This past week a well-known spiritual writer made a video expressing her changing views on certain New Age ideas since her Baptism. As someone who is inspired by both Christianity and The New Age, I often wonder where the balance is between the two...
This past weekend, Little Man and I were both baptised, and I was confirmed and welcomed as a member of the Methodist Church. Choosing to be baptised as an adult, and choosing to baptise my son at the age of 5, wasn’t a decision I made lightly. I thought about it for a very long time, because I wasn’t sure whether it was the right thing for us to do. But eventually it just felt right and that was when I decided to do it.
A large part of my hesitation came from the fact that I know I sometimes sit on the edge, looking in, wondering whether I truly belong. I’ve described my faith in the past as “fluid”, something which changes as I grow, and which takes inspiration from a wide variety of sources, not just Christianity. For instance, my husband, TJ, has been on Shamanic Courses; as a family we celebrate the Pagan Wheel of the Year; and our home is filled with books, music, and artwork from traditions as varied as Hinduism, Buddhism, and The New Age. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that I didn’t really relate to any single path.
Indeed, this is something that I myself thought about my faith for a very long time too. But the reality is that I do relate to a single path, and that path is Christianity. Everything I believe comes back to the central core of the Christian message – that we are inherently flawed, but that God loves us anyway. So great is God’s love for us, that he sent Jesus to show us the way to live in that knowledge, and the Holy Spirit to guide us day by day as we try to do so. When I read or experience something from another tradition, it is always through that same lens of unconditional love, and whilst I do not think that Christianity has a monopoly on that truth, it is the path which draws me closest to it.
And it was this realisation that led me to making the decision to step deeper into my walk along the Christian path. I realised that I had been holding myself back from experiencing it fully, because I felt I was somehow intrinsically incompatible with Christianity. I erroneously believed that because I had doubts and questions and interpreted things differently at times from the traditional sense, and because I chose to include aspects from other faiths into my journey as well, that I couldn’t honestly call myself a Christian. And yet, when I look at that central belief I mentioned above, that “we are inherently flawed, but God loves us anyway”, I realised how crazy this thinking was. Why would God want me to miss out on the love and caring of my Church Family, just because I felt a little bit different? The answer, of course, is He wouldn’t!
I clearly remember the moment I was reading a book about Christianity and religion and realised that my thinking was all wrong. And I decided to explore the idea further. Then, that following Sunday, as we sang the opening hymns in church, I felt my heart opening and just knew God was gently encouraging me to just take that step, to stop overthinking it and just do it. So I spoke to the Minister at the end, and told him about my reservations but also how I felt it might be the right time to take the next step, and I’ll never forget what our Minister said to me. He said, “I believe God is big enough for everyone”. Basically, he was encouraging me to just follow my heart and step forward in faith.
There was a little more to it, as our Minister reminded me that I was already pretty active in the church, attending Bible Study and going to the Church Council Meeting, so why shouldn’t I be a part of the Church Family? And at that point I knew, without a doubt, that it was just right for me.
And for Little Man? Well, he goes to church with my every Sunday, and tells me about Angels and Heaven and how he just loves everybody, and quite simply has the faith of a child. So why shouldn’t he also be welcomed as a part of the Church Family… he will still have the opportunity when he is older to decide whether he wants to step further on that path and be Confirmed or not, but right now he understands enough to know he wants to be a part of it, and so he is.
We were thoroughly supported in our decision, and had an absolutely wonderful day on Sunday. The sun was shining, the church was more full than usual, my parents came to watch their Grandson be baptised, my own Grandma was there, and we had his two Godmothers (my sister and my friend from church) celebrating it all with us too. (Incidentally, he also has a “Fairy Godmother”, in the guise of a friend who comes from my New Age background, who shared a celebration for his birth with us way back in 2012 – isn’t he a lucky boy!)
Little Man was rather overexcited, pulling faces at the congregation and trying to sneak his fingers into the font during the service, but our Minister is wonderful and just took it all in his stride! We then had Communion, which in our church is open to all, so Little Man has had it before, but it felt doubly special on Sunday. And I think Little Man picked up on this too, as he pulled me into a hug and kissed me as we waited for the wine!
