Archive for June, 2011

June 27, 2011

Why I stopped going to church

So often in life I have found myself in bondage to something I “should” do. A big one for me has been church. I was raised with the idea that I not only should but must go to church, and not just now and then but to every meeting of my church, and not just any church, but the particular one my parents believed has the “truth.”

Although I left the church I was raised in years ago, I could not get away from the command that I must be a part of some church. Yet my heart screamed an emphatic NO! The mantra “I do not belong here!” reverberated from my heart while my will and reason demanded that I faithfully attend.

illustration by Brian Linn

This internal battle grew to the point that going to church became sheer torture. When I went, the ache in my heart grew to unbearable, almost physical pain. I became panicked, ran outside the building, huddled down in my car, and sobbed. The pain often did not subside until after a good night’s sleep. I convinced myself that these were simply demonic attacks, and I was just lonely. When it became clear that I could not stand going to a certain church even one more time, I would move to a new town and try all over somewhere else. Yet no matter how hard I tried to connect with the people at church, and even after I became very happily married, the feeling that I cannot belong at church would not leave.

In December 2008, I discovered a book that would change the course of my life: The Shack. The funny thing is, I learned about this book at church. While The Shack spoke to me in many ways, what really helped me get free of church was the podcast I found by the co-authors of the book–Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings. I needed to hear that I was not crazy to think that going to church was just not working for me. Listening to their podcast, I realized I am not alone. Lots of people have stopped going to church, and I can too. Wayne and Brad supplied the permission I still needed at that point to leave the church.

I don’t need their permission anymore; in fact I rarely listen to those guys now. When I do hear a podcast it is usually my husband’s new fav: Into the Wildbut sometimes I go weeks or even months without listening to any religious voices at all. I stopped reading the Bible. I stopped praying. I can feel my soul clearing.

Sometimes it scares me that I am wandering so far from my religious roots, but at the same time, I am filled with exhilaration. I no longer am chained to a certain way of thought that demands I put on a certain mask and pretend to be a person who fits in that archaic mold.

One turning point came more than two years before I found The Shack. In my last few days in California, I took a personal retreat at the beach. I didn’t hear much or progress far spiritually; I was actually very distracted. But I did hear one thing: “I would rather have you be yourself than worship me.” Sorry God. I just cannot pretend to be someone else in order to please you any more. The good news is, you never wanted that in the first place.

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June 24, 2011

My contemplation goes something like this (at least today):

I sit on the bed, my back cushioned by pillows leaning against the wall, palms open. My eyes are closed. I breathe deeply, follow the word “BE” around and down towards my spirit. My mind runs cartwheels and chases trails of thought. Excitement fills me as I think of this and that project to do, ideas of how something will turn out, what I am going to do today, and my favorite: what I will blog about this contemplation. I realize again that I have been distracted. “Sshhh,” I say to thoughts, and then I remember the word “BE.” I slowly begin to descend again. Now I can feel that vast opening around me. It is the thing I call “eternity” because that is what it feels like to me. I only barely glimpse it this morning, though, but I do feel the familiar pressure on my forehead that comes whenever I am in God’s presence. I think of it as the touch of angels.

My mind doesn’t go blank. (I have found that going into Silence is like exercising a muscle. When you have not done it ever, it is very hard to start because your muscle is so weak as to be almost non-existent. Since I have built up that muscle in the past though, there is the residual memory of how and the ability to do it. But it is very weak and will need to be built up through time.)

So my mind stays aware, but at least is now in listening mode. I consider apologizing and immediately dismiss the idea. But it does make me aware that apologizing is an old habit. I want to come to God apologetic that I have not done enough, come often enough, etc. After all I basically have stopped praying for about 2 1/2 years (with a few prayers interspersed through that). If I should ever apologize for not praying enough it is now. But I don’t. I am not here to apologize, I am here to BE. Then I think of a Bible verse I memorized long ago: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are IN Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men but for the will of God.” I used to think about that as another “should”–I should not feel condemned,but I do–but in this moment I have a glimpse at a beautiful idea from that quote. Being IN God, in this place of contemplation, in this place there isn’t any more condemnation; condemnation does not exist here. Nor does sin. There is no more thought of sin when you are living from inside God, and you are free to only live.
(Now that I write that I see that I have not captured the heart of what I experienced. I glimpsed a freedom this morning, but when I write a Bible verse I worry that it will just become another law to someone. I am sharing this simply to give you an idea of what I experienced. You have to get your own revelation for yourself.)

“So I can be free from earthly desires and live for the will of God,” I think. But then I remember my desire to live out ME. (I decided a long time ago, I do not want to be Jesus, I want to be myself, and I have been beat over the head for a lot of years with this idea of following the will of God.) So I wonder, do I really want to live out the will of God? But then the answer appears: as I stay in God my desires come to life in God’s life intertwined. So from this place, the true ME can be expressed.

Even though it feels sweet, I let go and return to the surface. I do not look at the clock.

June 23, 2011

I rename myself

I have never really liked my birth name. Going into my contemplative mode the last couple of days, I have been toying with changing my name. I finally thought of one I like: Eva. It is simple with only 3 letters. My old name has 5, but it is hard to spell. It is old-fashioned and archaic. Worse, it is my mother’s middle name, and though I love my mother, I need to pursue my own identity completely separate from hers. As I sat in contemplation today, the thought came to me: why do I have to spend the rest of my whole life with a name I do not like? I feel that it sets the tone for my identity, that I can never rise above the feeling that I get from that name, and honestly, I am sick of it. It feels like settling for less that who I am to keep my old name. Every time I say it, I have this feeling, “Here’s my name. I wish it weren’t, I really don’t want you to think of me this way, but I am lame and weird, so just think of me as that anyway.”

