Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Spiritually Independent

In my previous post, I discussed how I came to the conclusion of my nationality, and how I struggled for a time to find the correct label for that aspect of my identity.  Recently, I've been struggling with a similar dilemma over my religious convictions.

I was raised in the Catholic church, albeit not by particularly religious parents.  Ever since adolescence, I've researched the religions of the world because I found it fascinating how each seemed to highlight some different spiritual truth.  Convinced by the mainstream Christian culture in which I live that there is such a thing as religious Truth (capital "T"), I set off to decide which of the faiths was The One, so that I could associate myself with it.  (I discuss my journey elsewhere on this blog.)

Frustration led me to return to my Catholic roots. As I recall telling a good friend of mine, "No church is perfect because they are all run by imperfect human beings.  Therefore, I might as well stay with the church that I am most familiar with." And so I became a "revert" to Catholicism.  I became very gung-ho about the faith for a period of about 2 years.  I was going through a lot of personal challenges during that time, mainly our infertility-based childlessness, and I found refuge in becoming involved in a wonderful Catholic church with Alex.  It was at this church that I felt for the first time as a part of a religious community.  It made sense for me to be Catholic, and I drew strength in upholding the sometimes difficult Catholic convictions that go against the mainstream culture.

Then two things happened.  First, I became painfully aware that I couldn't please everyone within Catholicism. In spite of being convinced of the fact that God was leading us to pursue embryo adoption to build our family, and that in fact there was no official church teaching on the subject, I found myself being judged and berated by people who were supposed to extend a sympathetic hand in the way of Jesus. My conscience was perfectly clear on this subject, and I became quite a bit disturbed that no matter what, there would be some Catholics who would consider me a "bad Catholic" for following the leading in my heart.

The second step to my  (second) disillusionment with Catholicism came when we moved out of state when Maya was a couple of months old.  We were suddenly isolated from not only our family and friends and neighbors and everything I was familiar with, but also our beloved faith community.  No church we visited in our new area lived up to the old church.  I quickly fell into a spiritual dry spell, and began to question nearly every aspect of my supposed faith once again.

This dry spell lasted for about six months, and I have recently began to find my way out of it, by the grace of God.  Again, I am finding myself struggling with the correct terminology, because I want to correctly label where I fall on the religious identity spectrum.

I'm not quite a lapsed Catholic, as this implies a falling away from faith in general.  I'm just as spiritually-minded as ever; I merely don't think I can find the best route to God within the Catholic church anymore.

I used to consider myself a cafeteria Catholic, in spite of the negative connotations of that, because I did indeed pick and choose what I thought was relevant teaching.  But after my reversion experience, I knew that it wasn't going to be enough for me to just stay Catholic in name only, and have no particular boundaries within which to operate morally or ethically.

Besides, I see both of these terms as implying either an agnostic/atheist world-view on one hand, or a more general Christian world-view on the other.  Neither of these applies to me.

Probably the best term for me right now is a cultural Catholic, or better yet, a heritage Catholic.  My Polish heritage brings with it Catholic sensibilities.  I have over 30 years of "being in the Catholic church" that has shaped my religious identity.  I can't just shake it off and start from scratch.  It matters that I'm coming from a Catholic background. 

Which brings me to my current quest.  In the past, during my church-hopping days, I thought I found THE religion that truly spoke to my spiritual condition.  They didn't purport to know THE truth, but they definitely seemed to know how one would go about finding truth unique to each individual and situation.  (I am talking here about the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers.) However, at the time, it was very important for me that Alex and I worship together.  And since silent waiting worship inevitably led to not so silent snoring on his part, I decided to continue attending a Catholic church with him for the sake of family unity.

Now that we have a daughter, family unity is even more important to me. I toyed with the idea of slowly transitioning to identifying as an aspiring Quaker, even if this was to supplement our family's official Catholic  identity.  However, as I read up more on not just the ideals of Quakerism, but also the more mundane issues of day to day community life as expressed by Quaker bloggers, I was disillusioned once again.  In spite of the fact that Quaker spirituality is music to my ears, it does not exist in a vacuum.

I thought I wanted the sense of community that would give me the belonging I felt I needed. But if I'm being perfectly honest with myself, is a community really what I'm looking for?  I'm an introvert, a melancholic, not a people's person.  I am seeking God, not other people who are also seeking God.

I joined a group of local Quakers for waiting worship a couple of times recently. What I found was indeed eye-opening.  First, I was surrounded by predominantly older Caucasians.  (I have had the same experience at three other Quaker meetinghouses over the years.) So any thoughts of integrating my daughter into this community got shot down before they even had a chance to arise.  It's important for me that Maya be regularly exposed to people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds.  Second, the lack of air conditioning at the last meeting forced me to finish my waiting worship outside, on a quiet bench under a beautiful tree, facing the brick exterior of the meeting house.  And you know what?  That's when I realized that what I felt missing in my spiritual walk with God has been accessible to me all along.  No community needed, no need to change church membership.

Yet I still desired an identifying label, simply because it's easier for me to go forward knowing what exactly is motivating my spirituality and ethics.  And that's when I came across the term "spiritually independent", coined by Rabbi Rami Shapiro to describe others like me (I'm not alone!) who simply don't find fulfillment being fenced in by a single religious tradition.

I'm not sure why I didn't think of this myself, since I already identify myself as politically independent (even at the cost of not being able to vote in primary elections).  It makes perfect sense.  As to what exactly being spiritually independent means to me, I shall delve into that in a future post.  For now, I'm just glad to have a label that doesn't carry with it undesirable baggage.

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