We were also blessed with some wonderful gifts from family and friends, to help us in our Christian journey, and I shall share some more thoughts on these with you in a later post. For now, though, I just wanted to write down my thoughts about our Baptism and my Confirmation whilst it was still all very clear in my mind.
Tell me, have you been baptised? How did you make that decision? And what does it mean to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences…
Joining in with Share The Joy Linky this week, as this post has obviously brought me a lot of joy! Find out more details about the linky by clicking on the image below…
I hadn’t planned a post for today, but having just returned from a truly thought-provoking church service, I felt the need to sit down and share what is in my heart right now. You see, the visiting Minister who took the service today talked a lot about how difficult we often find it to share our faith with others. And for me this remains one of the biggest challenges I face in my own journey of faith.
For many, many years I didn’t even think I could fit into a church community. Ever since I first discovered the basic tenets held by most Christian churches, I realised that I simply could not accept some of them. I certainly couldn’t affirm a belief in the general understanding of the Trinity or the explanation for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking that rejecting these basic principles meant that I couldn’t define myself as a Christian in any way. I believed that for a long time too.
But no matter how much I rallied against these ideas, I still felt drawn towards Christianity in ways I can only describe as God drawing me back to it time and again. I explored other faith traditions, and doing so helped to form the idea in my mind that there really is more than connects us than divides us in life. Yet no matter how many other paths I explored, I always came back to this desire to be part of the church community.
When I first discovered the writings of Progressive Christian scholars such as Marcus Borg, I was thrilled to realise that questioning the general principles affirmed within the church didn’t automatically exclude me from being a Christian. I began to realise that even though I might not interpret the Bible in the same way as others, I could still turn to it for inspiration and guidance. And whilst I may not always agree with certain ideas, Christianity is far bigger than any one single person, church, or denomination.
Which is how I found myself regularly attending our local Methodist Church, because I finally felt like I could fit in. That’s not to say it is always easy. Despite the fact that I go to church most Sundays, I still feel more like a visitor than an active part of the church family. This has nothing to do with the congregation, who are wonderfully welcoming, it’s just that when you’re still trying to figure out how you fit in to the church, it can be very difficult to know how to do so.
For instance, Little Man has watched several children be baptised in the church and has expressed an interest in being baptised himself. Now, part of me knows he just wants to have a special day, and hasn’t thought that much about what it signifies (he is only 5, after all). But the reason I hesitate is not because of his lack of understanding, but rather my uncertainty over whether it is right for us to do so.
I have never been baptised and so if I choose to baptise him, I’d like to be baptised myself at the same time. But should we really do this when I know that I still haven’t figured out quite how I feel about and understand that part of Christianity. I wrote about how and why I was teaching Little Man about the Easter Story from a Progressive Christian point of view last year, and for the most part I am comfortable in the way we are exploring the Christian faith together. But there seems, to me at least, a big difference between our personal exploration of Christianity and a more public affirmation of our faith, such as baptism.
You may be wondering why this is such a big deal to me. We go to church, and our church is very welcoming and allows us to take part in communion whenever it is held, even though neither of us has been baptised. So in essence, it doesn’t stop us from being part of the church family. And yet, there is a part of me that feels like we still sit on the edges, looking in rather than being an active part of the church. And that bothers me.
I know that most of this is my own hesitancy rather than anything the church is or isn’t doing to help me feel more welcome. But it does make me wonder why this is so hard, and just how many more people feel the same way that I do. The Minister today asked a similar question – how many people come so close and yet do not take that first step to enter into our community, because it feels unapproachable to them? Are we doing enough to share our faith with others and show them how welcome they would be to join us?
One of the things I love most about the church I attend is that I can see signs of this happening. There is a notice on the inside of the church which says something along the lines of, “it’s not our role to bring people to church, it’s our role to bring people to Jesus”. This speaks to me so strongly, because it reflects the ideas within Progressive Christianity that focus on building communities where there are many ways to experience and understand the Divine, and that it’s important that we, “accept all who wish to share companionship without insisting on conformity”.
And yet even with these signs in my own church, I still feel so hesitant to speak up, share my heart with others, and become a truly active member of the church. I still fear what will happen if I do. But I promised myself that 2017 would be a year of courage, and so it’s time for me to dig deep and find the strength to do so. Our Minister this morning called us to do just that – she phrased it as “God has thrown down the gauntlet”, and I love the image that evokes.
