Thursday, August 20, 2015

Guess Who's Back?

Back again.  Guess who's back, guess who's back, guess who's back.... na na na na.... Ok, I couldn't resist quoting an Eminem song, but that's what came to mind when I thought about what to title today's post.

I'm just glad that this blog is subtitled "musings and observations of the spiritual seeker kind", which implies that I am on an ever-changing spiritual journey and the goal of this blog is not to arrive at any specific destination.  That's my disclaimer, because I feel sort of annoyed myself about my back and forth to and fro with various faith traditions and interpretations.  But without further ado...

I went to an overnight women's retreat as a last ditch effort to see if there was anything salvageable in Catholicism for me.  Alas, there is!  While I was very aware of how much I differed in my theology and certain social justice issues with the more outspoken Catholics there, I realized that our worldview wasn't all that different.  Or at least, that I liked the Catholic worldview and missed being a part of it.  I think the turning point for me was when I decided that I wanted to believe.  I didn't believe, but I wanted to.  And a verse came to mind, "I believe, Lord, help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). As I listened to the talks with an open mind and heart, I was moved to apply this verse to my life in the form of a prayer.

My deist view of God told me nothing past the creation.  And I realized that I might as well be an atheist with a god like that.  No, I needed my God to care about me, and I started to remember times in my life where I felt His care personally.  I also was able to apply some of the different understandings of god I've learned from eastern traditions, which helped to remind me that God is beyond human understanding, and I'm not dealing with a literal explanation of who God is.  Rather, I'm dealing with one way of making sense of something that can never be fully grasped.  This gave me permission to look at religion in a new light.

Religion is not contrary to science - at least that's not how I wish to utilize it.  Religion is supplemental to science.  Deism had science, and I was left feeling disappointed.  I'm glad it works for others, but it didn't work for me.  That's the other thing, I'm holding fast to my relativist view that there are many ways to God and Truth, and my desire to be religious again, to be Catholic again, is not because I believe it is the one and only way.  It's just the one and only way that seems to resonate with my heart.

I now see trinitarianism as an attempt to bridge the gap between strict monotheism and pantheism.  On one hand, we have a god who is a cross between a genie and Santa Clause, separate from all that exists, which right away feels inaccurate to me.  This is the first time that I'm questioning my own desire for God to be singular, because that would be simple.  I used to believe Jews and Muslims had it right precisely because their idea of God didn't muddle the water.  But alas!  God is NOT simple!  God is far more complex than we can ever begin to imagine!  My wanting God to be a certain way doesn't make it so!

On the other hand, pantheism is essentially worship of nature.  I certainly appreciate the sentiments of the eco movement and finding God's fingerprints in nature, but to say that nature IS God?  This also doesn't feel correct to me, because we know existence has a source, something sort of outside of itself.

I think this is what trinitarianism tries to accomplish.  On one hand, God is our source, the giver of our life and the moral code by which we are to live in order to be happy.  On the other hand, God and all of His creation, us included, are not completely separate.  I imagine it's like a pregnant woman.  The child in her womb is certainly its own being, and after birth, will grow and develop and learn and separate from mom.... but during pregnancy, mother and child are essentially one-yet-not-one.  She came first, but now where she goes, the child goes too.  She nourishes the child, and the child does nothing on his own apart from her.  My God, why don't more people refer to God as a Mother!  This analogy makes so much sense.  We are God's children, and we live in a perpetual pregnancy of sorts - separate yet nonetheless united to our Mother-God.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is likewise another analogy.  What it tries to convey about who we are and who God is - that we are created by Him yet remain a part of Him - that is the point.  Do I really want to spend the rest of my life refusing to benefit from the wisdom of the truth that this analogy wants to communicate to me because I am stuck on the literal interpretation?

I haven't exactly figured out yet how to make my way back to feeling Catholic without the literalness weighing me down, but my confessor at the retreat was so kind, so understanding, and stated that I should receive Holy Communion "as a sign of hope and a promise".  I told him what I did and didn't believe in, and this was his advice to me.  I have taken it, and this past Sunday I received the Eucharist for the first time in several months (I haven't been counting.).

I'm looking forward to participating in various groups at the church and studying and praying.... because at the end of the day, there is no award for having figured out the truth.  There's only the reward of having lived a fulfilling and joyful life, which for me, must include the spiritual and religious aspect.

