Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A New Religion


In a previous post I shared with you about my relationship with my body/self image and my quest for beauty. Now I want to share with you another portion of my journey. Like the other post, this may get a little long but I'm really wanting to get it out there, and out of me. This particular journey is my journey with religion or spirituality.
I was raised Southern Baptist. My grandfather is a retired Southern Baptist minister so needless to say my family was at church any time the doors were open, and a lot of times when they weren't. As a result, I can't imagine my life without some concept of God. My life is inseparable from a belief in God's existence. And from the beginning I have been one who values a relationship with God. My grandmother says she can remember an instance when I was a very young child staying the night with them that she could hear me mumbling in the night. As she intently listened, trying to figure out what I was saying, she realized I was praying.
I was always a very, very good girl...and I grew into a very, very good woman. Church was my thing and I did it well. I volunteered for projects, served as a teacher and director for the Wednesday night girls' missions program, attended mission trips, organzied fundraisers, and served on committees. I had more Bible verses memorized than anyone I knew. I was always well prepared for Sunday School so that I could be an active participant and if anyone needed to know where a certain scripture verse was located, I was your man, or woman. All you had to do was rattle a bit of it off and I could tell you what it was and where to find it. Like I said church was my thing and I did it well. I was never popular at school, but at church, well, I shined.
Then in my mid twenties I began to pull away. My marriage, the marriage I'd dreamed about since I was a kid, the marriage I was indirectly told was my destiny as a woman, was in shambles. He'd been slowly working his way out of the relationship since, well, since before we were even married. I kept fighting him and so he stayed. But I knew I was loosing the battle. I felt like a fake, coming to church, being so active, trying to pretend to be someone I wasn't. It's not that my heart wasn't right or true. It was just that my life was in such an upheaval that I felt false. People were only seeing the outside, which can easily be fixed up pretty nicely, while the inside was an emotional wreck. One Sunday evening one of the ministers who was leaving to go on to another church pulled me aside, hugged me and told me he'd never seen a woman with faith like mine. Me? My faith? I was floored and confused. How could he say that? I was barely breathing. Most days I struggled to get out of bed, somedays I couldn't even do that much. I was just hiding the truth to mask what I felt to be a complete failure.
We finally separated and my pulling away increased. I just didn't belong any more. We were separated for over a year before our divorce was final and during that time I just felt out of place. His entire family attended the same church which made going a real chore, and there just wasn't a place for me. There was a singles Sunday School class (but I wasn't really single yet) and a married class (but I wasn't married either) and a woman's class (and I was the youngest one in that class by a good 20-25 years). So, slowly I just stopped going.
About the time our divorce was final an amazing, life changing opportunity opened up for me. My best friend had been participating in an educational program at one of our local hospitals called CPE, or Clinical Pastoral Education. CPE is a two-fold program: the morning was filled with classes, the afternoons with serving as a chaplain to the patients and families. I saw the amazing transformation in her life and I was hungry for that same change in my own life. So the year following her participation I was accepted into the program. I was hoping that through this program my relationship with God would be strengthened and my beliefs would be solidified. Well, that did happen, but not at all in the way I thought it would. This program wasn't at all like church. It was centered more on spirituality than religion. And it had to be. It was too much of a melting pot to be centered around religion. Suddenly my very closed minded Southern Baptist life exploded. My eyes were opened to totally new ways of seeing things and the differences I had been taught all my life that existed between my religion and other religions turned out to not really be that much. I now could proudly boast the friendship of a very quirky catholic priest (whose mass I attended as often as possible), a liberal Episcopalian, a lovable church of Christ, an open hearted Muslim, a Buddhist-principle-teaching Episcopalian, a Jungian Episcopalian priest, and a crotchety homosexual. And those were just my peers, co-workers, and friends. In a nustshell, the goal of CPE is to offer a safe place to gently, carefully, and oh so kindly break apart your life, then take these very same individuals and put them in situations with patients who are panicked, dying, seriously ill or wounded, and lonely, or with family members watching their loved ones endure all of this - which is far worse than the patient, just to make certain that there isn't anything left unexplored, maybe hiding in the dark corners somewhere. It wasn't therapy but it was the most intensely therapeutic experience I've ever had.
Needless to say, with this new found world my mind and my belief system was turned upside down. A scary thing, but also an amazing thing because now, in sifting through all the pieces, I could keep what was really mine, the beliefs that I owned, and leave the rest to be blown away by the next big west Texas sandstorm. The difficulty comes when you realize the pieces you're keeping don't quite match up to what you were always raised believing. That can be stressful and strainful. One of the first times I realized that I may not believe what I'd always been taught to believe came during one of our morning seminars. Our supervisor was getting very involved in his spill, wrapped up in presenting it in that stereotypical black minister style, jumping up and down, illiciting "amens" and "glory to Jesus" from the congregation, all while delivering the sermon in a very sing-song like manner. In the midst of all this commotion said supervisor used my life as an example: "See Michelle, she made it through her divorce. God carried her in his arms through her divorce." After the seminar I had to confront him about his comment. I simply told him that he was wrong. God hadn't carried me though my divorce. I had crawled through every painful second of it on my hands and knees. I had blood on my knees, scars on my shins, and pebbles in the palms of my hands to prove it. But all of that gore and grief...that's God too. It's just not as glamorous as being loving carried through it all.
As if this year in CPE weren't life altering enough, I signed on for a second year. It was during this second year that I discovered a longing I'd never encountered before: a longing for a God I could understand, a God I could relate to, a feminine face, a God who gave birth, bled, and had breasts. Thus began my search for Goddess. That entire year I read anything I could get my hands on regarding this topic. One of our very last projects of the year was to perform a worship service or ritual for all the other students. Mine was a celebration of of the feminine divine. Let me insert that I did have some male peers who, although they were required to be in the same room, refused to participate. Their loss...one of my finest moments. The service culminated in communion...all of us in a circle with a sliver of apple in hand...an attempt to not be sacrilegious, but to reclaim an instance in Christian history that has damned women. I wanted us, as women and bearers of Goddess to our world, to reclaim our mother Eve and maybe see that bite as one of the bravest things any woman ever did, that maybe what she did was not disobey God but choose life on her own terms. And I for one want that kind of life.
And I'm still on that journey, the journey to connect with a God of my understanding, a God I can relate to, a God far different from my childhood God, who would surely smite me down, or in the very least blind me, for even writing this blog. I want a God/Goddess I can push against. One that I can question and doubt. One that lets me explore other religions and other lifestyles. I want a God bigger than the one I'd related to in the past. I don't do any of this because I'm sacrilegious, sinful, or a backslider. I do it because I want more, something greater than any church I've ever been to has been able to give me.
I'll admit it, sometimes I miss church. I miss the community worship, the fellowship, the support. Maybe one day I'll find what I'm looking for, which is a place we can kick back with a bottle of wine and a box of oatmeal raisin cookies and discuss, not debate, not get preached at, God's movement or lack of movement in our lives, our questions, our doubts, our humanness, and our divinity. People have asked me about Britton. Well, I'm choosing to teach him myself, from my own life, from my own struggle and exploration. I'm choosing to give him permission to grope with it all himself. And, I'm choosing to trust his spirit, just as I'm learning to trust my own as I journey along this path.
Everyday the journey continues...somedays I pray to God, somedays to Goddess, somedays I lay in the grass, cradled by the earth, and pray to something that has no name, other days I press my nose into a blooming bud, inhaling its beauty, and that is prayer enough, and still other days I look in the mirror and pray to that within myself that's cut from the same fabric of the most holy, sacred, and divine.
Thanks for reading about my journey...

