This is a long post and I apologize in advance, but I believe it is worth getting through–otherwise I would not have written it. Please bear with me.
Since walking away from modern day, Christian Theology somewhere in college I have found myself more aligned with a spirituality rather than religion—not all of Christian theology mind you mainly the young “Jesus is my buddy, I talk to him over coffee in the mornings,” type of theology. I have a lot of respect for the scholarship and ritual that goes into different things like the old timey Lutheran liturgy and the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. You can thank my Grandmother for that healthy respect.
But since my personal experiences with the religion of people my own age were less than idyllic, I have wondered far from Christianity. I never had the right answers to questions like, “What would you say to God to get into heaven,” and “What is your favorite: the New or Old Testament?”Granted these questions were asked of me during sixth grade, when I was just as awkward and angsty as those who were asking me the questions. But the point is that I fit in more with the religion of my parents or even my grandparents, with solemn services and a deep reverence, than with the church services with bands and youth groups the size of an NFL football team.
Yes I know I am generalizing. I am just trying to paint a picture. Please forgive me. To make things a little more specific, or at least paint a picture that is a little less painted with generalizations and a bit more of a concrete example I give you an experience my cousin Thad had. He recently tried out a church with his wife. They have been wanting somewhere to bring their kids too and have been church shopping for a while. His experience is not unlike some that I have had–he just explains it better. Here is his experience for you in his own words:
“The music was fun – they have their own band, and people feel uninhibited enough to sing along, sway and gesture, or just sit and listen, as they are moved to do. I saw a pleasant variety of ages and ethnicities represented, and people showed up in a variety of different dress codes, and the preacher repeatedly talked about the Greek or Latin derivation of particularly significant words. All good things. But by the end of the service I was practically twitching with dismay.
The first and lesser reason was the relentless cheerfulness of everyone we met towards the visiting newbies. This is the lesser reason because it would have been very difficult for them to avoid – everyone wants to be welcoming. But I can’t turn off my warning system, nor forget my knowledge base; and that style of cheerfulness inescapably brings up associations of cults and brainwashing tactics. That probably says more about me than it does about them.The second, and larger, reason for my increasing twitchiness was the theology of the minister. It’s nothing unexpected – mainline contemporary non-denominational Protestant – but then, that’s why I’ve never felt comfortable in churches. Everyone is so damn sure that their truth is the only Truth. Examples:In placing Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in historical context, the minister described Corinth as a city of endemic corruption, and one of his examples was the temple prostitutes of Aphrodite, who was herself described as one of the, “false gods of the Greeks.” I think there’s a real conversation that can be had about sexuality and religion, and the reason I identify to a greater extent as Christian than Grecian pagan is that I find more truth in the one than in the other; but I would never speak of someone else’s sacred practices as intrinsically corrupt, nor their deity as, “one of the those false gods.”
In illustrating how people tend to accept little sins as not worth noticing, he cited a research study of what bugs people hire exterminators to kill. Apparently only 27% hire an exterminator to, “remove,” spiders; while 85% of us will do so for termites. To me, this is a dangerous analogy on a number of levels. Firstly, it implies that bugs and sins are somehow linked; suggesting that bugs are somehow morally repugnant. As if we don’t depend on them. As if things we find ugly or frightening are intrinsically less valuable. I don’t even like the idea of killing sin – as if smashing bits of myself against the wall is the route to being a better person. We don’t become better people through violence. We become better by courageously facing what we have done, and striving towards a healing. The irony is that I agree with his logic; I just go the other way. To me, there is value and purpose in accepting that there are sins in my life, just as there is value and purpose in accepting that there are bugs in my walls. The challenge is to live with them, heal the damage, and learn the lesson. Killing merely postpones those goals – and makes me a killer.
From the exterminator slide, the preacher segued into a biographical bit about a famous football player who had been quoted as saying that his goal was to be the best football player ever. This was in reference to a quote from Paul’s Letter in which he talks about religious development as a race to be won. We are all, apparently, to strive to become the best Christian ever. I don’t like this because it makes religion into a zero-sum game. I must strive to be a better Christian than you; in the great game of religion, someone will win — and I ought to want it to be me. I don’t. I’d like to be a better person today than I was yesterday, and I’d like other people to regard me as the kind of person who really struggles to lead a life of kindness and compassion; but that’s as far as it goes. I just don’t see the value in making religion a contest; and, in fact, I see a lot of problems there.
