Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year

So I thought I'd say adieu to the old year with a bang today.... After getting some bloodwork done (as the first step towards an embryo transfer looming in the near future), I passed out.  And apparently fell to the ground, leaving a big oh colorful bump on my forehead and a cut by my eye from my glasses. In the aftermath of coming to, I realized today's date and joked to my hubby, thank goodness it's the LAST day of the year!  Let's get this sort of nonesense out of the way and make way for a fresh start in the new year.

I used to spend New Year's Eve doing various activities prompted by, well, superstition.  I called it tradition, but let's be honest.  Today, I realized that I'm not worried about any of it.  I don't believe anything magical is going to happen tonight at midnight, since it's been turning midnight for hours now around the world.  How can one part of the world already be in 2016 while other parts are still in last year?  I tell you how, time is a human construct.

As I was coming to from my little incident today, I felt exactly as if I were waking from a dream.  I actually remember the dream.  There were a lot of people, it was a sort of convention or something, there were some stairs and balconies, and an event with a ginormous whale was about to start.  It felt like a pretty long dream, though apparently I was only unconscious for a minute or two. During the chatter of the phlebotomist and nurse and hubby, I just marveled at how time essentially stood still as I mentally checked out of this reality on my way to the floor.  I marveled at how this time (not my first encounter with blacking out, I'm afraid), I knew I felt queasy, but I didn't see it coming.  One second, I'm sitting there confirming that I want a bit of water, the next second I'm in a parallel universe getting ready for some giant whale show?!

I smirked to myself a bit.  What we think of as reality, that's the real dream, isn't it? ;)

Today, as the sun set on the year 2015, I didn't even peak outside to bid it farewell, as I've done in years past.  (I've welcomed the first day after high school graduation by photographing that "first sunrise of freedom" as I called it.  I also photographed my last sunset on my way home after being discharged from the Army, another "freedom shot".)  I just thought to myself, hmm, I'm no longer superstitious, am I?  I'm not religious anymore.  I'm sure they're related.  Not terribly sentimental either, at least not as much as I once was.

Ever since my daughter was born, I've been trying to figure myself out.  I feel more grounded now, as a mother.  My life feels more real.  Looks like I got exactly what I had hoped to get by becoming a mother: a meaningful life.

And yet.  And yet I'm still here, ruminating about the ever mysterious spiritual things.  Part of it is that I don't want to teach my daughter things I now consider lies, or at best, fairy tales, but at the same time, I do want her to have a spiritual sense of self.  Part of it is that I realize my daughter will not be so little forever, and eventually I will have to be OK with whomever I am besides her mother.  So I should figure out what that is.

Interestingly, it seems just as a sense of a new normal finally descended on our home, and hubby and I have gotten into a rhythm as a family of three, we are now embarking on the journey of another embryo transfer.  This will be our last one.  This will finally conclude our long journey to parenthood.  Either we will remain a family of three, and continue raising our little girl as an only child - something we are both perfectly happy doing - or we will add to our brood and have to relearn all over again how to function with multiple kids on our hands.  But these last two embryos, they are genetically related to our daughter.  We owe her the attempt to have a genetic sibling for her.  If it doesn't work, c'est la vie.  But it is the only right thing to do.  And so we're doing it, and praying that whatever may come, God will walk us through it, just like God walked us through these last three years, since the last transfer, through the pregnancy and birth of our daughter, and these last two+ years with her.

It has been amazing, exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, stressful, joyful, difficult, yet second-nature.  Our daughter stretches us in new ways, pushes us to grow in ways we otherwise wouldn't have grown.  Every day we look at her and think (or say out loud) how amazing she is, and how lucky we are to have been blessed with the job of being her parents.  And to think, we might get another bundle of joy like this?  "We don't want to be greedy", my hubby says.  We are happy with one child, if one child is all we have.  But as difficult as having a newborn would be, especially with a toddler/preschooler, I think of how much joy the kids may bring to each other down the road, and I'm torn between hoping for a successful transfer, and hoping that we can just end this chapter of our lives and focus all our attention on our daughter.

In a way, we're both glad that it's not up to us.  It's in the hands of God.

