Sunday, September 12, 2010

Another discussion of faith (revised) ...

It is said that if you want to keep your friends, you should steer clear of discussions about religion or politics. Over the course of the last year, I've had some pretty violent upheavals in both my religion and politics, and I know that many people have been disappointed with me because of that. But I beg your forgiveness, if for no other reason than because I am not claiming to have discovered any truth that the rest of you should accept. In the subject of religion, I have a truly wondering heart, a restless heart, and I am doing nothing but earnestly seeking my path.

Recently I have been reading (and posting on my facebook) some articles regarding author Ann Rice's recent unconversion from her Catholic faith. I think that the thing I found most fascinating about her is that her conversion to faith reminded me so much of my own. In her book Called Out of Darkness she wrote:
In the moment of surrender, I let go of all the theological or social questions which had kept me from (God) for countless years. I simply let them go. There was the sense, profmound and wordless, that if He knew everything I did not have to know everything, and that, in seeking to know everything, I'd been, all of my life, missing the entire point. No social paradox, no historic disaster, no hideous record of injustice or misery should keep me from Him. No question of Scriptural integrity, no torment over the fate of this or that atheist or gay friend, no worry for those condemned and ostracized by my church or any other church should stand between me and Him.
This is a simply much more elegant way of saying what I said when I returned to faith in God some six years ago. I told God that I had a lot of doubts, a lot of questions, but that I wasn't going to allow those things to come between us. I was going to just put them in a box and lay that box at his feet, and he could answer them if he wanted. And the questions I had really were very much in line with the questions Ann Rice posits. When I felt myself being drawn back to Christianity, I literally told God, "I don't want to be a Christian because I believe in gay marriage." I also had all those bothersome questions which revolve around various issues of justice, including that matter of people going to hell because they didn't "believe" in Jesus. And some other issues, of greater or lesser importance.

So in this last year, I guess you would have to say that I left the faith. It wasn't an intellectual thing. It was like an internal explosion. It is true that there were all those questions still sitting there unanswered, and I think that part of what happened is my world was enlarged outside the walls of my Christian community, and there were people whose questions I knew I couldn't answer -- and those questions were there, even when they hadn't asked them. But I didn't say, oh, I have these doubts so I'm going my way. It is almost impossible to explain the internal revolution I experienced in this last year. Well, in retrospect I can explain it as transiting Pluto conjunct my natal second house Venus in Capricorn, which basically transformed my entire value system, but this occurred long before I'd returned to astrology so there were no preconceived notions in operation there. It is just beyond words. It no doubt began with Jaycee being found, and yet that was just the pebble tossed into the stream, which created a ripple that spread out in concentric circles and turned into a tsunami sweeping through my life. I have never experienced anything like it. Perhaps everything that happened afterwards can be explained by PTSD, but I don't think so.

So the really interesting thing is that when I turned away, I did not give up my belief in God, in the Divine Principle. I didn't really think it was possible to hold onto Christianity, though. I remember having a discussion with someone about whether or not it was okay to be gay, and she was quoting the Bible to me, and I finally said, well, perhaps that is not the final word on the matter. So she told me that if I don't accept the final authority of the Scriptures then we really had nothing more to discuss on this matter, and that was it. Of course, I can discuss this based on the Scriptures, but I'm not sure it does anything to prove the final authority of those Scriptures. I can point out that the Bible says that women should not have short hair, or wear "men's clothing," and that they should keep silent in church and should ask their husbands questions when they get home, if they have any. Yet we find explanations for why those things aren't applicable today. For the short hair thing, for example, one study Bible I read stated that in that area of the world there was a pagan cult in which the priestesses all wore their hair short, and so the admonishment against short hair on women was for those people at that time for that reason, so they wouldn't be mixed up with the pagan cultists, but that today it's okay. So I'm sure we could come up with some of the same explanations for the Biblical admonitions against homosexuality, couldn't we? There are a number of things in the Bible that we overlook or change because that was then and there, and this is here and now.

