"Prayer is not asking for what you think you want,
but asking to be changed in ways you can't imagine."
~ Kathleen Norris ~
I have been thinking, of late, quite a lot about spirituality and religion. It's been a long and winding road but let me break it down for you in a few quick phrases ... Raised Catholic, 12 years of Catholic education. Husband and I had both been raised Catholic and both left the church before we were married at 20 and 23, the only difference being that he called himself an Agnostic, and I called myself Spiritual. I didn't for one moment think that God wasn't "Up There," and, as I have heard said, "You can take the girl out of the church but you can't take the saints out of the girl." I have always been particularly fond of the saints, and have always more comfortably related to the cloistered nuns and monks than the general population, but then the angels came winging their way after me, in less and less subtle ways, and though I have been an ardent student of Buddhism for 30 years I always heard God laughing merrily along the way, very present in my life, but not quite understanding what "it" all meant. What I mean by "it" is formal religion.
When I left the Catholic Church, and, as a young married woman with a husband who wasn't about to go to church, I continued on an ardent seeker, and I went to many churches alone. Actually the churches that I loved most were the black churches that I went to with the rousing choirs that made you feel like you were floating 10 feet off the ground, and I sang and danced with the rest of the congregation. It was the place I most felt a really alive spirit connection. It was visceral. It felt real, but I didn't understand it. I was raised in a very formal setting, and the Catholic church had very formal rituals. The black churches I attended startled me because I never knew that going to church could awaken something in you that would make you feel joyful inspite of your sometimes sorry self. And I never really knew what to think about the Bible. I mean in Catholic school we had the "catechism." Protestant churches seemed to have a bit of a different spin on things. I thought of the stories we were taught in religion classes as nice parables to teach people how to live. I never quite figured out how Noah and the Ark fit into all of that until I ended up living my life in a cottage with about as many animals as Noah had on that Ark and then I figured it must all have meant more than I had realized.
Still in all, with all of my seeking and searching and believing in all manner of things, I have never been comfortable with any kind of organized religion, not even the Buddhist aspect of Buddhism that is very formal. I have long written that I didn't want a priest, a minister, a monk, a rabbi, or any holy man or woman telling me how I should live, and be my guide in life. I wanted what I have always called, and written about, as "Direct Communion." I wanted to be able to talk to God directly without an interpreter. For a writer this will sound odd, but when it comes to God and I, it has always felt like words got in the way. My relationship with God is visceral. The call and response happens in the silence. It is way down in my solar plexus and when most connected, most deeply felt, blazingly alive, the experience has been like I imagine being struck by lightning might be. But we don't talk about God that way. It's not polite.
Too, other people's interpretations vary so greatly that what at one point in time may have been very simple has fractured this thing called religion into a million pieces. Churches broke away from their mother-roots, other entirely different churches sprang up on their own, so many wars have been fought with their roots in religious ideology, and outright murder and terrorism exploded from under the veil of something called Holy. How is one not to be confused? Confused, yes, but a believer? Always.
I came to a point in my life when I began to view spirituality as a Kaleidoscope. I have written about this many times, but it always comes back to this for me. All who are "Believers" (and I count myself as one) essentially believe in a God or Deity of one sort or another. Some believe in multiple Deities but for time's sake here I will refer to a monotheistic point of view and God help me I'm not going to go bumbling about worrying about pronouns and being "PC" for anyone. This is complex enough as it is. Imagine this...
You pick up a kaleidoscope and look through it up into the sky. You marvel as you turn the kaleidoscope at the myriad colors and shapes, but, you are still looking at the exact same thing. I began to see "Religion" like this. If there is only one (for most people, no matter your faith) God "up there" but so many people view "Him" in different ways, even those basing their religion on essentially the same book, well, all I can figure is that we are all looking at the same Being through a universal kaleidoscope and the different religions are merely a turn by which the view changes and different shapes and colors can be seen. These are translated into the tenets of each individual faith. I hope you can bear with me. I really am getting somewhere.
Remember -- and perhaps viewing the picture at the top again will help -- I'm the fish swimming upstream against the odds, I just will look at things funny, but if you ask me, at the heart of every religion/faith/spiritual path that I have pondered over and read and studied about for decades, the ones that hold at their center compassion, kindness, non-judgement and a gentle love and genuine tenderness, which most religions hold as truths and tenets of their faith, are the ones that I am/have been, drawn to. However, it has been my experience, attending different churches on my search for one where my soul might rest easy and find a home, what I found were that the tenets of the faith might be sound, but, sadly, all too often, run by mere human beings with faults and foibles as we all will surely have, the individual church had, if not openly discussed or owned, an undercurrent of discontent, or, perhaps to me, even worse, a flock that followed (please forgive me, I know this sounds harsh, and truly I mean no harm when I say this) blindly followed along simply because their parents had, and their parents before them, and theirs before them. That is indeed an unfair generalization but it's a point I wanted to make because it bothers me.
I'm not talking about Blind Faith, which is another thing entirely -- and I'm not going there in this piece or it would be a book -- I'm talking about people who seem to have fallen into a church at birth because that's where their family went and never thought about it at all, they either followed along or left, roaming the earth as I and so many others of my generation have, not feeling like we quite fit, but not willing to give up the (Holy) Ghost! It is quite a quandary, a conundrum indeed.
And I wonder why there is so much fear, across the board, of anything that is "different" in this world? I can carry forward, with me, on my journey, many traditions, many prayers, many types of blessing-ways, many tools and icons and garments used in different traditions that I stay with awhile, and humbly study and with awe, give thanks for. I can carry the rosary, the mala, the Native American Medicine Wheel inside of me, as well as things considered pagan and pantheistic but which for me have been deep teachings and vibrate with life and holiness, and don't tarnish or harm my vision of God. I can open my arms and my heart and my life to all of the things that are based in love, and with gratitude, and compassion, I can spend my days, in my own small way, giving what I can. What a world it would be if we all could do just that. Each one, reach one. That's all it really takes.
But then, here I am, at 54, having found myself going deeper and deeper, spiralling down farther and farther into myself like a spelunker in search of something precious and rare, and precious and rare the experience has indeed been. Still, to put a name on it, or to follow, by rote, some form of organized religion, I fear, will cause me to lose the wondrous thing I have found.
I once read a book that moved me deeply. A small book of letters between two poets. The book was called The Delicacy and Strength of Lace; the poets -- James Wright and Leslie Marmon Silko. It was a life-changing book for me. A slender little volume that packed a wallop in a gentle way, and yet echoed through the four chambers of my heart on and on until one day I didn't hear it anymore, but neither was I the same woman I had been before I read it.
Finally, I think what I've come to is that I will leave the world to it's complexities, its verities, its constructions and tangled voices. I am a woman who can only live simply to survive and be whole in this world, and I will deeply honor all that is holy in my own way in my own little place in the world. And so now I understand more fully what my religion is, but I'll let His Holiness, the Dalai Lama say it, because he said it so much better than I could have. Simple words. Deep truth.
My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.
~ The Dalai Lama ~
My religion is kindness, and so I offer that to you. I work toward that each day in my life. I stumble and fall, but I get back up, dust myself off, chop wood, carry water, pray the rosary, chant with my mala, use my pendulums to talk to God and the spirits and angels and deities who guide me, and above all I will be kind. For me, it is the only way.
Namaste, Gentle Blessings to you all, may love and charity abound...