Thursday, July 23, 2009

On prayer

I've been thinking about prayer.

I can remember being a part of a guild in church, called the Daisy Guild after a wonderful woman in our church who was such a good influence on so many women. In the course of one year, they decided to do a study on prayer from a book by Evelyn Christensen, called What Happens When Women Pray. At the end of the year, I could no longer pray. Not that I did a bang-up job before that. But all I could think about was ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

According to the author, that was what God wanted when we prayed. And we had to make darned sure that we had confessed all our sins because otherwise God wouldn't listen. That was why so many prayers went unanswered: we hadn't adhered to the formula.

It did make me take notice of prayer from that moment on, though. I began to notice whether or not the pastor, or leader of whatever group I was in, was praying the formula. And odds were good that they weren't. What they did, in reality, was design a prayer that made them look good. And if I was in a group where everyone was expected to pray (which I absolutely hated and which made me quite nauseous) then I didn't pay the least bit of attention to what anyone else was saying. I was trying to come up with a prayer that made everyone murmur in agreement. The louder the murmur, the better I felt about myself.

My belief is that people pray outloud for the benefit of other people.

Who knows what they pray for in private?

So what do I do now? I light a candle for the person I am thinking about. I simply say their name and when I am done lighting candles (or run out of candles) then I light the tall taper and say my goddess's name, Brighid. I don't see the need to tell her something she already knows. I just let her know that I am thinking of them and sending my energy in the form of flame up to her. And if she passes it on to the Great God, or takes care of it herself, then that's in her hands. Not mine. It's my job, or duty, to feel compassion and send my energy up to her or whatever god is receptive to it. It's not my job to get all flowery and try to impress deity with my wit.

Prayer isn't about me at all. It's not about how I do it. It's not even about when I do it. It's about why I do it. Nothing else matters.

But what is prayer? I think it's as magical as anything out there. I don't think anything out there is more supernatural than prayer. We don't know how it works. Or why. We just know it does. But why does it seem so selective?

I remember in my fundamentalist days feeling completely dejected because it didn't seem like God cared a fig about me or my prayers. I felt like everything I said bounced back to me off the ceiling, that God was more concerned with people who tithed, giving them gracious gifts because they were lining his pockets and I wasn't. Or maybe I wasn't being as faithful so I didn't get to be teacher's pet. Or maybe I just wasn't praying to the right god.

I don't worry about the effects of my prayers anymore. I don't worry that maybe there is a caste system out there in the world of Christianity, that God, indeed, does have favorites after all. I know my goddess called me. And I know my god, Lugh, called me, too. The Great God doesn't deal with us on a personal level. He never did. The god of the Old Testament, isn't anymore the Great God than Loki is.

What we have are those in the divine realm who call to us and gather us into their embrace. If we don't find comfort in our spiritual realm, maybe we're not in the right god's arms.

Yet, I still love Jesus, even if I don't believe him to be god or even divine. I can love what he represents. And I can love the ritual of my church which I still maintain has a deep and ancient pagan fragrance to me. I can appreciate the myth of Easter and Christmas as much as I can enjoy the myths of the Celtic pantheon.

For me, I'm finding the Great God in the beauty of the universe and in the wonder of nature, but he's not so egotistical that he demands I must spend every waking moment worshiping him and him alone. I think he finds that kind of attitude rather childish.

I know I could be wrong. But what kind of an afterlife would heaven be if it were run by someone who threw tantrums because he couldn't get everyone to adore him?

Friday, July 17, 2009

One more step on my path

It's so odd how the mind wanders all over the place.

I was just thinking about our old fundamentalist church and how a couple who joined wanted to present the church with a gift of a painting of Jesus. They wanted it to be in the sanctuary behind the baptismal tank where you could see the picture from the pews and meditate on Jesus before the service started. That church, however, viewed that kind of thing as rather idolatrous so the picture was relegated to the foyer where you could see it if you happened to be heading down to the ground floor area.

They shared the story of it with the congregation amidst many tears and amens and wonders at the miracle of it all. I don't remember verbatim but the short version is that a woman went into a trance (apparently in front of someone who could verify it and apparently had a stopwatch so she could record how long it took) and painted this picture after having a vision of Jesus. She supposedly painted it in one sitting, while in this trance in record time (I can't remember how long it took but it was hours and not days.) The validation papers that came with the painting stated that the woman was given a vision of what Jesus really looked like and that's what she painted.

Praise God! Now we know what he really looked like: white, European and perfectly even teeth. struck me at the time that this wasn't what Jesus really looked like since there didn't appear to be a drop of Jewish blood in him.

I still struggle with Christianity. No, not really Christianity. I struggle with what to do with Jesus. I still love the guy. I'm just not sure who he is anymore. Last night when I tried to meditate (I'm a long way from really accomplishing that yet, but it's a start) I was looking at my olive wood statue (that is supposed to be the Holy Family but is, to me, Brighid holding a child and the child's father at her feet. I'm not sure why that's what I decided it was, but it seems to work for me...anyway you look at it, either it's a random child's father at Brighid's feet or Joseph at Mary's feet. Make what you will of that.) Anyway...last night I looked at the statue while communing with the goddess and it hit me really hard that the baby really was Jesus. Does that make the father at her feet Yahweh? Or Joseph? Haven't a clue. I just felt like she was telling me not to leave Jesus behind, that he belongs to her also.

Blasphemous, right?

Still, it makes me more comfortable with staying with my church. I don't have to make a complete break with it. I can retain that which is beneficial and beautiful and throw out that which is burdensome and harmful. It occurred to me also, while I was talking to Brighid, that I'm not really sure who she is. Mythology is mythology, as it were. All the stories we have are of humans trying to understand the Divine within the context of their environment. Who's to say
Brighid is her real name? Maybe her name is also Mary. Who knows? I just know that I'm drawn to the aspects she and Lugh represent. They speak to who I think resides within me and is waiting to come out.

I'm just not terribly interested in learning about rituals and spells just yet. I'm far more fascinated by the history and mythologies of the Celtic world,and the history of the making of the Bible and the rise of the church. My journey isn't a rush to get to the good stuff. It's a trip through the jungle of knowledge and information. I sat for 55 years and let people tell me what to think and what the Bible was really saying. I don't mean to change one bond for another. I intend to find my own way from now on, and that includes my journey into paganism.

It's not my intention to disparage anyone who jumps in by reading books about Wicca or spell casting. That's their journey. They didn't walk the same path I did so why should they follow the one I'm on now? I just mean that I am going to walk into this with a small amount of skepticism and one eye warily on the lookout for frauds. They exist in every discipline, every philosophy, every religion. I just don't want to get fooled again.

If I find myself back where I started, in Christianity, then that's where I'll end up. I'm following the path, not forging it. But if I do find myself there, then I can guarantee that it will have a whole new look to it. That I'm sure of.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The process by which my faith goes bye-bye

I told Zach today I felt like I'd gone through a divorce I didn't want. Then he asked me if I could, would I go back.

Hmmm...I thought about it but the answer is, I would still end up where I am. I just don't see any other outcome. Because I didn't come to my conclusions based on a book or two that I read. This was a long time coming: years and years of bible reading that always left me uncomfortable with the inconsistencies and contradictions. Not letting myself question a God who would bash babies' brains against a rock. A God who would favor those who "tithed" with more loot but those who couldn't afford to were shamed and treated to more poverty. Why one person was "blessed" with unbearable struggles because God needed to teach her something yet another was "blessed" with a beautiful life because she was being rewarded for being faithful. And this God didn't have favorites?

Before I left our fundamentalist church, I had already discarded my belief in Satan, hell and the trinity and was very close to believing in polytheism since I still believed that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were still all Gods, just not God. All this from reading the bible alone. I had weird out of body experiences (no, not literally) in worship services where I would stand outside myself and watch the whole thing as if from some disinterested perspective. The singing, clapping, hands waving in the air seemed almost cult-like to me (I said almost.) If I hadn't been a Christian, I would have perceived all of it as silly.

After watching that documentary on PBS I gave up on the Old Testament as a reliable document and really wondered about the New Testament as well. I hated the way women were treated as the source of sin in men and that I had bought all of this: hook, line, and sinker. I hated that I had been party to all of that. I hated that I had not had the presence of mine to read the bible through my own lens instead of believing that what I had been taught all my life was the correct way to read and interpret the bible.

It was like an avalanche. One tenet fell after another until more and more rapidly the whole side of the mountain was crumbled at my feet. Nothing was left. The bible was wrong about women; it was wrong about homosexuality (my son didn't choose to be gay anymore than he chose to be a male.) It couldn't get the resurrection story straight, let alone the crucifixion story, no matter how many people tried to reconcile the various gospel accounts. And the nativity story was way off. And what kind of God would impregnate a child of anywhere from 13-16, even with her consent?