But anyway, I'm sure I've said these things before somewhere in this blog or other places. What really struck me about Ann Rice's deconversion was that she stated that she was leaving Christianity but not Christ. And what struck me even more was the responses I got to my discussions of this topic on facebook. I was really amazed to find that some of the people who were most adamantly supportive of Christianity were people who I knew to be astrologers or gay or otherwise on the fringes of what Christianity considers acceptable. This is the first time that it occurred to me that there might be room for Christianity in my more embracing spirituality ... but how, where? Perhaps I should sit down and read the Bible and try to see what it might be saying again? Were my preconceived notions coloring it when I read it before? Or do people just pick and choose? Because I am not sure I see much sense in that. But who knows? There are undoubtedly many things I don't know, have never considered, and I am really interested in hearing from people who would like to educate me.

So before I leave the topic of Christianity, I just want to say that a lot of people talk about the church not being loving, and that is absolutely not true of the church with which I was involved -- not as an entity, not as a denomination, and not as the individuals in the larger church embraced in numerous denominations. They are not evil, judgmental people. They are the most loving, warm hearted, embracing and accepting people in the world. They even still love me. Well, most of them anyway. And I am so glad about that, because I genuinely love them. If they talk to me about faith, they do it with love and compassion, but they are also able to talk to me with love without even mentioning my beliefs.

My son and his fiance are both devoted Christians who plan to center their lives around youth ministry, and honestly one of the things I miss most about my faith is that shared faith and purpose. I could almost be talked into returning to it just solely for that ... and yet not. But their love, their compassion, is boundless. Their hearts burn with the warmth of love, and you are drawn to it in the relative coldness of the world, and you want to warm your hands, and warm your own heart, in their presence. So for all those who talk about the hypocrisy of Christians, I say a bit fat "Pfffffffffft!"  Having come out of the evangelical/fundamentalist church (Foursquare denomination, to be exact), I don't see that. I see imperfections in people, of course, but this is not the same as hypocrisy. The overwhelming thing I have seen in church is honest love.

But onward we go, and where has my path taken me? My friend Chris believes that there are "many paths", and I tend to agree with her. But where is mine? My feet long for a road to walk. Dancing in the meadows is fine, but my way is to desire some structure, a place to put my feet, a way forward that leads towards the goal somehow. I desire spiritual knowledge and education. And I desire spiritual fellowship.

I have been a spiritual seeker much of my life, so as I set out, I explored some of the things that had intrigued me before. Previously I had been interested in Kriya Yoga and the writings of Pramahansa Yogananda, made all the more intriguing by the fact that there was a pretty active Ananda community here in the Bay Area. So I started re-reading Autobiography of a Yogi, but it no longer seemed to resonate with me. There were things in it that I found silly. There were the cracks of organized religion. I haven't totally written it off, but at this point it hasn't drawn me.

