Ok...so here’s the deal. I’ve been quiet on the blog front because I've been pretty seriously committed to radical personal development over the past few months. I’ve been immersing myself in the magic of Rachel Hollis, Jen Sincero, Gay Hendricks, Tiffany Peterson, Marianne Williamson, and Emily Greene. Everywhere I look, it’s become abundantly clear…..EVERY book/audio/session I dive into has a common theme.
Sometimes referred to as ‘The Universe/Source/Spirit/Higher Power/something else that deflects and protects for people like ME who have a deep rooted fear around organized religion. But nonetheless, there it is...in EVERY book, audio, podcast, and FB Live! And, for the first time in my life, this is NOT a completely terrifying prospect!
Let me unpack this ‘fear’ of mine...
I was raised by parents who grew up going to church (Catholic and Protestant) but didn’t continue this into adulthood, nor did they download any religious beliefs/education/information to me.
My early childhood memories involving churches were fraught with an uneasy unfamiliarity - particularly with the Catholic weddings and funerals, when the ENTIRE church would participate in communion and my parents and I would stay back, like pariahs, or at least that’s how it felt to me. (Dad was previously divorced, and could not partake in this back in these days)
I attended other denominations/services with several friends whom I stayed with for overnight visits...these always seemed boring, and stuffy….. However, one memory that stands out was learning some cool song about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego - cool……..UNTIL someone got thrown into the fire!??! Wait, …. WHAATT!?!??!? Not cool Sunday School lady….not cool!!! This was like a live version of ‘Watership Down’ (If you’ve seen this movie, you’ll know the horrors of which I speak - seriously….who does this!??!)
I attended a local youth group at a church a few times, but I felt a super creepy vibe, and decided not to continue attending, only to later learn there was some impropriety going on within the group, so kudos to my young adolescent intuition for being loud enough for me to hear!!!
No matter the setting, I mostly remember feeling extremely out of place, and uncomfortable. The messages that did manage to reach me were not uplifting, but were fraught with fear and threatening images. I decided that church wasn’t for me, and that people who were ‘into’ that kind of thing were most certainly NOT my people.
Fast forward 10 or so years (ok….maybe a few more) and it was actually YOGA teacher training that forced me to truly EXAMINE my beliefs around religion. I had to write a paper on Yoga Sutras compared/contrasted to the religion of ‘my choosing’
<insert scoff >
Please know that I'm not saying this from a mean spirited place, but most times when I see examples of religion, it is being expressed in a negative way...think; Westboro Baptist Church, abortion protestors, attacks on the LGBTQ community, and equality in general (basically, anything on Fox News currently, which I am happy to say is banned in our household!) SO many lives have been ruined, and even lost in fights over who is ‘right’ about God. I have repeatedly seen people use religion as a platform by which to spread hate, and judgement, all in “the name of the Lord”.
This manifested a hot poker of anger deep in my psyche…. I refused to recite the Lord’s Prayer at school, would make a point to avoid any kind of formal church service or function, WALKED OUT of a yoga class that used music with ‘religious lyrics’ and would even deflect someone who offered me ‘prayers’ - and instead say, a snarky ‘no thank you’
Ughhh...how sad is that?
In the end, I was able to write the paper, but in retrospect, it painted a VERY dark picture of my view of religion. Now...this all sounds doom and gloom-y, huh? Ok, I’ll give you that much…HOWEVER, what I have eventually come to realize, is that while I may never subscribe to organized religion, I CAN develop a relationship with God.
Yoga Teacher Training forced me to look at all of the negative things I’d experienced to date, recognize that I had developed a massive chip on my shoulder where religion is concerned, and understand that it was up to me to shift this, and that it COULD be shifted!!!
I committed to starting out by never again saying anything but’ thank you’ should someone say a prayer for me. I gave in, and laid in a heap at the end of a yoga class, listening to Krishna Das singing God is Real, and you guys...I kinda felt it!!
AND...can I also tell you that a free trial subscription to Sirius XM radio was another catalyst for this shift!??! (I’m not even being paid for this endorsement!)
I stumbled upon Joel Osteen, a name I’d heard bandied about in the personal development playground at recess… his book ‘The Power of I AM’ had recently come out, and the PD community were singing its praises. I was transfixed! I didn’t even realize that he was a religious figure until the current episode finished, and the next one began, with ‘hold up your bibles’ and I was like, ‘wait...what???’ But having already been drawn in by the first 10 minutes or so, I decided to keep listening… I was HOOKED! This was like Tony Robbins meets (insert name of religious icon)
I couldn’t flip my car radio on fast enough each day on my commute...and soon, I was timidly echoing along with Joel…. “This is my Bible.I am what it says I am.I can do what it says I can do.”
Please note that I do not own a Bible, but i hope it’s the thought that counts in this case.
Joel encouraged us to be grateful for the blessings that were coming our way - all the abundance that was about to spring forward into my life...to pray with enthusiasm. Well, that’s where I drew the line...I am a MASTER at gratitude, and have been consciously keeping up a thriving Gratitude practice for 4+ years now! But praying!?!?
What do you even do???
I can tell you that my first forays into ‘saying my prayers’ were clumsy, awkward, and probably slightly painful for all involved. (sorry G-man!) - I even tried some straight up, Little House on the Prarie shizzzle...getting down beside my bed, and feeling like an utter fraud. (oh….Ma & Pa Ingalls...you really had it all figured out)
Laying down felt too informal, and ...well...nothing felt quite right. I struck paydirt one night, whilst hanging out in my hot tub, solo, under the stars. Having one of those ‘look up and get lost’ moments, I was taken aback by the vastness of everything above me. Not sure that I necessarily subscribe to ‘heaven’ as a location just beyond the clouds, rather than a different plane of existence, but there was something that opened up in me, and allowed me to open my heart to this new method of communicating with the big guy (not Santa, for those of you following along!)
Now...back to the doom and gloom for a moment...I was SO proud of myself for my newfound enthusiasm for all things religious, I couldn’t help but share this info with some people in my larger circle who claim to be very religious. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. of them had something negative to say about Joel Osteen, ‘Prosperity Gospel’ or the lack of 'hellfire and damnation' in his messages (ok, I may be paraphrasing here, but not too far off the mark!). Ugh. Back nearly all the way to square one! It was around this time that I also noticed a dramatic rise in the number of truly disgusting posts (mostly politically themed) that were being bandied about by some of these people. Like, TRULY disgusting stuff…., and friends, let me tell you how hard I had to fight the urge to instigate a ‘fight’ with these people, and instead, unfollowed/unfriended those who were choosing to spread blatantly hateful messages with religion as part of the agenda. Gross.
Everything inside of me started to pull forward the same old arguments about what i knew to be true about religion, but rather than allowing myself to become totally derailed, I have decided to have compassion for those people, and instead, be immensely grateful for the powers that be that allowed me to be open to receiving the messages, and pathway I have travelled so far.
Unfortunately, this did serve to solidify my distaste for organized religion, as I prefer to think that ANY means for finding a dialogue with the man upstairs should be celebrated, and never maligned.
I DO truly believe that we were each put here with a purpose...and instead of blindly fumbling around, I’ve humbly asked for some guidance on figuring this out, and walking out my purpose. I believe that I CAN have a relationship with God in my own way, and honestly, I hope I am correct in saying that there probably isn’t a ‘wrong’ way to get started.
So there you have it folks….I, former eschewer of a simple ‘I’ll say a prayer for you’ may, in fact, be doing JUST THAT!!!! (praying….not eschewing!)
Sidebar: if you attend a church that is POSITIVE, contemporary, progressive, and INCLUSIVE then I’d love to come along with you sometime! <3