Saturday, September 10, 2011

Warning! This post is about religion and spirituality

I want to say right off the bat that I am not a religious person.  I am a Spiritual person and my spirituality is always and forever evolving and changing.  I personally believe that this is the way it is supposed to be for me and that it's okay for everyone's religious path to be different. For some people religion is cut and dried.  You were raised in a certain religion and you've just never considered anything else. End of story. But for me it's bigger than that.
I think my childhood church going days were fairly typical, at least in western Nebraska. We didn't attend every single week but I'd guess at least most Sundays. Growing up in the Methodist church and being part of the choir was wonderful for a girl who love to sing and I gratefully sang anything they wanted me to.  Though I've always especially loved hallelujah songs.  I started out in the children's choir and sang all the way up until graduation from high school without any prompting from my parents.  My mother was raised Methodist so I can only assume that is why we attended that particular church. Well, that and the minister was a good friend of my parents and as he was a history buff like my father sermons often included more than just bible readings. I can honestly say though that as a child I didn't go to church for actual religious reasons, musical and historical absolutely.

My dad's parents were Baptist and whenever we would go to visit my grandparents we had to go to church with them.  There just wasn't a choice and I hated every second of it. That minister and his fire and brimstone Baptist sermons terrified me. I was a shy and basically good though strong willed child, but because of those sermons I just knew I was going to end up in Hell.  I am so very grateful that I grew into an open minded adult and didn't get sucked down the rabbit hole of Heaven or Hell.

When I was a teenager I choose to get baptized in the Methodist church. My parents had never gotten around to it and eventually left the choice up to me. When the opportunity in high school came up I jumped right in but my reasons were not entirely religious. As I'd lost my virginity a year or so before that I was hoping to be forgiven of my sins and start new.  I remember that day fairly clearly and the months that followed.  Getting baptized didn't change me one bit, good or bad.

During college I went to church maybe once or twice when my roommate would drag me along after she'd had an unusually crazy night before.  It didn't bother me to go but I also never felt like I was missing anything in my life by not attending either. I'm sure I prayed now and then but never in the traditional sense.

My first husband was a lapsed Catholic so it was no big deal that we married in my childhood Methodist church. Our two boys were later baptized there as well. However we never really attended church other than holidays and I don't think either of us missed it.

After our divorce I started looking for something. A reason for the pain and suffering of not just myself but of the world. I tried a several churches and religions and at one time I nearly joined a Christian type group, that my sister constantly referred to as a cult, in Lincoln Nebraska.  A few years after that when I was really struggling with trying to find answers to questions typical Christianity couldn't answer for me I started picking up books about Pagan beliefs. I was intrigued and even started reading up on witchcraft for awhile though It was always just research and I never did anything with what I'd read.  At the time, even though I was searching for religious answers, I really enjoyed learning what I considered the history of the world's regions.  I even read up on Buddhism and a bit about the Mormons.  I'm still thankful that I took the time to open my mind about the worlds religions at that time in my life. 

After awhile though, I found myself again praying to the god of my childhood.  Though I enjoyed everything I was learning I felt like I was cheating on Him and that my bad luck in love was proof  I'd somehow pissed Him off by reading up on other religions. I had been single 8 years and I was so lonely that I would pray to my Methodist God everynight for a man to love me.

The man I eventually met and fell in love with and married was also, like my first husband, a lapsed Catholic. I began to take this as a sign and after we were married by a judge I started going to Catichism classes. During the time I was taking those classes I had questions but as I'm normally a great student I learned what I was supposed to and pushed my questions aside. Eventually I became a full fledged Catholic and we were married in the Catholic church. We went to church like good Catholics for awhile then my husband's job took over most Sundays. The boys and I kept going without him for more than a year after that but eventually we were lucky to go once a month. 

When we decided to move down south over three years ago I knew there would be lots of change in our lives.  I had no idea then that my religious beliefs would actually be broken while living in the Bible Belt.

