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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Black Cherry Tomato

That is the picture of my very first tomato. I picked it about two weeks ago and my husband and I split it at dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a more delicious tomato, but perhaps I’m prejudiced. In fact, I know I am.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about daily spiritual practice. In Christianity, at least in the church I went to, prayer, meditation, fasting and Bible reading daily (well not fasting daily, but regularly) were (are) strongly emphasized. I suspect it’s the same in most denominations, especially those with more conservative leanings.

As I’ve transitioned out of that church/Christianity I’ve wondered what life looks like being in another set of beliefs (or having no firm set of beliefs).  Do people cast circles everyday? Do they meditate? Yoga? Pray? Is there fasting? Maybe they read books on their god/desses, research their pantheon…I don’t know.

And then, like two magnets pulling on each other, the confused burble of Christianity/pagan/whatever belief practices began to run through my mind. I have no other way of explaining it, except as I showered a few minutes ago my mind erupted into thought.

(In full disclaimer, most of it catalyzed by the fact that tomorrow is my evening to share at our church home group. What in the hell am I going to talk about? I wondered as I stared off at the tile, counting the small holes in the grout.  The Great Rite in high/ceremonial Wicca traditions?)

So as I stood there both streams of thought that had been alternating throughout the week merged into a rapid confluence, chaotic as a mountain stream in spring.

And then, for some reason, all of this reminded me of our garden. I thought of the big Purple Cherokee tomato that is ripening on the vine, and the Black Cherry I had picked, and how J had hung CD discs in the yard yesterday to discourage the birds that were discouraging me, and how I needed to fertilize but wow…the basil might have died but weren’t the lemon verbena and the pineapple sage just beautiful?

Then this word came to me, clear as a bell:

Tending.

And I promptly soaped up, rinsed and toweled off, and came to write, the word tending, tending, to tend, tending ringing in my ears.

So here I am.

Tending.

I’m looking out at my garden right now, through the sliding glass doors, and I can see that it needs watering. We had rain last week but the temperatures have been so hot, and the sun so relentless, that the earthen plots look like they’re fresh from the oven. Nothing has begun to droop yet, except the borage, which is the garden version of a canary in the coal mine. Once the borage droops, I water.

I can honestly say that this garden might be the most consistent thing I’ve tended in my life. For sure the most (visibly) successful. The garden started with a flurry of activity: we bought hay, compost, had dirt delivered, shoveled, planted, dug, watered, fertilized and mostly watched with bated breath for the first signs of growth, the first flowers (gasp!) and then—the first fruit (gasp! gasp!).  However, since the plants have been planted tending slows down—a lot. I water every couple of days. I curse the tomato cages at least twice a week. Jonathan hung the CDs. I fertilize occasionally.

The garden has been established; now, we tend. We harvest the fruits. And, in distant parts of my mind I have begun to gather lessons learned and anticipate fall planting in the waning days of August.

(Central Texas has two planting seasons, one for hot crops and one for cool crops. In late August we will begin preparing for the cool season.)

Much has been made about the connection between spirituality and gardening, so I’m tilling (excuse the pun) no new ground here. But the concept of the act of tending and how it relates to all spiritual practice rings so true to me.

Spiritual practice, or craft, whatever it may be, is the act of tending something already there–and I don’t think that necessarily means a certain religion. More, it’s an act of tending the soul, or the spirit, or whatever makes you human and makes you feel alive.

For me, tending comes in the form of gardening, yes, and my daily walk, and reading good books, whether they be fiction, non-fiction or poetry. Sometimes it does come from reading the Bible, especially Jesus and the Psalms.  Yoga and meditation. Sweeping and dusting. Baking. Driving a long distance with really good music.

There are other kinds of tending too, and I would be remiss to leave them out of this musing. I think they grow out of tending our own self. I tend my relationship with Jonathan, in various ways. We read out loud together,  we enjoy good food (and wine, back in the day) together, I make him biscuits and gravy on Sunday mornings. We air out our dirty laundry to each other on a regular basis, without judgment. Most importantly, for two introverts in a relationship, we give each other space and understand the need for it.

When this image came to me, or concept, that there was no set, specified way for me to tend—and indeed, what good gardener doesn’t have to improvise sometimes?—the mountain rush slowed down to something more peaceful. I felt I could sit next to the proverbial stream and stare into its depths instead of running for high ground.

(Truly, I hope this post makes sense. I wrote it fast, but I don’t feel like I should reorganize or edit to thoroughly yet—it’s probably a first draft to something longer, later.)

