I met a lot of people who were trying to work on the non-material, working out their own salvation for themselves. They picked and chose out of their own desires, finding 'cool' Gods and "spiritual" practices that amounted to arts and crafts to delight themselves.

I'm not religious, I'm spiritual.

They had good motives, but they fashioned their Gods and their practices in their own image, making idols. The altars they built and the prayers they wrote had no lasting effect or change on their own morality or their own actions. If anything it moved towards magic - praying FOR things, and uplifting themselves. Ganesh on a router to keep networking bugs away. Praying to the Goddess to celebrate their femininity. Christianity is no stranger to this sort of thing: we have the cancer of the prosperity gospel.

I'm not religious, I'm spiritual.

Of course, the other big thing in the communities I travelled in is to become Zen - cutting away, clearing the mind. It's about becoming more clear-headed. For religious reasons - which the mostly atheist scientist types handwave away - they do it to become unattachedly compassionate - not eating animals, but spending their times cloistered chanting over and over with the hope of abandoning all love for this world. For secular reasons, it's about clearing the head of your stresses brought about by pursuing money and multibillions in high tech - to learn to live with your attachments and clear your head in the pursuit of more of them.

I'm not religious, I'm spiritual.

Christianity has a concept in it called kenosis. κένωσις means to empty yourself, like the Zen folks do - but with the ultimate purpose of making yourself an instrument of divine will. The agricultural metaphors that Jesus used to get his ideas across apply to this time in the Christian year. Lent is not about giving up something you should give up anyway: "I've decided not to eat chocolate, it's not good for me". Or the idea of Lent being about punishing yourself somehow. It's, to use a metaphor - about burning weeds and remaining pasture to put nutrients in the earth and give the ground clear space to grow things anew. There are ashes on your forehead.

I'm not religious, I'm spiritual.

Self-reflection, and mindfulness, are all part of the Christian tradition. When you give something up or take something on, it's designed to make you more mindful. I'm giving up meat not because of tradition, but in the spirit of eating more mindfully. I've taken to just eating whatever's around, to my detriment. This is going to force me to plan out what I eat, and eat what I need. If you take on prayer, it's because you're trying to make that a habit, and to promote that kenosis.

I'm not religious, I'm spiritual.

If you go into the churches that are usually known for their liturgies, their bells and their smells, their stained glass and altar clothes - you'll find them barren and spartan today. The rituals remain intact but take on a different meaning. Everything you expect out of church is stripped back. There are no "alleluias". There are no bright fabrics. There's no emphasis on the day to day of what the church normally does. We're preparing. We're preparing for Easter. We're preparing ourselves.

I'm not religious, I'm spiritual.

We're not our bodies, we're not our clothes. We're not our position in life, our class, or our caste. That is hammered in to us week in and week out - through communion, shared liturgy, confession of sin and confession of faith. We are reminded every week - we are dust, and to dust we will return. There's an ever-rotating set of altar flowers - a new set almost every week - on behalf of someone who has died, and whose family wish to memorialize him or her. We pray for the dead and look to their resurrection.

The reading for this morning is Matthew 6:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

I'm not religious, I'm spiritual.

It's a time to be less concerned about our creature comforts - our treasures. And more about working on who we really are. Yes, there will be resurrection, but as some people have joked - every man wants to go to Heaven, but no man wants to die.

I'm not religious, I'm spiritual.

Mortality is the theme for today. The grave was imminent for Jesus, and it's imminent for us too, and none of us know the day the Grim Reaper will quietly tap us on the shoulder and lead us away.

I'm not religious, I'm spiritual.

We work on our tans, we work on our biceps, we work on our budgets, we work on our homes and our careers, our family relationships and our hobbies. None of that will follow us into the grave. We were dust, we are who we are, we will return to dust. And we need to get ready. Lent is a microcosm of what our lives are about - figuring out what we need, and what we don't - and de-emphasizing our wants and re-emphasizing what we really need.

I'm not religious, I'm spiritual.