i found god in myself
& i loved her/i loved her fiercely
ntozake shange

17 Comments:

Blogger snowsparkle said...

I admire your courageous pursuit of your authentic spiritual path. Though my spiritual path has been different from yours, it sounds like we've arrived at a similar place. To see the divine interconnectedness of all things, and all beings... to celebrate and cherish that connection... and to do it authentically without trifling about differences in others' expressions of faith. A goddess that I feel close to is Quan Yin (the Buddhist goddess of compassion). I hear in your writings an open-hearted generosity of spirit that inspires me. I'm so glad I've gotten to know you through your blog. Thank you! Snowsparkle

8:28 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

I can relate to feeling disconnected from church, although not because of something as painful as a divorce. I too, want to have a spirituality that is not bound by convention or conformity. When you truly look within and let the outer trappings of what you were taught growing up fall away, you are on the path to a spiritual fulfillment. It actually means something to you, rather than if you are just going along, blindly. It doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to leave my church, but that I will pray and worship in ways which nourish and sustain me. I'm glad you have found your own way.

9:40 PM  
Blogger gkgirl said...

you have really made me think...
your entries always make me think
but this one has
really
made me stop and think...

and also
i'm jealous of your experience
and yet,
if it was offered to me
i don't know if i would take it
or not...
hmmmm...
still thinking

3:54 AM  
Blogger Deb R said...

I love this post so much. And I relate to it so much.

