My Meandering Journey Through Spirituality and Religion

Each bullet point is a different religion, spirituality, philosophy or stage along my journey. There has been many…

  • I was baptized in a Lutheran church as an infant. I recall my mother teaching me the Lord’s Prayer when I was four years old, but we didn’t attend church when I was young. That’s the extent of what I know about my initial entry into the world of spirituality and religion.
  • My best friend through grade school had parents from India, although she herself did not remember India. We played every day, and I grew up eating homemade Indian food the likes of which I haven’t seen since. Indian food is still very homey and comforting to me. Her parents were Hindu and so I grew up seeing statues of Ganesha and Shiva in her parent’s bedroom where we built our play forts from umbrellas and dining room chairs.
  • My family was only an hour away from a large Amish area of the country, and so I grew up with familiarity about Amish and Mennonite lifestyle. I remember my grandmother bringing home Amish celery which was the most tender celery I had ever tasted.
  • When I was ten years old my mother declared that we were going to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. A corollary of our new life as Jehovah’s Witnesses is that we would no longer celebrate holidays or birthdays and no longer say the US Pledge of Allegiance. I was to avoid all non-Witness children lest those bad apples spoil my bunch. Suddenly we had Bible studies with the Witnesses once a week. I recall not feeling welcomed by the other members of our Kingdom Hall, and receiving disapproving looks when I challenged their assertion that my cats would not be joining us in our life on the New Earth after Armageddon. How did they know? Years later, my mother apologetically told them of my plans to go to college, considered to be a “worldly” activity. I sensed that my college plans were viewed as a sort of Amish rumspringa in which I sowed my wild oats before returning to be a good Witness girl.
  • Meanwhile, my father periodically attended a Unitarian Universalist church. I would occasionally attend an event with him and enjoyed the wonderful, inclusive feeling and joy among its members.
  • When I went to college, I developed an interest in Taoism. I would walk to the pine forest near my college and read Chuang Tzu’s Inner Chapters or the Tao Te Ching. I would sometimes spend an hour on one page, contemplating emptiness and my oneness with the Ten Thousand Things.
  • I had many Jewish friends in college. One of my favorite things about having Jewish friends was celebrating Seder with them in the Spring. We would go to the pine forest and celebrate Seder by campfire. We would pass around the horseradish root maror a few too many times to repeatedly taste the bitterness of life while writhing on the grass. When we were finished, we’d continue eating sweet charoset and drinking wine. I’m not sure how traditional the Seders were, but we had fun.
  • During college, I decided to start celebrating holidays again. It had been about eight years since I had a birthday or Christmas, I told my friends, and I was going to really celebrate! They were happy to oblige.
  • After college, I went on a three-month road trip. I had begun reading about Native American spirituality, specifically that of the Oglala Lakota Sioux. I taught myself to bend willow bark to fashion a sacred hoop, and with a friend built sweat lodges using a tarp, hot rocks and river water. I was awestruck of the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota, and recognized the deep insult of carving sculptures of our presidents into the side of their sacred mountain. A Crazy Horse statue is under construction on a nearby mountain. A reclaiming, perhaps.
  • For a time, I enjoyed comparing and contrasting the ultra-Eastern Taoism and the ultra-Western Lakota Sioux spirituality.
  • During graduate school, I lived in Salt Lake City, in the heart of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (i.e., Mormon) religion. I had friends who had grown up Mormon and left. One shared her childhood experiences of being baptized by proxy “for” others as the names listed in phone books and other sources were read aloud. Given her stories, I would not be surprised if I have been “baptized” in the Mormon temple without knowing it.

Years passed and I didn’t label myself as any particular religion. I was weary of organized religion. Organized religion felt largely oppressive and exclusive to me, which seemed in opposition to what I considered to be the point of religion itself. Wasn’t religion meant to open our hearts to love and a greater connectedness? A higher meaning and a loving higher being? Wasn’t religion supposed to prompt us to open our arms and include each other rather than isolate ourselves from bad apples? Why did spirituality need to be organized as part of a larger collective religion anyway?

Still, when I prayed it was Christian prayers. I prayed privately, which is how I was taught that prayers should generally be. I was told that prayers are a conversation with God, and you can talk with God about anything. I still feel this way, and feel uncomfortable praying in front of others. To me, it can feel a bit showy. Why do other people need to know about your private conversation with God?

My husband’s parents are Southern, evangelical, ultra-conservative missionary Baptists. My in-laws used to call upon me to pray on behalf of everyone. I did it once and have refused since then. Any prayer I say that might be appropriate for a group of people would be tainted by my thoughts about that group and what they would like to hear. I’m not talented enough to balance all of these concerns, and so I prefer to keep my prayers without social influence or expectation.

