I tend not to talk or write about what I'm going to post for fear of "rocking the boat" with those people I know. I also believe that spirituality and religion are very personal, and just like sex and politics its sometimes better to keep ones opinions to oneself. But, today I took a step forward in my spiritual growth and future and I feel that I need to "come out" with what I believe and have no shame in it.
We should be able to believe what we do, have it out there and not fear being judged.
I'll start out with how I started the journey, and for that I need to go way back to mom. As most Puerto Ricans, my mom was born and raised Catholic and as any good Catholic when I was born she baptized me in the Catholic church with a Godfather and a Godmother. My Godfather is my eldest (full blooded) uncle and my Godmother was chosen by my dad and I only met her once in my life -- at my baptism. Technically I was supposed to have been raised Catholic, right?
We moved to the Bronx, NY when I was three. My mom at the time didn't go to any church. I don't know the details of how things went, but eventually she reunited with her older half-brother, who attended an Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brooklyn. I know that mom was having major problems with dad and his drinking so my assumption is that this was a way for her to find a spiritual family in a very difficult time of her life.
Eventually we moved to Brooklyn. I'm sure that the affiliation with the church helped. We moved about five blocks down the street from the church to Park Slope, border of Sunset Park. This was the place where I grew up and learned about God, community and church. It was a Spanish speaking church with many immigrant families. I learned how to read Spanish by reading the Bible and maintained my language by being a part of the church and participating in activities.
Over time this became our second family. It was a very large congregation and it was our life. Everyone we knew and interacted with outside of school or work were the members of the church. A good part of who I am today is because of this upbringing, which I'm thankful for.
But, even at a young age, I began to question. I saw how people would say one thing but do another -- condemning rich people but scheming ways to make more money. Also, how can people condemn others for believing just as fiercely in their own beliefs as they did in theirs just because they believed in something different?
My biggest moment was after I was told about the need to accept Jesus Christ as your saviour in order to not be condemned to an eternity in hell. I started thinking, well what about those people that were never told about Jesus but lived a life full of goodness (in my young mind I thought of native tribes in the Amazon)? How could a God be so cruel to condemn people that are as innocent as children? And what about the inverse, someone who spent their life full of doing evil deeds and selfish behavior and maybe even murder. Then, in the last minute of their life, just because they accept Jesus the slate is clean? So, you're telling me that someone like Hitler, had he accepted Jesus in the last few minutes of his life would have been saved? It just didn't make sense to me, and the dogmatic ideas I was surrounded by never satisfied those and many, many other questions. There were too manythings I couldn't wrap my thoughts around.
Being the good kid that I was, I went with the flow and when we went to the Pentecostal Church I went with it too. I had no choice. It got to a point I felt like I was being brainwashed and I also began to question the Pentecostal Church's chauvinistic perspective. I couldn't understand how a strong willed woman like my mom was submitting to such beliefs. Here, all my life she'd been telling me that I could be and do whatever I wanted but now we were attending a church that said that a woman must submit to a man. My 14 year old feminist self just couldn't handle it.
I don't know where it would have gone from there. My mom passed away when I was 14 and I moved to Puerto Rico. I was ANGRY at God. First for taking my mom away and then for having to move to PR and leave everything I had ever known behind. From that point in my life I decided that religion was not for me. I knew in my heart there was something else, but what it was could not be defined in a religion.
These feelings were affirmed even more so later when two people at two different points in my life did very un-christ like things. Both are people that were among the closest people in my life at two different points. These were people that were supposed to be a part of my upbringing (and supposedly loved me) and touted themselves as devout Christians. To me, if that's what Christian was, I wanted no part of it*
I went on in life with a belief that yes, there's something out there, but no, I will not pretend to have the answer. The main reason I couldn't shrug off God or Spiritual existence completely was an experience I had in High School (no not the ever famous Ouija Board experience that's legend in our town now), but something that happened my senior year right after I found out my brother had been in a terrible car accident in Saudi Arabia -- he was in the Marines.
A Marine Captain and Sargent came over to our house (I was living with my Uncle and Aunt) in the middle of the night. They came escorted by town police since back then where my family lives really wasn't on a map and there was no such thing as GPS. They told me that my brother was in a head on collision with another car in Saudi Arabia, and that was all they knew since we were at war (Desert Storm), and information was slow to get. My heart dropped. My brother was all I had for family. God could not be so cruel to take him away as well. They told me that they'd keep us informed and that as soon as they knew anything they'd pass it on.
I thought of my brother half a world away, hurt and unconscious. I went to bed and wondered how I'd sleep. Then a peace came over me. It was a warm feeling that started in my chest and then spread all over. There were no words but I could sense that I was being told, "he will be OK, trust me." And I did. It was almost like it was my mom's embrace and telling me she knew he'd be OK. I've had other moments in my life like this, though not as intense as that one.
All that week, everyone was worried and giving me looks of pity (much like they did when my mom passed -- how I hated those looks!), but I knew he would be OK and I told everyone that he was fine.
I've spent my life wandering and wondering. Knowing that I was never going to return to a church. Sorry, can't do it. I read books on Pagan religions and Wicca, not quite me. Then Buddhism which came pretty close to what I believed in but that was just reading and literature. I still needed that spiritual connection and now with having Wil, looking for a place where he can have that sense of community and belonging that I had as a child. There just didn't seem to be anything. We're members of a Jeep club and though some members would say its a spiritual experience for them and there's a definite sense of community, that's not quite what I'm looking for.
Then last fall through a posting on a baby board that I'm a part of someone mentioned Unitarian Universalists. When I don't know what something is and it gets my interest I quickly go on-line. I came across their web site: http://www.uua.org/ I also looked them up on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unitarian_Universalism and after that picked up a recommend book A Chosen Faith. Here it was, a group of people that believed what I believed and had a committed group of people within the community to build fellowship, education and community service.
I was even more excited to find out there is a fellowship 5 minutes from our house in Plainfield. I visited last October and took Wil -- he wasn't quite ready for it. I waited and waited to go back. Life seems to always get in the way (vacations and errands). I finally went back today on my own. After the very enlightening service they had a "New Member Orientation". They only have these 3 times a year. My timing was perfect -- or maybe things were aligned just right. I sat at the session which was almost 3 hours long but felt like 15 minutes and got to know an amazing group of people and hear their stories which were very similar to mine (and some very different).
I joined today and have committed myself to take this next step in my life to further my spiritual journey alongside my son (and hopefully hubby).
I share this in the hope that if anyone is like me-- still on their spiritual journey and not knowing their truth yet -- its OK to continue the search. Its OK to admit that we don't have the answers and we don't know. The journey can be amazing if we keep our minds open.
*Part of today's service made me realize I need to work through this. The Rev. read the book "Zen Shorts" and there was a story about two monks which needed to cross a river. The story was adapted for the children's book from an actual Buddhist story. This is the actual story:
Two Buddhist Monks were on a journey, one was a senior monk, the other a junior monk. During their journey they approached a raging river and on the river bank stood a young lady. She was clearly concerned about how she would get to the other side of the river without drowning.
The junior monk walked straight past her without giving it a thought and he crossed the river. The senior monk picked up the woman and carried her across the river. He placed her down, they parted ways with woman and on they went with the journey.
As the journey went on, the senior monk could see some concern on the junior monk's mind, he asked what was wrong. The junior monk replied, "how could you carry her like that? You know we can't touch women, it's against our way of life". The senior monk answered, "I left the woman at the rivers edge a long way back, why are you still carrying her?"