Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Outside or Inside

Because I intend to write in here about spiritual topics now and again, as I did with DaVinci Code, I felt it would be right for me to explain where I am coming from. My spiritual path has not been exactly a straight line-- more of a jog this way and that. Some tell their spiritual stories as an example of others to follow. Mine is not like that but simply how it was for me then and now. It seems to fall into four parts. I have no idea if there will be more changes to come.

As a child, I grew up in a household where there were Bibles, some talk of God, but no religious ties. We attended local churches off and on but none for long enough to feel a part of it. In one church my mother talked later of feeling embarrassed when the pastor spoke of how good it was that people with nice coats could sit beside those with poor coats, and she knew she was the one with the poor coat. We were outsiders in any church we attended. In our home, moral guidelines were taught as much by example as words. Even as a small child, I felt the presence of God with me. I didn't try to define what that presence was.

When I reached young adulthood, I began looking for a religion I could join-- one that would help me worship God. Plus, I wanted to be on the inside for a change. My choice ended up, after visiting a lot of churches, Roman Catholic. I liked the artistic structure, the age-old history. My husband and I took instruction and were baptized in Tucson, Arizona. I enjoyed the aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual feeling of the church. When our children came along, they were baptized into the Catholic Church also, but we held back from having them taught there. There were a few reservations I had about the teachings, but we attended Mass regularly and taught our children about God at home. For years it worked-- about 13 or so. Then because of things I had come to believe, it changed. It was time to go onto something else.

Next came a rural Evangelical Church. It was a small pioneer community church, the kind that some of the farmers came to services fresh from the barns, with manure still caked on their boots, and everybody was just glad to see them. The pastors never commented on it; most of them wore boots too. During those years I read through the Bible many times, found structure, and came to believe I understood the principles behind the words. Church was a place to meet friends, serve in the community, for our children to attend Sunday school, for us to participate in helping the church grow. There came a time when the church's beliefs and mine were no longer the same and it was again time to move on-- after about 13 years. Amazingly enough in all of these moves, my husband and I were in sync.

From each of these experiences, I took with me things which are part of who I am spiritually today. In the Catholic Church, the mysticism, the magic, and yes, the occult are still of interest to me. In the country church there was being part of a community and a certain solidness of learning and serving.

When I am in Tucson, I usually find a time to go out to San Xavier, also called the White Dove of the Desert. I light candles; some I buy to take home with me. No one can explain mysticism or magic and I don't attempt to; but when my daughter was pregnant with her second child, she had bleeding, and there was concern that she might miscarry. At San Xavier, in the alcove you see in this picture, I lit a candle for that baby to be allowed to be born and my daughter to be healthy. Was that why that next week she felt better and the bleeding stopped? I wouldn't try to prove it was connected; but over a year later, when my first grandson was almost a year old, I managed to get back out to the church and light another candle of thanks.

On the white draped image of the saint, you see in this picture, often there are many requests and thanks pinned to the cloth with small religious icons and sometimes photographs. I always wonder what the story is behind them. Yes, it's a blend of Christianity and paganism; but that suits me, as I am, just fine.

Today, I call myself a pagan Christian, a description which neither Christians nor most pagans think is possible. It's the closest I can come to my belief in the things Christ taught but also my belief in nature and how it can heal. I don't personally practice rituals or cast spells but I find the practice of doing such of interest. I have yet to light a bonfire and dance naked around it on Beltane, but you never know what the future might hold. I do read Tarot cards sometimes, know quite a bit about astrology, read metaphysical books, have explored reincarnation, consider dreams important, have visited psychics, and probably would be considered damned by both the churches I used to regularly attend. I am back on the outside, but this time by choice.

The picture is a medicine wheel we made along the creek that edges this farm. It will have to be put together again after the winter floods. Medicine wheels represent that spiritual truths come from the four directions and from many peoples. In the same place, the youth group from the local church used to come and sing songs and have night bonfires. In the same place I can go and sit along the creek, cry, talk to God, and feel comforted.

I believe I am in a church today, but it's not a building nor organization. It's friends, the people I meet and talk to about spiritual beliefs. It's teachers who come into my life, books, animals, nature, sacred places that can be found everywhere (like Bear Butte holy to the Lakota and Cheyenne); and it's in me. I don't try to define the mystery of existence and life. I do try to do what is right, as I understand it, day by day. I don't know that I will ever regularly attend a traditional church again-- but I don't know that I won't either. I see value in religion but also risk. It can stifle but it can also help give people boundaries and foundation.

If I were ever to be in another church, I'd want it to be one of love-- one that let people grow freely in whichever direction they felt drawn. Let them explore like children in the wilderness picking from this branch or that, warning them to avoid the poisonous ones, but mostly letting them learn by experiencing and to grow without fear. Fear to me is the opposite of true spiritual experience.


Mary Lou said...

Oh Rain, You just described me to a T!!! I was raised a Methodist, and then I married a Catholic, and I raised my kids in the church. THen I fell away and found that sitting on a bluff looking out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Olympic mountains I can talk to God, and he answers! I also have dabbled in metaphysics although I do not know enough to do me any good, and Shamanism intrigues me too. I think God just shrugs and says 'Hey, whatever works for you..."

Parapluie said...

I remember my grandmother unable to decide if she would convert to Seventh Day Adventist or to Jehovia Witness. She asked me what I thought God would want her to do. I said it didn't make any difference to God which she picked but that she should pick. That was in 1976. Faced with the same question now I would say God wouldn't care if she didn't pick at all. I have been told children usually experiment in religions and then finally return to their parent's path. I guess that will happen to me and I will follow my own philosophy. Yet, I am not going to burn my connection to the Jewish Community. And I will continue to go to my children's and grandchildren's churches to support them.

Rain said...

well i'm not much like my parents spiritually yet anyway.. so maybe that will be the fifth stage if things change. For now I have been different than anybody in my family as most were protestant mainstream in their thinking but one great grandmother was Catholic.

I think it's good to support the kids in what they do when it's not a bad thing. They are doing what they feel is best for their families and this is their time for deciding that.

Fran aka Redondowriter said...

Thanks for this revealing post, Rain--and it's interesting to see how much Mary Lou identifies--and so do I. Though I have returned to Mass these days, all the things that give meaning to you are incorporated into my own beliefs. I missed church today--slept in, but I always feel now that I carry God in my heart whether I celebrate inside a building or not. On the other hand, I have a deep longing to belong to a faith community.

goldenlucyd said...

Both your post and the comments are thought-provoking and timely. In an age like the one we live in all of us seek a center and grounding. Much food for thought here. Thanks to all of you.