3 Year Lent (cross-posting)

This post was originally posted on my blog, Unpacking Faith, where I write about where my spiritual journey takes me.  Enjoy.

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In 2006 I gave up Church and my Christian beliefs for Lent.  I had become completely disillusioned with and cynical towards the belief system in which I was raised.  A system I had fully embraced — to the point of serving as an assistant pastor in a congregation.   For Lent that year, I embarked on the most significant journey of my lifetime to date.  I lay aside my religious beliefs in order to pursue an objective, unbiased assessment of my faith’s assertions, how they resonated with me personally, what really mattered to me, and what others believed about God, Life, Spirit, Love and Light.

Almost immediately, I became fascinated — like a kid in the candy store — exploring the vast variance within Christianity.  Who knew?!  I certainly had no idea that there were so many Christian perspectives (although opposing groups might nullify the Christian identity claims of each other) on things like, nature and origin of man, sin, heaven and hell, afterlife, salvation, authority of Scripture, deity of Christ and the list goes on.  Who knew!?  I absolutely did not.  Though I was very well versed in opposing sides of certain arguments, the concept of essential Christian doctrine was well ingrained.  I thought, for sure, that nearly all Christians agreed about 85% on those – with a few nuances.  Much to my surprise — there are those who identify as Christians (and in my book are Christians – because who the hell am I to say otherwise) who differ vastly on these so-called essentials.

That realization got the wheels to turning.  The book A Generous Orthodoxy was key to helping me see the variance and begin to feel safe asking broader questions – like, what validity, resonance, or, dare I say it — truth would I find, should I pan out further — beyond what the variance in Christian thought.  What conclusions have other cultures drawn about Life and God and the Universe and why we’re all here in the first place?

It wasn’t long before I began to see the world’s religions as 5 blind people with their hands on different parts of a elephant, searching for words to describe what they noticed through the senses available to them.  It was then that I respected and stood in awe of the many, many ways humans have tried for millennia to describe the Great Mystery that is instantly diminished with the first word.

As I began to study the sacred texts of eastern philosophies and try out some of the spiritual practices of the East — yoga, meditation, mindfulness — I reconnected with a familiar voice.  My own.  That still quite voice within that has always guided me, always sounded like me (only wiser and more loving than I imagined myself to be) has had many names. I called it the voice of God, my Inner Voice, my higher self.  No matter then name, it’s the same voice I’ve always known.  It’s the same voice that I write in in my journals when answers to my questions come flooding into my soul.

But I had become disconnected from this voice.  You see, there were countless times, when I called “the voice within” God, that the voice said things I had trouble believing that the God-I-Knew (through church) would say or — better than “said” things — guided me down paths inconsistent with what I had conceived to be God’s ways.  “God wouldn’t say that’s OK, the Bible says it’s not!”  These moments happened more and more frequently and I, as a result, shut down that voice.  I disbelieved, mistrusted, and dismissed it as “just me”.

As I practiced stillness and quiet, the voice began to speak to me again.  I embraced it.  I listened and was encouraged in my journey.  I was encouraged to open my eyes wide and to expect surprises, to expect to have my questions answered, to expect find what I was looking for.

I have been surprised and delighted along this journey.  One surprising delight was a soul I encountered through this blog.  He encouraged me in my journey, availed himself to me to ask questions and to provide guidance.  More than anything, he encouraged me to seek my truth, to hold on to what is true for me and to remember what I already know.  He also introduced me to another book, Conversations with God.

I bought the book weeks, I think, before I ever read it.  When I opened it to start reading, I read about how the book came to be.  It was a conversation one man had with one he calls God over several years.  He asked questions, answers came to him, he wrote them down.  I was familiar with this process.  I knew it well.  I suspect many writers know it well.  I valued the process, without having a clue about the content.  After getting through the Forward and the Introduction, I got to the dialog.  I read.  Maybe 2 pages.  I slammed the book shut and tears streamed down my face.  Tears turned to sobs.  I knew this voice.  I knew it well.  This was the voice I’d shut down.  The one that told me things I couldn’t imagine coming from God.  The God-voice in CwG was what I’ve always known, who I’ve always known God to be.

To say that the God-voice in CwG goes against the grain is an understatement — but it resonated with me like nothing I’ve ever read in my life.  Many concepts I found difficult to understand or even buy — but more of it encouraged me that I was on the right path.  That I was finding my truth. That my journey, this process would be worthwhile — and, in fact, is what it’s all been about all along.