She reminded us that God challenges us sometimes, and though we may try to resist, it’s what we have been called to do. For me the message is loud and strong – I’ve been gifted with the ability to communicate and connect with others in such a way that my entire life has focused on these key skills. And yet in this one area I resist it so strongly, for fear of what it might entail. “Who am I to do or say these things when I don’t even know quite where I fit in yet?” I ask myself. Well, actually, who am I not to?
The truth is, I probably have far more in common with those who are hesitant about attending church than many other church-goers. I know what it’s like to come in as an outsider, someone new to the faith, with questions and doubts that I think may exclude me from the community. I also know what it’s like to walk a path between multiple faiths, drawing inspiration from other religious traditions as well as Christianity. And if that wasn’t enough, I also have such a passion for exploring faith and making it more accessible for others.
Which is why I felt I had to write a post today, after the message at church was so strong this morning. I needed to express what it’s like to attend church when you feel like you don’t quite belong, because it’s often a confusing place to be. And I wanted to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone this year and truly try to find my place within the church as a Progressive Christian. Because finally I feel able to say that – I am a Christian, even though I reject some of the more common understandings of what this means.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – do you define the “type” of Christian you are, or just that you are Christian? How do you define what it means to be a Christian? Is it even possible to define it, or is it too complicated for words?
Don’t forget I am always happy to provide a space on this blog for you to share your own thoughts and experiences. I feel a major part of my blogging journey is to help express the diverse unity that exists within our faith communities, as well as society as a whole. So please, feel free to share your thoughts with me on this (even if you disagree with everything I say!!)
For a very long time now, I have felt like I didn’t really belong to any faith group, and that bothered me. It seemed like there were things I believed (or didn’t believe, as the case may be) that kept me from fitting in fully with Christianity (both the more mainstream communities and more liberal ones, such as Unitarians and Quakers) as well as other religions such as Paganism and Buddhism. It felt like I was floating somewhere between many different paths and as much as I believe there is truth within each individual path, and that there is more than connects us all than separates us, I still wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere.
I wanted to be able to explore my faith openly and with others, without fearing becoming an outcast by putting my foot in it somewhere along the line! I had found myself turned away from Christianity in my first year at University by the Christian Union (which gave me the impression that to be a Christian you had to fit into a very small definition), and later found myself kicked out of an online forum for saying the wrong thing and expressing a doubt! Looking back, these were two very small experiences that were totally balanced out by the welcoming and supportive communities I experienced in the local church at Uni and my time volunteering with Die Heilsarmee in Germany. But my fear of not “fitting in” was so great that I never allowed myself to fully open up in those groups and felt like I was always hiding something.
But faith is a funny thing, isn’t it? It grabs hold of you and refuses to let you go, even when you’re so angry and closed-minded about it. Over the past decade I have come back to this idea over and over again, and each time my heart has softened a little bit. I now go to church most Sundays and Little Man and I are enjoying exploring the Bible together through the Bible App for Kids every evening before bed. But even now there is still a part of me that hesitates to define myself as a Christian, and whilst I have considered baptism for myself and Little Man I have yet to arrange it because I feel like it would be making a declaration of faith that isn’t completely honest. Because there are still things that I believe (and don’t believe) which I feel are not necessarily the generally accepted ideas within Christianity.
Which is why it has been a complete surprise to me these past few weeks to discover that there are people who have absolutely no issue with calling themselves a Christian whilst having similar beliefs to me. I have discovered over recent months that there was a growing “liberal” or “progressive” movement within Christianity, having read books by Marcus Borg and John Churcher. And then even more recently a friend of mine, who I have always considered quite a “New Age Hippy” (like me), shared with me that her church (Episcopal) would never have dreamed of expecting her to give up her belief in Angels, Reiki, and the other “woo woo” stuff that I had been so scared of sharing with others.
My conversation with this friend included her suggestion that what I had long considered the “mainstream Christian” view might actually be more the exception than the norm – what an interesting thought! Yet I know there are others, like me, who have felt they have had to keep certain aspects of their lives hidden from their church family, because they fear its reception. And that still bothers me, because I have this issue with honesty… I feel like I am being dishonest not to disclose where my beliefs may differ, yet it’s such a tough discussion to have that I hide it anyway.
