Spirituality and Sentimentality

OK, since it’s Wednesday, some Stray Thoughts. I think a good starting point for these reflections here is to distinguish between Spirituality and Sentimentality. Confusing Sentimentality with Spirituality is dangerous, it can be a kind of self deception. I wrote a poem about 20 years ago that I think illustrates the issue:


. . .and the question came as they walked down the street:

“What is faith?”


The disciple said:

“My faith is like a warm, fuzzy bear,

that I always keep close beside me.

I cuddle it alone at night

when I feel afraid, or

when I need to sleep.

The thought of my warm fuzzy bear

keeps me from being afraid

when life isn’t so good,

and my shy smile baffles

those around me.

On Sunday my brothers and I

bring all our bears to the dinner table,

dressed in the best finery,

and we look at the love of our bears.

My warm, fuzzy bear teaches me

Ten rules to live by,

and I try to follow every letter,

but I always know that my bear loves me

no matter what, and I

can always say I’m sorry

if I make a mistake

(though I try to be careful).

I love my warm, fuzzy bearbear,

and I don’t want Him to be

any other way

than the way He is.”


The disciples walked on to their Passover meal,

and Jesus smiled at Judas’ words knowing

that the great Creator’s plan would be accomplished.

 Copyright © 2012 Keith R. Branson  All rights reserved

 Sentimentality looks inward, makes us feel good about ourselves, focuses our attention on the past as pattern for the future. Spirituality looks outward, makes us aware of other’s feelings, focuses our attention on how the future needs to be different from the past. Sentimentality can be about a diet of comfort food, Spirituality is about a healthy, well balanced diet. Sentimentality is about snuggling at home under a warm blanket, Spirituality is about having good winter wear to work outside.

There’s nothing wrong with Sentimentality, we all get Sentimental from time to time, and I’m no different. There are times we need to do something for ourselves to feel good, to keep up our spirits and enjoy life a little. Hopefully, this is something relatively harmless that doesn’t involve a payback later on. We all need a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter’s night, or to listen to songs from our Youth. The problem is, hot cocoa isn’t enough to live on, even if you’re a Chocoholic, and sooner or later we have to put down the iPod.

Spirituality is about centering our lives on the Divine within ourselves and beyond ourselves. God is inside all of us, and part of our journey of self-discovery is to recognize that presence and respond to it. God is also all around us, particularly in other people, and recognition and response to God outside us is also essential. If we shut this down, this recognition of the Divine within and without, we wall ourselves off from our true selves and others and our lives are incomplete. We also fool ourselves about what life and faith is all about.

Spirituality is an important, essential part of a life lived well. Life isn’t just about making ourselves feel good all the time. We have to pay attention to what’s best for us beyond creature comforts, for our sakes and the sakes of others. We should all work on our spiritual side, me included.



  1. I remember having a conversation with you years ago about the difference between spirituality and sentimentality. it is such an interesting insight into how we approach faith. While I strongly believe both are required to keep us attentive in our own faith life, the spiritual must be the cornerstone and where we get true strength.
    For most of us, it seems, it is the sentimentality that draws us near when times are good. It is the teddy bear that provides that warm closeness of a friend to laugh with and hug. I think the danger of sentimentality is when we try to push our own sentimental “hand holding” onto others. (“your teddy bear doesn’t look like my teddy bear” or “if you say the prayers I say, exactly how I say them, that is all you need”) We have to remember our sentimentality is our own.
    The spiritual is much deeper and more complex. To find that hope inside of despair we need much more than a “warm fuzzy.” When we are forced to come outside ourselves, it requires a certain amount of humility. While it is difficult, it is also the most rewarding. Seeing Christ in others and dwelling with him there in our connectedness is where we truly see God! We must sew seeds outside ourselves each day if we expect to see a spiritual life in full bloom.

  2. Bill Siebert · · Reply

    Good thoughts, Keith.. Great start on your blog.. looking forward to more!

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