My studies and explorations have led me to encounter many kindred spirits.  One of the sweetest is that of my yoga teacher who teaches class in the sanctuary of a Christian church.  The irony, the sweet serendipity in those two spaces colliding began to melt my cynicism about Christianity.  In that sacred, holy space — I connected with that which was most sacred and holy — myself.  I began to experience me as part of All that Is.  I began to understand what Christ meant when he said that he and his Father were one — just like you and I are one.  Just like we are All one.

And the lines blurred.  There were fewer and fewer contradictions and points of conflicts among belief systems for me.  More and more I could see how many different ways man has been trying to say the same thing and be understood albeit in different languages.  I became an interpreter unto myself – translating the language of the Tao te Ching into the language of the New Testament into the language of Yoga Sutras of the Patanjali. And I encountered other interpreters as well, like Thich Nhat Hanh and his Living Buddha, Living Christ.

In January, I set the intention to find community among like minds.  Within a week I found my local Unitarian Universalist congregation.  I have been attending services when I can since the beginning of the year.  In this space, no one asks you what you believe, but rather members are encouraged to courageously pursue truth and understanding.  There are earth-honoring services and activities, Buddhist meditations, drumming circles, and yes, even Easter and Passover observances.  The sacred text is the body of world literature.  It is the creed-less faith, but the principles resonate with that which matters most to me in this world — with all that matters anyway — Love.

This past Sunday, the congregation reflected on its commitment to social justice.  After recounting the denomination’s historical commitment to human rights, service, community education and organizing, advocacy and the like, the lay speaker outlined this local body’ commitment to social action. And then the question was posed to the congregation — What are you passionate about?  What matters to you?

You never could have convinced me before I left home that I’d be doing what I found myself doing in the following moments.  I raised my hand and took the mic.  I introduced myself and talked about how, as an assistant pastor of a small non-denominational church, I was confronted with woeful reality of the prevalence of violence against women and the faith community’s silence, supporting doctrines, and perpetration of it.  I told them that I became committed to anti-violence against women’s work and have made it my profession and the volunteer work to which I lend my hand.  I also told them of the ways the church’s anti-homosexual teachings and practices have harmed me personally as I watched them harm people I love, and why I am the staunch ally to the GLBT community that I am.

Others spoke after me about the causes that mattered most to them.  And then Matt stood up.  Matt is a gay man and father of a son whom he raises with his partner.  He spoke of the challenges his family faces and said that nothing touches him more deeply than for a straight person to take a stand and say, this is wrong.  Matt hugged and thanked me after service — and I thanked him.  I thanked him for the opportunity to love and be loved.  It’s what this is all about.

In 2006, I gave up church for Lent.  This year, I will be ending my 3 year Lenten fast by attending service on Easter Sunday.  I will be observing Easter and Passover with a group of people who don’t necessarily identify with the faiths either of these observances represent — but who recognize the value of the message of them.  I am finally able to look at Christianity with new eyes — eyes that don’t see and criticize what I find problematic.  I am finally able to afford Christians the same liberty I afford all other religions — the freedom to answer life’s questions in their own way.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve come full circle.  I will say that I have evolved.  I can embrace the Christ and that in me.  I can embrace the Buddha and that in me.  I can embrace the Spring and that in me.  I can embrace the Light and that in me.  And All of That — All That Is — in You.

Namaste.

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Clearance

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I had a revelation today while yacking it up with a friend of mine on the phone tonight.  We were talking about the merits of having a baby versus (my words) buying a baby.  I said, kinda tongue in cheek, that I think I’ll try to have one because that’s cheaper than trying to buy one.  I mean, think about it.  Somebody on a budget doesn’t really need to be at an open house at an orphanage.  I joked that I’d be the one asking which kid was on clearance.  I noted that that is exactly the same way I make all other purchases in my life — how good of a product can I get on the cheap — and that buying a kid would be no different.  Then it happened.  The revelation.

This is how I make decisions in my life about men too!  I’ve bought from the clearance rack!  Slightly irregular, a button I can sew back on, a stain on the collar that I can wash out, broken zipper I’ll use to negotiate the price at the counter — but otherwise, he’s a perfectly good man.  Ha!  What a breakthrough.  My cheapness runs  deeper than my wallet.