Here's to the great unknown that is 2016.  We will be celebrating our 13th wedding anniversary, and 13 being my lucky number (our daughter was born in 2013!), whatever the future holds for us, I know it will be awesome, and rewarding, and worth the work.

Happy New Year, blogosphere!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Honing Down on a Spiritual Practice

How can I at once be drawn to the person of Jesus and simultaneously ambivalent (at best) to the religion I believe best represents the movement He supposedly started?  I've been looking for a spiritual practice where I can base my values on Jesus, because they're familiar and resonate with me as true.  Yet at the same time, I didn't feel comfortable in a spiritual practice drenched in the concepts of original sin, being hell-bound, human sacrifice to appease a vengeful god, and suffering as the new happiness.  You know, Christianity.

I knew Islam claims to respect Jesus, even Mary, but really, there is nothing in their practice based on Jesus as a central figure.  Obviously Judaism is either ambivalent or downright antagonistic towards the figure of Jesus.  Lots of comparisons can be found between Jesus and Buddha (Sidhrtha Gautama), but no Buddhist follows Jesus; rather, they take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.  Buddhists do not take refuge in the Christ.  Some of the newer movements sparked my interest too, but ever so briefly.  The Unitarian Universalists and the Baha'i in particular.  But there was something gnawing at me to put my faith in an ancient tradition.

In fact, while in high school, a Japanese exchange student once asked me why I was a Catholic (she was an atheist).  I remember giving her a very simplistic reason.  Catholicism was the original Christianity, which was born from the oldest religion, ie. Judaism, therefore must be true.  Something lame like that.  Never mind that I now know that Hinduism is actually the world's oldest religion.

Apparently there may be room for what I'm looking for, for someone like me, within the Hindu tradition.  Apparently, Jesus (as Ishu) is an actual prominent figure for some Hindus, who look to Him as their guru.  Could it be that I could follow the example and teachings of Jesus outside of Christianity after all?

I've always held a very childish idea of God.  Something like a cross between a genie and Santa Clause.  He's all-powerful, so he can grant any wish to anyone, if only he desires.  But he is also just in that if I've been bad, I will not get what's on my wishlist.  Even though I would mouth the words that God is all-powerful, having this very fantastical view of him automatically limited him to, well, the realm of fantasy.  I think this is why I struggled with the Trinity.  There was no need for the Son and the Spirit, if we already had the Santa-Genie God.  I just couldn't phathom their purpose in my worldview.

Lately, I've become more and more aware of the fact that my view of God has changed, has become less and less graspable, less personal and more transcendent.  God's physical body (that which occupied my mind) dissolved and enveloped the entire universe (or multiverse).  He is now barely detectable, yet still undeniably there.  But he doesn't sit down to converse with people anymore.  He doesn't engage in our petty human tit-for-tat.  He doesn't waste time (sic!) weighing our good deeds against our bad deeds, or lamenting the fact that His perfect plan for a utopian universe went to hell when He allowed us free will.

No, these are human traits, human stories, human explanations.  God simply is.  He is in the business of creating, sustaining, breathing life into living beings, transforming dying creatures into something strictly spiritual.  He sees the big picture and doesn't fret over disasters like we do.  He knows everything is temporary because that's the way He made it.  Only His eternal creativity is eternal.  We call it love, that God is love, because we all want to be loved, and what better boost to our self-confidence than to believe the Almighty loves us.  But love - the way I have understood and experienced it - automatically means favoring someone over someone else.  We marry the person we love, not everyone.  We prefer our own children to those of others because we love our children and only like other people's kids (if that!).  As with everything else, without a contrast, nothing stands on its own.  God loving me makes no sense if He equally loves everyone else.  Then it's not really love, is it?  It's something more mundane, less intense and passionate.  Again, God created everything to have an opposite.  Love is one of those wonderful gifts He created and gave us.  Love is how we can feel secure while in this earthly realm of ours.  We cannot imagine God not loving us, yet it's exactly what I think limits Him in our minds.

