My husband Alex knows me too well. I used to fight him whenever he met any of my crazy ideas with the understanding that it was "just a phase". I'm finally starting to see the wisdom of that approach. Indeed, I go through a lot of phases!
So as far as my spiritual journey is concerned, I'm not converting, not to Judaism and not to Quakerism. Although I truly resonate well with the typical testimonies of the Quakers, I had to take a good hard look at my life and consider - am I practicing silent waiting worship at home at least? Because I may very well agree with everything a religion stands for, but what of it if I'm not practicing it? I've already got that with my current cultural Catholic conundrum.
Instead of trying to label the ideal to which I've been aspiring spiritually, I decided to consider the current state of my heart, mind, and soul. And I'm happy to report that I am finally in a place where I feel comfortable calling myself.... a Deist.
I considered this label some months ago, but I was still hung up on the issue of an afterlife and the idea that God is personal rather than transcendent. That's why I tried on "Theist" instead, but that didn't really lead to anywhere but more confusion.
Alas, I have arrived. I'm a Deist. I look around our great big world, and I see the work of an intelligent designer. That much I'm certain of. I do not know the details of what this intelligent designer is like, but clearly it's a God far beyond anything I am. I cannot turn liquid into solid or gas. I cannot cause the seasons to come and go on a cyclical timing. I cannot create a seemingly endless variety of living creatures who manifest their defense mechanisms (just to name one example) in a multitude of different ways. No, I am not God, and so God is not "just like me".
Instead, I think there is that of God (to borrow from the Quaker tradition) in each of us. I'd take it a step further by saying that this "suchness" is not even limited only to human beings. I share with other animals and plant life, and frankly with inanimate life something that unites us all to our source, and hence makes us all equal in one regard. We are all created "in God's image", as Christians like to say. But that's because it goes without saying that any given creation maintains something of its creator, whether in its design, its usefulness, its physical appearance, its personality, or a slew of other criteria. Unlike the Christian understanding, though, I do not think there is anything we can do to lose that mark of our creator on our being, and so there's nothing we need to do to gain it. No baptism, no rite of initiation is needed to welcome us into the family of God. There isn't a place on the time-space continuum where we are apart from God, so how can we say we need to try to gain access?
Lately, I've been returning to a Zen cartoon I first read as a teenager that expresses perfectly how I feel about who I am on the spiritual plane. The cartoon shows a little wave with a face drawn on, lamenting to a larger wave, also with a face, about how its so small compared to some of the other waves. The big wave responds that the little wave simply hasn't realized who it truly is. It's mistakenly associated itself with its temporary form as that wave, when in reality, as soon as it crashes against the shore, it'll be "gone". But it's the current form of that wave that disappears, not that "suchness" that is inherent to all waves. Rather, the little wave - like all waves - is actually water, a part of the ocean, and when it crashes against the shore, it simply continues on as the big vast ocean, until it manifests as another wave.
So too I imagine each living thing that is currently contained in a physical body. That which makes me "me" is not my physical body. When I look at baby photos of myself and then look in the mirror, I see two totally different bodies. How can both be one and the same "me"? No, "I" am something that is inside both those bodies, something that doesn't change even as the body does. And if that "I" is not tied to the body, then neither does death sever it from continued existence.
Suffice it to say that I have arrived at a place on my spiritual journey where I do not need to have all the answers. I know God exists, though I don't know the details of what "He" is like. I know "He" created me along with everything else, and that means "He" willed me into being, which means I am here with a purpose; I am loved. I also know that whatever I truly am is not limited to the time I'm living in or the body which I occupy. As such, I believe in eternal life, life after death, an afterlife. However, I don't know the details of what that will be like. Perhaps my consciousness will blend in with the consciousness of all the others who are on the other side, and just like Jesus said, there will be no more Gentiles or Jews, women or men, freedmen or slaves, but we will all be One.
To use another Christian metaphor, right now I am associating myself with - oh, for the sake of argument, let's say "God's left pinkie finger". So, while I'm in my current body, I think this body and I are one. I am this body. But really, my body is only one of God's pinkie fingers. It's not the whole essence of me or God. And when I die, I'll realize this; I'll understand my place in the "body of God". I'm ok knowing that while I don't know how that will affect how I feel about who I am, it will be fine once I get there. I won't "miss" the way I am now. I won't feel deprived of whatever I treasure in this worldly life. I'll be hand in hand with my creator, one with "Him" in every way, blissful.
I think everyone says they want to be happy, but they are quick to put limitations on that happiness. We are quick to say that we can only be happy if.... if we're in a physical body, or if we are able to utilize all of our senses, or if we can stay in the company of our loved ones, or if we can do supernatural things that we currently only dream of. I'm content knowing that one way or another, when I die, I will be at peace and blissful. I'll be happy. Why waste the time I'm given on this plane of existence trying to figure out what that happiness will look like? It won't change the fact that I shall return to my Maker, and it won't change the amount of time I have here to enjoy what I have in my current life.
Do I believe in reincarnation? Will I get to see my deceased loved ones again? These are questions about the details of the afterlife, questions that I don't know the answers to and that's OK. I don't understand how television or radio signals work, but I'm happy to make use of them and enjoy them and just be glad that someone understands them and has been able to make them available to me. Why do I think I have to figure everything out? I don't. I'm not God. Only God knows everything. That's the way the design works.
I think that's where the story of Adam and Eve comes from - that we are perfectly blissful in God's presence until the moment we decide we want to understand something that God didn't intend for us to understand. Ever since "our first parents" fell from grace by becoming discontent with paradise, humanity has continued to carry this "original sin" (!), which is merely a lack of being content with what you've been given.
The truth is, that I am actually quite content with my newly embraced label of Deist. I believe in God. I believe in eternal life. I believe in these things because I see evidence for them in the natural world. Now, they're not literal or personified concepts, like the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition affirms, but I'm ok with abstract thought.
In the end, I think fear of death is the reason people seek out and cling to religion. And fear of death comes from a lack of awareness of our true nature. We are too attached to our physical bodies to go beyond the ego and let go of our fears and the accompanying baggage that muddies what ought to be a life filled with joy and peace.
I do not fear death. I say this in the same way that I said (and proved it to be true) that I didn't fear giving birth to my daughter Maya. There were naysayers along the way when I'd say I planned a natural homebirth. They'd try to project their own fears and ignorance onto me. But in the end, even though my childbirth wasn't exactly like I imagined it, the one thing that never crossed my mind during the entire labor and delivery was fear. Not once did I feel afraid. I was in the zone, I was enduring contractions and "the ring of fire" during pushing, but I did not fear. I was too busy, too in the moment, to entertain the useless thoughts of fear. In the same way, I do not fear death. I have peace about it.
Now, that's not to say that I don't hope for a very long life, surrounded by my loved ones; I do. I just don't buy into the scare tactics of certain religions that would have me believe that unless I join them, I will be sorry.
Perhaps this, too is a phase. Maybe I'll find some new loophole at some point in the future and get back on my rollercoaster seeking "the perfect religion". I truly hope not. I hope I've finally arrived home. There are still aspects of my spiritual life that need to be addressed - how to incorporate my Deist beliefs into parenting my daughter, or how to get the most out of our family attendance at a Catholic church. But I'm happy to be where I find myself now. I'm a Deist, and I attend a Catholic church with my family. I'll save the details for another day.
For now, I've found a religious identity that jives perfectly with my overall minimalist aspirations.