The title might seem compelling, so I’ll go ahead and apologize right now – the substance of this piece is going to be bumpy and unfulfilling, much like a oddly-shaped Christmas gift, wrapped by a middle schooler. Nothing against middle schoolers, of course. Just that for this analogy, the middle schooler I’ve chosen is terrible at creating a beautiful illusion with festive paper and bits of scotch tape. He’s probably not all that great with scissors, either.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. I’m thinking about something Big, with a capital B. But, as is the way of things like this, it’s too Big to fully comprehend in one sitting, or maybe a few. Maybe a lifetime. It’s honestly one of those conundrums that’s bound to have you mulling for years to come. But don’t worry – there’s a kernel of information at the center that’s small enough to share in a somewhat concise manner. And that thought is: I’ve found religion.
OK, yes, I can already hear you shifting uneasily at your desks as you start to formulate the first questions. This is from out of left field, I know. Believe me, I know. But first, we need some clarification…
I was raised by a lapsed Episcopalian with a deep appreciation of Native American spirituality, and an agnostic with her own share of spiritual baggage, including membership in a couple of Christian sects that many would consider borderline cults. I grew up in a rural community with strong roots in Christian evangelism, and though my parents didn’t enforce weekly church attendance (in fact, my father didn’t attend at all), throughout my life, my mother was very supportive of any choices I made independently. I chose where we’d go to church, so when I was little and the Vacation Bible School at the First Christian Church was particularly fun, that’s where we went on Sundays. In middle school and high school, we attended the same Church of Christ that my childhood best friend’s family attended. I also was a member of a girl’s group at the nearby Southern Baptist Church during middle school, and during grade school I attended a Christian school, where I had Bible class every day.
In the summers in middle school, I attended a Christian Service Camp, where I took classes about Christianity and teen life every day, and where I was eventually baptized in the swimming pool (surfacing with a prime view of my father’s VERY disappointed glare). I didn’t know it at the time, but my strongest brush with Christianity was also the beginning of a hairline fracture that led me to eventually lose faith. One summer, we were given a seminar by a college professor who proudly told our assembly of 100 or so kids that dinosaurs had never existed, and the bones were a hoax planted by the devil. At the time, I wanted to be a paleontologist. I remember looking around out those enraptured faces and realizing that we were being hoodwinked. Of course, there was also a class where we girls learned about the holiness of purity, with the Virgin Mary as our shining example. The teacher went on about how women shouldn’t have sex until marriage, and as an aside, she mentioned that if you remained pure until you were married, you’d never have to worry about getting pregnant. Immediately, I thought about how poor Mary had gotten the short end of the stick, and just like that, I was also terrified of miraculously getting preggers without ever having sex. For years, my two biggest fears were virgin birth and alien abduction/insemination. Same thing, really. *shudder*
I lived religion as a kid, and was incredibly sheltered all the way up until I left for college. I wish I could say that it meant something to me, but it was just what people did, so I did it, too. For me, the real appeal of religion came during my freshman year, when I visited my first Catholic church on a school assignment. From the moment I walked in, I was hooked. The stories, the structure, the meaning plainly laid out for anyone to soak in. No white walls, no plain cross. Color! Ceilings taller than the steeple of my old church! So many pews, and organ music, and the smell of incense and candles! So I spent my first four years of college studying religion, in the guise of Art History and Medieval Studies. I sometimes dreamt of being a nun, or a mystic, or maybe just an everyday religious scholar (news flash: I still do). But the more I learned, the more I despaired, because I was losing touch with religion as I’d been taught it. I could clearly see the hand of man laid across every word in the holy writings, and I could feel that we’d gotten something wrong, but I couldn’t understand that feeling yet.