So, if God-the-Creator is not so much personal as the Universal Force, then it starts to make sense why Christians came up with the concept of the Trinity.  The Holy Spirit is the very breath we breathe, our inspiration, that which carries us from moment to moment until we are ready to be reunited with our Divine Source.  And Jesus is a way for us to have a God who loves us.  Jesus the historical figure, didn't tell people "God loves you".  He did say "love one another as I have loved you", but He didn't say "I love you because God loves me.  Pass it on."  He took the mysterious power of God and translated it into something we both longed for and could understand.  He loved us.  Even this is problematic, if we believe that Jesus is God and/or that Jesus loves everyone.  We're then back to the dilemma of no contrast to His love.  If He loves us, whom does He not love?  Aha! Enter Satan!  Jesus hates Satan.  Satan is our enemy.  We fight against Satan by siding with Jesus.

Only I've never really been on board with the whole Satan concept.  It implies a duality beyond the source.  Either the Divine Source had within it evil that split into Satan, or it was a separate entity all along, which begs the question, how can there be two sources?

On the one hand, I say that theology shouldn't matter so long as morality and ethics are there.  On the other hand, I cannot imagine a spiritual practice bringing me peace and joy if I am not convinced that it is based on, and leading me to, truth.  I've tried the whole "fake it till you make it" approach, which may work for some people, or in some circumstances, but a spiritual practice just seems to be too important for me to approach it willy-nilly.

I cannot imagine going through the rest of my life without spirituality playing a central role, but I have to embrace something that brings me peace and joy and motivates me to live like Jesus taught.

I know this means I have to start spending daily time in silence, preferably in nature but not necessarily, in order to just allow myself to decompress from the constant noise in my mind.  With time, I'll want to increase the length of this silence until I give myself enough time to not just quiet my mind, but allow inspiration to enter.  I may need to chant or count breaths or lean on some other crutch at first in order to keep busy thoughts at bay.  I've found in the past that yoga is a great way for me to focus on the present moment.  I need to start doing yoga regularly, ending with a period of silent sitting, having given myself a chance to detox from the noise of the every day.

I also need to choose a few of my all-time favorite spiritual songs and listen to them and/or sing them, again, on a daily basis.  This will give me something positive and uplifting to focus on, especially when I am drowning in worry or negativity.  Perhaps a few songs before yoga, followed by meditation?

One thing I know is that I cannot allow myself to think that reading or writing can take the place of my spiritual practice.  I've tried spiritual journaling and Lectio Divina, and while they are both good resources, I think they can at best be supplements to the spiritual practice I've outlined above.

So I will begin this week with five minutes of singing/listening to music, five minutes of yoga, and five minutes of meditation  (Quakers would call it waiting worship).  I will squeeze these in whenever I can, by next week shooting for combining them into a single 15-minute stretch of time.  Then I'll revisit the practice after a week.

Perhaps if I click "publish", I will feel obligated to really give it a go...

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Personal or Impersonal God?

At the core of my spiritual quest over the years, there had always been one constant: a personal God. But with my recent reversion to Cultural Catholicism, I'm trying to make sense of the role spirituality ought to play in my life now that I'm essentially nonreligious.

My beliefs in terms of the big questions are simple and straightforward, with little explanation.  With every fiber of my being, I believe, nay, I KNOW, that everything that exists was created.  At some point, some laws of physics and other mysterious forces we may not yet know about (as was the case until recently with quantum mechanics, quarks and all), were placed into motion, and from there the world that we now know evolved.  Somehow, for some reason.  I do not speculate as to when that was, or why.  But I do not doubt for one second that there was an act of will on the part of an intelligent source thanks to which we have our being.

The second point of my minimalist belief system is that death is merely a transition, like all other things in the known universe.  I cannot think of a single experience, single even, that has a definitive ending and beginning.  Rather, I see everything is in a constant state of transition.  We are both dying and being reborn simultaneously and continuously.  We fall asleep and for all intents of our personal consciousness, cease to exist (with the rare exception of lucid dreaming).  Then we awake and reflect back on the fact that we were asleep and carry on in our wakeful state as if nothing happened.  We do not dwell on having temporarily died, nor do we agonize over having our conscience die yet again the following night.

