The driving force behind the trend toward mix-and-match spirituality is the Baby Boom generation. Boomers are "the principal carrier of an emerging spiritual quest culture," says Wade Clark Roof, professor of religion and society at the University of California-Santa Barbara. Here are a few of their stories:
Spiro, 47, publisher and editor of The Monthly Aspectarian, Chicago's New Age magazine, grew up in a tradition he described as "hardcore fundamentalist."
"I never want to express any disrespect because your basic Christian is a very good, shirt-off-your-back kind of person," he said. "[But] I sat in church as a boy and said, 'Wait a minute. Everybody in this room is going to heaven and everybody else in the world is going to hell? That can't be right.'"
At 17, Spiro picked up his first book about yoga. "That started me down the path of examining all the world's religions and esoteric systems," he said. "That has been my life ever since."
He said he "came back to Christianity" through New Thought churches, such as Unity and Science of Mind. "The way I see it, they teach Christianity pretty much the way Jesus is reported to have spoken. Honestly, I don't think Jesus was nearly as concerned about getting us to heaven as he was teaching us to live on this plane."
Spiro, who lives in Morton Grove, occasionally attends the Unity church, where his wife, Jeanne and three children are active. He pursues a regular meditation practice, believes in reincarnation, and overall prefers a "smorgasbord approach" to his spirituality.
"I pick things up when they're appropriate and put them down when I've gotten what I need," he said. "People are attracted to a level of teaching they're ready for at different times."
A 43-year-old attorney, Jacobson attended Methodist churches as a child but refused to be confirmed in the church. She remembers childhood experiences in nature, playing in fields, noticing the wind blowing in the trees, moments that she considers highly spiritual. As an adult she read widely on religious topics, including the Bible "more than once," and she has studied with Christian and Jewish scholars.
Primed by years of contemplating the meaning and purpose of life, Jacobson began visiting churches last year in search of a "spiritual home." It was a sometimes-heartbreaking endeavor.
"One place, you would walk in and they'd rush at you, trying to recruit you," she said. "Or other places would have a beautiful service, beautiful music, erudite preaching-- things that have meaning to me, and I would sit there and well up with tears because it was not going to be home for me."
Jacobson ultimately joined Lake Street Church, an American Baptist church. She likes its emphasis on personal growth and interfaith dialogue. A few months later she also joined Lakeside Buddhist sangha, a group organized to study and practice the "engaged Buddhism" taught by Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
Both are in Evanston where she lives, and on Sundays she attends a church service in the morning and a group meditation and dharma talk in the evening.
"I do not find a discordance or a conflict between being a member of a Christian church and also a member of a sangha. I have spent my life reading different things to finally get to the point where I feel I have found a spiritual practice. It's like exercise. You find a routine that works for you and you just keep doing it. I swim, I race walk, and now I also meditate. It's this sort of whole person lifestyle which you evolve."
Dr. Hass Adamji
Born a Shiite Muslim of Indian ethnic background in Zanzibar, Adamji, 55, was brought up in a very orthodox way. But by the time he reached high school, he became disappointed with the way he saw religion being practiced. "People would say they were religious, do all the rituals, but when you looked at them... they were not good human beings, in my opinion," the occupational physician said.
As a medical student in Uganda, Adamji lived with people from all walks of life, was exposed to Western culture, and "wandered away from religion." He came to Chicago while he was in his twenties. At first, he searched out other Shiite Muslims, but then decided that he did not want any part of it. Besides, he was distracted by the "material lifestyle" he was enjoying, having a car for the first time, parties.
"But in my mind I was always searching, constantly looking for more than the material way of living," he said. Through his wife, Mary, he was exposed to Christianity, mainly by talking with her brother, a Catholic priest. "I began to learn there were similarities between Christianity and Islam. In fact, I also see a similarity with Hinduism."
As Adamji's children were growing up, he was working to the point of exhaustion, trying to get ahead economically. But there was a nagging sense that something was missing. When he was 40, he experienced a moment when his perception suddenly shifted, as he watched a colleague eat a meal, slowly and mindfully.