I was also raised Southern Baptist, and even went to a Baptist-sponsored junior high, high school, and college. But in my adult life I've found I just can no longer believe what I was taught to believe as a child. As I've gotten older, I've become almost phobic about organized religion...the traditional "church". Yet I consider myself a spiritual person and am very comfortable with my relationship with the Divine. That's not always an easy thing to explain to family and to old friends.

Thank you for sharing your journey, Michelle. This was a very special post.

5:58 AM  
Blogger acumamakiki said...

Sister of my heart! I swear, I've only just met you but your blog posts speak to my soul.

I'm on my own spiritual journey which is much different than yours but similiar. I've been planning a post about this soon....

Thank you for sharing a very personal part of who you are.

As I always tell my daughter and I'll say to you, "you've got it all girlfriend ~ your pretty AND your smart and you've got a kind heart". Amen

6:09 AM  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

Thank you for sharing this part of your story. I truly enjoyed reading it...with one exception. I just want to point out (in the most loving way) that the comment you took umbrage with (about God carrying you through your divorce) had nothing to do with race...so it served no purpose to point out the color of the person who said it. That said, I found the rest of the post very powerful, and I related to it even though my story is vastly different. The key for me has been differentiating spirituality versus religion. I simply don't resonate with organized religion...but have found myself thirsty for spirituality in the last 15 years. (I was steeped in organized religion as a child and felt NO spiritual connection as a result.) With your Goddess bent, I'm curious if you've read Sylvia Browne's book "Mother God." It's on my nightstand right now. So glad to be getting to know you via your blog. You're a beautiful woman...and I'm not talking about looks.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

I love reading about your life. I'm glad you are finding your way spiritualy. I like when you described how your mind opened up to seeing the value in people of other faiths. My journey is diffrent than yours, I'm pretty basic, read my bible and try to do it, I stick with that, but I appriciate others search and try and respect them for what they find.

7:17 AM  
Anonymous melanie said...

Michelle, bravo to you for going beyond what you were taught as a child and searching for more. I was raised a Catholic, but I eventually found that I needed to search for more, too. As an adult, I don't have a religious affiliation, I don't participate in any form of organized religion, and I am probably best summed up as being agnostic. But I try to be a good person and lead a moral, spiritual life. I have a great respect for nature. And I do my best to accept others and their beliefs, no matter how different from my own. I think the most important thing is to find something to believe in, whatever that may be, as long as it brings you inner peace and hope.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Cynthia said...

I LOVE YOU!

11:49 AM  
Blogger laurenbove said...

Sent you an email.

thanks for the positive you put into the world.

12:08 PM  
Blogger kelly said...

wow....what a journey it has
been.

1:52 PM  
Blogger liz elayne said...

Oh your honesty is beautiful. You have shown deep courage and grace in sharing your story, your journey. In doing this, you invite the rest of us to find this within ourselves. You have a gift, and I am so glad you are giving it.

2:38 PM  
Anonymous Donna Maria said...

I volunteer as a Eucharistic Minister to the sick and homebound through our Catholic Church. Yet another experience we have in common! It is a wonderful ministry and is definitely life changing. Certainly puts things in perspective.

5:23 AM  
Blogger Kim Carney said...

That is an amazing post. And thank you for sharing with us. My spiritual journey has been some of the same, and now I go look out to the horizon from the edge of the water, or up through golden leaves to the sun and think this must be God.

12:24 AM  
Anonymous nikol said...

girlfriend... i love you... and the people all said "A-Women"... you touch my core and remind me again and again that what is true and sacred is the balance between the divine feminie and masculine in all of us... and i trust it like i never have before, everywhere in the universe we find this balance, any image of god and goddessa are exactly created as such... the beauty is in trusting this, trusting our own godesses... i remember learning about they stuff they fed you, they fed it to me to... learned to keep what fits, what feels right and good and true and whole in my soul and spit out the rest... thanks for helping me spit out more ;-)

nikol

7:01 PM  
Blogger Christie said...

Michelle,
I found your blog today through another blog I was reading. When I first saw something about Amos Lee and Arizona Green Tea I instantly gave a cheer. I'm grateful for both. Then I ended up reading your spiritual journey post which was deeply moving. It gave me a ton to think about. I grew up with minimal religous background and I now consider myself a devout follower of Christ. Your post really touched my heart. You mentioned things I'd probably affirm and question. From my brief time on your blog, I think it'd be a joy to share a cup of that green tea together. Bless you and the work you do.
peace,
Christie

12:01 PM  
Blogger wendy said...

Thanks for the comment on my self portrait tuesday image.

I love that idea "the feminine divine."

12:43 PM  

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