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dévotion.

I met this weekend with a wonderful creature who drove from out of town for our gathering.

We’d connected briefly weeks ago, and something had sparked. So, nestling over tea and a perfectly whipped cappuccino, our conversation soared first, then spiraled, then finally came to rest on the topic of religion.

My visitor was a reverend, and I’d asked her what called her to ministry. The story she related, of moving with her family through church after church, looking for one that both honored the values they held dear without cleaving to archaic beliefs about, say, the position of women in service, had lead her first to a more distant denomination, and then, after that, to a school; it was this path that she followed ordination. Listening to her was heartbreaking–both to hear the experiences she’d undergone within the churches she’d first explored, and to recognize the way it mirrored a similar, if perhaps more broad, journeying in my own life. And so it was this that we ended up discussing, and it was this that led me to write.

I was raised with no religion. I was raised with no formal education, either, and thus, as a small part of a schooling that consisted almost wholly in books, was exposed to a feast of stories and texts, from the tales of the Greek and Roman and Norse gods and goddesses, to the nature-rich mythologies of Native America, to the panoply of wonderments from India and Africa and Asia. Amongst all these were included certain Christian and Judaic tales, but they were no more and no less revered than the magical beauty of the others. This was the extent of my exposure to any doctrine or church, and the result was a polite, if well-informed, agnosticism. Religion was lovely, I felt, and I was enchanted by the bigger questions, but it seemed optional, and not for me.

Aside from a passionate commitment to meditation through high school–a longer story, that–it wasn’t until college that things shifted. A professor of mine had assigned The Idea of the Holy in an elective introduction to religion, and (why is this still embarrassing to admit?) I remember, reading, late at night, and sobbing tears of recognition at this stilted Germanic articulation of the numinous.

I cried because it was so familiar; because so much of my wild and outside childhood had been characterized by a wide-eyed enchantment with a certain nameless Holy Other that moved through the world, that quivered in nature, that leapt up to surprise me with a poignant and painful awe at something so beautiful, so powerful, so wholly indifferent that all I could feel was awe, and wonder, and love. I cried because this was my secret, this was my love, and to see it written like this, described so perfectly, was both a relief beyond imagination, and humbling. This was what religion celebrated? This is what I was cherishing alone, when I could be, could be, with others?

Ai.

I eventually ended up taking a graduate degree in Transpersonal Psychology, a field with a nondenominational openness to spirituality, and in the process was exposed even further to different religious beliefs and different paths. I was still meditating. I was still highly, painfully sensitized to the sacred, and still embarrassingly prone to rapture. And I was still without a church, without a faith, without a home.

My companion looked expectant. And?

And that’s where I am today.

I told her I envied her, a little, her path toward ordination, and her home within a more enlightened Christianity. I told her I envied, in some ways, all those who were raised within a particular tradition, all those who had both ritual and lineage, who could share what I too-often experienced as an uncontainable and overwhelming reverence or awe. I told her I tried, for the most part, not to think of it.

So why not choose?

They are all so wonderful, and so rich, and so true; they are all so bloody and so broken; they are all so beautiful, and so terrible. I could not possibly. I could not possibly. I would feel as though I have no right to take up the burden and the blessings of one over another, and would not want to pick one at the exclusion of the rest. And so I’m in this pathetic position of limbo, unable or unwilling to choose, wholly dissatisfied with the banality of the growing ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’ crowd in this country, and wondering what to do next.

Ah.

We talked, then, more, of universals within religion (including the universal subjugation of women within the five prevailing), and what the future might bring, and ended no resolution save a hug and the promise to connect again soon. The whole conversation, though, made me wish I were more brave about the topic in general, and made me wonder what I was missing in being so shy, and so embarrassed about, this somewhat sorry struggle. And it made me think, too, about what I was denying others; I have read and heard countless stories of angst about being raised within a church, but few express the flailing of what it’s like for some of us to be left outside.