It all came to a head when I went to an Easter service with a friend in junior year of college, and had to leave because they kept talking about Jesus, and never mentioned God. The pure mental gymnastics of ignoring your primary deity for the entire length of a church service started to tickle me so much that I was starting to giggle, and needed to get out of there before I upset people. After that night, it dawned on me that the first part of the problem for me was that I was surrounded by people telling stories of the human Christ, glorying in his earthly deeds, but treating those stories and a disparate collection of soundbites from the Old Testament as the central talking points of the entire religion. As though God were too large to contemplate, so let’s give up and talk about this guy Jesus for the long haul, and while we’re at it, let’s ignore everything Jesus told us to do for our world and our fellow humans, while congratulating ourselves for being holier than the guy down the block. I lost touch with the concept of the Holy Trinity at that point, and to be honest, logically speaking, it doesn’t make much of a difference whether or not I find a way to re-believe in it. I believe that God is in all of us, the fifth element that binds all things. I don’t need to hold onto a concept of a giant man in the sky, because that was never true. And I don’t need to believe in a simultaneously human and deific son here on earth, because we are all children of God, and Jesus never wanted us to worship him. He wanted us to BE Love. He couldn’t have been any clearer about it, and we’ve been screwing it up for the better part of two thousand years. So, throughout time, many other messengers have been sent here to guide us to be better, do better, love fully, to spark change. Jesus was one of those messengers (and let’s face it, probably not even close to the first dude to realize we were all being a bunch of jerks, and could use some straightening up), as was Mohammed, and my beloved Francis, and Gandhi, and Helen Keller, and…
But none of what I’m saying here is a new thought for me. This is where I’ve been, spiritually speaking, for years. Maybe without a clear concept of everything, but then again my life is nothing if not fuzzy around the edges. What’s different now?
What’s different now is that I feel some sort of call. I can always tell when I’m being presented with a deep spiritual truth, whether it’s someone sharing a message, or coming across a thing of profound meaning and beauty, or, in this case, my thoughts just suddenly connecting, like a circuit, long broken, finally swinging closed again. There’s a deep soul ache, and the feeling of being ready to burst into tears at any moment. I’d imagine that it has some points in common with the tribulations of my favorite medieval mystic Margery Kempe. Though some aspects of my personal life are in absolute turmoil, though I feel alone and adrift, cast away from a family I no longer understand, I know that I’m on the right track. And what’s more, I’m seeing more and more Christians stepping up and breaking free of the establishment. It’s been giving me hope that the things that I loved about my childhood religion can still apply – that somewhere out there, people want to emulate Christ in their daily lives, not as greedy, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic prudes, but as flawed individuals embracing humanity in all of its beautiful filth, spreading love and hope to all, sharing positive energy.
I honestly don’t know what this means. I told you at the beginning that this wasn’t going to be a simple thought, nicely presented, and it’s not. I don’t have an answer. I know that I am still highly interested in religious study, because you can’t understand what you are until you understand what you aren’t. I will still practice magick, through prayer, intention, and deep appreciation of all of the natural wonders with which we’ve been blessed. Eventually, I’ll follow in my wild woman cousin’s footsteps and use energy to heal and soothe. And for the moment, I’ve been finding great comfort in a few Facebook groups for progressive Christians and for people who have “consciously uncoupled” from various fundamentalist Christian sects. It’s surprisingly restorative to hear from thousands of people who aren’t the hateful pseudo-Christian bullies I’ve come to know and loathe.
And to tell the truth, I am just starting to understand the extent to which I’ve been gaslit. All this time, somewhere deep down in there, I thought that I was the terrible person for not being able to find it in my heart to hang my hat with the close-minded and sometimes even hateful people I’d come to understand as THE Church. Now I’m finally able to find peace in the fact that I’ve been following my moral compass to my True North, and walking my inner Camino. Subconsciously, I was choosing Love, with the understanding that I’d be going to hell because of it (even though I don’t believe in hell, but let’s just leave that for another day, shall we?). Suddenly, I can see through the BS, and know that it’s OK. So I didn’t follow the crowd; that’s actually a good thing. Now I have some of the tools and insight to help lead the way. I’m really good at putting one foot in front of the other.
And if you’ve made it this far, you should watch this video. It sums up some of my heartbreak at the moment. It’s not a political statement as much as it is a cry for people to wake up and realize we have the power to let Love win. Think beyond the religion mentioned in the video. Think beyond the politics mentioned. Think about humanity, and our capacity for great good, and YOUR capacity for great good, and if this video has anything to do with your life, in a specific way, think about the people in your life who know and love you, and want nothing more than to know that they love someone with the capacity to love them – and the rest of humanity – back, free of pettiness or malice, open to change and growth.