(I am not going to say what my old name is–I am sorry if you are dying of curiosity, but I do not want my readers to think of me by my old name.)

I have already tried to change my name once. I moved to a new city to go to college, and I introduced myself to everyone by my middle name, Michelle. The name stuck, and though it was hard to get used to, to all my acquaintances there, I was Michelle. I did eventually get used to it. The problem was, I actually did not like that name a whole lot better than my first name. And when I left that town at the end of the year, I decided to go back to my original name.

So I know I can do it. Right now I cannot imagine myself as Eva, but I do like the meaning: “giver of life.” This is so much more “me” than “gracious warrior,” the meaning of my old name. I no longer want to be a warrior, but as you can see from the name of this blog, the idea of life and being alive is very important to me. At one time I heard the name LIVE! as coming from the core of my identity, so “giver of life” falls right into that.

And Eva is not so out-of-style as my old name. Although it is uncommon enough that I don’t know anyone by that name (thus it is fresh to me with no baggage associated), it is ranked as #99 in popular baby names. My old name is not even in the list at http://www.babynames.com.

So I am going to try out Eva as my new name and see if it fits. As I am about to make a major change in life and move away from Georgia where I have lived for the past 4 years, it is perfect timing. I will simply introduce myself to people I meet as Eva. The only problem I can see is that I am moving to a Spanish-speaking country (Uruguay), and in Spanish the long sound of our “E” is their “I”. I don’t want to be spelled “Iva”! So I guess I will still have to explain my name’s spelling or just pronounce it with a short “e” like the “e” in “egg.” I actually think that pronunciation is sort of pretty, and it reminds me of “ave,” the Spanish word for “bird.”

Have you ever tried to change your name? Do you think your name sets the tone for how you see yourself as well as how the world sees you? Let me know in the comments.

June 22, 2011

Welcome to this blog

The last three days I have been rediscovering contemplative prayer. This is a practice I learned about several years ago, and I knew then it was going to be a lifelong passion for me. Lately I have been challenged to think about my real goals, and I realized that my real life-long goal is to BE. To be who I am, to discover myself and God through the inward gaze of my soul upon God.

I decided to start this blog to chronicle my contemplative prayer life. I want to do this to keep accountable to pursing this lifestyle, and I hope that things I discover along the way can be a help to others. I would love to engage in a community of people who are practicing similar types of meditation.

Since the subject of this blog is gazing upon God, you might be wondering what religion I am.

I used to be a Christian, but I don’t know if I am one anymore. Since I left institutionalized religion 2 1/2 years ago, I have been laying my beliefs on the table. I think faith and beliefs are separate. Beliefs are of the mind, but faith is of the spirit; it comes from being in contact with the divine in reality.

I don’t know if the beliefs I held as a Christian are true or not; nor do I know if beliefs of other religions are true. I’m not very interested in figuring all that out either. What I do want and what I set my intentions for in my life is going deep in experience of myself, God, and other people.

If you are a Christian reading this blog, I welcome you. I come from a Christian background with experience in many branches. What I have learned about contemplative prayer in the past has mostly been based on Catholic mystics such as Madame Guyon (who is also embraced by non-Catholic Christians), St. John of the Cross, and others. I hope this blog challenges you to go deeper in your experience and encounter of God.

I hope if you are not a Christian that you do not shy away from this blog. This blog is NOT about spreading any one religion. One belief I do hold to at this time is that God (whatever that word signifies) exists outside of religion. The divine being, whoever that may be, emanates with Love and touches the depth of any person who comes deep to Be. I do not think that God is the property of any religion or that you have to be a part of any religion to connect with God.

Also, whatever your beliefs are about God, you are welcome here. A close friend of mine believes that God is merely an energy, a divinity to which we can all attain but not a separate personality. Even though she uses different words and comes from a different background, I have realized that we both have encountered many similar things. Reality is reality, we have merely glimpsed it from different angles.

And if you just want to live deeply but don’t necessarily believe in God at all, I would love to have you here. I want to meet anyone who practices contemplative prayer-style practices, whether or not you think of what you find there differently than I might.

One challenge in writing will be to avoid the word “he” for God. Obviously, God is not a man and does not have gender. In my past, the use of “he” was automatic, but I think this has been part of my problem with religion in general. I hope this does not make my writing stilted, and I might eventually resort to “they,” but I will not use he/she since that implies gender. I am a proponent of the idea that we need a non-gendered singular personal pronoun in this language and that our writing suffers from not having one.

But isn’t that part of what we realize through contemplative prayer? I just did a web search for Contemplative Prayer Blog, and the post I found talks about how this is a prayer of silence. Words are simply not enough to express reality, so we can encounter a more real essence through silence than through language. In some of my English classes in college, we discussed some of the inherent problems of language. I suspect that that might be a subtheme of this blog.

One thing I want to avoid here is religious debate, especially if it seems to be motivated by the desire to convert others to one’s religion or beliefs. If it happens on my blog, I will delete it. I hope readers feel free to share personal beliefs as a part of sharing who they are and what they are learning, but I am not open to anything that seems to be in the spirit of debate. If you are not open to learning from other people’s experiences but simply want to spread your own view, this blog is not the place for you.

Everyone else, welcome.