I’ve lately been exploring the difference between spirituality and religiosity. I think the two can be blended a bit but on the whole, I believe the concepts are very different. Some people will claim they’re religious while others may prefer to have things be amorphous by claiming they are ‘spiritual.’

I recently returned to church in a quest to more clearly define my “Higher Power” and to show in a symbolic way my appreciation for guidance. Some say that your Higher Power can be anything – nature, a tree, the ‘Universe’ – hell, your HP can even be the muses (OK — that’s a shameless homage to my own blog!).

I like this idea, using what you need to define your Higher Power.

There is beauty in religious ritual. Growing up, I didn’t really appreciate it though. I went through 12 years of catechism and ended up learning more about my own religion through college art history courses and travelling to Italy to explore various cathedrals, to hear the otherworldly sound of monks chanting, and to view the dusky ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Some of these experiences literally brought me to tears.

Along with visiting these religious sites, there was a riveting sense of spirituality that ran through these places, not to mention the Italian landscape. I’ll never forget the sight of lighting and the sound of thunder in the valleys outside of the medieval town of Assisi. The sight was supernatural as lightning illuminated the landscape and the thunder sounded like someone throwing a refrigerator down a staircase – an odd and jarring sound.

Assisi, Italy

Assisi, Italy

I’ve lately found a place closer to home that speaks to me spiritually. Now, it doesn’t have the same forceful impact as, say, Italy, but still. I feel healed whenever I go there and return home:

Ann Arbor, Michigan.

University of Michigan

Located a little more than 40 miles outside of Detroit, Ann Arbor is probably best known for being the home of the University of Michigan. It’s a bustling college town during the school year and hosts a fantastic art festival in July – which, incidentally, I avoid at all costs. Parking is impossible and I can’t afford anything there anyway.

But during the summers, when the kids leave, the place is usually tranquil on Sundays.

I find myself going there at least once a month to spend some quality time on my own.

There’s something about the vibe of the place, whether it’s the brainpower of those who attend U of M; the architecture of the downtown, a combination of small-town America, English Tudor, neoclassical coupled with modern; or the nature that cradles the city. It’s just cool.

My first stop is always Nichols Arboretum in the U of M Medical Center. It’s tucked into the east corner of the central campus and was established in 1907. The Huron River runs through it and it’s a popular kayaking spot with folks in the summer. I’ve seen the arboretum leafless and grey in December, barely budding in April, fulsomely green in July and brilliantly colored in October. Between mid-May and mid-June, a large field of peonies pops up to everyone’s delight. The fields are best seen from the Washington Heights entrance, near the School of Public Health.

Peony Field overall

After that, I may take a stroll through U of M’s quad or the law quadrangle, a place that one of my friends describes as “Hogwarts” (as in Harry Potter).

UM Law Quad

Then, it’s usually a late lunch at one of the numerous restaurants in the downtown. I have yet to have a bad meal anywhere in Ann Arbor. It’s become quite a foodie’s paradise. Café Zola for brunch; Zingerman’s Deli for lunch; the Blue Tractor, Zingerman’s Roadhouse or Grizzly Peak for barbecue; Frita Batidos for Cuban food; Shalimar for Indian; Palio for Italian. I haven’t even scratched the surface there for meal options. Check it out yourself.

The Farmer’s Market in Kerrytown features produce on Saturday and crafts on Sunday. Nearby, I love to go to my favorite independent grocery store, People’s Food Co-op. If you want to go national, Ann Arbor’s Whole Foods Market on Washtenaw Avenue is something to behold.

People's Food Co-op

Each November, for my birthday, I’ve made it a ritual to stay at Avalyn Garden Bed & Breakfast. Owners Lee and Donna Perry are the nicest people and I enjoy having a whole room to myself to relax, meditate, read and write. The sun goes down early at that time of year and the place is usually quiet.

Avalyn Garden Bed & Breakfast

Avalyn Garden Bed & Breakfast

And so, in standing still as well as by being adventurous, I’m exploring the concept of spirituality. Any place can be imbued with spiritual forces – some places more strongly resonate with me than others. They tell me about myself and appeal to my soul.

All you have to do is find a place that’s meaningful to you and just take in the vibes. I wish you luck as you find a place (or places) of your own.

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