My first job in East Texas was at a faith based children's organization. When I first interviewed with them I was asked if I was a Christian and I said I was Catholic.  Since they hired me I didn't think there was going to be any problems.  I was shocked to find prayers kicked off everything from snack time to business meetings but after awhile I kinda began to enjoy the group prayers. It took me several months to fully understand the stir I caused when I crossed myself after prayers. Up until then I thought as long as we all believed in God we were all on the same team. Eventually I began to understand just how differently these Bible Belt people thought. Not all but some of the people I worked with considered Catholics or anyone other than their version of Baptist to be.... well, I'm not sure exactly what they thought but I understood that they believed that in my current religious circumstances I'd never get to Heaven.  My immediate boss was a Baptist minister and frequently asked me if I was "saved", "prayed over" me quite often-in front of me and asked me almost monthly to attend his church. It was a completely new feeling for me to be discriminated against, even if it wasn't an in your face discrimination.  I like to tell people I quit that job for a better opportunity but the honest truth was that I felt like every move I made at work and into my personal life was under a religious microscope by my immediate boss and many others. I learned from some-not all of the people at that job about religious discrimination and hypocrisy.  Still, I didn't fully understand at the time just how much the experience of working in that situation shook the foundation of my religious beliefs.

Somewhere during this time my husband met some team-ropers who were involved with a Cowboy Church and as we hadn't been to a Catholic church since moving to Texas (they are few and far between down here) we thought we'd try it.   Most Cowboy Churches are not related to any specific religion though they do still read from the Bible.  There was always a ton of singing--- almost too much for a woman who still loves to sing.  We went for several months but I couldn't ever shake my mixed feelings. I tried several times to make sense of my dislike of that church. I'd think for awhile it was because I wanted to go to a Catholic church and I felt like I was somehow cheating. Then after awhile I'd think it was all religions relating to the Lord God.   

My next job was a short and rocky two months but that boss was a Buddhist and the good I was left with was in learning that not everyone in ETX are hypocritical Baptists. Not that all Baptists are hypocrites.  Most of my relatives are Baptists but I swear they are an entirely different religion than the ones I've met here in the South.

Immediately after losing that job I found myself homeschooling my youngest and religion was gratefully on the back burner again.  As I was worried about our social life I decided we needed  to join a homeschool group so he could still have friends.  I found out quickly that every group in our area were Christian based and wanted us to sign religious belief contracts and Catholics were not welcome unless you denounced Catholicism and joined their churches. Eventually I found an open group of homeschoolers  that accepted all or no religious beliefs. I thought I'd found the perfect group until I quickly and surprisingly found that most were Pagans and some were even outright witches and were raising their children as such.  It never bothered me being part of that group.  Actually I've never felt more accepted for being myself as when I was part of that group.  Not to mention that being part of that group was an enlightening and educational summer for me. I learned again that not everyone is a hypocrite and not everyone wants to convert you to their religion. It was a welcome time for me to learn it was okay to be myself, to believe or not believe and that it was all my choice. It's been just a year since I've had any contact with that group, though our falling out had nothing to do with religion.  

I admit that in my lifetime I've found myself praying to more than one god or goddess. I've lit candles to honor the elements, danced around a fire on the autumn equinox, carried crystals, made potions and wielded a handmade willow wand. I've chanted to Hecete and I've prayed the Rosery to Mother Mary. I have pleaded to The Lord God to ease my trouble and Mother Earth has received my tears.

Yet all this time I still haven't found a religion that I believe whole-heartedly in.

I DO know I have and will always believe in reincarnation, the after-life and that our souls are forever. I believe that we are so much more than the here and now. I believe that this "life" is just a stepping stone on our path to enlightenment.  I don't believe that this is our only chance and that when we die we are at the end of the road.

I am completely and totally confident in those beliefs.  I also believe that someday I'll meet not only Jesus but Hecete, Budda and all the gods and goddesses in one big and all loving spirit plane. And I believe you will be there too.  No matter what your religion or whether you agree with me or not, I personally believe I'll meet you there someday too. Because I also don't believe only the good and righteous go to to Heaven and the bad go to Hell. I believe we are all here to learn what we personally need to learn in this lifetime.  I also believe that the only Hell that exists is the one we put ourselves through.