I find it interesting that people claim to only believe what they can see, what they can understand.  I know I'm not in the minority when I say that I actually do not fully grasp how radio waves, much less television, works.  All I know is that there's electricity involved, and some computer coding, software and hardware, all of which must be working in perfect alignment for me to be able to watch my favorite show.  I don't understand it.  But because I can experience watching my favorite show, I know there is an explanation, and that's actually enough for me.  I don't need to be a physicist, computer programmer, electrician, before I can enjoy my show.  So why do people insist - like I have done for years - that they must first grasp who God is and by extension what that means for us and our lives before we can start living, enjoying life, and doing the right thing?

I do not know if we reincarnate as lesser or greater beings based on our karma, or if we remain humans in our next life, or if we reincarnate at all.  I do not know if we fall into a deep unconscious slumber until some designated "Judgment Day", or if we are immediately judged to be worthy of heaven or not at the moment of our death.  I do not know if our bodies will by physically resurrected, and if so, will I get my 37 year old body or a younger or older version?

To be honest, I find all of these hypotheses (for that is all I see them as) to be a bit far-fetched and too literal.  I think what makes spirituality and the divine mysterious is precisely that we cannot explain it in terms of our everyday experiences.  We can approximate, but nothing more.  I think most religious adherents are simply too literal in their understanding of their faith.

What I actually do think happens after death, and this is a work in progress, always open to adjustments as new information makes itself known, is based on who I think "I" am at my core.  I don't think my body is what makes me who I am, eternally speaking.  My body has changed drastically since the time I was still in the womb.  We shed our cells regularly, and I read that every seven years or so, the cells in our entire body have been replaced with new ones.  If this is true (from science), then how can I think that my body is what makes me who I am?  There is something else that maintains my sense of self through all of those bodily changes.

I don't think it's our personality either.  As we mature, as we have different experiences, as we learn and grow, we see the world in a different light.  Some aspects of our personality may remain, like introversion or extroversion, but I cannot say that I am the same "person" that I was twenty years ago.  At age 17, I was graduating high school and learning to toe my way into the "real world" (whatever that is) with my best friend Rachel as my guide.  I was in a chaotic state of figuring out how to make my life meaningful.  I went from wanting to pursue religious life (being quickly discouraged from this endeavor by my family) to joining AmeriCorp (my application missed the deadline) to shipping off for the Army's Basic Training Course.

Twenty years later, my best friend Rachel has crossed over to the other side (of death, that is).  I ended up hating the Army and spent a little over one year there.  Rather than finding my independence, as I had intended, I found my life's partner instead.  We married, enjoyed life as a couple for a while, struggled with infertility for many years, and finally welcomed our daughter two years ago. And instead of religious life, I'm now nonreligious.  No, my personality is not what makes me who I am either.

There is something mysterious, something that cannot be grasped with the intellectual faculties, that holds us together and carries us through life.  It is something so nuanced that the moment you start to define it, you get it wrong.  It's something that intersects who we are as physical beings, emotional beings, and intellectual beings.  Many people call this something a "soul", though usually it is thought to be very non-physical in nature.  I actually think it is absolutely rooted in the most minuscule particles of existence.

Quantum physics absolutely intrigues me, as it describes concepts such as bilocation and time travel as real, except on the level of quarks.  How can we begin to conceptualize God or our true nature as it comes from God, if time is a construct with no basis in reality?  Time-space, actually, is seen as a single phenomenon, interdependent.  We experience time and space because we live in it.  But after death (and for argument's sake, before conception), we are not bound by either. We can be anywhere, do anything.  We are not God per se.  We are God's fingers, toes, etc.

Teresa of Avila said it beautifully when she said:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

And to continue a bit with the Catholic tradition, in spite of calling myself a "revert to Cultural Catholicism", I actually do currently believe in the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the essence of Jesus Christ.  And it's not because the church says so, actually!  It's because of quantum physics and what I've learned about quarks being able to exist simultaneously in two "time-space" places at the same time.  God is outside of time, right?  During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we have an opportunity to attune ourselves to a time warp of sorts, where we are given a front row seat at Calvary.

