From Whence I Come

This year has been one of great upheaval for me. In the past six months I have celebrated a birthday, lost my job of eleven years when my company filed for bankruptcy, injured my back, experienced life on unemployment for the first time, regained my job and found myself experiencing an ever growing crisis of faith. I’ve always been contemplative. I could overthink a sandwich, so with all of this going on, I suppose it’s only natural to find my mind drifting toward big questions about purpose, existence, and what’s important. That is one good side of upheaval. It causes us to pay attention.

For quite some time I’ve been drawn to learning about different faiths and philosophies, not always with the intent of seriously pursuing in them, but just out of intellectual curiosity. While I did my time in Lutheran Sunday School for a few years as a child and knew all the words to “Jesus Loves Me”, I did not grow up in a particularly religious family. My mother was raised Protestant and certainly celebrated all the big milestones of that faith (baptism, communion, etc.) growing up, though she never chose to have me participate in them. Up until shortly before his death, when he found some solace in Christianity, my father would have said he was not religious, but when he had to attend church on holidays as a kid, it was a Catholic one.

For my part, I didn’t grow up thinking of myself as anything in particular. When I was five or six,  my very solemn and concerned little Christian best friend prayed with me that I might accept Jesus into my heart. She was afraid that if I was not saved, I would not get to be in Heaven with her. She didn’t want to risk spending eternity without me, so she staged a kiddie intervention and prayed with me. Sadly, she passed when we were in our early 20’s. Her prayer is to this day one of the sweetest things anyone has done for me.

I do still hope to see her again when my time is done, but I never had her faith. Where she saw Jesus, God and certainty, I saw a big question mark. When I looked at Christianity, I saw some lovely ideas (love they neighbor; love is patient, love is kind, most of the “red letter” Jesus parts, etc.), mixed in with a lot of other ones that confused, frightened and sometimes even repelled me (like the God > Christ > Man > Woman hierarchy and, as I got older and realized I was a social liberal, things I read in Leviticus and Revelations). As I emerged into my 20’s, if you had asked me about religion, I would have told you that churches give me hives. I remember once telling a retired Baptist minister in my neighborhood that I was not a big fan of organized religion to which he responded with no smaill amount of disgust: “What would you prefer? DISorganized religion?” He thought he was being clever, but in a way he hit the nail right on the head. As Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.”

Around the same time, a well meaning zealot at my father’s funeral told me that it was a shame about my not being saved as it meant I was damned to Hell and would never be reunited with him in the afterlife. Of course, wounded as I was at the loss of my dad, all this did was cement for me that the Christian church was a place where I didn’t fit in. That said, I’ve never been an atheist or even an agnostic really. I have no doubt of the existence of Divine Creation. I’ve just never been sure what exactly that Godhead is. It always felt a bit random to me to say “if you’re not lucky enough to have been born in a predominantly Christian part of the world or not lucky enough to have been colonized by missionaries you are DOOMED!”  At the same time, I feel somewhere in my bones that whatever “God” is, it is the force which endows us with our sentience, our capacity to love and revere all forms of life, our ability to create, an act which in itself is inspired by the divine. Perhaps this is why Neo-Paganism draws me. It makes room for all these things without the dogma of Christianity.

With age, I’ve also developed a more nuanced view of spirituality than I had at 20. There is a language to conservative evangelical Christianity that gives me hives even now, but I can also recognize that most seekers in that faith are no less sincere and well meaning in their search for meaning than I am in mine. In fact, for many years I attended (and still attend off and on) a very progressive UCC church that was filled with many such lovely, sincere and well meaning people. In fact, it was there that I met the woman who invited me to my first Beltane ceremony and ignited a spark that would cause me to delve more deeply into learning about Neo-Paganism.

After attending a Beltane ritual at the aforementioned friend’s house, I started to develop the idea that some form form of Neo-Paganism might be a potential path. Something in the reverence of nature and the balance of a concept of male and female deity appeals to me. So far in my studies, which I know have just scratched the surface, I am not sure Wicca feels right. What does keep drawing my interest, however, is Druidry, a path that holds some things in common with Wicca, but is a different religion (or philosophy, depending on whose definition one wants to use). For now, I am trying not to worry too much about labels and to simply be open to whatever calling I receive in this endeavor.

At this point, I am honestly not completely sure what I am. I read a great quote from Deepak Chopra the other day that says “Religion is belief in someone else’s experience. Spirituality is having your own experience.” I think there is a lot of truth to this. I don’t want to just believe in something just because someone else tells me it is what I should believe. I want my own meaningful experience, an experience that resonates with me. When I look at my general beliefs about divinity and our world, I find that a lot of them intersect with the teachings of Druidry. It also appeals to me in that it is orthopraxic and non-dogmatic. These are among the reasons why I have decided that the best way to feel more confident that this is the path for me is to jump in and experience it. At the same time, while Druidry draws me, I feel a bit like a toddler, just learning to walk. Just between you and me, I feel like I still “fall down and go boom” a lot. 

For as long as I can remember, writing has been how I held onto my memories, expressed my imagination, developed my thoughts. So, it seems natural at a point in my life where I feel focused on my role as a seeker that I should write to work out all my questions. These questions are nothing new to me. They are something I’ve struggled with for years and even blogged about, but I’ve never had a blog or journal devoted strictly to matters of the spirit. I do not know where my spiritual path will take me, but the one thing I do know is that I will walk it, heart in hand. If you’re reading this, perhaps you’ll join me for some stretches. In the mean time, I will use this blog as a place to explore and document that journey.

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