This story, obviously, is unfinished. This story remains that of an ungrateful areligious mystic, enchanted and humbled by the glorious and brutal panoply of choices, and aching to believe them all. This story, again, is unfinished, and I do not know what will happen, or where to go, next.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cara #

    Dear Siona,

    Don’t punish yourself too much over it the catholic’s & the bapist’s have already done that for you! Jk- but I , like you were not pushed into any religion like a lot of youth is today. I think this is good in many ways because they are curious about it when “they” are ready not drilled in just because reasons. But most religions say do this or that will happen which is fine to a degree to morally shape individuals. I have been prodestant, catholic (no communion tho) baptist (born again) and now I study buddism. My parents have never judged me either way (they are prodestant) never once did they make me go to church nor keep me away. I always felt like the outsider because all my friends went to mass this, lent, batmitsvahs. At 12 or 13 I realized after attending catholic churches for almost 6 years with a friend that I would no longer practice that was when the father said that only catholics would go to heaven and all else would go to hell I thought about my parents. My parents are wonderful people (even tho I didn’t think like that all the time) and my other best friend, well he’s jewish! I have always been a spiritual person since my days thinking I could live like Swiss family Robinson (outside clubhouse included) and feeling “connected”. Go to a church, synegogue, temple, tent or whatever and see what you feel. Being spiritual I believe more am open to more & love more. The only thing I don’t have is any where to go except inside my head and what others want me to share or my assistance offered to them. Why can’t we just recognize that their is a “God” out there and that this spiritual existance can only make our time on this earth better for all of us? Thank you for saying what I’ve felt a very long time.
    Namaste, Cara

    November 12, 2009
  2. Siona, I’ve been “inside” a denomination for a long time (maybe the same as your ordained friend) but feel so “outside” it, outside Christianity, outside any labels with any claims of exclusivity. And that’s OK. We have to find our rapture and awe wherever we can, and I’ve come to see that it is everywhere. For me, singing liturgical music that’s arisen from many many centuries of devotion is one point of access, and one way of connecting, but I cannot any longer “place” myself inside a label — so I understand your longing as well as your sense of being outside for good reasons. Come in once in a while, though, if you can find a receptive space, it won’t hurt. And read Paula, at Paula’s House of Toast. xxoo

    November 13, 2009
  3. All so interesting, and all seemingly in one way or another asking the same age old questions about religion, beliefs, individualism etc.
    “To know that you are One, transcends the need to DO anything, to BE anything. To have opinions or ideas, for are they not all solely of your own mind’s belief, mean for nothing, save those of Unity and Love. For what have you to do or be, if you are but One in Love?”
    You are the Light of the World.
    Graham (:O)

    December 25, 2009
  4. Siona,
    Your story about being without a home, a faith , a church so resonated with me. I was raised a baptist and loved the good feeling and singing but became disenchanted during the 60s as I began to understand the church’s role in slavery and oppression. I have always been a spiritual being and have longed for a community to share my spiritual journey and to celebrate and give thanks for the glory of life and the presence of Spirit. I found a church briefly that fulfilled my needs but it was driven by the leader and when the leader died the feel was not the same. I’m still hoping to find that place but until now it has not come with ease and flow. I’ve intended to attend my freind’s church, her husband is the pastor, but with each invitation something unforseen occurs.
    I don’t know if my spiritual journey will include a “home church.” I do know that to strenghten my connection with spirit, to co-create with god in harmony with the universe and oneness are my highest desires.

    January 11, 2010
  5. Graham said it best:
    For what have you to do or be, if you are but One in Love?”
    You are the Light of the World.
    Graham (:O)

    When we stop looking outside of ourselves for answers and begin the journey within – our answers are found. There is nothing another can teach you about your spiritual path – there is only your perception. One Life. The I AM within me is the same I AM within you. When we stop reaching “out there” for what was “in here” all along, our soul rejoices and welcomes you home. In that place of peace, we are free to partake in any service and gleam from it, that which rings with our soul. We are also free just to be and in that space, God’s space, we honor that from which we came from. For the light within you, it just that… The Light. In Peace, Rev. Rosanne (RevMomma)

    January 11, 2010
  6. Julia #

    Siona, remember wherever you are is just…PERFECT!

    bountious hugs

    January 27, 2010
  7. Dear Siona, DEAR Siona, You are so everywhere, love through you is SO abundant and inspiring… this post, like most things you write are a balm and an evocation. You remind me of nothing so much as a river. This sentence : “I was still highly, painfully sensitized to the sacred, and still embarrassingly prone to rapture” is a thrill of resonance for me.

    I cannot see the ungrateful in you, dear.

    “Aching to believe them all…”
    I believe you are transbelieving, incorporating, presencing, attending, digesting the essence of the religious traditions for the collective, and spinning beauty of it moment upon moment.

