Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

Daily Prompt: Faith

FaithToday’s post is from the WordPress Daily Prompt:

Describe a memory or encounter in which you considered your faith, religion, spirituality — or lack of — for the first time.

It was my mom’s death – it didn’t make me question my faith so much as it pushed me to seek answers. My world crumbled and I wanted to know why. I wanted something to make being motherless at 16 somehow make sense.

I spent several years after my mom died searching through various religions . . . trying to find something that would just click with me. I watched extremely devout people and wondered how their faiths came to them . . . how they felt the way they did, how they believed in certain things without question. I stumbled my way through and across a few forms of Christianity, Buddhism, Wicca, Native American spirituality, Hinduism, Paganism, Unitarian Universalism, Humanism, and agnosticism.

I found my answers, but not in the way I was expecting . . . . though, I’ve noticed, that’s usually how things go. I never became one of the devout and discovered along my path that I don’t want to be. I’ve learned to embrace my eclecticism. I travel in and out of labels, choosing the one, or several, that best suit me in any given moment.

The discovery . . . the realization that I don’t need to understand the reasons of the universe . . . that I don’t need to make sense of tragedies . . . the release of a belief in divine intervention . . . has fulfilled me more than any one faith ever could.

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A letter about religion

A few months ago, Jared over at Lick the Fridge called out to his readers and asked them to provide him with inspiration in the form of letters – letters about pretty much anything. So far, it’s been pretty awesome and I’ve enjoyed reading letters from and to all of these people. I’ve also enjoyed participating in the letter-writing project. Below is the first letter I wrote to Jared.

An Overdue Conversation About Religion

Dear Jared,

A few months ago, you wrote a post about religion and I wrote a post about religion. Totally unrelated. We chatted briefly and told each other that we would take some time to discuss the topic more thoroughly, but that never happened. It’s not all that surprising really. We’re grown-ups with kids and jobs and responsibilities and stuff. So I’m taking this letter-writing project as an opportunity for us to have that discussion. Here goes.

I connected to your dad seeking out religion as he was dying. I sought out religion after my mom died. I needed things to make sense. I needed to believe she was “in a better place”. So I think I can at least a little bit understand your dad’s motivation.

I think it started with my mom’s baptism. My mom was never overly religious. We believed in God and in Jesus and I watched bible-centric cartoons on TV sometimes and I asked God to bless my family before bed every night, but we didn’t do church and there was no crucifix hanging in my house. She was raised Baptist, but by the time she would have been baptized, they stopped going to church. I’ve never been told why.

So at 33 years old when she was dying from cancer, my mom decided that she wanted to be baptized. The hospital chaplain came to our house and performed a very beautiful ceremony where she baptized both my mom and my aunt. It wasn’t down-your-throat religion. It was a peaceful, loving, and spiritual ritual. And less than two months later, I thought finding more of that would help me make sense of why I was 16 and motherless.

Instead, I found a handful of truly beautiful and spiritual people among an ocean of hypocrisy, lies, condemnation, and judgment. And none of it made a lick of sense to me. And the less religious people made sense to me, the less religion made sense to me.

I remember going through a phase in college when I deeply researched mythology from a variety of cultures. Parallels between those mythologies and the bible stories I read and watched as a child were just overwhelming. And I began to see Christianity as a newer mythology.

I still believe in something, even if I’m not 100% certain of what that something is. I find beauty and power and love in the world around me and the energy that comes from that is my Higher Power. Sometimes I put labels on myself – Pagan, Agnostic, Unitarian Universalist . . . on occasions, Witch – but mostly, I’m just trying to live a decent life regardless of arbitrary labels, mine or others’.


