My Awakening: Religion vs Spirituality
So folks, this is how it happened. What I call my Spiritual Awakening. My move from being religious to being spiritual and everything that came along with it. Well, mostly everything.
Part I: Birth to 25
I grew up in a religious family. My grandfather was a minister for a total of 25 years. My grandmother led the worship in our church. My mother played the piano. I sang in the choir. I grew up in the Church of God. Our church headquarters are located in Anderson, Indiana. There’s a college there called Anderson University and that’s where my grandparents met. My grandfather was studying to be a minister (at the behest of his mother) and my grandmother was majoring in education. My grandfather would eventually leave the ministry. He later told me that he talked to more people about God after he’d been out of the church than when he was a pastor (that used to confuse me). My grandmother is still faithfully attending every Sunday and attempts to make me feel guilty when I say I’m not going with her when I’m home visiting.
18 years old
I went to Haiti in 1993 with with my minister and a few people from my church (my stuff is in storage or I’d post a photo). I loved it. I always wanted to be a missionary. I always knew it was part of my life’s calling to be overseas. I loved the children I met in Haiti, loved the people and loved the missionaries I met (and still talk to them after all this time). We stayed for a month. When we got back I started a group in my church called the OOYA’s (Older Youth, Young Adults). I led the group alongside my pastor each week. Eventually the group became mine and I was teaching and creating the group lessons.
As most churches do, our church had missionaries in several countries. I was told there was going to be a new group going to Bangladesh. They were going to build fisheries that would give the people food and jobs. I was interviewing for one of the positions (that my friends were trying to talk me out of) when it all came crashing down.
19 years old
It didn’t happen one day but several events led up to it. I don’t feel comfortable enough listing all of the events here but many things happened at one time and it was extremely overwhelming and made me question everything.
I started to notice parts of the Sunday sermon that mentioned a certain person or people who aren’t getting into heaven. Those were: alcoholics, smokers, drug addicts, gays and lesbians, Muslims (and more). All going to hell.
The problem with that was one of my best friends on the planet was a Muslim. Some of my friends were gay. Some drank. Some smoked. I had family members that were addicts. What was this minister saying? What was this message of hate he was imparting to his congregation? I had to know what he thought about people from different religions because after all, I didn’t want my friend going to hell.
So I asked.
I asked my minister. He said “I don’t have the right to say anyone is going to hell but I do know the Bible says nobody comes to the father except through me…” (His not so subtle way of saying yeah, he’s going to hell). Well, that wasn’t good enough. This is my best friend. He’s going to hell?? So I asked Dennis, a retired Methodist minister and Chaplain for the Fire Department. He said the questions I am asking are good and that I should keep trying to find the answers. I liked that a little better.
Here’s the funny thing. I remember going to my Muslim friends house after church one day and telling him that he’s going to hell and how sad it makes me. You know what he said? “You’re going to hell, too”. We both looked at each other. We were crying. Deep down we knew it was ridiculous but these messages had been so interwoven into our DNA that we still believed them.
Things were unsettled. Shaky. The ground beneath me was crumbling. I felt like I was falling, reaching out but nobody was there to catch me. I fell into a deep depression that lasted until I was around 30. Thirty! Ten years of suffering. Ten years of being angry at “God” for letting these things happen to me. Ten years of thinking death would be better than the hell I was living on Earth. Here’s a poem I found that I wrote when I was 22 years old.
Where does it end, begin?
From where does the darkness creep forth?
The nite, the darkness, when does it appear?
When does it end?
Make the darkness stop.
Make the pain end.
Take it all away.
Part II: 25-30
I left my church I grew up in for good when I was 25. For the next few years I read about all different religions and thought I’d try them all out. I studied Judaism. Seemed complicated. I read about the Muslim religion. Seemed complicated. Catholicism. I didn’t have the kind of dedication these people wanted. I read about Unitarians. We’re getting warmer but I wanted to make sure this wasn’t some crazy sect of Scientology.
So I asked my grandfather.
He told me about their philosophy and I decided to try it. Once I was there I must say I was pretty impressed with myself. The people attending this fellowship (they didn’t like it to be called church and I always thought “one ring to rule them all” which I announced loudly (mostly to myself) each time I drove by the sign) were…professors from my college. There were doctors and lawyers. Those are in every church, you say. This congregation was made up of about 40 people. I’m telling you these people were brainiacs. The first time I attended the “sermon” was on The History of Labor Unions in America. Kinda felt like I needed to take notes and that there would be a quiz at the end. I eventually stopped attending the Unitarian fellowship because I felt it lacked spirit. It lacked soul. I wanted to be moved, not lectured.