Now the big one. In describing grace, he flashed the following quote on the screen: “Grace is getting what we don’t deserve; mercy is not getting what we do deserve.” I almost walked out of the church. I have children. What they deserve is love and compassion and forgiveness and support. What they deserve is mercy, and even grace – and they don’t deserve those things because of anything they have said or done but because they are fearfully and wonderfully made. I don’t ever want my children to believe that mercy is opposed to justice, or that grace is opposed to truth; most especially, I don’t want my children to believe that God is hovering over them with a clipboard and a ruler, waiting to see whether or not they will measure up. My children are the love of God made flesh. All of God’s children are the love of God made flesh. We are worthy because God does not make unworthy creatures.
The curious thing about all this, to me, is how strongly I reacted to it. I tend to have a very relaxed attitude towards physical injury – bruises and scratches heal, and the kids need to learn not to worry about minor injuries because temporary pain is an acceptable price for a fully-lived life and all that – but the prospect of any spiritual injury sends me into a complete tizzy. My lady points out that by my own logic, minor spiritual stresses (and the resiliency that comes from meeting them) may in fact be a valuable part of life; and that parents (ie. me) can’t avoid the responsibility for providing direct spiritual education to the kids, which would presumably include dealing with exactly this sort of issue. So part of my freak-out here may well be the unsettling realization that I am, in fact, a parent with parental responsibilities. Scary thought.”
Now I certainly feel that it is okay to hire an exterminator and that I do not have to live with bugs. HUsband can attest to this as I have woken him up in the middle of the night to kill a spider. But then I have made him the killer and now me, so we are all good right? right?! I also get a little nervous with Thad’s idea that we should live with the sins in us, but he redeems himself later when he says we should struggle to lead a life of kindness and compassion and to try and a better person today that I was yesterday. That kind of says that we should confront our sins, delve deep, see why we make them, analyze it all and try to be better.
Anyway I am getting away from the main point, which is that I haven’t felt like owning a spiritual language. I haven’t felt like sharing my beliefs because I haven’t been sure what they are in a long time. I was not born with the faith gene. I was born to doubt and to question and to be a skeptic. But I was also born with a deep longing to be spiritual.
I have a hard time saying the word God, because invariably the assumption is that I believe in a God of modern Christianity. A Christianity where it is okay to discriminate between people based on their sexual preference. A Christianity that is shoved and twisted at you from all corners in the media and the Republican Platform. A Christianity that I have to dig to find love in till my heart is broken and I am confused and often angry. It’s also a really big word.
I can get behind Divine Mother. Being a woman myself, who identifies with women, I can get behind the idea of a Divine Mother who has limitless, unconditional love (thanks Gita for the lingo). It is God who loves you personally and impersonally (again thanks Gita): loves you just for the mere fact that you exist AND loves you for who you are; not that Christianity’s God isn’t the exact same thing, it is—I know. But Divine Mother is a lot more accessible and relatable to me.
Now if I have a grasp of modern Christianty, and many would say that I don’t despite my education and upbringing, I think some would say that God isn’t supposed to be relatable. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent and what exactly about that is relatable (not that Divine Mother isn’t all three of these things – as they are one in the same) but the idea of God for me comes with a lot of baggage. I am much better approaching God through the form of Divine Mother. Are you still with me?
I have come in contact with more mystic branches of religion that I align with that tell me that I am God. I am the Divine. Islamic Sufi’s believe this, Christian Mystics believe this, and as I have now learned the Devotees of Pramahansa Yogananda and Swami Kriananda believe this. We are not the raindrop in the ocean, we are the ocean. So if I am divine, wouldn’t it therefore make more sense that in order to come to this realization deep down inside I would be better off channeling my energies to Divine Mother, which is an idea I can understand, and idea I can relate to, and an idea I can feel deep down inside.
If you are still with me I will give you a cookie.
I think one of the points I am trying to make is that it is not about trying to fit into the definition of spirituality that you are raised in. Spirituality is such a personal thing, and yet it all leads to the same place eventually. So how about taking what you know, learning a bit more, and finding a spiritual language that speaks to you. This way I can go back to the things that my grandmother has taught me over the years about God and Jesus and finally understand them, because what she has said has been true all along. I just didn’t have the language to understand.
P.s. Nanowrimo is going great. I am even a little bit ahead. Guess the more writing I do, the more ideas I get. The flood gates have been opened AND it is flooding.