Now, that said, just because I believe this doesn't mean it's not disturbing, or that the rest of Christian theology makes any sense to me.  My immediate question is, why would I want to be present at an execution?  A torturous one at that, of an innocent man!  I'm not some sort of sadist who gets his kicks from watching others suffer.  So what I actually think is the point of that part of our religious service is a reminder of innocent suffering (so that we are moved to act to lessen it) and a reminder of the possibility to transcend one's own suffering.  I think the same role is played by the image of the crucified Christ at the altar, and the stations of the cross in every Catholic church.  No, it's not feel-good religion.  It's difficult, but it's real.  It can truly lead us to something beyond our mundane everyday experiences, if only we let it.

While we're on the subject of Catholic belief, I also believe in the Virgin Birth.  That said, I am not committed to it being unique to Jesus.  Because early embryonic cells have the potential to grow into any of the necessary cells that a human needs (hence the interest in embryonic stem cell research), it doesn't sound like a stretch at all for a single cell, Mary's ovum, to somehow have carried the necessary y chromosome in order to grow baby Jesus in her womb.  Of course, this isn't something she could've willed into being.  This is where the hand of God comes in, and it is best if we leave it at that, because once we start to guess why God may have done such a thing, we end up with religion (aka theories and hypotheses about the unknowable will of God).

I don't think Jesus's conception needed to be miraculous (which only means "unexplained by current scientific knowledge") in order for Him to teach what He taught.  Yes, I realize that the Christian religion states that it is not so much what Jesus taught that is important, but what He did (namely "take our place on the cross").  Not being Christian, I do not subscribe to this notion.  I do not believe in so-called original sin or the wrath of God.  Instead, I believe that Jesus's crucifixion was inevitable as far as the natural consequences of being a rebel of thought in his society.  The value of his sacrifice (to me) comes in the fact that he was perfectly aware of the consequences of what he taught publicly, but he refused to stay silent.  He provided an example that has been followed since, not only in the church-sanctioned saints of the faith, but also in the secular heroes and heroines who have fought for social justice and civil rights, all too often paying the ultimate price for the courage of their convictions.  This is not blasphemy. After all, we are told to "be Christ to others".

Finally, we have the Resurrection, another teaching that I do not see any reason for discarding. Countless people "saw Jesus" after his death.  What they saw is really moot, other than to say that it was real to them and changed their lives.  It doesn't matter if they saw his literal physical body, the one that was nailed to a cross.  It doesn't matter if it was some new, transcendent yet still physical body that is now held up as a promise for anyone willing to follow him.  It could just as well have been a vision, a hallucination, a dream, a hologram.  Why do we assign greater worth to that which can be clearly discerned with our five basic senses, yet ignore the truth that can be known through intuition or discernment?

So for me, Jesus taught very important lessons.  He was willing to die for them, because he believed his lessons had the power to transform lives.  And they do.  And the fact that people experienced (and continue to experience) his presence in some way is only confirmation of the fact that he can continue to teach us these lessons, if we only listen.

I think the reason we are taught to focus on the person of Jesus (rather than his teachings) is simply a way to remind us to do what he said - empty ourselves and deny ourselves and put ourselves last.  We cannot go though life polishing our many virtues and patting ourselves on the back and expect to live a transformed life.  Jesus called us to go beyond the basic golden rule.  Jesus called us to try to see the big picture.  I think we are entering an age when that will be more and more possible, with the insights gleaned from quantum physics!

Why do most religions preach helping others?  There must be something in the deepest part of who we are that remembers that we are all interconnected, that we are not merely individuals living together on this planet.  Where I end and you begin.... there's a transition there that isn't quite as clear-cut as we like to think.

Ok, so is God personal or impersonal? I think that as far as we are persons having a personal experience in this lifetime, God is likewise personal.  God encompasses whatever experiences we can imagine, because God is the source of them all.  But to say that God is "a person", as in just like us, is to make God in our own image, idolatry!  God is beyond simply an elder Father-King sitting in the clouds looking down at us.  And this is what I believe was the intention of putting forth the belief in God as a Trinity, this "both-and-neither" answer that simply doesn't satisfy our meager human intellect, when we try to limit our understanding only to what our brains can do!  I don't think the point is that God is literally a Spirit-Man (Father), Savior-Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit (like a very important angel maybe?).  The point was precisely to stop our incessant philosophizing over the nature of God, as if we have any right to understand God or grasp God's vastness or greatness, as if we have a right to qualify our worship based on our understanding.  The Trinity is a western koan!  What is the sound of one hand clapping?  What does the color red taste like?  What is the nature of God?

