How often have we heard the above phrase, when people are asked what their religious tradition is, or where their faith is based? I’ve heard it a lot, and while I don’t think it’s the best way to describe those of us who aren’t a part of an official religion, its the best one we have at the moment. According to studies, religiosity is on the down-swing in most developed countries, and people are embracing secularism and humanism, along with more natural, indigenous traditions, as well as Eastern practices. I’m fully in support of this, and feel like I want to start talking more about it. I’ve listed some books I’ve found helpful on this whole subject.
I, personally, am a religious survivor, having been raised by my parents within the Christian Science religion. As a child, I was taught that we are made in the image of God; that all illness, injury, and even aging, is merely the result of incorrect thought and can be fixed by prayer; and that the body is decidedly separate from, and controlled by, the mind. It is thought that since God is perfect, and He created us in His image, we, too, are perfect. If one exhibits signs of illness, injury, or other dysfunction – something God would not have – it is because they have allowed themselves to be influenced by some negative thought, not because germs exist and bodies get sick. One must pray to be released from the negative idea of one’s imperfection.
My parents taught me that the physical and emotional needs, reactions, and responses of my body and mind should be ignored, repressed, and regarded as shameful. Although I left this church when I was eighteen, I continue to be affected by my parent’s beliefs; when I was twenty-one, I developed an auto-immune disease that I didn’t know how to get help for, and it almost killed me. When I finally told someone about my problem, I got the proper medical attention, but a part of me suffered the agony of shame at being ill and having needs, and it still affects me. I also have had a lot of difficulty coming to terms with my spirituality and with God. Since God can be such an amorphous concept for a child, God becomes Dad. I left the religion feeling like God was a male, unhelpful, judgmental being that I didn’t want much to do with – and yet, I still felt a pull to be spiritual, to have a relationship with something greater than myself.
When I was twenty-five, I began to be dissatisfied with my life and my lack of concrete beliefs. I knew I wanted more, wanted to BE more, but was unsure how to achieve it. I began exploring other religions and spiritual traditions, including Catholicism, the Episcopalian faith, Judaism, Protestant Christianity, Zen and Buddhism and other Eastern traditions, and Shamanic practices. I was fortunate enough to meet a spiritual mentor in my twenties, that helped me find and relate to a spirituality that worked for me, including a relationship with the Divine; that force (The Force!) or spirit that is made up of living things and our intentions and souls. I have been repeatedly blessed in my life by the Divine, and have often been given guidance and fulfillment of big needs in my life. I respect everyone’s beliefs, and feel all beliefs should be respected.
Books and Sites:
Living the Secular Life – Phil Zuckerman
Father Mother God – Lucia Greenhouse
Traveling Mercies – Anne Lamott
Here If You Need Me – Kate Braestrup
Happiness is an Inside Job – Sylvia Boorstein, PhD
The Four-Fold Way – Angeles Arrien, PhD
God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church – Caroline Fraser.
The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz