I consider myself a recovering Episcopal, dancing between agnosticism and faith. My first memories of my religious journey (versus my spiritual journey) are of the splendor of the building in which services were held, the beautiful robes, statuary, stained glass windows and the level of intensity with which my grandmother addressed her duties as an altar-guild lady. Sunday school provided a foundation of biblical knowledge, and there was a joy and limitless feeling of love in my experience. This all changed at about age 10 when I was deemed old enough to participate in the adult services in the main chapel. Never will I forget sitting in the pew, kneeling as required, standing as required, singing the hymns and feeling like a “big girl.” Then, the sermon started, and I was subjected to my first exposure to original sin and my duties as a good Episcopal to spend my life in penance for my conception and birth. I remember leaving the church in tears, asking my mother what I had done wrong to make God so angry with me. “I’m a good girl,” I told my mother. “What did I do wrong?” I asked. From that day forward, my mother refused to force me to attend services, and allowed me to find my own path.
In my early teens, I found an organization that made sense to me. Coming from a strongly religious family, I saw the value and sense in joining a youth Masonic organization – the Jobs Daughters. My grandparents were deeply involved in both the
Episcopal Church and both the Masons and the Eastern Star, so it made perfect sense. Granted, it was a very social group with lots of fun pretty dresses and dances, but there was also a deep philosophical foundation to the organization. Rooted in the believe that Job suffered and through his suffering was able to find true belief in God, the ideology aligned perfectly with my family’s protestant work ethic that all good outcomes required suffering. It seems ironic now, but it has taken a journey of a lifetime to see that while I was learning these messages, I was reinforcing a behavior pattern that would follow me for the rest of my life – suffering is good, and pleasure and joy are fleeting and not to be trusted, as they are the path to the Devil.
While a part of this organization, I started to see that the most deeply ritualized and religious organizations can be fraught with human suffering – both imposed by the organization and the individuals within it. As we were preaching purity and restraint, I saw a string of young ladies hide their pregnancies under their flowing robes, and witnessed (and was subjected to) an above average level of “mean girl” behavior. I remember hearing about how the most religious people are often the least “Christian,” and I started to truly understand this.
The next pivotal moment came when Father Knowels, of my grandmother’s church was arrested. Not only was he arrested, but he was charged with soliciting adolescent male prostitutes, and involving them in the rectory with ritual sacrifice of chickens prior to having sex with them (the boys, not the chickens). Well, this shattered any remaining illusion that I had with the sanctity of organized religion. At that moment, I realized the distinction between religion and spirituality, and that spirituality would be my salvation.
Since that time, I have experienced times of spiritual drought, where I hit in the world of pure academics and study of psychology as a pathway to reason; I have revisited the traditional Episcopal roots and found that my willingness to adhere to organized religion was reignited temporarily – only to be told that my dollars in the collection jar were more important than my contributions to the church community – leaving a rather bitter taste in my mouth.
My grandfather came from a fundamentalist Christian home yet was a Doctor of Bio- Physics. I asked him once how he could reconcile the two. It was simple, he said. “A scientist must recognize that everything comes from a Universal force. We don’t have to name it, we just have to know what it is. Energy comes from energy, and there is a finite amount of it that is constantly reorganizing in ways that may, or may not, make sense to us. Our job as scientists is to find out as much as we can about it. Not dogma. It’s Science. It’s Faith.”
I have come to understand that there is a deep need for spirituality in my life, but my quest for a particular dogma may never be fulfilled. I am fascinated by man’s capacity to believe, and need to believe, in a higher power. This need resonates in me, but is a more ethereal concept than I can easily express. I find Buddhist teachings most closely align with my temperament, yet Wicca and the connection to the Earth and Goddess make intellectual sense. I see the social and emotional benefit of traditional faith, yet I see the Christian extreme doing such damage to the collective spirit of the world. I feel perpetually ideologically torn, and have come to the understanding that for myself there is no ONE faith, but simply a recognition of a higher power that resonates in all human beings, and that my task is to accept those differences in dogma and look beyond them. The religion doesn’t make the person. The level of spirituality does. The commonalities in most theology seems to be consistent enough to be able to draw connections that take us back to the basic tenants of kindness, respect for the Earth, doing good acts without expectation of reciprocity, honesty, a desire to contribute to humankind, and a goal of internal peace. That is my spiritual journey – not yet finished, but like my grandfather said, I have faith – oh, and I leave the chickens alone.