I actually think we will know everything we need to know once we cross from this life.  I think children are still very close to our source and can better intuit God than adults can.  I think some of us, probably through mere openness to the Spirit, can indeed experience God's presence without the limitations of human language, either in dreams, or visions, or just through quiet reflection.  Sadly, most of us spend too much time paying lip service to how great God is and too little time acting as though we actually believe what has been taught about God by some of the greatest religious-philosophical thinkers of all time (Jesus included).  Do we really treat others the way we would want to be treated?  Or do we only treat those that aren't too different from us with kindness?  Do we look for excuses to ignore people's struggles, or do we look for opportunities to help?  That is how we really worship God; not in ritual and lip service, but in spirit and in truth.

Quick Aside on Homeschooling

I sometimes question weather I'm really a teacher at heart, as I like to think of myself.  Because once I learn something important, I internalize it, and I forget that not everyone knows what I only recently came to know myself.  And then I get exacerbated trying to explain something I think "everyone should know".  Or even when I do engage, I'm not always good about starting at the beginning, and instead use arguments that already take for granted that we have the same common knowledge on the subject.

Currently, I'm thinking about homeschooling.  I can easily say why I am personally choosing to educate my daughter at home, but when it comes to convincing arguments that I've read regarding the deficiencies of the public school system, I retreat a bit.  So I wanted to leave a little record here of one little nugget I just read that may provide a little backup to my next conversation on the subject.

In David H. Albert's "Homeschooling and the Voyage of Self-Discovery", he cites Dan Greenberg, founder of the Sudbury Valley School (essentially an "unschooling"/child-led institution of learning located in Massachusetts. Greenberg notes seven "essential features of an education that would meet the needs of society in the 21st Century", something that business leaders, government officials, and educators all agree on.  Below I list my three favorites.

"As society rapidly changes, individuals will have to be able to function comfortably in a world that is always in flux.  Knowledge will continue to increase at a dizzying rate.  This means that a content-based curriculum, with a set body of information to be imparted to students, is entirely inappropriate as a means of preparing children for their adult roles."

"People will be faced with greater individual responsibility to direct their own lives.  Children must grow up in an environment that stresses self-motivation and self-assessment.  Schools that focus on external motivating factors, such as rewards and punishments for meeting goals set by others, are denying children the tools they need most to survive."

"Technology now makes it possible for individuals to learn whatever they wish, whenever they wish, and in the manner they wish.  Students should be empowered with both the technology and the responsibility for their own learning an educational timetable."

Friday, December 11, 2015

My Conversion to NonConversion

Four months ago, I returned to the Catholic church as an act of will.  I was given the external validation I needed from a priest at a retreat, who said God would meet me where I was.  Alex and I attended a seven week Discovering Christ series and will be joining small groups and the Following Christ follow-up series this spring.  Yet I feel no closer to the Catholic God.

I know better than to start running away again.  Basically, I've made my peace with being Catholic-light, if you will.  I won't split hairs and get into discussions with devout Catholics who would try to challenge me to question my religious identity.  No, I'm happy to be where I am.  Culturally, I'm Catholic.  That won't change.  Theologically, I'm probably some sort of Deist.  Spiritually, I believe that I am a mom.

Yup, I think that motherhood has become my spirituality, if not my religion.  I don't mean that I worship my daughter.  I mean that I worship God through parenting my daughter.  I see God in her.  I see God's will for both her and my potential in our mother-daughter relationship.  I see the best chance of me becoming a better version of myself coming not through religious rhetoric but through being cognizant of the best interest of my daughter.

It is said that we need to look at what's important to us, what we dedicate our time to, to see where our faith is.  So let's see...