So, guess who's back?  Me.  I'm Catholic once again.  A revert for the second time, though this time taking a slow and measured approach.  A revert nonetheless.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Deepening My Spirituality (Instead of Trying to Define It)

I received a request for prayer from a friend yesterday.  I waited until today to respond.  The reason? My immediate reaction was, "should I tell him I'm a Deist, and thus no longer pray the way he would expect from a fellow Catholic?'  But today I was moved to respond, "I'm holding [your request] in the light," the way Quakers lift up prayer requests.  It felt right to respond in this way.  If he comes back asking for why I used such terminology, I can get into the details then.  If he says it sounds like I'm Quaker, I'll say "thanks."

I will be attending an overnight Catholic women's retreat soon.  I love retreats, although generally I opt for silent Ignatian retreats, which allow plenty of alone time and time in nature.  Not sure this will compare.  I'm concerned that I will face my "former Catholicism" head on during this retreat.  I already know I will not be participating in their sacrament of reconciliation, and I'll be leaving to come home before their ending Mass begins.  I hope I won't have to share much and can just listen for nuggets of God's speaking to me through others, and then reflect alone as much as possible.  If asked, I can honestly say that I attend such-and-such Catholic church, because I do.  Though it does not mean I am Catholic anymore.

I think one of the most difficult things about this transition is being critically aware of the wording associated with holidays, spirituality, and God.  I can no longer just mouth what I'm used to mouthing if it holds no truth to me.  And I need to give myself time to come into my own as a Deist (does deist need to be capitalized?!) so that as my daughter grows, I'll be better prepared to navigate her "religious upbringing" with my husband.

The more I think about being a Deist, the more I wonder why I hadn't embraced the term much sooner, as soon as I learned about it.  I think I know.  It had a lot to do with my need for external validation.  But I live in such a pluralistic society that I see now that no matter what one person may validate for me, someone else may very well counter.  In other words, I can't please everyone.  Nor is that my job.

I hope that as a Deist, I'll be able to go back to celebrating Christmas and Easter without worrying about the Christian overtones... I was really on the fence this past year with both holidays, as I didn't know how to find meaning in them.  I think I may revisit some Pagan practices, actually.  I spent two years as a Pagan - one actively practicing and the second just sort of waiting for the next phase in my spiritual development.  During that time, I came to appreciate nature more, and it was one of the things that attracted me to the religion.  That and the feminine divine, but now I see God as a transcendent being, non-person, gender-less, so I don't need a reactionary Deity to counter my patriarchal upbringing's Father God.

The more I think about what it means to me to be a Deist, the more I think, "it's just so simple.  So uncomplicated.  So pure and minimalist."  I'm looking outside my window and catch a glimpse of leaves swaying in the breeze, and I realize that I'm having a "spiritual moment".  Here's my religion. I just attended a brief religious service, having merely glanced outside.  I look beyond the trees and sit still enough to notice the barely moving clouds in the bright blue sky, and I think, "there's God." And I see the sunshine on my windowsill, and think, "here, too."  :)

I love to read.  I recently realized that reading "counts" as a hobby (!).  And what does Deism encourage?  Reading, study, learning.  That is one of the main ways to get to know God.  (The other is observing nature.)  I'm glad I'm done looking, and can now spend my time on deepening my spirituality instead of on trying to define it.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Us and Them Implied in Religious Affiliation

I've been giving some more thought to the idea of officially becoming a Quaker, and I think I am right to resist.  While I certainly feel at home with Quaker theology, terminology, practice, and social teaching, "joining" the Religious Society of Friends would create a false dichotomy in my view of the world.  The fact that there is a formal membership process means there is a divide between those who are convinced of the truth, as seen by Quakers, and those who either are not convinced, have not been exposed to it, or simply do not wish to make that final jump into membership for whatever reason.

Knowing myself, I would allow the Quaker label to carry the heavy lifting for me.  I would expect - to some degree - to ride on the coattails of Quakers who have gone before me.  I would outsource the heavy lifting of wrestling with ultimate questions such as the meaning of my life to what has already been said about it by other Quakers, just because I assume that we would be in agreement.

When I thought philosophical Taoism was a valid option for me, one of the very things that appealed to me was that it wasn't about membership, but rather a simple realization that one was already a Taoist.  Except that this is a Western interpretation of an ancient Chinese religion, a watering down of a tradition that is not part of my European heritage.

Certainly, both Taoism and Quakerism can inform my moral judgment and approach to daily living. But resisting the urge to take on one or the other as a religious affiliation means that I can continue to benefit from the wisdom of both... and the many other traditions in the world.

I think it is my white privilege showing through when I feel I should be able to associate myself with a tradition based on partial commonality that it and I share.  I think this even applies to the label of Catholic.  I had previously discussed how Catholicism is a birthright religious tradition for me as a Pole.  I think that's a fancy way of calling myself a Cultural Catholic, and even if I stand by this being a good enough reason to continue to affiliate myself with the religious tradition of my upbringing, is it being authentic to myself?

If I say, "I am Catholic", what does that bring up in the minds of other people and does it matter to me?  Some may assume that I believe certain things about the nature of God and humanity, when in fact I don't.  Some may expect me to hold certain political opinions when in fact I do not.  Some may think I am riddled with the classic Catholic guilt (something I am actually trying to heal from), or follow certain practices such as abstaining from meat on Fridays (a pre-Vatican II tradition).

If I say, "I am Catholic", observant Catholics will assume that I am one of them and be mortified to find out I am not.  Cultural Catholics and non-Catholics may go either way - take me for an observant Catholic or only apply surface definitions to me.  No matter whom I'd be talking to, calling myself a Catholic would be sidestepping a bigger question.

If my personal religion calls for me to stand for something, and I am not ashamed to stand for this, then shouldn't my label be representative of that belief, even if it is little known to others?

Maybe that is why I have gone back and forth about calling myself a Deist.  I don't expect most people to actually know what that means.  Therefore, if I actually label myself a Deist, I expect follow-up questions:  "What does that mean?  What do you believe?  How does being a Deist inform your approach to life?"  And maybe I haven't quite worked out all the details there, so I don't want to set myself up to announce to someone that I am a Deist and, when asked what that entails, give them an awkward stare and stutter something about not having figured it out yet.

Surely a Deist who doesn't really know what it means to be a Deist isn't going to be a good representation of Deism.  And even though no formal membership is required to call oneself a Deist, I do feel an obligation not to drag a philosophical outlook on life through the mud due to my own ignorance.

Ok, so how would I answer the follow up questions above about being a Deist?

What does that mean?
Deism is a natural religion, meaning that it is based on reason and observation of nature.  It simply states that through observing nature and using our reasoning abilities, everyone can determine that God exists.  There is no need for revelation to a prophet, sacred scriptures, or blind faith to convince people that God exists.  I know God exists because I see his handiwork everywhere in nature.

What do you believe?
I believe that God created the entire known universe, all of nature, including human beings.  I also believe that who we are at our core essence is immortal, though I cannot know any more details beyond that.  I am comfortable knowing that I come from the Eternal Creator, and that I continue on in some form after my physical death.

How does being a Deist inform your approach to life?
For starters, I believe that God's design in nature is perfect and doesn't need human interpretation or projection of ideas.  I don't believe there is a need to judge everything as being "either/or", since everything has its counterpart in nature.  This includes issues of morality.  I do not believe in abstract categories of good and evil actions.  I believe the same action in different circumstances can be either good or bad.  Therefore, I do not believe in judging others.  (Do I fall short of this?  Of course!)  My aim is to be like the forces of nature - to go with the flow, be flexible, don't dwell on the past or worry about the future, enjoy the journey, learn to adapt from my surroundings.

I suppose there can be a plethora of further follow up questions, more specific and ones based on presuppositions of the inquirer's own religious assumptions, but I cannot sit at home behind closed doors until I figure out the perfect answer to every foreseeable question. And to be honest, not many people have asked me these questions - ok, no one has ever asked me these questions.  Maybe because so far I have hidden behind the label of "Catholic" and allowed people to draw their own conclusions.  People assume they know what it means for me to be Catholic, or at least what they think it SHOULD mean, and so there is no need for these questions.  But once I come out as a Deist, I have to be prepared to face these questions.  And it's OK.

I'm blessed to live in a society where there is freedom of religion.  Perhaps the time has come for me to embrace my label, accept what I have known for over a year now, and take my own advice and not worry about the details.  If others want to call me Catholic still, fine - cultural, lapsed, or otherwise. Heretic, even?  Ok.  My ultimate authority comes from the author of the universe, the author of life itself.  My source of authority transcends human authority, human revelation, human organization, human interpretation, human limitation.  I have no reason to fear mere mortals.  All that is at stake is my ego, something that is a temporary illusion anyway, and not my true self.

What remains to be determined - if indeed it actually needs to be determined - is if there should be some sort of announcement that follows to let my circle of friends know where I stand, so there's no awkward assumptions based on past beliefs and practices that I need to correct as they come up.  Or, perhaps I should just move on, and address any such awkwardness as it comes.  It may be best for me to no longer hide from the truth of my personal religion.  To stand up and face my life, not as a fake Catholic but as a real Deist.