are just a few of the many superhero movies that are hitting the theaters in recent years. And that list is only continuing to grow. Each of them have been huge box office successes and generated an enormous amount of revenue from both ticket and DVD sales. So why are superheroes so popular lately? Well I have a theory, one that centers on the child in all of us.

Everyone has their own journey of what it was like to grow up. Throughout my life, I have met many who have endured as difficult of childhoods as I have, if not worse. From being physically beaten, to having suffered from family incest, to receiving mental and emotional abuse by their parents or other family members, to moms and dads that were never around, to never even having a mom or dad to start with and being forced to grow up in foster homes, the list is painfully endless for the stories I’ve heard. The one consistency I have found between all of these people who dealt with harsh childhoods including my own, is that each of us learned to create very early on in life, our own world of fantasies. It was our way of tuning out what our eyes were seeing and what our bodies were experiencing. It was our safe harbor, our escape.

As a child, I secretly fantasized about being a superhero. I wanted to have super strength to defend myself from the bullies who picked on me incessantly. I wanted to have super speed or the ability to fly so that I could get away as quick as possible when my parents were fighting. I even wanted to have the ability to read people’s minds so that I could anticipate what family members were thinking so that I didn’t end up saying something that might set someone off and end in a form of punishment. As I grew older and stronger, in both a physical sense as well as an emotional and mental one, I gained my own independence and found less of a need to continue creating this fantasy world. But the lure of having superpowers has never fully faded.

In recent years, when I find myself fantasizing about having them, sometimes I put a lot of thought together as to why I still think about them so much. While I may not be in a broken home anymore that led me to create these fantasy worlds, I realize I have a greater family, one that consists of billions of brothers and sisters. And one that is just as aching and hurt as my own family was so many years ago. Just look at the state of the world today! It doesn’t take much to realize it is in dire straits. Poverty continues to increase. Sickness continues to spread. There are wars about to break out or already raging in multiple countries. Alcohol and drug addictions continue to increase and are leading to more violence as well as the spread of disease. More and more children are growing up in broken homes. Gangs continue to thrive as disillusioned kids look for social acceptance. Rape. Murder. Terrorism. Anyone can see this horror by simply just glancing at the front page of a paper or tuning into a morning or evening news program. I know there are others out there like me who would just like this madness to go away. We attempt to ignore and tune it all out, but unfortunately we can’t because it’s everywhere. So we continue to hope that the world will produce heroes who will provide a reprieve from the misery that seems to be surrounding every corner of the globe. Unfortunately, the heroes from our childhood fantasies don’t exist yet, at least not in the form that most comic books have portrayed.

So in droves, I, and many others, look for a reprieve from the growing terror and head to the local multiplex to watch the latest superhero flick where a hero risks their life to protect the world from a villain who is causing destruction to people, cities, countries, or even the whole planet. And while we watch these films, we find we are able to suppress for several hours any fears within us over the state of the planet. And when the hero in the movie ends up saving the day, we often leave the theater feeling a little more happy and safe inside. But sadly that bubble usually bursts not too long after when we see the latest news report covering another tragedy. There is hope in all of this though. There is a good side of the coin to look at.

While none of us may be a hero with powers like Superman, all of us do have our own gifts that we were born with and each of these in their own way can be used to create love and peace in this world. Whether you are a writer, a musician, an actor, an artist, a chef, a teacher, a gardener, a seamster, a pottery maker, or whatever your creative outlet is, just place all the love and passion into it you can and know that someone, somewhere, is going to have a positive life changing experience because of it. Think about how the following creative works have spread love to so many people: Harry Potter and Twilight, “Don’t Worry Be Happy” and “We Are The World”, the Mona Lisa and Starry Night. No one truly knows what positive impact their gifts will have at their time of creation.

So I encourage each of you to take a moment today, breathe, and set some time aside to engage in that creative side of yours. Place your heart and soul in your work and trust and believe it will make a difference in someone’s life for the better. While you may not have super abilities like the Avengers, your creative talents are already making you into a superhero. Whatever your gifts are, God has blessed you with them. All you need to know is that they can and will help this world become a happier, more peaceful, and definitely more loving place.

Peace, love, light, and joy,

Andrew Arthur Dawson