But time and time again I feel the nudge to take that leap of faith and open my heart to the endless possibilities that will come with doing so. I hear the message that I am a writer, a communicator, a facilitator, and I am meant to use these gifts to help both myself and others. Which is why I have recently started two new projects – one is a Facebook group (The Faith Space), where members can come together and discuss all things faith related in an open and non-dogmatic way; and the other is a new book, bringing together the personal faith stories of a wide variety of people.
I’m loving the conversations that are starting within the Facebook group, and am extremely excited about the book. It is my hope that this book will become an informative resource for new believers and those who, like me, are unsure of whether they “fit in” or not. By providing a space for a variety of people to share their own individual story of faith, I hope to show that there is so much diversity even within a single faith tradition, and that this diversity actually opens up Christianity as a warm and welcoming faith to those of us who may have felt we couldn’t belong for one reason or another.
More than anything, I want to show that there is not one “right way” to be a Christian, rather that we are all welcomed to follow in the footsteps of a man who was so radical in his own faith that he risked everything to show us the way to know God and love one another. Because, after all, didn’t Jesus himself ignore the religious teachings of his time when doing so allowed him to show love and compassion?
So here’s my invitation (or rather request) to you – if you would like to contribute your own personal faith story for the book, please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know! I’ll then send you out more details about the book and answer any questions you may have about it. I’d love to hear from you.
What does The Divine mean to you? Do you believe in a Personal God or are you more of a God-in-Nature kind of person? Do you even know where to start when trying to "Define the Divine"? It's taken me quite some time...
You may remember that this time last year I read a fair few books that seemed quite contradictory reading in many ways:
"My recent/current reading list has contained the titles, "What God Wants", "What the Bible Really Teaches", "An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion" and "The God Delusion". Quite a selection – a "new age" book, a Christian challenge to fundamentalists, a philiosophical/theological book, and one written by a staunch atheist!"
I also went on to explain why this was of interest to me:
"More and more I am realising that if I truly want Little Man to grow up and make his own decisions about faith and "God" then I need to be able to encourage and support him in his own exploration as and when he is able and wants to do so… I'd rather he chose to be firmly religious or a passionate atheist (neither of which I am) or even someone who couldn't care less either way, than follow in my footsteps and choose to believe something just because I do. If I can raise him to have his own mind, I'll be one happy mama."
I didn't really write much more about this after that, even though I continued to read various bits and pieces. But when I picked up another book by Neale Donald Walsch recently I realised that he has this unique way of putting into words so much of what I have felt for so long but never been able to explain very well. I began reading Communion with God just a week or so ago and every time I pick it up I wish I were as able to put my feelings into words.
You see, I seem to have a lot of friends who either have very firm beliefs in God or who are passionately atheist and I find myself agreeing with each one on so many things and yet disagreeing on many others. And it can be hard to explain where you actually stand when you are neither here nor there, but somewhere in the middle, because that can seem so very "wishy washy" and changeable at times, which it is (changeable I mean, not wishy washy)!
I love each one for their conviction in where they stand as I feel the same conviction that what I feel is right, is right for me. But expressing that can be difficult. And it can be even more confusing to try and explain how sometimes I can feel I have more in common with an atheist than with a christian, even though I believe in a God (of sorts).
But when I talk about "God" I mean "Life". Pure and simple, I believe that "God" is a term used throughout the ages to describe the energy that creates life, that sustains life, that simply is life. So that includes you and me. Totally heretical to many faiths to suggest that we are all a part of God, co-creating the life that exists, but at its essence this is what I believe. We live in the world, we affect it through our thoughts, beliefs and actions. We're aren't mere spectators, we are creators. We create new life, we give birth to it, and we raise it.
And the book puts this so much more succintly than I ever could:
'There is nothing that is that is not God.
'You may better grasp this idea if you use the word "Life" in place of the word "God". The two words are interchangeable, so you will not alter the meaning…
"Nothing that is, is not Life. If Life needed to produce a result, where would Life get it? There is nothing that exists outside of Life. Life is All That Is, All That Was, and All That Will Ever Be.'
You may think I'm nuts, and that's okay! I think I'm nuts sometimes too. But I know that this really sums up for me exactly what I feel about life and God. I don't believe in God as a person. I think that we have personified an abstract feeling and concept that we struggle to put into words. And I think there is a real beauty in that, so long as we do not then expect everyone to accept our truth as the truth.
And so this is why I find myself falling somewhere in the middle, enjoying various perspectives given by both religions and atheists alike. It keeps me questioning whether what I believe today is the same as I believed yesterday, and I like that. Again the book writes this so much better than I ever could:
'Remember… take what you read as valuable, but not as infallible. Know that you are your own highest authority. Whether you read the Talmud or the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita or the Qur'an, the Pali Canon or the Book of Mormon, or any holy text, do not place your source of authority outside of yourself. But, rather, go within to see if the truth you've found is in harmony with the truth you find in your heart. If it is, do not say to others, "This book is true". Say, "This book is true for me".
'And if others ask you about the way you are living because of the truth you have found within you, be sure to say that yours is not a better way, yours is merely another way.'
This last passage reminds me of the conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu that I shared last year and I think it is worth sharing again. I love how beautifully this conversation expresses the ability to seek your own truth and still be able to honour the truth of another.
And I think it is a message that holds true in so many situations in life. '…if others ask you about the way you are living because of the truth you have found within you, be sure to say that yours is not a better way, yours is merely another way," is surely a message we should all remember when discussing different lifestyles, parenting choices and so much more. And this is why I love this book so much.
I do hope that as Little Man grows I will not only find the words to express these things to him but also the ability to live my life honouring the paths of others, showing him by the way I live my life rather than simply the words I speak.
As you may have noticed, I think quite a lot about faith and how that relates to our lives as individuals and as a family. I don't write about it anywhere near as often as I think about it, but it does crop up from time to time.
I've been thinking about it a lot lately, as I've been trying to get my head and heart around certain things and I have been reading quite a bit too (whenever I've had the time). I've been wondering how to nurture faith in our family, especially in terms of introducing the idea of faith to Little Man and encouraging him to explore it in his own way.
I consider myself to be a Unitarian and as I wrote in this post, "The Unitarians believe you should actively seek your own experience and understanding of the Divine". But how do I do this with Little Man whilst he is so young? At this age they want clear and specific answers, not ones that ask them to consider deep thoughts they are unable to really comprehend right now.
But even more confusing is how do I explain to him that I read the Bible but that I interpret it in the way that I feel guided to inside my own heart which doesn't always tally up with the more typical interpretations? It makes using a devotional very challenging and so we haven't got any of those.
So I was really happy to find and read the book "What God Wants" by Neale Donald Walsch and find that it talked very deeply about what he calls "Separation Theology" (the theology that we are separate from God and one another and that there must be one true religion) and went into detail about how he feels a theology of Unity would work. After all, this is what Unitarian thinking is all about.
The following two quotations are ones that I want to keep in my mind and heart as I work on nurturing faith within myself and Little Man, and I hope you don't mind me sharing them.
"There is only one God. Whatever we think God is, most of the major religions of the world would agree: there is only One of That […] From "There is only one God" to "There is only One Thing at all" is a small shift. It's not a rejection of doctrine, but an enlargement. It's not an abandonment of traditional religious teaching, but an expansion […] This is not about rejecting religion. It is, in fact, about reinvigorating it, enlivening it, refreshing it." (Chapter 18)
"Humans will understand that God's words are found in all of the world's Holy Scriptures, and that no scripture is more authoritative, more complete, more accurate, or more authentic than any other, but that each contains great wisdom and each leads to a greater understanding of The Only Truth There Is" (Chapter 23)
These two verses speak to me so much and make me feel so much more at peace with how I approach the Bible and other sacred texts in a way that has previously been described by many as a "pick and mix" approach without much substance.
But nothing could be further from the truth, as I am constantly exploring God and my relationship with him. This is currently now being explored through another book I found at our local library, this time a Christian one, "What the Bible Really Teaches" by Keith Ward.
Although I have found the beginning of this book rather hard going, it is in fact helping me to explore things in ever more detail and depth and I do believe that even though a book may be hard to read, that doesn't mean you shouldn't read it!
The reason I find it so hard is that actually the author is rather forceful in his "challenge" to fundamentalist thinking and beliefs and though I completely agree with an awful lot of the points he makes, I don't appreciate the style and force behind his words. It was a fundamentalist style of Christianity that pushed me away and so it is good to read a book that focuses on it, but even so it could have been toned down (in my mind, at least).