Then there is Buddhism. I recall saying frequently that I thought Buddhism had something superior going for it, but given the fact that I really knew nothing about it, I don't know that I could speak with authority here. I had the notion that it didn't try to convert you to anything, which may be true. I had returned to an in-depth study of astrology, and particularly the school of evolutionary astrology, and some of my favorite teachers were Tibetan Buddhists. So I started looking into this. A friend gave me the book, Finding the Buddha Within and I started reading it. But here are two problems. Both Yoga and Buddhism require meditation, and I just have not been able to meditate. For one thing, I cannot still my mind. For another, I cannot find the time to make a concerted effort to do it. Hmm, excuses I know. But as I kept reading, I came to this point of understanding that the goal of these spiritual paths lies in a relative obliteration of the self. We are to abandon our self, our ego, and become one with the Divine. Now I know that should appeal to me, but it doesn't. I guess I have not reached a point in my spiritual development where I am ready to become truly enlightened. I am not ready for heaven. I am still grappling with the earth plane here. I am still trying to un-knot my psyche. I feel as though I have a purpose here, and I want to find that -- my purpose, which doesn't feel like obliteration of my ego so much as it does embracing of it. In acknowledging that, I have had to allow myself to feel waves of shallowness and self-centeredness ... but hey, I let it pass. It really is not shallow, to try to understand the purpose of my existence here on earth, in particular to understand what it is I am supposed to do, what I am supposed to GIVE to the world in this lifetime. And it's not self-centered either, because I understand it is not all about me. Even writing this blog ... somehow I am sharing what I am learning, or at least what my questions are, with at least a handful of people, and perhaps help some through that. And is it egotistical? I suppose that depends on your definition of the word. If it means arrogant, it is not that, because the whole reason I need to search for myself is because I haven't found myself; my ego is in pieces and needs to be put together; it is lost in the fog and needs to be found. I am a broken person. I need to be fixed. Grief and suffering. Those are some of the major themes of my life. What happened to my daughter, what happened to me ... they are not meaningless if they are part of the path, if they have a purpose in the world. If it is just some accidental occurrence, if this one life is all there is, then it is all a big fat waste. But I don't believe that. The light of my daughter's spirit is too bright. My knowledge of her as a gift not only to me but to the world is too certain.

But I couldn't help but notice that there seemed to be this basic difference between the Judeo-Christian point of view and the view of the eastern religions, and that is on the nature of man. The Judeo-Christian point of view is that man is inherently evil, and that blood sacrifice is necessary in order to pay for his sins and make him worthy to enter into the presence of God. In the Old Testament, it was the blood of bulls and goats. In my book, as an animal lover, those Old Testament festivals must have been pretty horrific scenes. In Christianity, our sins are paid by the sacrificial death of one man, Jesus. And because of man's inherently evil nature, when he leaves this life he cannot enter into the presence of God unless he has accepted the symbolic washing away of his sins in the sacrificial blood. If he dies without doing that, then he is subjected to eternal torment.

But in the eastern religions, my understanding is not that man is seen as inherently evil, but that man is seen as inherently embodying the nature of God, that if we reach deep, deep within, past the ego and all its attachments, that we will find and be one with God inside of us. And if we don't manage to do that in this lifetime, we will come back again, and again, until we are ready to let go and become one with God.

I think this was a major part of my difficulty with Christianity. I really don't think man is evil. Of course, I believe there is evil in the world! I think we all have the capacity for it, that we are all imperfect and make mistakes, but for the most part, for most of us, the hearts within most of us are good. I even think that most of our unpleasant behavior doesn't come from evil, but rather is a manifestation of our pain. I believe, for example, that anger is generally our sorrow, turned around and thrown outside ourselves so that we don't have to feel it for what it actually is. But I don't think I have met or heard of too many people I would consider deserving of eternal torment.  Having God within us, waiting to break through, seems to feel closer to the truth of things.

I have recently begun to read Sue Monk Kidd. I haven't finished reading her yet, so I don't know what I will conclude. If I conclude anything major, I will let you know. She is another person who interests me, because she came out of a conservative Christian background -- started out as a Baptist, an inspirational author for the conservative Guideposts magazine. And now she has left that background for an exploration of what I've heard referred to as "the sacred feminine." I'll let you know if and when I grasp that concept also. But I am right now reading Traveling With Pomegranates, which she wrote along with her 22-year old daughter, while on a trip to Greece. I am absolutely awed by the book so far, simply by the tenderness of the writing about the relationship between the mother and daughter, and also the writing about those moments when you come face to face with yourself, and with the meaning of your existence. I have also ordered her book, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, about her journey from Christianity itself.  Interestingly, she recently allowed to be published a collection of her earliest spiritual writings, Firstlight, which she wrote from a Christian perspective. Personally, I have a hard time right now making peace with those things I wrote as a Christian, so I find this to be intriguing, because Monk had the same worry and yet found it to be a good experience. Perhaps in that might lie some of the answers to my questions of integrating my faith(s).