After I met my husband, he suggested that we go to his church. I agreed even though I was terrified. In my entire, meandering spiritual journey, I had never been to a “typical” church. I was certain that any moment someone would open the door and drag me into a back room, never to be heard from again. Terrified. I emerged unscathed but with a new realization that I had some issues about organized religion.

A few trans-continental moves later, we decided to find a church, our church. I said that since I knew so little about the differences between protestant religions, I wanted to go and sample them all. So we did. We attended Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Baptist churches, and several others that I could not easily define.

The church we fell in love with is a American Baptist church, the polar opposite of my in-law’s Baptist church. I was surprised to learn that Baptist churches are staunchly de-centralized and autonomous, each with their own personality. Baptists, it seems, were at the forefront of the fight for religious freedom and separation of church and state in the new American colonies. The focus on local congregations yielded a wide variability and diverse personalities among the individual Baptist churches.

In my church, we laugh and refer to ourselves as “Not That Kind of Baptist Church” and “a liberal extreme” compared to other Baptist churches. It’s the most loving, inclusive and giving group of people I’ve ever met. Exactly what I’ve always felt that a spiritual group of people should feel like. The place radiates love and acceptance. The emphasis is entirely on forgiveness and love, not punishment and fear. We have carrots and no stick. It’s the way I’ve always viewed God. The way that I view my children as a parent is how I think that God must view us on some level: knowing we will do wrong and forgiving us as we try to do our best. In August 2006 I was baptized again, this time on my own terms in a community that supports my spiritual growth and my individuality. It’s taken awhile for me to get here, and it has been healing to me. I am finally at spiritual peace.

7 thoughts on “My Meandering Journey Through Spirituality and Religion

  1. As always..your words..just have this way of speaking to me. Of making me think. Of making me grateful that I found you. I feel in a lot of there are so many parts of you that are similar to parts of me that I’m just beginning to figure out..some days I feel like I’m walking three gigantic steps behind you in this crazy game of life…and I find myself hoping that I could turn out half as wonderful as you.

    I love that you have come such a wide, well rounded, full circle. I love that you have explored many different places (whether by choice or not), accepted them to whatever degree you were able, taken from them what you could and found something that works for you. That is what religion should be, in my mind.

    I love that even though you had so many different experiences such as these…you took them openly and lovingly. When you were young it must have been confusing and like you said..caused you to question and be weary of organized religion..but you still got back to the place you’re meant to be. That’s the important part. That’s where I am right now – that desire to have faith, the desire for some sort of organized religion/faith/je ne sais quoi…but at a standstill with the fear and weariness and all that comes with it.

    Religion is such a touchy topic for me…I really want to write down my feelings…and I love that you’ve written this because it makes me think that I could write what I want to write too. More than anything though? I want that community you spoke of…sounds..(excuse my words) ..heavenly.

  2. I think most of us today, feel the way you to ( before you found the Church of your choice). That is, not really identifying with any of the religions and the rituals attached. But I do call myself a Hindu whenever filling an application is required and also celebrate related festivals. Other than that I do not do anything that a devout Hindu might do. But I realize that any time that I do visit certain temples, I do feel peaceful and content. It could be the conditioning I have received in my childhood through my parents who weren’t overly religious themselves.
    These days, I include religion in my life, only if it is convenient. I think I like the arrangement.

  3. Wow! That is quite a journey. You’ve learned so much from all your experiences and still you remain humble. I’m in awe of your insight.

  4. I love reading these comments! The journey can be meandering for many of us, and I think we know when we find a place that fits. I’m so glad that I started searching again after a long hiatus. I wish you all peace in your own journeys.

  5. Thank you for sharing your journey. I’ve been on a religious hiatus for more than a decade. Recently, I’ve had thoughts of looking for a church, less for spirituality and more for community. I’m glad you’ve ended up in a congregation that meshes so well with who you are.

  6. Your search has brought you to a place where the spirit resides. We all can find that place even though that place will be different. I was born Jewish but have lived and worked with people of many different religions. I have gained much from their insights and beliefs. Being involved with an organized religion never made me feel closer to the divine. My faith is a private comfort that helps me guide my behavior in this world. If I can be a person who extends her hand, asking nothing in return , I am happier than following a particular holiday . Although I sometimes feel I would like to be surrounded by like minded people, I have chosen to walk alone. I find my fellow travelers as I go.

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