Losing My Religion

One-quarter of Canadians are turning their backs on traditional worship, looking inward instead of upward for spiritual sustenance. Meet four soul survivors who have found new ways to connect with their spiritual side.

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Published in Best Health in October 2015

When Lori Lansens, a 53-year-old screenwriter and bestselling novelist, was a girl growing up in Chatham, ON, she dreamed of becoming a nun. Inspired by Jennifer Jones, who played a saintly peasant girl turned sister in the movie The Song of Bernadette, Lansens asked for a rosary for Christmas, read her Bible before bed and rose early to attend morning mass before school.

Jesus, she says, was her "first crush," because he valued outcasts, forgave sinners and reminded people to treat others the way they wanted to be treated.

But when she was 12, everything changed. A priest she admired invited her and her best friend to the rectory to fold bulletins. He had whisky on his breath and a leer in his eye. He touched them both inappropriately.

She told no one but soon stopped going to mass. She also began to question the concept of God. "I felt betrayed by the God I knew, but I continued to think about a search for connection to some loving force," says Lansens, who now lives in California.

She may have lost her religion, but she didn't lose her spirituality. She keeps that alive through her novels: international bestsellers Rush Home Road, The Girls, The Wife's Tale and her newly released The Mountain Story.

"When I write, I search for beauty and truth in people, in relationships and in the world," she says. "I write to find redemption. I try to make sense of the world through writing fiction, but I also try to make sense of what people call God."

Lansens is one of millions of North Americans who identify as "religiously unaffiliated" - about 22 percent of the adult population. Disillusioned by mainstream religion, they want nothing to do with pews, pulpits and preaching but are still hungry to feed their souls.

Instead of looking upward to a higher power for guidance, they search within - or reach out to connect with others of like mind - through spiritual practices that encompass drumming circles, meditation, pilgrimages, singing groups, yoga, hiking, reiki, meet-up groups, gratitude exercises, volunteering, retreats and self-help groups.

While church attendance is dwindling, alternative spiritual practices are flourishing, especially among women, who, although traditionally prevented from being spiritual leaders in the wider world, are most often the spiritual guides on the homefront.

"The 'spiritual but not religious' [SBNR] want the freedom to include elements from other religions that resonate with their beliefs," says Siobhan Chandler, an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria who wrote her 2011 dissertation on the SBNR.

"They want to develop their spirituality without being told what they must believe. Women, in particular, are drawn to be SBNR because it is "progressive and inclusive" and allows them to "reclaim their voices, their power and their right to choose beliefs and practices that nurture and support them without the patriarchal overlay."

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