Anyone whose read this blog for a while probably has a handle on my spiritual ideologies. Raised a Christian, within a traditional English Protestant church and a Church of England school, I had a gentle yet all-pervasive experience of the Christian faith.
I went to Sunday School, and enjoyed it tremendously. Once I became a teen I graduated to Jucos, then Covenanters (a Sunday School for older children). I even went on Christian holidays during the summer.
As lovely as all that was, as grateful as I am for that moral compass, and for Jesus being planted firmly in my heart forever after, there were many questions I had that I felt uncomfortable with having. As I was Confirmed at age thirteen, I remember inviting Jesus consciously into my life, but feeling like a bit of a fraud as I said my vows. The reason was not Him, but questions about the religion on the whole had been bubbling up for years and the stoic, shadowy, formal vicars and religious leaders around me did not seem like approachable figures to broach with these questions, which were by now seemingly burning with their urgency.
I remember thinking…
1) If Adam and Eve were the first humans formed on the sixth day of creation, where do the dinosaurs figure in all of this? Why doesn’t Genesis mention them? What day were they created?
2) What if you’ve never heard of Jesus? Surely any loving God would not condemn His children to hell. And even if you have been introduced to Jesus, what if you chose another path to worship God, no less noble or loving?
3) Why is God a Him, and not a Her, or neither?
I couldn’t wrap my head around the existence of a devil (which I now-thanks to Eckhart Tolle’s teachings- see as a personification of the human ego, and separation from our inherent Oneness). Was this just fear-mongering to enforce social control? For-even if I hated someone-I could not bring myself to force their fingertip into a flame, let alone condemn them to the fiery pits for eternity. Could I worship a God who could do such a thing? Could I worship a ‘jealous’ God?
The Bible was peppered with stories that highly sensitive me found violent and nonsensical, such as Noah’s Ark-all those poor people dying. Then, to pluck just another story, the near sacrifice of Isaac by his dad, Abraham, who God commanded to kill. This seemingly barbarous act was only stopped by God last minute as God says ‘now I know you fear God.’ Do I want to live a life fearing God?? Will I be asked to do such terrible things? Will I have to suffer for my faith? Could I?
The jury was out. But I knew it sat very uncomfortably with me.
As the teenage years bled into young adulthood words like ‘sin’ and ‘sinners’ started to grate; no doubt because I was a rebellious teen, and often enjoyed reveling in sin at that time:-)
So I took my unanswered questions and, in effect, left any relationship I had with church. I set it down. I explored parts of this world not just literally, but spiritually too.
I continued to call myself a Christian because it was nostalgic, and nothing else had come along to dislodge it.
When I met Eric, his mom became something of an angel to me. She was a Christian, but a very liberal one, a very philosophical and open-minded one, a Christian whose bookshelves were sagging with not just Christian books but other spiritual books, which I thought skated on the edge of dodgy- for a Christian, at least.
There were books about Mediums, physic ability, palm reading and communicating with your angels. Books from other people who had had Christian niggles too and either found peaceable answers, enabling them to penetrate far deeper into their faith, or those who’d left it for good, such as Neale Donald Walsh in ‘Conversations with God.’
Despite my reservations I found them bloody thrilling! Once mom had allayed my fears about the potential sinful side effects of such material I stocked up my suitcase every time I visited her in Florida. She wasn’t an authority, but all I apparently needed to hear was one voice, from any source I respected, telling me they thought it OK to explore.
For the next twelve years I read spiritual books with an appetite of a starving child, finally offered sustenance. One book led to another, one teacher to the next. I read books about the natural laws of the universe, books by Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith, Rhonda Byrne, Lorna Byrne, Doreen Virtue, Mike Dooley, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra and many, many other leading spiritual teachers of our age.
I found that-to consume these teachings- I did not need to bend my soul to accommodate them. They were easy concepts to believe in with a heartfelt gusto; they were about love and gratitude and the power of our thoughts. No spiritual coercion required or questions left unanswered.
