I was on the massage table receiving some care for my chronic plantar fasciitis when the conversation turned to religion. I’d just come through (yet another) intense conflict at church, the tension from which had locked itself into my muscles. “Religion’s important to you,” my body worker commented.
Religion? I would have said spirituality or faith, not religion. But the origins of the word popped into my mind, perhaps because she was working my over-tight calf muscles: Religion comes from the Latin re-, again, and ligare, meaning to bind or connect. The word ligament shares the same root. I suppose the word religion developed to describe how the sacred and material world are bound back together, although we associate this word so closely with the institutionalization of this union with tradition, ritual, and polity. As the pain in my feet fanned up my calves to my thighs and lower back, however, religion seemed to me, momentarily, fancifully, as a surprising lattice linking my love for church, my overcharged sense of responsibility, the tightness of my back and the hurt soft tissue of my feet; it was as though my poor body was a small part of this immense web of relationships called religion, much like a single word is integral to a story or how every interaction with a child contributes to their personhood.
How stunning, then, a few days later to hear Ilia Delio, neurophysicist and Franciscan scholar, say in a lecture that creation itself is inherently religious! A member of the audience asked for clarification: Religious? Really?! Delio dismissed the concept of institutionalized religion with a wave of her hand—it’s too small, inaccurate, misleading. Religion is a dynamic in evolution moving creation to ever greater diversity and unity. Religion is what binds the smallest spinning particle to the largest turning galaxy. Religion is why each of us finds our deepest self in others, why our every thought and every act matters—why, in the end, Delio believes that returning to our inner selves is our most important work because without inner connection we’ll never recognize our outer connections and will never behave accordingly. Religion for us humans is the work of binding ourselves back to the whole.
That afternoon, hurting on the massage table, I felt my body as one cluster of cells in this tremendous network of creation. Yes, yes, all of me said; religion is indeed what matters. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew