Alas, I think I am destined to struggle with my spirituality forever. Yet again, I thought I was finally on to something when I declared to my hubby with gusto that "I want to become a Quaker". For a week, I began sitting in waiting worship daily, which quickly started to help me gather my thoughts. I've attended the meeting that would be closest to where we hope to move twice now, and last Sunday I participated in a faith sharing meeting there, where I heard from multiple former Catholics about their journey, and I heard myself sharing that what brought me there was the testimony of integrity. In other words, I felt that continuing to call myself a Catholic when I do not subscribe to the creed or many of the Catholic teachings was being dishonest with myself. I've allowed strict Catholics to define for me what purpose that label has.
Today, while still interested in Quaker spirituality, I'm wanting to give Catholicism yet another try. I've realized through my daily waiting worship that I've been looking to outsource my spirituality instead of taking it on myself. I thought that by associating myself with the right group, their spirituality and values would just rub off on me. I have been avoiding doing the hard work myself.
It's occurred to me that even Mother Theresa went through years of questioning the existence of God, yet never ceased to call herself a Catholic. Likewise, she didn't stop receiving Communion because of her temporary lack of faith. I took note that the difference was that she wanted to believe, while I had made up my mind that I simply don't. But was this really true?
After reading some Deepak Chopra, I'm quite comfortable with the idea that God is not a superhuman divinity made in our image. God is beyond anything that language could describe him as. Instead, when we learn that we are made in God's image, that's to say that we are currently just having a human experience. When we die, we rejoin our Source, God, and thereby live forever. I don't know the details, and I'm comfortable without the details. I'm comforted knowing that death is not the end of existence, and that it will all make sense and be good.
With that said, I started to think about what it means to have a human experience. How plants are limited to experience God through physical means only - photosynthesis, roots drinking up water and nutrients, branches and leaves waving in the wind. Animals have a bit more ways in which they experience God. They are able to move around physically, yet they are limited by their instinct. They feel, they think, but they experience the current moment. They don't dwell on the past or future.
Humans, in addition, do have the virtual domain - we can think of alternate universes, experience God creatively, but unfortunately many of us let our ability dominate the simplicity with which God can be experienced. Religion generally attempts to put God in a framework that is readily understood, even at the cost of putting proverbial words into God's mouth. I've let my intellect convince me that the theology taught by my - or any - religion is "not true". But in this line of reasoning, I've completely missed the point.
I'm having a human experience in this lifetime. Religion is part of that experience. Saying I can't affiliate myself with a religion because I don't believe it's true is sort of like saying that I can't wear clothing because I don't think it's "true." Clothing is neither true or false. It's not meant to be factual. It's meant to keep us safe from the elements, perhaps to help us express our inner feelings, to help us feel as though we belong with a group by wearing a similar style... Some people have let clothing take on way more meaning than necessary. Some use it to make others feel left out, perhaps by wearing clothes others can't afford; others abuse clothing - or worse, others - by utilizing sweat shops or wasting natural resources for the sake of getting certain clothes. Clothing has taken on a life of its own, way beyond its useful purpose. I think the same is the case with religion.
People who waste time telling me whether or not I can call myself Catholic are missing the point. My relationship with God is what's "true". The religion with which I associate is merely a convenient, cultural convention. The religion is not God. My religious affiliation is not my relationship with God. My relationship with God can only be guided by the wisdom of others, based solely on their own personal relationship with God, thanks to time spent in prayer/silence/meditation. To give up my own direct link to God for the sake of taking on what others tell me has been their experience is to avoid a relationship with God altogether.
Why should I take someone else's word for what God is like, instead of going straight to the source? Why should I assume that what God asks of one person, He asks of everyone? I believe He has a different task for each of us, and no religion can teach us what that is. Only personal discernment can reveal it to us.
My religion is not about God but about me. Religion is a human experience. Animals and plants - and presumably every creation in the universe - experiences God in the manner in which they were created. There's no reason for me to get rid of religion altogether from my life. I should be able to reap the benefits of religion without losing myself in it. It's not the religion that is the source of my being. Religion is not God.
I've allowed people to make me feel as though I am disrespecting God by not agreeing with any one religion, or worse (they say), disagreeing but going about my worship time as if I did, disagreeing but continuing to affiliate myself with those who do. Well, I have news for you scrupulous nit-pickers! The church is not God, so stop treating it as if it is. Just like I shouldn't outsource my spirituality to a religion in order to experience God and listen to His leadings in my life, so too, I don't believe that God outsourced His desire to be personally in relationship with each one of us, regardless of the manner in which we turn to Him.
Evangelical Christians would agree with me about the personal relationship with God, but instead of church hierarchy, they have their interpretation of the Bible that nonetheless serves as a go-between. I strongly disagree that only Christians have a relationship with God. Frankly, I think many if not most who self-identify as Christian actually do not have any kind of relationship with God. I'm referring to a very intimate surrender of one's being - unhindered by cultural assumptions or what we've read in the Bible or other scripture - and simply allowing God to show Himself to us directly. For some of us, this will indeed be in the words of scripture. For some, it will indeed be inside the walls of a church. But for others, it will be in the relaxed gazing out at the stars, or surrounded by the laughter of a child, or in feeling the sunshine or rain on our skin. (I think this last one - feeling the rain on her skin - is one way my 18 month old daughter experiences God the best.)
So where does that put me on the religious spectrum? While I don't believe in most Catholic theology and a few of the church's social teachings, that's not the point. The point is, Catholic spirituality is full of opportunities to experience God, to draw closer to His will for my life. My job is not to please fellow Catholics. I'm tired of trying to respect everyone but myself when it comes to my spirituality. God wants me to turn to Him, and I can't do that if I'm distracted with technicalities about other people's interpretations of God's nature. I value Quaker testimonies and silent worship a lot, but I've realized that I can find these within Catholicism as well. Perhaps I have to dig a little deeper, but they're all there. Among the candles, incense, and stained glass.