    I sense that some of us are called to make a home in a tradition and work that transforming magic from within… and some of us… we can’t possibly, we can’t possibly… some of us honor the macrocosm through the microcosm… some of us bear witness to the ineffable beauty of the particularities of the microcosms by marrying ourselves to the macrocosm… one way has no less dignity than the other.

    The romance in the narrative of becoming the bride of Christ, or any other act of pure devotion to a tradition — it catches my breath and moves me. Somehow I think that those of us who have not felt a call to align with a single tradition are in our way walking as true as we know how. I sense that there is a singular devotion in that.

    “Unwilling and unable to choose” I imagine that that is nothing more than the most authentic possible way for you, or the way of Now in any case.

    I love the lyricism of your thoughts and how alchemical is your way with words. Your words are a beauty dance. But, I fail to see the problem. Unless… do I understand you?… you are not here trying to map out a solution to a problem… you are here to bear witness to the ache of overwhelming love?

    Much love to you.

    January 30, 2010
  8. Stunning, very interesting issue. I will write about it as well!!

    February 3, 2010
  9. Thomas Giovannoni #

    Hi Siona,

    You had sent me an email, and then I decided to see your web page. I’m always in awe, of your ways. This was a heartfelt, passionate, and moving outpouring of your Love.

    I think, in my mind, my God created you perfectly. You are a reflection of his Love.
    Every Monday morning, you channel that love from the heavens. You are like the Sun, ” the light within you warms the earth. ”

    Tomas’

    February 13, 2010
  10. free4all7wonders #

    Dear Siona,

    Your Story was very touching and sometimes exactly if you would have talked about my life too, I was born greek orthodox but no church religion nothing, my mother hated god for some reason she never told, and my father he was Russian went to chruch but did not realy believe in all that just for communication……
    So as i said no religion at all. Lost in Space i could say now….
    Now I’m meditating twice a day praying to the Light and for shure do know there is HOPE.. ….it is in ourselfs we just need to lood deep in our haerts….Light Love and Peace to you and thanks for sharing this Christiane

    February 17, 2010
  11. Hey Siona,

    I sent an email to you via the ‘contact us’ tab at Gaia, in response to your msg today about shutting it down. Just trying to make sure I speak to you before you slip away into the ethers! …… couldn’t find a way to contact you directly at Gaia. If you have a moment, do get in touch to see if there are any symbiotic experiences to be had.

    Peace and Love ….. and thanks for the Gaia experience! :)

    simon

    March 12, 2010
  12. DiamondLil #

    Dearest Siona,

    Thanks so much for the link to this post. Although I was raised very much in a particular religious tradition, so much of what you said resonated that I felt all hummy inside (as Pooh would say). I just want to pull up a chair to this conversation you had with your lady pastor and bury myself in it!

    Though I know you two only in cyberspace, I’ve always thought you and your mom must both be mystics of the first order, though her mysticism I always imagine as the wordless kind — teepee firepits and dancing under the full moon and trekking through deserted mountain ranges — and yours is so beautifully articulated, carved out of those mountains with words and words and glorious words. Isn’t it fun the kind of lives you can imagine for people when you only know them through cyberspace? ; )

    Whenever I am resolved to start a blog of my own, I read something like this and think that there’s no need to add more drivel to the information super highway. Not when there is something like this I could read instead.

    DLil

    March 15, 2010
  13. Oi Siona,

    Your eloquent words emerge the poet in any of your readers, as shown in all the comments above. Some express beauty and harmony in building houses, others in art, dance, cooking. Your path seems the path of words, painting a new world within the limits of English language, expanding consciousness beyond verbal understanding into the realms of modern-day mysticism, facilitated by dry, heartless machines as computers and yet resonating in the souls of many as the purest crystal bowls.
    The fear of White Western man for the feminine is clearly expressed in religious dogmas. Don´t let it get to you. Men will never understand the sacredness of a women´s womb, will never give birth to life. Men become fathers way after the woman has turned to a mother. The secrets of creation are for the women to experience, for men to fantasise about. ” I am ” means I am beyond the impact of body, culture, language, religion etc… That´s where men and women can meet again and celebrate wholeness and holiness.
    That day is near, very near. You can hear it in the wispering of the pages on the Internet, in the silent colouring of people like you, walking their talk with grace and vulnerability. Yet strong, so strong…

    March 16, 2010

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