Read Jared’s response: The Beginning of the Discussion on Religion, Not the End

What I understand about religion and what I don’t

***Disclaimer – If you are offended by this post, I apologize. It’s not my intention. But it is how I feel. I have a deep respect for all belief systems. What I am questioning here are those extremist views that do not allow people to open their minds to the beliefs of others. This is not an attack on religion itself, just a rambling on what I don’t understand about many religions.***

Religion, spirituality, faith, and belief are all things I think about often. It’s taken me many years to come to a place of understanding within myself, to be comfortable with my own belief system. And I am quite certain that where I am today, is not where I will be years from now.

In my quest for spiritual fulfillment, I have come to understand many things about religion . . . And I have come to accept that there are many things that I will never understand. I have always been over analytical. I have always searched for what was the most logical – though I admit, my logic does not always mesh with that of the masses.

It did not take long for me to discover many devout people of many different faiths, and through those people I discovered a paradox of sorts. I can take 10 devout people of 10 different religions and each one will tell you that he or she *knows* his or her religion is the one and only true path. It’s not a belief. It’s knowledge. But if one of them is right, the other nine must be wrong.

So, is there one true religion? Is there one faith that is the only way to salvation?

That concept just does not make sense to me.

I cannot believe that good people will suffer for all eternity because they believe in something different. And honestly, it kind of bothers me that I have good friends and family members who believe I’m going to hell.

I’m curious as to what makes modern religion any different from the polytheistic religions we now call mythology. One day, thousands of years from now, will these “modern” religions be mythologies as well?

I find it interesting that many believe the first human evil was eating fruit from the tree of knowledge. That idea alone speaks volumes to me about the nature of religion.

We didn’t really go to church when I was a kid, but it was pretty much known that we were Christian. I was never taught to believe a certain thing, but allowed to develop my beliefs on my own. I value that.

I decided very early on that church didn’t make sense to me . . . well, that the whole “you *have* to go to church” thing didn’t make sense to me. My philosophy since childhood was if God created the world and man made a building, how could a building be God’s home? Wouldn’t it be easier to connect with God in nature?

That later developed into – you said God is everywhere, so why do I have to worship him inside of a church? Can’t I do that, you know, anywhere?

Maybe it’s my own naivety, but I find all of the fighting over religious differences stupid.

I don’t think religious belief is a choice. People believe what they believe based upon their own experiences. If my experiences lead me to beliefs that do not match someone else’s, why does that mean one of us has to be wrong?

I can’t understand how a “loving” God would damn at least 2/3 of the world’s population. (Considering that Christianity is the world’s largest religion with 33% of the world’s population being Christian . . . If Christianity were the one true path – not taking into account that many Christian denominations believe that all other Christian denominations are wrong – then 66% of the population would be damned.)

God loves you . . . do what He says or go to Hell. God loves you unconditionally . . . but He’s okay with you burning for all eternity. God is wonderful . . . but it doesn’t matter that you spent your life rescuing stray kittens and volunteering at the senior citizen’s home, if you don’t believe such and such, your soul is damned.

It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Here’s what does make sense to me . . . Many people around the world believe many different things and all at varying levels. And none of them need to be wrong. If a higher power exists, I think he or she or it would want to see good people doing good things, regardless of specific beliefs.

“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion.” ~Abraham Lincoln

The final “chapter” of my spiritual journey

 . . . for the moment at least! I had originally planned on splitting this into two more pieces, but I couldn’t find a comfortable place to stop. Thank you to those who have read this, and thank you for sharing your thoughts as well. 🙂

I was married in August just a couple of days after my 24th birthday. We were married at a chapel in Las Vegas while on vacation (it was planned) and came home to a reception with family and friends. Marriage was never a big deal to me. In fact, I never really saw myself getting married. As far as I was concerned, a piece of paper and a ring meant very, very little, and you didn’t need either of those things to be committed to someone. This outlook could have been at least a little bit influenced by my mother’s three marriages.

I knew that I wanted children. I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with the man I loved. And I knew that marriage was important to him. And so, we got married. Six months later, I was pregnant with my daughter.

Pregnancy brought on a whole new slew of emotions and ideas and beliefs. I helped to make a person, this little person who was growing inside of me. She made me nauseous, gave me indigestion, kicked me in some very uncomfortable places, gave me carpel tunnel syndrome, and made me start eating red meat for the first time in 5 years. And I still loved every second of it.

The day she was born, I had a picture of my mom as my “focus object”. I have no doubt that my mom was in the room with me that day. Later on, I talked to my uncle on the phone. He said, “So pretty crazy about that 1-1-8 thing, huh?” I had no idea what he was talking about. And then it hit me . . . my mom’s birthday was January 18th, 1-1-8. My daughter was born on November 8th, 1-1-8. The universe can do some crazy things!

I started celebrating the Pagan sabbats, or at least some of them. Halloween was always my favorite holiday. Now I say that it’s both of my favorite holidays rolled up into one day. With all the death that I’ve seen, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Samhain became a very special day to me. I started by lighting a candle for each loved one that I’ve lost. That became a bit expensive, so now I buy one large white candle and engrave their names on it. We light the candle and reflect on the happy times. We say a few words and let the candles burn while we eat dinner, leaving a spare plate to share with those on the other side. It’s very peaceful, very loving. I look forward to it each year.

I celebrate Yule, Ostara, Litha, and Mabon, commonly known as the Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, and Autumn Equinox, every year. I love the celebration of nature and her ever-changing state. It reminds me of the constant flow of the universe, how one thing needs another . . . the rain helps the flowers to grow and so forth. I celebrate Beltane every year . . . probably the most exuberant of the Pagan holidays . . . a celebration of life and love, and joy and gratitude for both. For whatever reason though, I seem to forget Imbolg and Lughnassadh every year until after they’ve passed.

First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia

My daughter was about a year and a half old when I discovered the Unitarian Universalist church. We went to a service and I remember walking out of there thinking, ‘wow, they’ve got me covered with one simple title!” I didn’t go back to another service for a few more years. Honestly, I just like to sleep in too much! It’s one of those “to do list” things on my personal growth goals.

Regardless of my lack of attendance at the UU church, I was impacted a great deal by that first service, or rather the conversations I had afterwards. I talked to several people before heading home that day. I talked to Humanists, Christians, Pagans, and more . . . and they all got along! It was pretty damn incredible. I really did find my home there. I really do need to get my behind back there!

Through all of this, my husband continued his involvement in his church, and I encouraged it. I knew him when he went and I knew him when he didn’t. I knew he was a better person when he was regularly attending. It worked for him, so I pushed him to do whatever he could. I still challenged him, because, well, that’s just my way. I always accepted him for who he was. I believed that he accepted me for who I was. We had our issues, as all couples do. We even had a short separation at one point (which we kept very well hidden from friends and family). But I wanted us to work. I didn’t want to follow in my mom’s footsteps with this.

One day we were driving somewhere and we were talking about religion, as we often did. We talked about how we felt about the judgmental types. I expressed how I didn’t feel it was any of our places to judge another person. He agreed and took it further to say that he didn’t understand why churches would act so strongly against those people they considered sinners. He explained that at his church they believed in accepting them into the church because if you don’t accept them, then they will never come to the church. If they never come to the church, they could never be converted. I listened carefully to what he was saying. And then he gave an example of a couple of people very close in our lives. I turned to look at him and said, “Is that what you’ve been doing with me?” Silence followed. I think my heart broke in half in that instant. He admitted to me that day that no, he did not fully accept the path I was on and that he was still holding out for my eventual conversion.

We had a lot of other issues, some of them quite serious, but this was the one that made me realize that we couldn’t be fixed. I could not be with someone for the rest of my life that did not accept and love me for who I was. I could not be with someone for the rest of my life that was always holding out for me to change. It wasn’t long after this that he moved out.

It was an extremely painful time for me. I felt stupid. I felt like a failure. I felt like a horrible mother. My anxiety sky rocketed. I went back to therapy, went back on medication, and most importantly, relearned deep breathing techniques. This segued into meditation, something I had let slip away a long time ago. It took some time, but I began to feel really, really good about myself.

It’s been over 3 years now, and aside from still wanting to get myself up early enough on Sundays to go back to the UU church, I am extremely comfortable with myself spiritually. I’ve lost all need for any kind of title. I celebrate what I celebrate. I believe what I believe. I live how I live. You can call it whatever you want, it still is what it is.

My biggest challenge right now is to raise my daughter in a way that she sees everything around her and becomes independent and strong enough to decide what is right for her when the time comes. I think I’m doing a really good job with that. She goes to Sunday school with her dad on the weekends that she’s there. When she’s with me, we talk about nature and heaven (she’s very interested in learning about her Mom-mom Janice). I put a heavy focus on what I believe, not what I don’t believe. It’s a delicate balance of exposing her to all sides while making sure not to confuse her. She goes to school with kids of many different religious and cultural backgrounds and so is learning there as well. I am confident that when the time comes, she’ll choose the path that is right for her . . . and I will love and accept her no matter what it is.

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Unexpected revelations

This has been the easiest and the most difficult part of my journey to write out. It’s been easy because this was the clearest understanding that I have ever had in my spiritual progression. It’s been difficult because this is the first time that I have put some of these words to paper, or rather computer screen (aside from strictly Pagan circles).

I used to talk to my mom all the time. I’d lie in bed at night when everyone else in the house was asleep, and I’d just talk. I’d tell her everything about everything happening in my life. I’d feel very calm afterwards and just drift to sleep. Sometimes I would wake in the morning and for just a few moments, I’d forget that she was gone. Before I opened my eyes, I’d think I was still in my old bedroom. I could even smell the remnants of my mom’s morning coffee. Then I’d open my eyes and it would all dissipate into reality.

As my beliefs transformed, so did my ideas about what happens to us when we die. Reincarnation made sense to me. I equated being judged for all eternity on your lifetime actions to having your entire academic reputation rest on how well you performed in Kindergarten. The concept is pretty ludicrous to me. I’ve also had experiences and feelings that have led me to believe that I’ve been here before, another time, another place. A lot of people might think that’s hokey, but so be it. I also have no doubt in my mind that my mom is around me somewhere. I’ve felt her presence. I became very connected to the concept of the Summerlands, a place of rest for the soul between earthly incarnations.

I believe that our spirits grow constantly throughout not only our lives, but our deaths as well. Why should we cease to learn just because our bodies turn to ashes?

“We’re not here on this planet to ask forgiveness of our deities. This would be similar to apologizing to our stylist or barber because our hair just keeps on growing. The Earth is a classroom. We’re the students. Karma, life, ourselves, others, and the Goddess and God are the teachers, and we can’t always know the answers. Mistakes are a part of human life. Apologize all you want, if you wish, and if possible or necessary, correct them. Forgive yourself and move on.”

This is my favorite Scott Cunningham quote, and simply one of my favorite quotes ever. So poignantly sums up one of my core beliefs. We need to progress and move forward, to recognize our mistakes and do what’s necessary to correct them, but this does not mean that we live our lives in a constant state of guilt. I strive to do good things in the world around me. I have slipped up. I’ve been angry or jealous or hurt, and I’ve lashed out. But I’m human, and it’s bound to happen. I am forever learning.

I was nearing my college graduation when my belief system took another abrupt turn. I woke up one day (ok, maybe not quite that abrupt, but it sounds good) and asked myself why I insisted on calling myself a Christian. I only had one answer. It was all I knew. I didn’t know how to not call myself one.  The more I read about the ancient Pagan pantheons, the more Christianity as a religion began to fall apart for me. I can be insanely logical at times and it just wasn’t making sense anymore. I was reading stories that were thousands of years older than the New Testament, yet they mirrored those tales. I began to question why we call those ancient religions mythology and give so much more credit to the more modern belief systems. I still held Jesus of Nazareth in very high esteem. I still believed in the love and acceptance that he taught. I did not, however, believe that he was born of a virgin mother and was the literal son of God.