At any rate, if I find any answers I'll let you know.

The one spiritual path that I have fully embraced is astrology. Astrology as a spiritual discipline has a really great advantage. It is not a religion. Yet true astrology is definitely about the spiritual path. In the natal chart, the purposes of your life are revealed. In your transits and progressions, the unfolding of that purpose is revealed. It isn't going to predict your future, as in telling you what events are going to occur, so much as it is going to tell you what the lessons are you are learning. Astrology in my life has been at its very best when I have been ignoring it. It is those key junctures I look at in retrospect, at which I am absolutely amazed to find transits that paint a perfect picture of the energies that were at work in my life, that I gain the most respect for the spiritual science of astrology -- and that I also come to understand my life's meaning. I have done charts for others as well. In all this, I have kind of found myself falling into another place I've been before, and that is a kind of tentative acceptance of multiple lives ... reincarnation. It just makes so much sense in so many ways. It has explained so many mysteries. The school of evolutionary astrology to which I subscribe assumes this, and reveals the past lives through the natal chart in ways I have seen to be remarkable. I have seen some possible insights into what happened to Michaela as well, but not being able to prove them I am not going to write about them.

So I know that marks me as a nut to many. But okay, I am a nut.

These things are actually difficult for me to write. I want to be loved, just like anybody else, and I know there are people who are going to not love me because I am a nut. But perhaps there are those who may be helped by this part of my journey, although even more than that, I am really hoping to hear from any of my wonderful readers who may have found their own answers for this journey. I assure you I welcome and will read any and all of your comments, and will publish all that lead to any kind of constructive discussion.

Thanks all, and God bless.

7 comments:

  1. I'm going to apologize first because I wasn't able to read your whole post (I'm at work), but there's a book I've read, 'Tatttos On The Heart', where he says that our problem with God has never been competing theologies but that we conjur up a tiny God in our minds, that God is infinitely more loving and compassionate then we give him credit for. But that's just what I thought of when I read (most of) your post.

    And I don't think you're a nut.

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  2. I feel many of the same things you feel Sharon. After many years of being an astrology loving, liberal atheist, about 2 years ago, I fell in love with Christ, and I attempted to connect with others.

    I found out quickly that I really couldn't deal with Christians. So judgmental, so politically fueled, all convinced they know morality, that they have the golden ticket to eternal life. No room for tolerance or acceptance of other religious/spiritual beliefs. It drove me crazy.

    I'm happy to call myself a Christian, but I'm not a part of any church or religion. I still explore other religions and I feel closer to Christ than ever before... Did you see Eat Pray Love? It really got me thinking about spiritual journeys.

    take care,

    Jessica

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  3. Mrs D, that could be the answer in a nutshell!

    Jessica, I haven't seen Eat Pray Love yet -- waiting for my daughter to have room in her schedule to go with me. But I did read the book, and I really enjoyed it. I am also familiar with that feeling you mentioned of falling in love with Christ. If you are open to it, I'd like to hear more about it -- about how you fell in love, and about how your faith works itself out in a more inclusive way.

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  4. Hi Sharon,

    Hopefully, I can speak to some of your concerns, but I think we will always be working on questions and we will know the answers when we meet Christ. I came to Christ in college when I felt He convicted me of my sins and need for Him to reach heaven. Like you, I have a history of traumatic events and family loss. After college, I sought connection in church, mostly a young singles group in church, but never really connected. After six years of this, I decided to try a smaller church, but I was in the midst of hopeless despair based on my failures. I became angry at God, and blamed him. After a few years of being depressed at this church, I moved off to Colorado for a job. I became involved with a young church plant that sought to serve the needs of the city, and I also joined the Young Adults Bible Study Fellowship in Denver. I was still broken by my first church experience, my past, and my anger at God. Unknowingly, I was experiencing an internal rebellion of my heart against Him. I had a great two years in Denver, felt the community really pulled me in. I finally fit, but I still asked God why such a difficult past.