It was then I started reading books about the bible from a critical perspective.

That was when I saw how the bible was put together, adjusted, and re-adjusted.

After that it was a done deal.

So in a way, I feel like I was called out of Christianity into Paganism. I didn't initially go looking for all this. In fact, I was trying to write a stinking nativity play, for pete's sake. I had hid my head in the sand for years whenever any inconsistency came up. Or when a contradiction appeared, I just told myself that the fault in understanding was mine. I couldn't presume to know the mind of God.

The fact is, Christianity made me feel bad about myself. In spite of being told how special I was that Jesus died for me, I never felt good enough. And that's because of all the mixed signals I got all my life. I was the worst sinner who needed a savior and yet I was so beloved of God that he sent his son to die for me. But I was still a lousy sinner who had to work 24/7 to keep my mind focused on God. But if I had Jesus, then he did the work for me, I had to just stop fighting him. Except all those sermons on sin told me I had to work on me.

After 55 years of this, I want to feel good about myself again. I'm just not sure I can shake all that indoctrination.

Why Paganism? Because it makes sense to me. Because it allows me to focus on the good I can do instead of trying not to do all that bad. Because women aren't the enemy; they're valued.

Why is it so much harder to believe in multiple gods rather than the Christian God who is really three gods in one? Because Christianity has got a book? Because for thousands of years, they've had the world stage? Because scholars have said it's the one true religion?

Sorry. I'm going with my heart. The one I've been told all my life was deceitful above all things. I'm going with my mind, which I've been told all my life wasn't to be trusted.

If I'm wrong and there really is a hell, then what kind of heaven would it be to live with a god who would send people there for eternity because they were born in the wrong time or place or who didn't have that measure of faith the bible says it doles out proportionately? I didn't throw my faith away. It was taken from me.

There may come a time when I have to leave my church but for now I'm there for the people and I still love the liturgy. I still find something ancient and pagan about it. Until I feel called out of it, I remain.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Getting there

It still feels a bit surreal to no longer belong to the community of Christians. Although my feelings for Jesus have softened up a bit. Initially I was angry with him for making me fall in love with him and not turn out to be who I thought he was. But now I'm inclined to think that maybe he wasn't the one who fooled me.

I'm trying to clean my house and get rid of all the clutter. I think I need to rid myself of the physical clutter before I can get rid of the spiritual clutter. It's always been amazing to me how a clean house can energize me. Of course, it's not exactly clean but I did manage to throw out one black garbage bag full of trash and another one full of stuff for the thrift store.

I could do better by going through all the drawers as well, but let's try baby steps first.

I haven't really done any reading lately about matters of spirituality but I did bookmark a druid site that has lots of good things there and I plan on tackling that later this week. I also found a site that deals with magickal herbs. Eventually I'd like to actually own a book on the subject instead of just notes from the internet. I don't actually have a Book of Shadows yet. I'm still winging it.

I've chosen not to go the way of Wicca. It just doesn't feel right for me. Maybe I'm just a bit of a rebel after all those years of conformity but I would rather find my path as I walk it rather than have a road map. I look forward to just finding my way.

It's a short entry today because I'm dead tired and might get to sleep early for once. Soon I hope to catch up on some sleep so I can have my mind back. I'd love to be able to think again...or even meditate. That would take a lot of concentration for me since I can't keep my mind from wandering to Alpha Centauri and back while I'm writing up a grocery list.

And hopefully I'll learn how to redirect my energy so it's not inward all the time (self-pity, anger, despair) and maybe turn it into something productive.

It's my goal, anyway.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

We continue

I looked into Celtic Christianity and while I found some of it very intriguing, I was being called further, deeper, into something more. I tried to ignore the pull to Paganism because that was just silly. I "knew" that there was one God and to pretend that a pantheon existed was just play-acting. I have always hated people who jump on bandwagons and I didn't want to be one of them. To me, all these neo-pagans were just being faddish.

I had discovered that most of my ancestry (although I don't have a family tree, per se) is Celtic: Scottish, Welsh, Irish and English. Although all things Celtic was pretty faddish, too, I did enjoy listening to the Celtic Woman cds, and I'm a huge fan of any production that comes from the UK (I think they do television way better than Hollywood does.)

I had joined Ravelry over a year ago (it's a knitting/spinning, crochet online community) and found some people there who had been damaged by fundamentalism and started a group for support, healing and a place to just rant, if necessary. It was there I met my first Pagans. And these people weren't the jumping-on-the-bandwagon-faddish Pagans. They had been on their spiritual paths for many years, some of them were raised Pagans. I felt the pull, but again, worrying about my eternal soul made me wary.

More and more things were happening to me to make me question Christianity as the only path available to me. I watched a PBS special (can't think of the name of it) about the archaeology of Israel and discovered that a) there was no mass exodus according to the evidence they could find, and b)the bible wasn't even written until the Babylonian exile and it came from two different traditions, which is why God is referred to both as El and as Yahweh: El being the Canaanite god and Yahweh being the Midianite god.

I went back to being shattered about the bible and wondering if there was anything from my religious upbringing I could trust. I couldn't trust the New Testament and I couldn't trust the Old Testament. I know some people have never looked at the bible as 100% accurate, infallible and trustworthy and their faith in God and Jesus is solid. But for me, the bible was my rock, my foundation. Without it, how could I know who God really was? I had been taught that if anyone or anything tried to discredit the bible they were from Satan and I was supposed to just trust that it was my understanding that was flawed, not the bible itself.

I just couldn't do that anymore.

But I still couldn't let go of Christianity. It would be like shutting out my whole world.

From the documentary, I discovered that the ancient Israelites also believed in a goddess...a Mrs. God. From there I began to look at the Old Testament (and use my reasoning, which I had been taught was not to be trusted) and found that there is a pantheon in the Old Testament as well. Either that or a very schizophrenic God who keeps forgetting why he made man.

Thinking about the prospect of a goddess made me consider the very patriarchal nature of Christianity and how harmful it's been to women over the centuries. I questioned how much of the New Testament was really inspired and how much of it was used to keep men in power.

An online friend recommended a book by Sue Monk Kidd called The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. I knew her from Guideposts because my mother always sent her used copies to my sisters and me so I wasn't sure what this was going to do to help. Wow. Here was a Christian author who had written several books on Christian inspiration and she left Christianity behind! Although I found parts of the book very simplistic and the style not different from her Christian books, I was still very motivated to look beyond Christianity for the first time.

From my time spent reading about Celtic Christianity, I had found myself drawn to St. Brighid. I still had difficulty praying to a saint, however, so not much immediately came of this. More and more though, I found myself having conversations with this "invisible" entity in my head but she was no longer a saint, but a goddess. Could she be a real goddess? For the first time, I considered a pantheon as a logical and practical reality.

But first I had to figure out what to do with Christianity. I read book after book about the early years of my birth religion, including books by Bart Ehrman. Finally I was seeing through someone else's eyes what I had been trying not to see with my own. The Bible was a human endeavor and not inspired by God. I could no longer believe in a God who supposedly bashed babies' brains out or a God who would destroy whole families because of one person's sin. Or who had condemned the vast majority of humankind to eternal damnation because they didn't check the right block when they filled out their form on religious persuasion.

I was free. Finally. I left the fear behind and now am free to follow the path I need to follow.

There is much more to this story and over the course of time I will get to those issues I had and the process of deciding in more detail but for now, I'll wind down this narrative.

No one wakes up one morning and decides to leave behind a lifetime of beliefs and customs. I am still in my church because I love the people there and because my whole life has been centered around Christianity so I have no real life outside of it. Yet. Should something happen and I move away or something drastic changes in our church, I would probably leave, but for now it's where I want to be.

But in my heart I am Pagan. I can no longer think of myself as a Christian and even though I am finally at peace after many years of struggling to find where I am supposed to be spiritually, there is a sadness to leave behind the familiar. I used to love Christmas and the Baby Jesus. Easter was my favorite: Maundy Thursday and the empty tomb on Easter Sunday! They will never again mean the same to me and I can't force them to be. But I look forward to learning, growing and celebrating the bigger universe that is opening up for me.

This is not the end of my story. It's the beginning.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

And so it begins

I'm not really sure where to start. My other blog tells about the mundane aspects of my life but I need some place to start fresh, to begin again. A place to sort it all out and watch my growth apart from the struggles to get through each day and the details of how I watered the plants and knitted socks.

So this blog is born. Jhem Terriac is a character in a book I was writing but will probably never finish. He was an autistic half-elven called a manling. Which has got absolutely nothing to do with me. I just liked the name and wanted to use it somewhere else. begin...the rug had been yanked out from under me. My spiritual foundation crumbled and I've been falling for the past several years, ever since I found out the Bible wasn't the inerrant word of God. I was tired of falling, grabbing onto handholds wherever I could find one to stop the inevitable landing.

I have landed. And I didn't get hurt. I didn't break every bone in my body. I didn't die in the fall. I survived. In fact, aside from a mourning process for the culture and religion I grew up in, nay, that was my whole life, aside from that mourning process. I thrive.

It all started several years ago when I was a member of an Assembly of God church. A tiny bit of background to show you a bit about my journey: I was raised in an American Baptist church. As I got older my tastes ran to more fundamentalist teachings, even venturing into Messianic Judaism for a while, thinking that I needed to get back to as much of the purity of Christianity as I could. I was very rigid in my beliefs and absolutely believed that I was right and everyone who didn't think the way I did was wrong. We ended up in the AoG church because it had a youth program (for Zach) and a drama program (for me.)

Now...on with the story. I was asked to write the play for out annual Walk thru Bethlehem program. I was honored, touched, thrilled beyond belief and eager. The pastor wanted the temple to be a part of it, which was a bit tricky since that took place in Jerusalem and not Bethlehem and was around 33 days after the birth. So I set the scene about a month after the birth and had the guides as narrators, walking the crowd throughout the "town" looking for the young couple and their baby. There were moving, inspiring vignettes and the surprise visit to the temple in Jerusalem after a short sojourn through the desert. The temple set was lavish and a bit breath-taking, if I do say so myself (I also did set design, she says modestly.)

What happened during the writing of the play was that I couldn't get the chronology to work out between the different gospel accounts. I struggled, read commentaries, and prayed fervently that I could find a way to work it out. That's when my soft, cushiony carpet was pulled out from under me.

I went through a period of time when I just couldn't even believe in God anymore, let alone Jesus. I had no one to talk to because I knew exactly what they would tell me: it was an attack from Satan. All doubts and questions were attacks on your faith from Satan. So there was no point in bringing it up. I knew it wasn't an attack from Satan. It was a discrepancy in the Gospel accounts.

In time, I did renew my belief in God and Jesus although I still didn't know what to do with the Bible. But the bloom was off the rose, so to speak, and I could never be a fundamentalist again. Ever.

We left that church after a couple of years of having my eyes opened up and seeing what they were doing to my son and how they were wearing him down psychologically and emotionally, not to mention spiritually. We joined the Episcopal Church which was a perfect fit for us.

For a couple of years.

Then the doubts started coming back again. I loved this church. I loved the people. This was freedom and joy. There was acceptance of Zach, both his Tourette/OCD situation and his homosexuality. He could be open there.

But something was still missing. I couldn't read the Bible anymore. In fact, Christian contemporary music was repugnant to me (aside from a few favorites...very few) and I would switch channels very rapidly if I found a televangelist on the station. I still loved the hymns but more for their classical sense rather than the words themselves. I was/am on the altar guild and I enjoyed it immensely but it felt very pagan and ancient to me, not at all what it was supposed to represent. I loved the sense of preparing the "temple" and bowing to the god who resided in the cabinet.

But he wasn't Jesus. At least not to me.

I started questioning the patriarchal oppression in the church, even today, and even in some Episcopal churches. I wondered why the Holy Family consisted of three men, yet my son was an abomination. I wondered if God was my father, who was my Mother? And why didn't I have one?

I wondered why the only way I could remain Christian was if I shut out the world and read only Christian literature (not the Bible...that led me away from Christ no matter how I tried to read it devotionally) and listen to Christian music (even though I couldn't stomach contemporary stuff) and only watch "family" type programs.

Boring beyond belief. was all I knew. And as far as I knew, leaving it behind would cost me my immortal soul. Or worse, I would end up in the lake of fire burning with Satan and his minions for all eternity. It was a terrifying thought.

I didn't know what to do but I did know that any religion that required its adherents to shut their ears and sing the lala song so they don't hear things that might contradict what their leaders are saying, couldn't be the right one. I had to find a way to fill myself spiritually without leaving Christianity (because that was my cultural upbringing after all) and without costing myself my immortal soul, because I still believed that was at stake.

More on this tomorrow.