This week has been a particularly stress free spiritual week for me, until today. I started sensing this peace a couple of weeks ago by first carving out a new space on the web for my personal musings (somewhere secret and far away from here) and by attending Mass a couple of times at my local Catholic church. The two experiences have melded very nicely together. However, my peace came to a screeching halt. I can’t believe how choosing to experience my spirituality in several different ways would be so bothersome to so many people! I’ve learned that there is great benefit in surrendering to whatever comes my way as spiritual food. I don’t question it. It’s all a gift. But, for others who think they know me, it’s the height of absurdity. I’m doing it all wrong! Increasingly, I am getting a sneaking suspicion that those who read this particular blog in a cursory manner might think that I am either just a religionist or a spineless agnostic unwilling to take the existential leap into the surety of unbelief. Either way, my blog has gotten wrested out of my hands in a most peculiar manner. I almost feel as if I can’t be honest anymore without being attacked by men from every side. Some choose to leave anonymous barbs. Others choose to tackle what they see as a “stubborn woman.” Sadly, this is typical of women’s blogs. I’ve become cornered and corralled by men who would assume to know what is good for me in the faith and belief department or even in the no faith or belief department. I hope to set this straight right now.
I am a woman whose spirituality is eclectic and I am free to absorb the graces of all traditions. I am a cultural religionist, meaning that I like the trappings of all religions, especially the Pagan and Roman Catholic variety, but I also know that I am most definitely not committed to religion as a necessity of faith. Spirituality and religious institutions are poles apart. One is true faith. The other is a man-made attempt to trap the impossible and to dispense it’s forms of piety to humankind. the former is egalitarian and nurturing of all. The other is top-down, power-over hierarchy plain and simple. I am also most definitely a pagan theistic agnostic. I don’t believe that anyone can know for certain whether the doctrine they teach so assuredly about God is true. I believe that Godde is neither male nor female and that in order to nourish all souls, this genderless Godde must take precedence in our mass psyche. No one can possibly know that such a Godde exists because there is no proof beyond one’s own experience of Godde. Revelation to one person is that one person’s experience. All else is hearsay.
But! I am also a Christian, someone who believes in Christ. I am not your definition of a Christian nor am I someone else’s definition of a Christian. One may have one’s own experience of Christ or one may take the word of other people who have had an experience of Christ. There is no other option. I have had an experience with Christ. I do not, however, believe that every person who claims to have an experience has indeed had one. People are free to think this of me as well. It’s my word against theirs after all. To me Christ is all of the grace of Godde embodied. I do not believe in the Old Testament God. Israel’s experience with their God is very problematic, because it posits a male God who is hateful, vengeful, and spiteful to all other nations but Israel. This is how Israel experienced God because Israel had a personal stake in carving out their spiritual space among the plethora of religions rampant in that area during the formation of the their nation. However, Israel’s experience is by no means proof of who God really is, nor is it the God of the New Testament. All is speculative and unprovable.
Many, many folks seem to want to equate institutional religion as we know it today with spirituality. They think that just because you have faith, you MUST practice a religion of some kind. Not true. Many Buddhists have faith in a perfected soul or universe, but they have no religious practice. Yet other Buddhists do have religious practice. Many Muslims are practitioners of religion. Many other mystical Muslims are not. It’s the same for every religion. Protestant Christians especially believe that any other practice but their own is legalistic. They are usually pointing fingers at the Catholic church when they say this. Growing up in church, they will say, doesn’t mean you have faith. This is true. Church is a great place to grow some faith if you’re so inclined, but it’s not an automatic “in.” Going to church may also kill what faith you may have had to begin with (some of the people I know here such as me, and those at agnosticatheism’s blog, have had this happen to us). For us, religion gets in the way of faith and inserts its own agenda where there should be none. Some of these friends are in the process of deconversion from their religions, but some of us cling to what little faith we have, recognizing full well the tactics of religionists to get us within their clutches once again. Religion is merely a tool in the hands of the wise and a battering ram in the hands of the power hungry.
Conversely, NOT going to church does not mean I DON’T have faith. End of discussion. I know that I am prone to assuming many things myself, but really, how many times do I have to be hit with the same story or the same comments or the same accusations to know that the debate isn’t worth the trouble or that it will always lead to a stalemate or that it will always end the same way? It’s only a battle of wills and who’s more stubborn than who? When Christians debate non-Christians, or even other Christians, it’s very easy for them to assume things about their “opponent” that isn’t necessarily true and toss off comments meant to be scathing rather than those that promote dialogue. It’s been going on for thousands of years. It will continue to go on for thousands more and it will never be resolved. Our own pride often prevents us from listening. Much like the jockeying for position that takes place during my morning commute to work. All anyone wants to do is get in front of everyone else. There’s no discussion of why or how or no polite gestures of letting people go first. Everyone wants to go first! When Christians assume you don’t have faith because you don’t go to church any longer, they are really jockeying for position to be first by saying that you don’t have THEIR brand of faith, or you don’t go to THEIR church, or you don’t practice piety as THEY do. It’s not about respecting your faith at all, it’s about promoting their own. Submit to what we believe and only THEN will we rest.
You see what other people believe about the religion of Christianity are all moot points for me. I’ve decided to pick and choose what I practice, because the practice of religion is only for my spiritual nourishment, not a test of faith for others to judge me. Religion is not meant to be a “marker” of my piety, to somehow show others how far I’ve come up the spiritual ladder, so that they can judge my progress and report back to those in power. Practicing religion how and when I choose to has nothing to do with whether I even have faith or not. To me religion and the institutions that generate them are not faith but are only pretty ways to “practice piety before men to be seen by them (Matthew 6:1-6),” ways of jockeying for spiritual position.So, what feeds my faith? Many different things. By embracing all religions or none at all, I am bound by none. I know the difference between the definition of legalism and pure grace and I am no more convicted to confess to a priest that I missed Mass on Sunday, than I am to feel guilty that I have “forsaken the assembling of ourselves together” with my fellow Protestants. Both may pronounce me hell bound, but I know in heart that my fate is in Godde’s hands alone, if indeed there is a Godde who decides such mundane things or who even cares that humans down here are theoretically and actually killing each other over interpretations of such things. Who can know? But if I want to pray to the saints, speak in tongues, or prance naked in a coven full of wiccans, it’s my business and my spirituality. It’s what feeds me.
Bottom line is: I go to church or to coven or to Zen meditation to nurture the tiny amount of faith that is left in me, that hasn’t been squashed out of me by religious male zealots, but I am not bound by religious rules made by men. I’ve carved out my own spirituality, one that’s my own. That’s true freedom from legalism. That’s true grace. That’s true spirituality. But don’t assume, because I don’t believe as you do, because I don’t go to the same church you do, or even because I don’t go to church at all, that I am in need of “correction” or that I don’t properly “understand” the Gospel or even that I am inviting debate about it. I’m not. It’s my business. I don’t need men’s advice. I don’t need someone else telling me I’m doing it wrong. This is the hardest thing to get men to understand about why we create our own woman’s space on the web. You see, I’ve earned the rewards of my own spirituality through hard-won experience, faith in myself, confidence, and spiritual practice. I’m not asking your permission. I’m telling you like it is.