(And a p.s.: I think if I write the word spirituality one more time I might have a fit. There has to be another word, right? All of these posts feel so redundant..)

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I’m not sure where to start.

Obligatory: Start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…

Okay, with that out of the way…

This past week has been confusing, inspiring, lonely, emotional, raw and joyful. I started it with buying my first Tarot deck and today I cast and sat in my first circle. Ruminations on that to come.

I have been doing a lot of journaling, painting and reading. I read Phyllis Curott’s Book of Shadows and am working through Marian Green’s A Witch Alone, as well as Hafiz’s The Gift. I also picked up Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliot Friedman and so far find it informative and easy to understand.  I listened to numerous podcasts as I painted or as I wandered on my morning walks. I’ve worked with the Tarot deck. Friday I watched two documentaries that caused a kind of psychic schism, one that I’m still mulling over. Yesterday, I went to my home church group and left feeling torn, confused and sad. Today, as I said, I cast my first circle and now I feel…content. Whole. Peaceful.

So it’s been a quite a week.

What have I learned?

I have learned that I have serious reservations about Wicca as a religion, but not really any about witchcraft as a practice. I guess I’ve always had a solitary bent, and some of Wiccan structures/rites, especially traditional ones, are not for me. However, working with energy, revering nature, having a strict code of ethics, gathering knowledge of self, the earth and others, working with my inner self to ultimately help others—those are things that intrigue me. More than intrigue me, they call to me. Having a practice or a craft calls to me. It’s one reason I love yoga so much—it has so much to teach about how spirituality and personal evolution is about practice. It’s not about leaving your problems at a diety’s doorstep. It’s about taking daily action that ultimate adds up to something wonderful.

So Friday, as all of this was a blob in my mind, I watched two documentaries produced by Vanguard: Rape on the Reservation and Missionaries of Hate. The first showed stories of rape, sexual assault and battery against women on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. The second showed the influence of American Evangelicals on the anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda.

The first one disturbed me, deeply, but as the second one started I knew it would be another matter. I have been struggling with the Christian label for a while, and with my association with a certain church. I knew that both were coming to an end, but as I’ve said many times—all of my friends and all of my community are within those two confines. I’ve been delaying really thinking about it and really taking action to free myself, decidedly, from those two things. The Missionaries of Hate documentary changed that when who should pop on the screen but Lou Engle. Lou Engle is an  American evangelical, prominent in the anti-abortion sector, who also runs a revival named ‘The Call’. He’s real into now-is-the-end-times and ‘family values’.

He is also someone who is highly venerated in my church. People adore this guy. And here he was, on the documentary at a rally in Uganda promoting ‘family values’. Of course, he has posted a backpedaling note on his website saying that he had no idea at the time that the anti-homosexuality bill included the death penalty for homosexuals—though he was there months after this became an international scandal, standing with key supporters of the bill and preaching about “trying to restrain an agenda that is trying to hurt families” (scroll to ~41 minutes).

And I just couldn’t take it.

And I know…I know….that’s not what all Christians believe. I know that a large majority of the Christianity community vehemently oppose people like him. And I know that the label is ‘meaningless’.

But is it?

Aren’t names powerful? Isn’t that why we chose to name our children based on the meaning of the name? And when the name begins to be weighed down with so much baggage when do you shed it? I know that some are proud to bear the title Christian, and they are people whom I love, deeply.

For me, though, that title is now a lie. My tacit association with HC is a lie. Do I love people there? Yes. Will this go over like a lead-fucking-balloon? Yes. When am I going to do it? I don’t know, yet. I need to write out specific reasons, with specific arguments. I tend to get flustered in situations like this, especially with lots of questions. I need to prepare, emotionally and spiritually, for the ramifications that this might bring. It sounds so dramatic, I know, but it really is a big, big, enormous change in my life.

So that realization, primarily, has left me feeling sunburned all over. I gave in to hermit like tendencies last week and this week seems to be headed into the same direction. I just want to write, and to journal, and to paint, and to consider. Truthfully, I’d like a SIGN. You know. One of those.

The closest to any SIGN I’ve had though are the quiet times in meditation, the peace I find on my morning walks, the insight I’ve gained since working with the Tarot. The complete calm I felt after I closed the circle today.

I don’t know what any of it is accomplishing, exactly. I’m sure in 15 years or so I’ll be able to tell you.

All I have though, is now, and now I feel…good. Still gun-shy. Still lonely. But comforted in some way, knowing that…there are things I do have. Like my husband. My cat. My books. My garden. The trees. The wind. The solitary blue heron that greets me every morning, observing the creek, way beyond his natural range. The rain that has intermittently spattered down on the hot concrete outside. It might not seem like much, but it’s enough to keep me going.

