I remember sitting on this large rock, its solidity cool underneath my body, while the sun beamed down on me with its unparalleled energy. I felt rooted, held. And also free. Warm. Connected. I laughed quietly, a sensation of bubbling joy moving from my core out through my warm limbs.
It is moments of transcendence that come immediately to mind as I reflect on what spirit means to me. This particular spiritual "mountaintop experience" happened at a church camp, many years ago—a personal peak experience facilitated by "organized religion." (Or as some like to joke, "disorganized religion.")
In this time in our nation, when politics enacted by folks claiming Christian faith are causing harm and heartache and division, I feel the need to reflect not only on how the world is full of magic and divine imagination and transcendence, but also on how we show up together, in community, and how we situate ourselves spiritually in history.
This one small moment of spiritual wonder, embedded in the container of organized religion as I attended a weekend retreat, embodies my own complex relationship to spirituality and religion. The distinction between the two is sometimes blurry, but the choice to identify with the religion I was born into feels like an unexpected act of resistance—especially from my home in Santa Fe, a city that was literally named after the Christian religion by colonial powers, but that has long attracted spiritual seekers of all kinds.
I grew up reading the Bible, praying, speaking in tongues (glossolalia), singing Spanish praise songs, grilling carne asada in the park after Bible study. Other core activities of my childhood included looking things up in our big encyclopedia set, reading Dickens, analyzing Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ.
My family was religious, of the evangelical Christian variety. And also intellectual.
I never really felt coerced by religiosity. I found it interesting; I liked discussing big questions. I felt something real in prayer. I loved my church family.
In high school, in the first years of the 2000s, I started connecting some dots about immigration. And NAFTA. And the environment. And race. And gender. I participated in Amnesty International events to raise awareness about young women being raped and murdered in Juárez. I co-founded the Gay Straight Alliance at my school. I wore a black armband to school every day after the US invaded Iraq.
My family's religiosity was nominally apolitical and actually conservative, yet I was becoming politically engaged in movements for liberation.
I wanted to find that spiritual juice wherever it might be found, but I wanted analysis of power structures too. I couldn't just pray fervently anymore without naming justice. I wanted to act in the world with the power of Spirit.
The religious cultures of others were intriguing and seemed profound in their insights. I learned so much from worshipping in Gurdwaras, Hindu temples and mosques, from meditating at Tibetan shrines. But these beautiful traditions are not my own, the way my uneasy alliance with Christianity is distinctly my own path. I realized that if I was willing, I could go deeper within my own tradition than I could in any other.
And through it all, I came to the somewhat disappointing conclusion that despite my misgivings, I had been raised deeply embedded within a Christian worldview, and that worldview was mine to challenge and explore and plumb the depths of.
As a spiritual seeker with deep questions and commitments, I have come to honor my own religious roots and institutional affiliations. I appreciate the universal questions, the feeling of quest for meaning over millennia, the belonging and community—even, and perhaps especially, with people I would never choose as friends.
As an activist, being in spiritual community with others keeps me grounded, reminds me of the cycles of history, points me to profound truths, and challenges me again and again to love my neighbor with a love so big I can hardly stand it.
So, I am religious.
Sometimes I have to swallow hard to say it; to admit that I actually try to follow the way of Jesus. And to claim with love and courage that this way looks very different from the collusion with Empire that many of us have observed in the development of mainstream Christianity. Very different from evangelist Franklin Graham's endorsement of the supposed faith of our current president.
I am also spiritual. I seek sacred connection in many places.
Like those few moments on that rock many years ago, where time seemed to stop and I knew in my bones that I was part of the universe, I seek God in religious structure and outside of it. I have a personal spirituality, which is often facilitated by showing up to the communal and the traditional.
I am both spiritual and religious, and I don't think I could have one without the other.
Curtis is the co-founder and organizer of the Santa Fe Faith Network for Immigration Justice and the minister of First Christian Church of Santa Fe.