"I had been living a fast life without any reverence," he said, and that realization led him on a concerted spiritual quest. He read the holy books of all the world's religions, including the Koran in English translation, and he studied the Bhagavad-Gita in depth with an Indian nun. His conclusion: "All these different Scriptures have the same message. We need to let go of the fear of death and resign ourselves. Don't fear and don't worry."
Adamji also began attending various churches. He settled on Lake Street Church in Evanston after hearing its pastor, Bob Thompson, speak and discovering that Thompson "was pursuing the same kind of search I was. A religious institution's container is less important to Adamji than its content. "If there were a mosque with the same kind of message I would go to a mosque. Or a temple."
Spirituality, he said, "is a discipline that helps bring back a balance in the mind and a control of the mind. The suffering lifts; the fog disappears. And we can enjoy and appreciate the beauty and magic of creation. It makes you powerful."
Lockhart, 48, who has a mind-body healing practice (including massage and acupressure), grew up Roman Catholic, often attending daily mass in her youth. During high school and college she began searching for "something I was congruent with."
"I have gone to almost every kind of church there to find a spiritual," she said. "I studied philosophy in college, and that opened up my mind. I was a truth seeker. I really wanted the bottom line."
In the early 1970s, Lockhart studied transcendental meditation and, in 1978, began teaching various types of meditation. "With all my seeking, it wasn't until I came into meditation that I stopped trying to find `it' out there and saw that truth is really inside of us."
Lockhart returned to the Catholic church for several years in the 1990s and felt, for a time, "that it deepened me on many levels." But she left, driven out by politics and what she described as emotional abuse. She took refuge in a 10-week meditation series at SHEM Center for Interfaith Spirituality in Oak Park, Illinois, where all religions are explored in a variety of programs.
Lockhart described her current spiritual package as "Sufism [a mystical branch of Islam], Buddhism, and I've gone to Native American sweat lodges. I see it as different paths to the same top of the mountain. I meditate and pray daily. I read from my library of spiritual books. I might go on-line for morning prayers for Sufi practice."
She also participates in the increasingly popular dances of universal peace, which are held in various locations around Chicago, including the Franciscan mother house in Joliet. Begun in the 1960s in California, the dances are a collection of sacred folk dances honoring the world's spiritual traditions.
Sholty, 47, was baptized Roman Catholic and attended parochial schools in suburban Chicago and Detroit. She remembers the numinous Latin masses of old, but "rejoices" in the changes wrought by the Second Vatican council, specifically the greater openness, English-language liturgy and involvement of the laity.
Unlike many members of her generation, Sholty did not abandon her family religion, explore Eastern philosophies, seek out alternative spiritual teachers or shop for another kind of church.
"There definitely was a time when I didn't go to church every Sunday," she said. "I never wrote it off entirely, but, to be honest, the faith issue is something I struggle with almost every day. I don't have a real peaceful, easy faith like a lot of people do. There's something that draws me. Partly it's the mystery, something I can't figure out and will never figure out."
Sholty, who lives in Wilmette and is married to a self-described atheist, worked as an insurance underwriter and account officer for 22 years until she quit to take a lower-paying job as coordinator of adult programs for her parish church, SS. Faith Hope and Charity in Winnetka. In 1991, she enrolled in Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), an archdiocese program for potential converts and for Catholics seeking a refresher course. "I was thrilled to be with adults who took their faith seriously and were willing to talk about it," she said.
At the end of year, she was asked to join the RCIA teaching team, a volunteer job, and she also signed up for a lay ministry training program. She had to take evening classes after grueling days in an insurance office, but she found it so invigorating that she knew it meant she should change jobs.
Her spiritual practice includes attending mass more than once a week, praying, writing in a journal and reading Catholic inspirational writers, such as priests Henri Nouwen and William Barry.
Being attached to a religious institution, she said, "gives me support, makes me know that I'm not alone. It supports me on days when I'm not feeling strong, and on days when I am feeling strong, I'm grateful to be a support for someone else."
(c) 2000, Chicago Tribune.