Edited: corrected the author of Who Wrote the Bible. It’s Richard Friedman, not Charles Friedman.

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Last night I journaled, diligently making my way through the various journal exercises in the Paganism book. Pagan or not, the exercises are definitely the most valuable part of the book as they make you actually articulate your beliefs, etc. As silly as it seems I don’t think I’ve ever articulated, to myself, the nature of my beliefs about…well, everything. Myself, deity, religion, the world.

Anyway…! Tangent.

So, after I laid aside my journal I sat back on my pillow and thought, “Well, what next?” I’m fairly sure that delving deeper into some kind of Paganism is what I’d like to do next, but where do I go? I made a small list of the things that interest me:

  • Myths and mythologies, especially Greek and Celtic—not for reconstruction purposes though. Just general.
  • Wheel of the Year celebration and ritual, though the next time for that is Ostara/Eostre
  • Magical theory
  • The theology of polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, etc.  I’ve read, in a cursory fashion, A World Full of Gods by John Michael Greer. Perhaps I’ll read through it again.

However…I want to do something. I feel like I need to start trying things on for size and see if it works. I’m just kind of stumped about how to go about doing this: what books to read next (or read at all), etc. Suggestions?

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This morning the husband and I went to the local Unitarian Universalist Church. It was…nice. The people were friendly, the service was okay…There just seemed to be a lack of energy or vibrancy. My husband asked, “Why are they all here?”

I told him I thought it was because that, though they all differed in their spiritual beliefs, they liked the idea/desired spiritual community. He accepted that answer but still asked, “But what would a Pagan ceremony be like?” (A visitor-guy told us that there were sometimes Pagan services). I think it baffles him. That’s okay.

It didn’t baffle me so much as…feel…kind of…like…why? I think I’d rather find people more intensely interested in the same kind of spirituality/religion than I am rather than a general interest in…well…spiritual, but not religious, themes. They do have a pagan group, but on the bulletin it seemed like the group (and the church, in general) was going through some sort of transition period. There were allusions to problems they were trying to fix. Which isn’t a bad thing, but if the main group I’m interested in is dysfunctional, then…well, why go?

I know that some people have a problem with UU churches, citing “flakiness”. I don’t think that they are flakey, necessarily, just committed to the idea that as long as everyone in the congregation works for peace, love and justice it doesn’t matter what creed motivates you to do it. I respect that. The congregation we visited had tons of social action programs going on—homeless outreach, hunger walks, GLBT groups, etc. But still…I am not looking for a place to meet other activists; I am looking for a place to explore my spiritual walk in the context of community. I’m not sure I could do it there.

Will we go back? Maybe. We’ll see how far ambivalence gets us out the door next Sunday morning 🙂

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Lest anyone think that I’m looking towards polytheism and away from monotheism because it is more “peaceful” that is not the case.  I don’t really believe that theology has much to do with peacefulness or violence—I think that humans are violent for largely selfish reasons and use god(s)(esses) as justification. That’s my answer to that particular query in short form.

Later…can we save nature without worshipping it? Thoughts?

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I started telling my husband things last night. Mainly that I didn’t want to attend our church regularly anymore, that coming up I would start visiting Quaker and Unitarian-Universalist churches.  He took it well—especially given that I told him I didn’t believe that Jesus was the only way to the Creator and that I disagreed with our church’s position on other things. Sometimes I would bring up political stances that most of the church has–abortion, actively–and he answered that no place would be perfect. Which is true. But the crux of my argument is not only have I changed but I don’t feel like I belong or am wanted at this church if I am different. Even though a place isn’t perfect, I don’t think churches should get politically involved…and our church has. Which is sad. It’s too polarizing. Though…it has caused me to deeply question my beliefs and come to terms with the unease I’ve had about being there.

I think going in steps is best…switching churches first, then moving on to some of the other things (investigating paganism, for instance). Since I’m not exactly sure where I’m going…I’m not sure how good it would be to be like: “HEY! I’M _____ SO DEAL!” That’s not honest, for one, since I don’t know yet where I stand, and two, that’s not how our relationship works. I’ll bring things up as I read them, ask questions and organically let him know where I’m going. I think that’s much better than all of a sudden telling someone that you’re ____.  In this case, anyway—since things are evolving as we speak.  Again, I have to say: I married a wonderful man.