I found God; powerfully. And my God existed outside of the confines of religion. I found Jesus too, on my own terms. There was also Buddha, and angels on hand to help with daily life. I found the curtain between death and life become more of a veil, as I devoured books on Near Death Experiences and as such, my crippling fear of the afterlife dissolved, as warm water melts ice.
When we lived in Colorado, eight or so years ago, I found the Center for Spiritual Living which embodied all of my spiritual teachings. It was a place that celebrated God, and all paths to God. It was a place that made my heart and soul truly happy. I felt at home. It was inclusive, not exclusive, nor did you have to hold any belief system to be a member.
Moving to this part of Florida, there wasn’t a thriving Center for Spiritual Living on hand. So a place of worship fizzled out, but I still had my reading, my meditation and God was with me as I found peace and presence on my yoga mat.
But I had a growing sense that my children, now eight and six, needed the moral compass I was offered when I was young. Maybe they needed to learn the ‘rules’ of a religion as a child, which they could ‘break’ later on if they chose. Perhaps though they’d resonate and hold these teachings dear for the rest of their lives.
With this as a background niggle in my heart, we set off for church on Easter Sunday, avec mother-in-law. (If my children were going to eat Easter eggs, I wanted them to know why.) We went to her church. It was a church I’d been to a number of times before. I thought, for a Christian space of worship, it was wonderful. It was liberal and non-denominational, the Pastors were passionate and rousing and the theater that housed thousands of worshipers was like a grandiose concert hall. The music was modern worship songs, which in that concert-like atmosphere could not fail to ignite your heart with joy. So very different to the traditional, sparsely populated and imposing churches I was familiar with growing up.
Ten years ago, on a trip to this church with mom-in-law, I’d decided not to take communion. It didn’t feel sincere at that time. But this time, I felt my guard soften a little. Rather than being led by my beliefs, I was being led by my feelings. Some of the language still bothered me, but I felt God there. Surely, I asked myself, that was the point? If I exclude myself from a space of worship, based on my beliefs, aren’t I just exemplifying exclusion, the very gripe I had about religion in the first place?
Coming out of church that Easter morning, Alex tugged at my belt. “Mummy, can I talk to you? Mummy, I felt Jesus in there. I didn’t know what He was saying to me, but I felt Him calling to me.” I gazed into his wide, earnest little eyes and wept with joy.
And there it was. Both Nana and I, exhilarated with gratitude for Alex’s experience, threaded our way through the foyer throng to sign both Alex and an ever-eager Sophie up for Children’s Church.
I realized that I would far rather my children follow a religion than have no spiritual sustenance at all in their formative years, aside from my input. I didn’t have to subscribe to their religion of choice.
Funny thing though…four weeks into church, and I’m relishing my Sunday mornings there too. We drop the kids off at their respective Sunday school classes and go to service ourselves. I’ve even introduced a friend to the church, who accompanies us with her son every week. We sing, we pray and we are enthralled with the Pastors, the senior of which was part of President Obama’s prayer team. They all speak with God oozing out of them, like rays from the sun. They bring the Scriptures to life, so the Bible is not just about God, but about me and my life too. This is a place that welcomes questions, debates, that honors other religions.
And you know what? Last week, I took communion. It felt Holy again.
I don’t know if I’d label myself a Christian, but I do know I love Jesus and I don’t think anything else matters, at least for now. This is a tentative relationship with the church, much like dating after so many years of being happily single. But when I’m there, I get God-bumps, I feel God. I also sense angels filling the space.
I will go anywhere where I feel God; a mosque, a temple, my yoga mat, the beach, the edge of my children’s beds as they sleep. Because surely that’s what it’s all about; connecting, celebrating, uplifting your vibration so you can merge with that ethereal realm? To find heaven, here on earth.
As always, I welcome your comments, your thoughts, especially on such a tender subject.
Namaste my friends, I’m so grateful for You.