I studied Buddhism. Wonderful. Buddhism aligned with the things I already felt were true. To me it was more of a way to live my life than a church to attend. As a matter of fact, I read several books and all of them said if you want to be Buddhist, go ahead. You don’t need to change your religion. You don’t need to do something special (like be “dipped” in the blood of the Father, or become Baptized). I think of the tenants of Buddhism daily. I also found a church here called Unity (can’t believe I never knew about it before) that is pretty much aligned with the place I find myself.
Finally. Something I could feel a part of. Something I could incorporate into my daily life. So I did, do and have.
But eventually my need for a congregation or a place of “worship” fell away. My religion turned into every religion. When people ask what religion are you I’ll say “all of them”. My “religion” turned into trees, plants, nature, the ocean, my art, my photographs, other people’s art, being, breathing, loving, feeling. I still feel this way.
I’ve always had the gift of seeing the beauty in things most others cannot. It attracts people to me and me to them. I see beauty in people and some can sense that I’m genuine in my intent to love. Some think I’m nuts. Yesterday when my roommate got home from work I had pulled a chair from the kitchen table outside and I was listening to this (which you should listen to right now)
…while I was finishing up drawing this (which is actually finished in the photo):
I’ve been drawing things like this since I was a teenager. Some smart person dubbed it a “zentangle”. I draw them and give every single one of them away. It’s like a mandala for me, a lesson on impermanence if you will.
I am drawing this one to give to my friend Chuck, whom I met on Facebook two years ago. We had a ton of mutual friends. He’s a retired bike messenger. He has tons of awesome stories to tell and he is seriously a conservative. This past election I had to block his feed so I wouldn’t get angry every time he posted something (Chuck if you read this, haha…and I still love you) Chuck is battling prostate cancer. And I mean battling. He’s suffering daily.
He’s a wonderful person. He’s sort of a recluse which I understand. He gets out and rides his bike as often as he can. He’s sort of a celebrity around town. Everyone knows him and if they don’t, they should. We’ve had lunch three times in the past year. We keep up with each other via an occasional text and FB and I even wrote him a letter once. Here’s a photo from our lunch last week that he said he would’ve crawled to if he had to.
At one time I hardly knew Chuck, but something led me to him. Yesterday I received this message from him on Facebook.
“Thanks, there’s something special about you”
and then I received this from a stranger (to me but a friend of Chuck’s) that added me as a friend a few days ago…
“It’s nice what you did for Chuck. You have a good heart Carmen.”
I assume he saw the above pic that Chuck posted on his FB wall. I told him thanks but I didn’t DO anything really, just had lunch with a friend. Chuck isn’t a charity case and I only mention the cancer to make my point. He said he wishes more people could me like me. I’ve had so many people say that to me. I told him that I just try to love people. For real love. Accept them and I hope they can accept me at the same time, with all of my flaws.
I have this gift, you see. I listen. Not just to what people are saying in a conversation but I listen to what my soul is telling me. I listen and I act. Here are a few things my soul tells me:
Carmen, I know this girl is a drug addict and potentially crazy person, but she needs you. Talk to her.
Carmen, give that homeless guy a few dollars. Don’t pretend you know what he will use it for. It doesn’t matter, do it.
Carmen, tell so and so you love them. Right now.
Carmen, deep down understand this person and they need you around. Be there. At least sometimes.
Carmen, be grateful for what you have. Lots of people struggle more than you.
Carmen, don’t judge.
I don’t post the above story to say look how awesome I am. I post it to show you, reassure you that this spiritual thing I talk about…this is what it looks like. I’m a do’er. I don’t need validation from God anymore, I am God (and I don’t need a diagnosis). When I am able to let my guard down, God expresses himself through me and I just let it happen because it’s right. It’s how we are supposed to be.
Sometimes it’s really difficult for me to not be judgmental of others because my journey has led me to a place where I’m more open and understanding and I wish others could be the same. I’m more loving and giving to those that are open to it (key is IF others are open, some aren’t and that’s ok). I talk about things like energy and spirit. I light candles and say prayers. I do reiki on myself and others when I feel they need it. When I connect with other people like me and it makes me feel happy. It feels “right” and I’d still like to go overseas for a while someday. Perhaps the Peace Corp.
So, I guess that’s why some people call me “hippy” and roll their eyes at me when I’m basking in the sun listening to music while eating an apple and drawing something beautiful (and from my heart) for a friend. But hell, what’s wrong with a little bit of peace & love?