That being said, I am enjoying reading his "six principles of biblical interpretation". These include:
The Principle of Contextualisation
"We cannot read a biblical passage as though it has just fallen out of the sky and was addressed to us personally. We have to try and see who wrote it, when, why and for whom".
"What the Bible really teaches is usually not very clear, and it is often widely misunderstood. In other words, what the Bible really teaches is not one thing, clearly stated, which it is faithless to doubt or deny"
The Principle of Comprehensiveness
"In reading any passage of the Bible, we must consider all relevant biblical material, and not take passages in isolaton and out of context".
These both make me want to explore the Bible in much more detail than I have in the past and work out what it meant to the people at the time and what it means to me now.
Essentially, these two books have made me feel more at ease with sharing parts of the Bible to introduce Little Man to God and faith and that it is okay to do this and share my own thoughts on what it all means, even if that isn't the mainstream intepretation. I was so worried that I might introduce something to Little Man and then him come across it again at school or something and find himself in a difficult situation if what I have shared with him is different to what is shared with him by another.
But isn't that the point? Faith is personal, I have always maintained that, and yet I worry so much about getting it wrong when trying to explain this to Little Man. I need to let go of some of that worry and trust that he will find his own way in his own time.
Thanks for letting me share this part of my heart with you today. I know that some of you may be very firm in your faith and the way you are raising your children and may find this slightly perplexing. Others of you may have no faith or be quite sincere atheists and may think I am mad for worrying so much about it. Either way, I'd be happy to hear your thoughts in the comment (as long as they are respectful and polite, of course!)
I've been thinking a lot about faith and religion lately. Until earlier this year I didn't really feel like I belonged to any specific community. I had my faith, but it was my faith which kept me from fitting in to many more "mainstream" religions. And though I missed the community aspect, this wasn't a big deal for me. Until I had Little Man.
It strikes me that by having no religion as such I am "going it alone" in terms of introducing the idea of faith and God and everything else to Little Man. There are very few resources available (that I have found) which offer suggestions and age-appropriate stories and games which could introduce the thoughts and ideas to him, without coming from a very specific religious background. And as I believe faith is unique and do not want to push any one path upon Little Man, this concerned me.
So I was immensely glad when I found out more about the Unitarians this year and that TJ has shown a real interest in Paganism. I guess these two come under the umbrella term of "religion" but still they don't have the same religious concepts as many others do. The Unitarians believe you should actively seek your own experience and understanding of the Divine, whilst Paganism is such a varied path that to define a Pagan is quite challenging.
There is no "standard teaching", no tagline which defines these two. And that is what makes me feel so comfortable with them. My own experience of faith and God has been that it cannot be squashed into any human terms, not fully. We can try to define the Divine in our own way and I think it is an important thing for us to do personally, but we cannot define it for another. For me, no one religion or person has the whole "truth". We all find aspects of the Divine that are important and appropriate for us in our current circumstances. To me, God is so huge that to claim we know exactly who and what he is and what he wants from us is to limit the unlimitless.
But then, that is something I have come to understand over many years of experience and thinking. How do I express that very thing to Little Man? How do I show him that this is what mama believes, this is what daddy believes, but what he believes is more important for him? He isn't old enough for that kind of understanding just yet. So where do we start?
And yet, when I think back I realise that religion didn't really play a huge part in my early childhood either. My family weren't religious. I heard the odd Bible story at school but that was about it. And yet I have always had this immense faith that God was there, I was never alone, and that there was a purpose and flow to everything even if I couldn't see it at that time. This has obviously evolved and developed as I grew older, but the basis has always been there.
So maybe as children we are more aware of the Divine than we realise and faith develops anyway, whether we offer up teaching through a religion or not. Perhaps I need not worry so much about how and what to teach Little Man and just concentrate on living life through my own faith and seeing where that leads us.
What do you think? Do you belong to a religion? How do you/did you raise your children? What resources have you found which help you in this?
For the past ten years I have spent an awful lot of time thinking about where I fit in when it comes to faith, spirituality and indeed religion. It has been a rocky road because although I know what it is I believe, finding a name for that and thereby a way to express it has been challenging.