This was an extremely difficult revelation for me. I had to let go of a title I had since birth. I certainly couldn’t let my family know about this. There was already the underlying issue of me not being Catholic . . . my goodness, how would they take this?! To this day, I’ve resigned myself to just not talking about it with them. Of course, now that I’ve posted it on a public blog that I share with both real life and internet circles, I may have just opened myself up to some *fun* discussions.

Just a couple of months after my college graduation, Mike and I were engaged. The religion thing was a bit of an issue. My only concern was that he accepted me for who I was. He confessed one night that a part of him still wanted me to convert. I asked him why. He told me that he wanted me to feel what he felt when he was in church. I said, “But you don’t get it. I do feel that. I feel that every night that I walk under the stars. I feel that every day that I watch the leaves change on the trees. Every time I breathe in the nature that is all around, I feel that love.” He thought about that for some time and said that he got it, that he understood, and that he loved me no matter what path I was on. And two months later, while on vacation in Vegas, we were married.

Over the next several years, life changed quite a bit. I not only became a wife, but also a mother . . . and that brought on an ocean of new waves!

Discovering myself

Here’s part 3 of my spiritual journey. This is turning out to not be as easy as I thought it would be. I’m feeling kind of old as I look back and realize that the years I’m talking about feel like a life time ago! Still, it’s bringing me a reawakened sense of comfort.

I took a World History class in college as part of my core requirements. The class was taught by an adjunct who had a strong interest in religion. The class became more like a history of religion class. It was one of my favorites.

It was this class that introduced me to Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Native American Spirituality, and even Paganism as more than just ancient mythologies. She also taught at great length about Christianity in its infancy. The class sparked my interest in earth based religions and led me once again back to the “New Age” section of the book store.

It was there that I found Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. I had heard of Wicca before, but I knew very little, if anything real about it. I knew what I saw on TV, what I later realized was sensationalized garbage. Like Buddhism, Wicca was not something I dove completely into. It was about this time that I realized I was opposed to organized religion in pretty much any form. But I felt comfortable with a lot of the things I was learning. I branched out more and began considering myself a Pagan.

I still had that rooted belief in Christ and so did some research. As it turned out, I wasn’t alone. There were other Christian Pagans, those who saw the God and Goddess as facets of the same God. This worked for me. The earth centric quality was where I felt the most at home. Since childhood, I had always found something awesomely beautiful about nature. I could lie under the stars and feel at peace. God was all around me, not confined to some building. And not just around me, but within me. God was within all living things, all of nature’s creations.

With that belief, it made sense to me that all things held energies. I began spell casting and felt a certain calm with it. I kept much of it a secret for fear of backlash from those who saw such things as “evil”. Years later a friend referred to spell casting as “prayer with oomph”. I’ve never been able to put it better than that. It really is all spell casting ever was for me, speaking to my Higher Powers in the form of candles and herbs and poetry.

At this point in my life, I had experienced several faiths, and for those I didn’t, I had friends who had. I think that the most important thing I learned at this point was that the presence or lack of any particular religion did not make one person any better or worse than another. I found a peculiarity in faith. You could take 10 “devout” people of 10 different religions and each one would tell you that they “knew” their faith was the one and only true path. Obviously, at least 9 of them are wrong. I think they’re all wrong. I came to believe that there was no such thing as “one true path”. I also came to believe that I had no way of knowing, in this earthly form, what was true and what wasn’t. And these were the beliefs that first led me to call myself an agnostic.

So there was my “title”. Non-denominational Christian Pagan Agnostic. That’s a mouthful and a half! But the titles aren’t important, as I later came to understand. What was important? I was finally beginning to discover something that made sense to me. I started walking a path that I believed in because it felt right to me, not because somebody told me it was true.

