After thirty years in ministry, I can say with some certainty that the religion that matters most cannot be reduced to a book, a creed, a ritual, or code of rules. To me, the essence of religion is reverence shared in community.
I realize my definition is not very typical, but over the years the moments in my ministry that stand out like Everest have little to do with what most people call “religion.”
What I remember most are silent moments around the deathbed of a friend, shared by church members who canceled other important tasks to share that sacred moment. I remember young couples getting married realizing what was most important about their wedding had little to do with licenses or rings. It is wonderful to watch two people realize they are making a life covenant together in the presence of a community who will walk with them through the whole circle of life.
As I say, I know my definition is not typical, but when scientists who have shared life experiences come together in reverent awe before some discovery, I call that moment of shared wonderment “religion.” When artistic friends who have shared life stand before some great beauty of nature, I call that shared rapture “religion.” When compassion brings friends together to help the helpless, whether or not the idea of God occurs to anyone there, I would say and say it in the fullest sense, “that is religion.”