So, my questions for the day:

1. How does one go about constructing a theology—their own systems of belief? I think there is an intuitive side, but also an academic, rational one. Are there books or places to begin structuring these things?

2. I’d like some books on the Celtic myths/history. Solid, accurate ones. Also—any 101 type books—paganism, druidry, etc. But real, slow-to-read-’cause-I-have-to-digest kind of books.

Off to do my favorite spiritual activity…napping!

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You know, I really like this blog. I haven’t been able to update as much as I would like, but in the autumn life begins to slow down and become a bit more scheduled.

I love summer—how can anyone not? The freedom, the heat…(well, maybe not the heat so much…it’s too hot here)…the pool, snocones, cookouts, how daylight lingers into the evening.

Two weeks ago as I was walking to my car in the morning I felt it.

Autumn.

Just a whisp, a breath, of cool—very cool—air. For a moment I thought I imagined it but no—it came again. Sliding over my skin, promises of crisp mornings and luscious afternoons and pumpkins and hay and change and the coming death of the year.

Slowly, the shade has become cooler. The mornings are breezy, the afternoon’s dry instead of muggy and close. Autumn, my favorite season, is on its way.

One of the things that sets me apart from conventional, conservative evangelical Christianity (CCEC) is some sense of nature that I’ve always had. It sounds hokey—but I was, and am always aware of…the outside world. I’ve always been drawn outside as a storm is coming (even if I don’t know it). I feel  the seasons changing though my husband laughs and says, “Autumn? It was 105 degrees today.”

To Western, logic minded, nature-is-dead folks it sounds silly. To CCECs it’s silly and slightly dangerous. Nature is to be controlled and though they might make token statements about ‘steward’-ship, caring for the environment is all based in a Christian’s eschatology.  For most CCECs Jesus will eventually come back to restore all things, and meanwhile the world burns. That’s simplistic, of course but the gist of it.

It’s the same feeling that lead me away from the church before, that I tried to suppress during my evangelical years and that I still find unaccounted for. The evangelical voice in my head tells me that it’s silly and I give it too much weight. Sometimes that same little nattering voice tells me that it’s sinful, wrong and will lead me out of the faith and you know…on the path of hell/no relationship with Christ/God/whatever.

It sounds dramatic, but it brings up some good points about my spiritual life and life in general:

1. I let fear control waaaaaaaay too much of my life, even my thought processes

I was going to go on, but I think that summarizes it.

What am I supposed to do? Deny these feelings? Deny that I….while I believe that Jesus is a historical figure, and that his teachings are beautiful and difficult, and it makes sense to me that a Creator/Spirit would send an example of how we should live with overwhelming, sacrificial love…I’ve never felt that was all. I’ve always felt there was more.

I feel like a cat. I paw at the unfamiliar, circle and sniff it. However,  I can’t let go enough to pounce on it and sink my teeth in. I’m too afraid. Of what people will think…of what my husband will think, my family, my friends…I’m afraid of leaving my church.

I also vacillate on how much I care.  Some days it seems like nothing is more important than figuring this out and creating a place for myself. Other days I see it for what it is: foolish.

There is no box. I mean. There is, in a limited, dogmatic fashion. There is the box of CCEC beliefs. While not a box to some, it is a box to me. There is the box of I-Hate-Christians who are so blinded by their own bitterness (valid or not) that they can’t see into the deep beauty of the faith. There is the box of New-Ageism. Boxes of yoga. Boxes of our own fear.  Boxes of everything.  (Little boxes on the hillside…)

I confess: I like the box. It’s comfortable. I’m an introvert and I like crawling in with my book light, a cup of tea and an escapist novel, closing the flaps and chilling in my own little boxy world. It’s great. Comfortable. Comforting.

It’s not real, though. There’s a world outside the box. A world that is valid, that has something to say, that contains truth.

I think what I’m confirming, to myself, is that…I don’t (think) I believe there is only one way. How would that be possible? How can that be possible?

It makes me uncomfortable though. I don’t say this lightly, but I can’t deny that that is what I…feel…to be true. My feelings and instincts mean a lot to me.

I want someone to talk to. Someone—someone who questions. The only perspective I ever get is CCEC…it’s the community I’m in. And yoga, of course, but that’s different. We don’t really discuss religion and philosophy overmuch. Just in generalities.

Exhale.

It’s curious that Autumn always brings out the…discontent in me. It’s like that feeling pushes at me a little bit, whispers with the breeze: “listen to me, listen to me, listen to me; don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid; don’t be afraid.” I am afraid. But I think…I think I’ll start walking into that fear.
What’s there really to be afraid of?

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