Holistic living, even if I'm not very good at it, is important to me.  I value the perspective of those going against the grain.  I see they have a lot to offer me on my parenting journey and life journey as a whole.  Thanks to holistic literature, I've taken on attachment parenting, gentle discipline, and home education.  Environmental concerns have always been dear to my heart, and they fit nicely with an aspiring holistic lifestyle.

Social identity issues are important to me.  I'm learning a ton in a transracial adoption facebook group I'm in, both about race issues and the perspective of adoptees.  My daughter has a unique background, and so I don't simply get answers handed to me prepackaged.  I have to wrestle with what I learn in order to find the relevance to our situation sometimes.  But overall, I'm finding that I need to get off my white privilege high horse and consider the lived experiences of others.  This isn't all that hard for me to do, as I've long thought of myself as an empath.  I've always rooted for the underdog.  Now I'm learning the tools to use and the issues to stand up for, rather than just being vaguely in favor of justice.

That pretty much covers it for me.  I read and learn about race, identity, adoption, social justice, green living, attachment parenting, and homeschooling.  These topics have taken over whatever time I previously dedicated to religious pursuits.  These topics seem more real, more relevant, than philosophizing about God.  These topics help me to live my life, rather than just think about its meaning.  

My challenge now is to consciously find God in the midst of what interests me.  Even though I'm not religious anymore, I do still believe in some sort of Creator-God to whom I owe everything.  I believe that gratitude is the one way I can worship God "in spirit and in truth".  It's more challenging without the benefit of a religious tradition.  I certainly try to lean on the Catholic tradition when I can, but at times I feel a bit boxed in and distracted by the dogmatic rhetoric and have to take a step back to regroup.

Probably the most valuable lesson I'm (still) learning is to stop assigning labels to everything.  I like labels.  Labels make things clear.  I like to know what's what.  The problem is that this isn't actually the way the world works.  Objects and facts may generally be placed under certain labels, but living people cannot.  Religion, race, gender, sexuality - I am finding that all of these are continua, not mere black-or-white concepts.  Labels are limiting.  Labels say you must choose one over another, when real life has taught me that most times, it's both or neither, not this or that.

I think I need to start by considering what role religion has played in my life, and why that approach no longer serves me.  Religion was equated with God.  To question religion was to question God, an obvious no-no in my mind.  But I'm slowly realizing that this is not at all the case.  God does not belong in a labeled box any more than human beings do.  If God isn't Christian, why should I think I must be a Christian in order to be a child of God?  I am a child of God by virtue of having been made by *Him*.  Period.  Grace, a free gift.  Undeserved.  My reaction to being alive needs to be a life of gratitude.  Christianity has somehow shifted the focus from this basic idea that only the most staunch materialist atheists can argue, to the exclusionary theory of salvation via Jesus's cross.

I don't need to be made to feel guilty for my shortcomings in order to come around to a life of gratitude.  I don't need to feel guilty before I can be compassionate.  I don't need to be afraid of God in order to abide by God's will.  God is the air that I breathe.  We sang this recently at a Discovering Christ talk.  How moving it was to sing those words while breathing, to actually inhale the Divine and exhale back words of glorifying *Him*!  This is the God I know to be true at the core of my being.  It is a God without a name, *He* is simply "the I am". 

I was sure I'd be a spiritual seeker for the rest of my life.  Perhaps after my daughter is all grown up, I will revisit religious and spiritual pursuits, but at this point I think they'd be a hobby.  They wouldn't gnaw at me to hurry up and figure out the truth so that I can start living right with God.  I am already where I need to be.  I just need to wake up.  God is already here.  Already guiding my steps.

There is nowhere for me to go, no other religion for me to convert to or out of.  Religion is simply there for my benefit, to peruse what I find meaningful at any given time, and let others take advantage of whatever tickles their fancy.  I don't need to find everything about Catholicism meaningful.  Not everything has to resonate with me.  It's not a religion custom-made for me.  That's what I've been looking for.  Instead, I need to stop looking for religion period, and start looking around at all the places where I see God, hear God, smell God, taste God, touch God.  God is.  I am.  Everything else is interpretation, opinion, and commentary.