“Jesus died on the cross for us!” He said it over and over. I kept thinking, what does that mean? I heard it enough in church, and of course it comes up around Easter, but I guess when people say that, it doesn’t really mean anything to me. Not to be disrespectful to Jesus or the people that worship him, but it just doesn’t resonate with me.
I was raised as a Catholic. My mother took us to church, rain or shine, three feet of snow or scorching heat. As a young Catholic girl, I wore my doily on my head, learned to genuflect, and memorized the Hail Mary and the Our Father. I learned when to kneel, stand and sit, as part of the Catholic mass, and when I was old enough, I learned to confess my sins – even though I made most of them up, because I didn’t really know what sinning meant – and I made my first communion, that I might receive the body of Christ.
There was a feeling I got sometimes, deep within, of a presence of sorts, but no words could ever describe it. People take words too literally, and what I felt was not anything one could paint in a picture or type out on a typewriter. It was a deep feeling, a sense of something much larger than myself, and when I was in church, if I wasn’t too busily, preoccupied with my knees sticking to the vinyl kneeler or thinking about what I was going to do after church, I would become aware of it. And when we prayed the Rosary, all the words being said together, heads bowed, I felt it more powerfully than ever. All that energy focused in the same place.
When I grew old enough to realize that I could have a say so in whether or not I went to church, I started to resent that obligation. I hated the way I felt guilty or even like I was going to be punished if I didn’t go to church. And I took my children to church, without the right motivation. It was “the thing to do.” Plus I lived next door to my mother and had a close relationship with her, so I knew I would hear about it if we didn’t go.
It wasn’t until I left the church that I found my spirituality. Free will, I found meant not just whether or not you choose to sin, but it meant the freedom to let go of all I had been taught, and to find a way to get closer to God, without “following the rules.” I began to meditate and feel the presence of my soul. I learned to listen to the voice within. I learned to forgive – first myself, then others – through this centering on love and compassion. Most importantly, I have found a trust in knowing that if I open my heart and let the energy flow, a peacefulness comes over me and everything flows much smoother.
All of the these new concepts and practices that I have come upon through a great teacher are the same teachings that I feel Jesus taught. And like that feeling that I got when I kneeled in church, I find that feeling over and over and sometimes continuously, as I walk in nature or sit in the quiet.
People like to put names and labels on things. It is their way of feeling they have some sense of control over it, I guess. I have no name for this presence I feel – only that I have never felt so connected to it, as I do now. Call it God, Goddess, Universe, Creator, the Great One, Soul, or Jesus Christ, or Buddha – does it have to have a name to be comprehended?
What I practice does not fit one religion. There is no church, synagogue, or temple that I must attend to confirm my spirituality. I don’t need one. When I step out my back door, I am met with Nature’s grace – the perfect place to pray. When I lie in the dark at night, I am never alone. Even as I sit typing this, I feel it. It doesn’t leave just because it has no designated place to be felt or name to be called. And the only rule that I need is the Golden Rule.
Someone I love very much lectured me recently. This person is afraid I am going to hell, because I don’t praise Jesus Christ. This person said, “I feel sorry for you, because you don’t know Jesus Christ.”
Needless to say, it hurt to be berated in the way that this person approached me – there was a lot of violence and desperation in this person’s voice that made me feel attacked. At first, I cried and felt extremely sad. I was sad, because I didn’t want this person’s newfound faith to come between us just because I didn’t want to put the same labels and restrictions on my faith. I was sad, because part of me want this person’s permission to believe differently. Like most people, I, too, appreciate someone agreeing with me, but I am not willing to turn away from what I have found to be the most powerful and meaningful belief that I have ever experienced just to gain another’s approval.
I went home and did the only thing I could do. I took it to my heart in meditation, and I found compassion for myself and for this person who felt if I did not put my spirituality into the same words that made him/her understand what he/she was feeling, that I must be wrong.
I think the saddest thing about the people that call themselves Christians is that they obviously think everyone else is wrong, which to me means that they are breaking one of their own Biblical rules – Judge not, lest you be judged. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be out there trying to convert everyone to find spirit their way! The Christian way. Maybe what they feel is not powerful enough to stand on its own.
I could get into a lot of disputes about religion, but I choose to approach with a compassionate heart, realizing that everyone has to find their own way. Words shouted at me about fire and brimstone only scared me in the opposite direction.
I try to lead by example. Live from my heart. And if someone is inspired by my actions or my approach, finds healing or happiness from my inspiration, then I feel I have fulfilled my purpose on this earth.
Heaven or hell? It’s a choice. And I think it is a choice made now. Like glass half full or half empty. I know lots of people that go around shouting about Jesus Christ and they are the least joyful people I know, and I know what they are choosing, even if they don’t think they are.
Choosing a loving approach, with compassion, trust and creativity as the base, I choose Heaven! That is – if you have to give it a name…..