For many, many years I honestly believed that faith in God must equate to being a Christian. It sounds utterly naive now based on everything I have learned in the past ten years or so, but let me paint the picture. My family weren't religious. They had beliefs, but we didn't attend church or home groups or anything. My experience of religion was through school and the odd church service with Brownies, Guides or the few months I spent singing in my friend's church choir.
So when I went to university, I automatically joined the Christian Union. And that was when it all got complicated…
I found myself in a place that didn't feel right. Things that I had held dear were not only questioned but sometimes downright ridiculed and I went through a major spiritual crisis. I felt lost and alone and I didn't want anything to do with that world.
Luckily I found support online through some spiritual (New Age) forums and began to open up again. I even decided to spend my three month stay in Germany not only volunteering with the Salvation Army but also staying with a family there too. And I had a wonderful time.
Those three months did a fine job of healing a lot of the hurt I had felt and broke down my defensive barriers because they taught me that what I had experienced previously was an extreme and not the norm. I felt happy and loved during those three months and still write to some of the officers every year as I remember my time there so fondly.
But however much that experience brought me back from a place of being hostile towards Christianity, it also left me more confused than ever. Conversations led to my realising that my beliefs weren't always that far from those of what I'll call "mainstream Christianity" for want of a better term, but I still had some major differences that I personally felt stopped me from connecting with the Christian community.
Things like "original sin", "predestination", and the concept of the "Trinity".
Oh and the fact that I practise Reiki, believe Angels are sent from God to help us all, and that every living thing has a soul that survives beyond physical death.
It didn't help that when I tried once more to connect with a Christian community online to try and figure this all out I was kicked off the forum for "saying the wrong thing". Whoops!
You'd think I would have just given up and gone my merry way in the spiritual community that seemed to have no pre-requisites, right? But there remained a part of me that missed the connection that belonging to a "real life" community brings. And this only grew once I fell pregnant with Little Man and started to think about how I would raise him.
So when TJ started suggesting we should look again for some "Pagan" groups to join I initially felt rather excited.
Except, upon reading more I began to wonder if I really was fully Pagan either. It seemed as if I was somewhere in the middle, between liberal (perhaps very liberal) Christian and loosely Pagan, not really fitting in one world or the other.
Yet the week we spent in Glastonbury earlier this year brought home just how much I miss the community spirit of togetherness. We had a wonderful time celebrating Beltane, and we held a beautiful little blessing for Little Man in the Chalice Well Gardens…
So when TJ decided he really felt like Druidry might be where he felt his heart taking him, I listened with interest as he explained how some Druids consider themselves to be Christian as well and that the two don't necessarily clash.
I don't pretend to know all that much about Druidry as that is TJ's area, not mine. But it did make me wonder just how that would work. So I looked for more information, reading bits here and there, and eventually coming across the term "Unitarian".
It wasn't a new term to me. TJand I had actually been to a Unitarian church a couple of times, but for some reason I had never fully looked into it. And the more I read the more I realised I had probably been "Unitarian" all of my life, without really knowing.
Suddenly I felt less alone. I realised that there are groups out there that will help me as I develop further in my faith and that can offer support as I do the best I can in raising Little Man to seek his own relationship with God.
And with all the other changes I've been making lately I feel much more confident and secure in sharing this with him, and with others. Whereas before I would carefully write such things as "my faith has helped me through HG" or avoiding the subject altogether, I now want to share that as it is crucial to understanding some of the things I am going through. And whereas I often used to avoid joining in with people when they discussed a topic, I feel able to take part now.
I found this amazing resource this morning answering common questions about Unitarianism and I found myself nodding along with so many parts of it. But the thing that really made my heart sing was this:
"We favour a simple and inclusive definition of the word Christian. Thus a Christian is any person who seeks to live in accord with the life and teachings of Jesus, who identifies with what is best in the Christian tradition, and who, perhaps, sees in Jesus a revelation of the God who is immanent in all people. This is the wellspring of love that permeated his nature and his ministry."
I never felt comfortable saying I was "Christian" but in actual fact I have a huge amount of love for the life that Jesus led. I want to be able to show Oscar the Bible as a part of his upbringing in a way that allows him to think about it and decide what he believes to be true in his own heart. Because I ultimately hope that Little Man will have the freedom and courage to explore various paths before choosing that which he experiences as bringing him into a closer relationship with God, however he understands God to be.
