After years of organized religion and church, I have finally started to reach a place where I feel comfortable in my own spirituality (which apparently isn’t the same as religion).
Today was the first day of the second part of my Body Mind course, a topic that was always demonized to me growing up in a Baptist household. And although I haven’t made up my mind about everything I’ve been taught, I am no longer fearful of new ideas.
Yesterday I came across a post that accurately reflects the beliefs I was raised with. It was a fitness post talking about how to use Jesus as a weight loss tool. The argument was that Jesus would help us resist temptation. That we could access God’s power through prayer and use it to help us reach our weight loss goals. It was one of those things that I’d heard a million times in churches. There was even a diet based on this. All the women on church were on it when I was a kid.
But Jesus as a weight loss tool? Something about that doesn’t sit well with my spirit, and it never did. If we really have access to God’s power, wouldn’t it be short-minded and selfish to want that power to… get skinny? Certainly Jesus had more spiritual purposes in mind for the power of God. Such as the freedom to forgive. To live compassionately. To turn the other cheek. To affect the lives of others. Aren’t we missing the point by waving Christ around as a weight loss aid?
Then I read something else that made more sense. Surprisingly, from a “heathen” source. It’s a book called Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss, PH.D. It was written by an “intuitive” and I found it quite quirky. She goes on about energy fields and how the diseases that manifest themselves physically in our bodies have spiritual and emotional roots.
It was one of those books that I was banned from reading while growing up. In the margins of this book I’ve scribbled my questions and accusations and often disagreements. But there was one part that made me stop.
Myss says some pretty hard things about organized religion like:
As we become more conscious and recognize the impact of our thoughts and attitudes – our internal life – upon our physical bodies and external lives, we no longer need to conceive an external parent-God that creates for us and on whom we are fully dependent.
But it was a part where she talks about victimization that made me stop. She argues that religion leads to victimization. It gives us an excuse to blame someone else for our maladies (ie – It must have been God’s will that I got Diabetes. Nothing at all to do with years of poor diet and lack of exercise.) As a result, we are not driven to improve ourselves. We are simply the victims of a Divine Will. Whatever happens to us, we are not responsible. It was God’s will.
It’s something I had never thought of, but have seen in the church countless times. If someone is sick, we pray for them. But they rarely eat better. Or seek help. Or rest. Or make any sort of changes to their lifestyle. They just sit there and wait for God to heal them. And interestingly enough, if their health does improve, they plunge a little deeper into destructive lifestyles (mostly poor food choices).
A little known fact about me is that right after University I applied for a Masters program at a Baptist seminary, and started going to school there. There has always been a spiritual dimension to my life that I’ve always known was very important to me. I was hoping that seminary would help me sort out my feelings and beliefs around my own spirituality.
But I found seminary to be spiritually oppressive. The building itself felt lifeless and empty. It was like walking into a mall as opposed to anywhere remotely sacred.
The seminary was located in a place that was nearly impossible to access without a car. At the time, I was used to walking everywhere or riding my bike. Walking would make me feel more grounded and closer to the earth. I would even grocery shop on my bike, often riding back to my apartment carrying vegetables on my back. But I felt so out of place in seminary. So isolated. There was no place to buy fresh food. No trees to eat my lunch under. I felt sad.
The classes themselves I felt were judgmental and misguided. I felt very spacey, as if I were the only real person living in the real world in a room full of aliens. Didn’t they know on how many levels their evangelism techniques were going to fail on real people?
I dropped out. And I always interpreted that failure as a personal spiritual failure of mine. I wasn’t Christian enough to get it. Or deep enough to understand. I thought I was just someone who wanted to be barefoot and eat food that was grown in the ground and sit under a tree. And that clearly wasn’t enough to be spiritually enlightened.
Now I’m thinking .. maybe that WAS enough.
The Bible talks a lot about fear. It says that perfect love drives out fear, and that God is love. So in our pursuit of love, we should be fearless. “Do not fear!” is in the Bible more times than I can estimate.
Myss writes about fear too. She says fear is the only thing that disconnects us from our spirits. That every choice we make is fueled by either faith or fear. And to make decisions based on fear is a violation of faith.
And yet everything I was taught in seminary was almost always based on some sort of fear. “Do this… or else.”
Fear that the world will end. Fear that we won’t be able to convert enough people. Fear that nobody will come to our churches. Fear that there won’t be enough money to run the church programs.
But when I’m in nature, I’m not afraid of anything. It’s a difference of night and day. My spirit is calm and I feel that if I only stood still for long enough, I could feel God’s breath on the back of my neck. Like the ground itself is holy.
I’ve never felt that way in a church. I’m not saying I have it all figured out, but I’m going to keep looking. Not in a seminary, but in the woods.
Below are some pictures from my runs this week.