Today I want to take on the simple task of redefining religion.
I feel bad for the word, frankly. It’s become such a dirty word, a creepy complex, instant joy kill. Many people (in whose company I much enjoy) prefer to wear the “spiritual not religious” name tag at social gatherings. And I can understand why they want to distance themselves from the trappings of the “r” word. It’s like hoping your abusive x-boy friend will give you everything you’ve ever dreamed of and more.
Many of us have been hurt by organized religion. When religion isn’t meaningful, if the symbols no longer function, it dies. (Thus my entry on Good Friday.) Many of us have already gotten over that heart break and are not about to pick the scab off.
Nietzsche said God was dead. But I want to argue otherwise: Maybe it is the stench of religion that has not yet come out of the tomb. Christianity is dying in America, despite the fact that most people still confess to believe in God or some Higher Power and are still interested in cultivating a meaningful life and putting their gifts of service into practice in the world.
If our daily and weekly practices–whatever they are–have become merely rituals void of transformation–or worse–kept us living in a grave or from making any connection to the numinous (this could include a bad job or a bad relationship), if our lifestyles leave us lifeless and loveless, if guilt and obligation are all we are getting out of it, then maybe God is not dead after all. Maybe She’s just opening a farmer’s market down the road but we much prefer our old couch and our diet of frozen microwavables.
After the pity party, I decided not to buy my religion at Wal-Mart anymore. I didn’t want the easy cheap grace. I wanted something of quality and substance that didn’t make a profit off of abusing people within the organization. So I went local, homegrown, organic.
“The Kingdom of God is Within You.”
–The Gospel of Thomas
And the strangest thing happened. I fell in love with religion again. I didn’t recognize her at first. (I had accidentally once mistaken her for a TV evangelist with too much make up.) She was so much more down to earth. She led me to ancient practices and taught me new ones. She became the hand made set of garden tools decorated by my children. The mocha colored mud boots made of recycled materials. She’s my favorite overalls, the old button up blue jean shirt. Religion is the paisley gloves I put on to tend my spiritual garden so my dreams are not left at the cocktail party, but planted in my skin, in my heart and in the world.
Maybe church helps you do this or temple or mosque or yoga studio. Maybe none of these do. I hope you find something that does. For the human journey is one of meaning making. Spirit and flesh co-mingling, co-creating. Religion is simply the practices in our lives that help us connect to the Divine.
Sometimes other people can give us their spiritual tools and they work for us. Sometimes we have to make our own. Because our dreams belong in the world. And when we are dreaming God’s dreams, not even death can stop the beautiful bloom.
So let me try that “r” word again. Religion. Your earthy garden garb. Your greenhouse. Your sacred texts. Your yoga mat. Your confession. Your meditation. Your morning cup of Joe. Your night time bubble bath. Whatever it is that makes you grow.
I’d love to hear how you are currently connecting with the Divine in your life. And what you think about the “r” word.
I don’t know her name. But she and I have been called the same.
It’s been over 20 years since it happened to me. I’m just now experiencing, at age 37, how it feels to transition from surviving to thriving. I’m not carrying around a big secret anymore. I wrote a memoir. I’m not afraid to stand in front of a crowd. I do it every week. I am not afraid to speak. I sing. It took over ten years of therapy. I’ve had to work through drug addictions and build self esteem. I still have my bad days still when something triggers me and I’m fourteen again and the floor opens up beneath my feet and I spiral down the bottomless pit. Like when I watched the news coverage of Steubenville.
I wanted to die because the whole high school called me a slut. Because the rapist bragged. Because I was the new girl and I had no friends. I cut my wrist. I didn’t have the national news empathizing with the rapist. I didn’t have stupid bloggers calling for a whore registry or saying women enjoy being raped. And so I am reaching out across the internet to tell the young woman that you have my support.
I am saddened that I have not seen the mainstream media report on how rape can effect a woman in her lifetime, or provided resources, but has shown me instead that rape culture remains alive and well. I caught myself thinking, “I’m so glad I never said anything at the time.” (FEMINISTING had one of the most powerful, spot on responses to the verdict and the media’s reaction. Thank you!)
To the unnamed woman: I am proud of you for speaking. For your bravery. You give me courage. You are helping us change the world.
image from acelebrationofwomen.org
There is a hornet in the room
and one of us will have to go
out the window into the late
August midafternoon sun.
A man stands in front of an audience of teenagers and asks, “How many of you have contemplated suicide?” It is evident that he is a good speaker and has already won their trust because all of their hands rise into the air. “We all do,” he says, “because change is always about something dying.”
When it’s time to change, death comes to us and asks, “What needs to die?” The answer is not our body. Not our soul. It’s whatever is holding us back. It’s the hornet who has to go out the window, not us.
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Sometimes I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I try to remind myself that don’t have to know the answers. Today, all I need to do is sail through the ocean tide of now. To be present and to breathe. If I can practice this today, and then again tomorrow, I can stop worrying about the future because I am cultivating a life of peace by tending these seeds. And someday I’ll have a garden. And fruit. And maybe some kale too.
So may we be gentle with ourselves today. Pull the weeds that block the light. And soak in the river of life, the river beneath our feet. It’s always flowing. It’s always giving. The tides may be changing, but we can open our roots, our hands and our windows. Release the hornet to the wind and receive ourselves again.
I was running late again. The gray sky hung over the day like a blanket. And the snow, the snow was in no hurry to fall to the ground. I pressed the gas pedal and checked the clock again. It looked like the cotton back in Arkansas, in the summer, when the wind made it dance in the air. My breath was constricted. My thoughts racing. I turned on East Tower road, did some quick math and talked myself into accepting the fact that I was going to be at least ten minutes late to my appointment. And there they were.
I had just told the story of the burning bush to the kids in chapel. As I was reading the Exodus text verse 3:3-4 jumped off the page, “Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called out to him.
I had always thought a burning bush would lock anyone’s gaze. But the text shows us that Moses deliberated and chose to look at the mystery before him. And because he chose, God spoke.
And now that I’m older, I get it. I used to have more time for the mystery. But now I know how easily it is lost in the rush of life. Moses could have easily ignored it. Turned around, muttered to himself, “I’ve got all these sheep to pasture and I’m beyond the wilderness and far from home and the sun is setting and I’m starving and…”
I slowed the car down and turned to gaze at the sight. Twelve, maybe fifteen deer stood on top of the frozen water and along the banks of the stream. A whole flock of deer. Families, babies and giant daddies perked their ears up and looked at me. And the snow fell between us. And the wind blew. And I was 15 minutes late to my meeting. And it was okay. In fact, it was wonderful.
There are many bushes along the roadsides of our lives aflame with sacred mystery. We need only to turn and look. Behold the beauty, the sorrow and the joy, the love and the pain, the whole marvelous mess of everything. Take it all in. Then listen.