rethinking religion – repost from 2010

Reposting these thoughts from 5 years ago. And so it continues, in all it’s changes; from chaos to clarity, from longing for certainty to comfort with groundlessness, from grief at the loss to joy at the inexpressible spaciousness of mystery, from clinging or resisting dead twigs to immersion into the wild, juicy freshness of now.

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“To be nobody but yourself  in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.”  e.e. cummings

I think I’m beginning the process of remembering the good from the almost 20 years I spent identified as a christian.  I’ve had a lot of anger — some directed toward the church and some self-directed.  Now that the anger is beginning to clear a bit, I’m starting to remember the good and to understand a little why I lost myself and what returned me to myself.

That is probably the best thing my spiritual quest brought me.  It returned me to myself.

I remember clearly when I began to imagine that there might be a spiritual realm that co-existed somehow with the physical.  I was in my early 30s, a confirmed atheist of 17 years.  I’d taken a world religions and philosophies class at the local junior college, having heard it was good.  And it was!  I absolutely loved the instructor and the class itself was fascinating.  I was especially taken with Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism.

I felt a long-slumbering part of me begin to stir.  I began to re-imagine reality.  I even started to imagine a divine creator or mother.

Then I took a sharp turn.  I had what I felt was a “spiritual experience” – a vision of sorts.  Not to get bogged down in details of which I have yet to answer the questions as to what to do with all of my religious experiences … I’ll just say that going the Jesus Way became my quest.

When I first started church – I fell hard into it all.   I spent every minute in the church that it was open – listening, watching, taking copious notes. I began a 2-decade long study of the bible, which never lost its passion for me – even after I stopped mindlessly believing what other folks said and began studying in the hebrew, greek and aramaic.  Even after seeing how many things were mistranslated.  How the divine was sanitized of all of her feminine attributes and names.  How the patriarchal leaders twisted things.  Even after learning and understanding that the authorship of the books were misrepresented and reading ‘banned’ gospels — still, I loved the book.  Now loved as a collection of sacred poetry and wisdom, similar to the Tao Te Ching or the Upanishads.  Beautiful, poetic, even instructional when read metaphorically and with the right spirit.

But I digress.

As I continued on in my own spiritual quest, I couldn’t help but notice that there were few of us lining the pews that were really searching.  Most were sort of just there, out of habit or obligation or fear.  Whatever.

I learned who the passionate followers were and hung out with them.  My prayers began to be quieter.  I spent a lot of time meditating, listening.  I started hard work on myself.  I began the quest for authenticity that led me to where I am today.

I can see that in my years searching for God and seeking to be pleasing to the divine, I underwent massive healing in my emotions and memories.  I forgave, I processed.  I learned how to inspect myself, to search out the motives behind my words and actions.  I discovered a well-spring of compassion and tenderness I’d kept hidden as a younger person.

I never quite ‘fit’ into church.  I was too doubtful, too questioning, too confrontational. I never went for the “only those who say the prayer right get into heaven” story.  It just didn’t jive with what I had learned of God in the book.  I argued that the loving heart of this divine being would reach into the heart of a seeker regardless of their sex, age, culture, geography, time period, etc.  I never lost my love of other religions – they added richness and texture to what I believed as a christian.

This made me a bit unpopular with the church leaders.  As were my views and arguments on submission and women’s place in home, church and society, homosexuality, masturbation and other sexual matters, hell as a real place, life on other planets….well, I could go on.

Anyway.  Where I’ve been going with this is that I’ve begun to appreciate my own personal spiritual path.  Yes, I took the long way to come back to myself.  But it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

And really, some of my anger at losing myself in the church is misplaced.  I’d already lost myself, long before church.  Of course, once I was in church, the die was cast.  At least it was, until my own truth became important to me again.

So here I am – out at 50.  Late to the game.  Late to myself.  Late to life.  But still, here at last.

I’m still processing.  Still allowing myself to sit with my memories and the emotions they bring.  The sadness, the anger, the grief, the regret, the frustration, the eventual peace.  Peace because this has been my life.  Yes, my way has been twisted and the path strewn with obstacles, but it has been my path. Every bit of it – the sorrow, the anguish, the joy and the gladness – are mine.  They’ve informed me, they’ve transformed me.  I refuse to negate any of it.

And if there are a few who won’t understand where I am and where I’ve been, so be it.  I may be misunderstood, but not by myself.  I know who I am and I love who I am becoming.  I even love who I was.

Someone once told me never to look back.  They said to look forward, because you won’t be able to see where you’re going if you’re looking behind you.  I get what they’re saying, but I no longer agree.  In life, we face the past.  We may try to crane our neck to see the future, but we cannot.  The future remains unknown and uncertain.  We can, however, fully face the richness of the vista laid out before us – our own path, be it winding, twisted, straight…uphill and down, through mountain passes and deep forests, past long dry stretches of arid desert plains…to where we stand in this present moment.

And as I stand in the ‘here and now’, looking outward over the ‘there and then’, I begin to make out the order and beauty in the twists and turns my life has taken.  And I bow to my past in reverence and wonder, as the unknown future rushes ever into view.  And I’m thankful to be awake, to be noticing, to be alive.

“I’ve not forgotten the song of those dark years, the song of the starved soul.  But neither have I forgotten the joyous, deep song … the words of which come back to us when we do the work of soulful reclamation.”  Clarissa Pinkola Estes

As I’ve been getting reacquainted with my soul, I’ve rediscovered its oddities and eccentricities. I must say, I’ve come to realize that my individuality is born in these quirks and unexpected shadow tendencies of my soul, more so than in normality and conformity.

Besides, as that great dame Katherine Hepburn said, “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun!”

Awhile back, I seem to have crossed a line. One I don’t intend to step back over. I heard my soul shout, “I will be who I am“!It was as though I’d awakened into this new place where the climate was twice as bracing as the old; I was invigorated by the more oxygen-rich air. I’ll not turn back. I’ll not climb back in the box.

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. (From the gospel of Thomas)

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