    I returned to Atlanta for a job, but became hopeless for community in this town. In my hopeless despair, I finally began to journal. I realized the root of my problem was my anger at God. I journaled I wasn't going to be obedient, because I believed if I asked for community, a husband, children, all the things my heart desires, He would not want them for me. I have been in deep despair for seven years now, and am getting old. Finally, just a couple of weeks ago, God convinced me I was in a boxing match with Him. I was angry and defensive, not letting Him into my life. In my great loneliness, I asked my self why I do not just kill myself. I thought to myself I am just conceited and proud of my good looks, that's why I don't just kill myself. But Jesus spoke and said it is because I am made in the image of God. I want life, I want a family, I want happiness, and God does want these things for me because He created me in His image. God won the boxing match. I have no choice but to draw near to Him and share my heart, my hopes, my fears with Him. Christ is my power, and only He can provide and satisfy my heart's desires.

    I started Bible Study fellowship again and they are doing Isaiah this year. I have read the first chapter which describes how the Israelites have turned their backs against God in rebellion. This is exactly what I have been doing in my heart.

    As for your thoughts on feeling people are generally good, I agree and believe this is because we are made in His image as written in Genesis. I would agree Christianity emphasizes our sinfulness and could do more to remind us that our hearts are created in His image. This is what makes us truly beautiful. We hurt with others, we want justice, we want mercy.

    I also agree with you that the Bible must be interpreted in context and culture. Bible Study Fellowship does a great job with this - you may want to head to the website and sign up for a study in your area. It is so excellent and covers much Bible history and culture. Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill church in Seattle is one of the few pastors who cover culture and context in his sermons. You can listen to them for free on their website - they even have notes and they are awesome!!!! I just completed the book of Ruth. If you want to try your wings in a different church, I recommend City Presbyterian of San Francisco.

    Just as your heart longs for Michaela, Jesus longs for you. He longs for all of us, may we all draw near to Him.

    Thank you for being brave and sharing your issues, may God bless you for it. My heart breaks for you and Michaela, and I know God's heart breaks even more, as my heart is only an impaired reflection of His selfless heart. I pray He will answer you about Michaela soon.

    Diana

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  5. Diana, thank you for sharing your journey. I really hope you have found peace, and please don't ever even think about killing yourself!

    God bless you!

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  6. Sharon,

    From what I understand, you have written that you believe in God, but cannot completely agree with all the basic principles of any religion. I feel that religion is man-made, and hence is error-prone. It is a means to help us know right from wrong, and enhance our understanding of who God is. Our Creator is boundless and Supreme and not confined to any particular religion or race. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and views.

    I did want to share a story in an ancient epic from India with you. Perhaps you or your other readers are familiar with it. The epic is known as the Ramayana, and the events in it are said to have occurred in the 4th century B.C. The story is in the form of an allegory, with birds and animals that talk, magical acts, etc. The epic is very lengthy, but here's a one paragraph synopsis of it.

    The story is about a prince called Rama who leaves his kingdom for 14 years to live in the forest to honor a vow his father made to his stepmother. He is accompanied by his wife Sita and brother Lakshman. In the forest, when Rama and Lakshman are away, an evil demon named Ravana tricks Sita into stepping outside a "magical line" that would have kept her safe. He kidnaps Sita and puts her into his flying chariot and takes her to where he lives. A vulture named Jatayu tries unsuccessfully to rescue Sita as she is being carried away by Ravana. Heartbroken, Rama and Lakshman search for Sita when they discover her missing. They learn of her fate through Jatayu. Eventually, Rama assembles an army of volunteers, one of whom (named Hanuman) is especially devoted. He is successful in finding Sita. Rama defeats the demon Ravana in a fierce battle to be reunited with Sita.

    I hope and pray with all my heart that those who are searching for Michaela will be successful and also find the person who kidnapped her. Praying for your family, Sharon.

    Love always.

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