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.