Facts can be manipulated, but nobody can alter the way something makes me feel. And so if I sat in the middle of the woods on an autumn day listening to fur balls scurry and birds sing, I’d feel love and peace and fulfillment. That was real.

I came to question my beliefs in the afterlife. Heaven and hell. Reincarnation. The Summerlands. Nirvana. What did I think happened to my mom? My grandparents? My friends? My unborn brothers or sisters (from my step-mom’s multiple miscarriages)? My aunts and uncles? For someone who had a funeral dress by 17, these were important questions, and ones I would spend a lot of time thinking about over the next several years.

Continuing my spiritual journey

This next part of my journey takes you through my high school years and into my college years . . . I am enjoying the process of writing this out. It’s reminding me of where I’ve been, which helps to clarify where I am. There’s beauty in the search, which is why I will always be searching . . .

In my high school years, I spent a great deal of time in bookstores. I would walk in for one book and come out with six. I spent a lot of time in the “New Age” section. I liked the books on angels and George Anderson’s We Don’t Die. They helped with the clarity that I was so strongly searching for. And then I stumbled onto a book of Buddhism in my senior year.

I found a new home between the pages of that book (though sadly, the title escapes me now). There was a core set of beliefs that just felt fundamental. The purpose of life is to end suffering. Who can argue with that?

I admit that I did not delve full force into all things Buddhist, but I did try to live by the 5 Precepts as best I could, or as best I understood them at 18 years old without actually knowing any practicing Buddhists. More than anything, I just focused on being a better human being. I meditated daily, which in and of itself was a very powerful thing. I strived to make a positive impact on the world around me. I volunteered for anything and everything I could. It felt wonderful.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually called myself a Buddhist, but I have certainly been influenced by those philosophies. For the most part, I considered myself a non-denominational Christian. I think at the core of it, if you separate out the teachings of how a person is supposed to act, Christianity and Buddhism are not that different.

I met Mike, the man who would later become my husband, when I was in college. He belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ, not to be confused with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I made that mistake early on in our relationship after a couple of young Mormons knocked on my door. I said, “oh, that’s the church my boyfriend goes to. I’ll talk to him about it.” Later on I was corrected.

I attended a youth group with Mike at his church and thought that maybe I had found the next twist in my road. His uncle was a minister in the church and handed me their welcome booklet that he had written. I was excited about this new exploration. And then I got home and read the welcome booklet.

I didn’t expect to like everything about his church, but there are a few beliefs that I just cannot follow. I found three of them in the welcome book. The first was the separation of men and women. It’s professed that women play a very important role in the church, but they could not be elders. I’m innately opposed to religious segregation of the sexes. The second was that anyone who commits suicide goes to hell. I have a serious problem with this statement. I’ve lost friends to suicide. I’ve also dealt with my own psychological issues. Depression is an illness. It’s real. And sometimes it can be fatal. The third had to do with the unbaptized and their state in the afterlife, though for the life of me, I can’t remember exactly what the argument was. I’ve tried researching that church’s beliefs, but I keep coming up with sites for LDS.

I decided that I couldn’t partake in Mike’s church services or events. I still supported him in his faith (as I did for many years to come), but I couldn’t share in it. We came to a mutual respect with that. We argued a few times, but he always said that he liked the way I challenged him. At one point I remember asking him a question about what he believed. He told me that he wasn’t sure what his church believed and that he would ask his uncle. After a bit more debate, I finally said, “F*** what your church believes! What do YOU believe?!” I, obviously, wasn’t indifferent to his church’s beliefs, but I take issue when people can’t think for themselves.

That moment with Mike, which I intended to awaken him, was actually a spiritual awakening for me. What did I believe in? Where, if anywhere, did I fit in? What path was right for me? How was I supposed to find it? I was in college . . . learning, growing, changing . . . Who was I? My next step was to try to answer those questions.