Archive for ‘Religion’

October 25, 2011

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil and why I choose not to believe

I recently wrote a blog post about some of my confusion about what to believe. Reading a comment to one of my posts, I began to think again about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Back when I believed whole-heartedly in the bible, I had a whole theory about this tree in the Garden of Eden. Now I’m not so sure whether this story from the beginning of Genesis is actual history or simply a tale, but I still find the imagery to be helpful.

The story goes that the first man and woman, Adam & Eve, were put in a perfect garden with only one possible sin they could do–eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of course, satan shows up as a serpent and deceives Eve into eating the fruit; then she gives it to her husband, and he eats too. They’re both kicked out of the garden for good, and now the rest of the human race must suffer with the effects of allowing sin into the world. Whether or not that story actually happened really does not matter if one looks at it as a parable.

What were the tellers/writers of this story trying to show us about spirituality and human nature? I believe that the point is, it is better not to know. If you try to know and understand everything about what is good and what is evil–in short, about religion–you end up kicked out of the garden, out of the place of intimacy with God.

When I look at religion as a whole, I see people eating every day of that fruit–always trying to know and understand, to have the “right” beliefs, to have the “truth.” What’s funny is that Jesus once said “I am the truth,” in essence saying that truth is not a set of beliefs but a spiritual being you can have a relationship with.

So even though sometimes I am freaked out that I don’t know what to believe any more, when I think of this story, my heart fills with peace. I don’t believe much in particular, but I do open my heart to relationship.  I do believe in God, but I don’t believe too many specifics about God or all the other peripherals religion adds on. And I would rather say I don’t believe for the sake of being real, than to pretend that I have all the answers.

The thing pounding on my head is that if I don’t have the right beliefs, not only do I risk the eternal punishment of hell, but I risk helping other people end up there by not witnessing. So I jeopardize my own salvation and that of every person I come in contact with. But I think this first story from the bible can help with that problem. According to the bible, trying to gain knowledge of good and evil is a sin. So I feel justified in choosing not to know and not to do anything about it for anyone else. Instead of spouting a bunch of beliefs at anyone who comes near me, I choose to be myself, regardless of the consequences.

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October 22, 2011

Beliefs that stop intimacy

This morning I was listening, and I heard, you do not need to wear the label “Christian” to know me, and I breathed a sigh of relief, because I am so confused about what to believe, but I also heard that I don’t really have to believe anything to be with God. And I remembered an old Jason Upton sermon where he said “Be is the beginning of belief.” I have focused and worried so much about what I do and don’t believe, but in reality, I don’t think it really matters. It is far more important to be with God than to have a mental picture figured out about it all. And I’m so shocked at myself because of how many beliefs I have let fade away, even the ones I held to the strongest.

Yesterday I was listening to a Darin Hufford podcast about heaven, and he and his friend sounded so positive about heaven. I think I started letting go of my belief in heaven about the same time as my belief in hell. I do have a hope of eventually being one with God, and I hope for things to get better on earth, but I really do not have any idea what heaven might be like. In fact, I am probably more scared about going to hell since I have let go of the label Christian. But actually, that label feels like such a chain on my soul, and I just cannot hold onto it any longer. I think it is because if I wear that label, I feel that I have to convince other people that that is the truth. I cannot be free to just be who I am with others. And I and many other people are so turned off by people who have no interest in relationship other than to convert, that I just cannot be that person anymore.

I finally have a friend who does not believe in God at all. I could never have done that in my Christianese days. I could not have actually been real with her or held a deep friendship because I would have had to convince her to accept all my beliefs to save her soul. But isn’t it odd to believe that what a person does or does not mentally assent to will damn them to hell for eternity or allow them to live uttur bliss for that same eternity? It is so weird, because there are so many things that can cause or help us to believe or not believe something. I think my friend does not believe in God because she has no awareness of God and no experience of God. The Christian way is to take a person like this and scare them about hell and convince them about the Bible until the person “accepts” Christ, even if she still has no experience of God. I think that’s criminal. I think Christianity claims to be about introducing people to God, but for the most part, it is about introducing people to religion. And while I had a lot of experiences with God when I was practicing that religion, these have become very confused in my head and often intermingled with all the religious b.s., so that I can’t really hold onto any of it anymore.

Of course, the last several years of being in Christianity, I was deeply distrustful of religion. Groups I joined felt the same. And even though there was a vast difference between these churches and more religious ones I attended as a child, there was still a lack of intimacy there that went so deep I could not stand it.

In fact, I think lack of intimacy is what has driven me away from Christianity. The belief that your way is right and people who don’t believe it are going to hell forces you to hold back part of yourself from others. My own mother flat out told me that she cannot have real fellowship with me because I don’t believe the way she does. There is always necessarily an undercurrent of her wanting to convert me. As long as she wants to convert me, she cannot know me for who I am. She cannot accept me as I am because she wants to change me. No matter how close we may seem in one moment, in another her religiousness pops back up and she proves once again that she does not know me as she tries to lecture me and change me and I must put up walls once again.

But what about the new age ideas about God being this spirit that flows through all humans? It feels like a river that we can tap into at any time. I have a hope that this spirit that was in Jesus who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me” is really this spirit of God that flows through all people. It is the divine consciousness or whatever-you-want-to-call-it that anyone can tap into through meditation. It is this spirit of God that brings people to God, whether or not you put some religious name on it.

In fact, I really think that all this naming and labeling of things is really a human invention. It keeps us from God and from the God inside each other, because every label serves to divide us and put us into little boxes that we cannot get out of.

Perhaps all that crying out to God I did in my early 20’s has led to my heart no longer being able to stand all the devision that keeps me from being one with God and especially from being one with other people. Though I never expected my prayers to lead me out of Christianity, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the very thing that did it.

I also think that religion does not foster intimacy simply because religious activities do not naturally lead to intimacy with others. That is not their purpose, and it is a rare thing when it happens, and one must go outside of the religious activities to find it.

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.

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.