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.