And that makes me feel glad.
As a family we can celebrate those things we all share in our beliefs and still celebrate those which are different. We can pray and read the Bible, but we can also meditate, celebrate the Wheel of the Year, plant a Sacred Grove, and be open to learning more about the faiths of others.
Oh baby boy… this is going to be such a wonderful journey for us all!
I totally understand that this post may not sit very well with some people. I am leaving comments open on this post as I am happy to discuss this with anyone who wants a mutually open conversation built on respect for differences as well as celebrating similarities. But I am not open to comments that aim only to either end in a massive theological debate in a hope to "prove me wrong" or simply undermine my own relationship with God. I have had plenty of those in the past and this isn't the time or place for it. Any such comments will be deleted. Thank you.
First of all, I must say a massive thanks to all those of you who left comments and sent messages to me following my previous post. I am overwhelmed by the response, for I don't think any post I've written has ever inspired so many people to leave a message. I guess being honest and sharing even those most scary thoughts really does make for good reading!
So I thought I would expand on this openness and start a new series about the more spiritual nature and inspiration in my life. I have steered clear of going too deeply into this subject before through both a fear of alienating my readers and bringing judgemental, argumentative or theological responses that I cannot answer.
You see, if someone asks me "what" I believe, I find it difficult to answer. This isn't just because of a fear of rejection, but also because it is hard to define something that is more a feeling and intuition than a solid and measurable thing.
I also feel rather weakly equipped, for although I know the basics of the Bible and Christianity (for example) when their scriptures, teachings or theologies are presented to me as a way of discussing or debating a certain issue I am often at a loss. This does not mean I dislike such conversations, as they can be very interesting and revealing, I just find them difficult when the other person has a range of quotations and religious examples to make their point and I have to somehow take what I feel in my heart and make sense of it with words.
I may be good with words, but something as personal as faith is very hard to define (and defend, if arguments do arise). Even more difficult can be explaining to someone how you believe in pretty much the same thing that they do, are willing to accept their beliefs as spiritual truths, but are unwilling to accept and follow their religion. I still haven't figured that one out yet…
But ask me "why" I believe, and that I can answer far more easily.
I believe, because I do.
There has never been a time in my life that I cannot remember feeling that someone was there. My mind has always been enquiring: as a child I remember lying in bed trying to figure out how we know if we are dreaming or not, and where our thoughts occur because they are far too big to fit in our heads. I could imagine whole worlds in my mind's eye, so where was this world occurring?
I never once stopped questioning things, but I never once questioned that God existed. (I use the word God as it is what I am most comfortable with, but there was a time in my early adulthood that I felt religion has taken the word away from me and I looked for alternative words such as Source and Energy but eventually I came back to the word God as it felt right for me).
I've spent years talking to someone, telling them everything from what I was feeling to what I was planning on doing. It was like a conversation took place in my mind, but there was someone else there to hear it. I even laughed and responded to some unheard reply sometimes, never quite knowing exactly why. I may sound mad, but it is how I live and I'll take madness over loneliness any day.
It didn't matter who this person was, I just knew that someone was there, guiding me, comforting me, and inspiring me. When I became too self-absorbed and run-down by life's events I lost the feeling of security that came with knowing someone was there, but still I talked, sharing my grief. And when things got exciting, I jumped for joy, knowing someone was watching.
So although my answer "I believe, because I do" may sound like a cop-out, it truly is the best way to answer the question of why I believe. To not believe is as alien a concept to me as to not hope or fear.
And I cannot blame this on some aspect of my upbringing because my parents never really spoke of anything beyond the visible until after my granddad died when I was 9, by which stage my belief was well and truly founded already.
Sure I came across aspects of religion in school, but never enough to form the strong bond I had with this unseen force. And besides, I only have to look at my conversations with "God" during the times I was angry with religion to know that no matter what questions I had about the specifics of it all, I could never doubt the existence of something beyond the world I see.
Incidentally, I believe in a lot more things than God, but the point is not to discuss that. I only mention it to point out that whilst our environment and upbringing can affect our ideas of the world to an extent, it really is our own ability to create our own beliefs that makes them as strong as they are.