I have sold myself short.  I have believed that I don’t deserve to shop from the front of the store.  Instead of shopping for what I really want,  or waiting for what I really want to come into the store, I settle for the low hanging fruit which require less energy (and money) to acquire.  I have settled for the clearance rack.  This is eye-opening.

I have lost 23 pounds since October.  My clothes look silly falling off of me.  I need to buy new ones, but I have a lot more weight to lose, so I don’t really want to spend a lot of money on this in-between size.  I was all set to go to the clearance rack of the already discount store of God — Marshall’s– to find a pair of cheap black slacks and a pair of jeans that fit.  Maybe, just maybe, I need to go buy a pair from the front of the store as an object lesson that I deserve and can have better.  I love a good bargain, but the clearance rack is not the place to shop for life partners or kids.  Eureka!

Creating the Life I Want

I have had a nearly perfect weekend. One reason it’s been great, that you’ll notice immediately, is that I have had time to blog. That’s always a good thing. Also, the fairies (read: cleaning service) came on Thursday, so all I had to do this weekend was buy groceries and cook. Both are activities I love almost as much as…breathing. They are especially enjoyable when someone else had already cleaned my kitchen and emptied the dishwasher. Amen.

Basically I have walked around the lake, eaten, read, relaxed, gotten my taxes done, drunk lots of water, done yoga, meditated, read some more and gone to Border’s to buy more books to read. And had sushi — that is an event unto itself. The only thing missing is having great sex. Any takers?

I have been thinking a lot about the subject of my last post, the password protected one. I really feel drawn to a much simpler lifestyle. Where I land may not be too much different than the lifestyle I’m currently living (which is pretty modest, don’t be fooled by the fairies), but it is in sharp contrast with the trajectory I started with this new job. Read all up in between those lines so I don’t have to password protect this post too. OK?

I am just convinced that this crazy hustle and bustle, trying to get ahead, dollar-chasing American lifestyle is not the one for which I am destined. I need time to be, to be still, to reflect, to read, to learn, to eat good homemade food sllllllooooooowwwwwwlllllllyyyyyyy. Do you know what I mean? I need time to walk in the park, hike in the mountains, learn to play my guitar so that I can hear my chords echo through those majestic mountains. I need time to cuddle with a doggie and play fetch with him by the lake. I need time to fall in love again and explore what it means to be in a relationship and be independent at the same time. I need time to be pregnant and experience the wonder of life growing inside of me — or not. I need time to decide if, instead of pregnancy, I want to love a child who’s already here and alone and longing to be chosen. I need time to enjoy my relationships with my parents who I can see getting older by the day. Why have we created lives for ourselves that don’t leave any time for — living?

I am having a great time reading a bunch of different perspectives on life and God and spirituality and why we’re here and where we’re going and such. The most enjoyable aspect of this journey has been noticing all of the points at which these ideas, philosophies, metaphors, institutions, religions, etc. intersect and say essentially the same things. I have so much I want to read. Here’s what I’m currently, simultaneously reading:

  • Philosophies of India, by Heinrich Zimmer
  • Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama
  • Living Yoga: Creating a Life Practice, by Christy Turlington
  • Mama, by Terry McMillan
  • The Complete Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue, by Neal Donald Walsch

And here’s what’s in the queue:

  • How to Know God, Deepak Chopra
  • The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle
  • A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle
  • In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan
  • Perfect Health, Deepak Chopra
  • The Third Jesus, Deepak Chopra
  • The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
  • Disappearing Acts, Terry McMillan
  • Snakes and Earrings, Hitomi Kanehara
  • The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Pilot’s Wife, Anita Shreve
  • Healing Love through the Tao: Cultivating Female Sexual Energy, Mantak Chia

I’m too lazy today to link all of those to Amazon.com. Copy and paste as much as you want if you want to know about any of those.

Needless to say, I need more time to do the things in life I really want to do. I need to find a way to make that happen. And I will find it. So many spiritual perspectives in the world support the notion that we already know all we need to know, we just have to learn to settle ourselves and listen to the truth within us. Though they call this process different things, the idea is still the same: in the stillness and the silence we find wisdom and truth.

The thought of a month at an ashram in upstate New York, or some similar retreat in the Pacific Northwest sound really appealing right now. Such an experience, however, should not be a decision made by impulse. I’m trying to contain my impulses…but I’ve already priced out one of the options.

Have a good week, Lovelies.