Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Note On Spirituality

I think that I've talked about my spirituality in passing on the blog a few times. It's a huge part of my life and it's how I interpret everything that happens to me and around me, so it's surprising that I haven't written about it more. A lot of people get scared off when I tell them that I'm a person of faith - or worse, when I say that I'm a Christian - because there are a lot of preconceived notions about people who follow an organized religion. Especially as a young person, the "cool" thing to do seems to be rejecting religion and being critical of anyone who follows a religion.

I had a "friend" who recently "dumped me", you could say. I had met him a couple of years ago at work when he was new and I was training him. Shortly into meeting him, he starting talking about how anyone who follows an organized religion is stupid and just kidding themselves. I quickly told him that I was religious and that I disagreed with him, but my religion is very personal and I owe no explanation to anyone about it. He calmed down a bit after this, but continued to try egging me on. Over the next couple of years, he sent me messages on Facebook trying to provoke me into denouncing religion or at the very least, debating it with him (obviously with hopes that I would fail the debate). Every time, I flatly told him that my faith wasn't up for debate and I owed no one an explanation. The other day this happened again. This time, I had had enough. I told him that it was very rude and put me off when he constantly did this, and especially the first time that I'd ever even met him. He replied by saying that he felt the need to criticize people's religions because religion teaches you not to think critically, and therefore anyone religious has never been critical about their beliefs. WHOA. Hold on there! Anyone who has ever had a religious experience or who has sought out religion will know that in order to accept a spiritual practice into your life involves deep critical thinking. The journey is often very painful, revealing a lot about your faults and vulnerabilities. It completely changes how you see anything and how you react to things, even very painful, unfair things.

I was raised Lutheran my whole life. I've attended two different churches and went to Sunday School and bible school on and off throughout my life. I confirmed my baptism when I was 15 after four years of studying. But at this time, I would have in no way considered myself a spiritual person. I probably would not have even referred to myself as Christian. The religion meant very little to me on a personal level. I knew the stories and the commandments, but only on a surface level. My confirmation was mostly an answer to what I believed my parents expected of me.

When I was 16 I went through a series of traumatic events. Everything that I had understood about my life and myself changed. My best friends, the people who I spent nearly every day with, left me. I was very depressed and felt very alone. Out of desperation, I found myself sitting in the church pew waiting for service to start one Sunday morning. I wasn't there to accomplish anything. I just didn't really have anything to do. I listened carefully during the service, though I don't remember what the sermon was even about now. I probably didn't sing the songs, but I was immersed in the sound of everyone else singing. I took communion and shook hands during the offering of peace. I felt very much at home and I didn't feel one bit lonely. It was the first time that I had felt that way in a long time, even before I experienced that trauma. It felt like something that had been missing my whole life was suddenly there.

I started going to church every Sunday. I read religious essays. I listened carefully to every sermon. I brought home the bulletins that had verses in them that had touched me very deeply. I prayed every day and found myself in constant communication with God. But, it wasn't always easy. My new found faith had opened up how vulnerable I really felt. It changed my priorities and beliefs about myself and the world, beliefs which I had deeply ingrained into my mind. At times, exploring my faith was very painful and scary. At other times, it was filled with joy and comfort.

Since finding my faith, I have experienced similar trauma twice more, as well as the continued battle with the aftermath of such trauma. Although I've sought counseling and therapy, in the end my faith is what has done the most healing. I have developed new friendships and rekindled old ones. I feel so much more connected with everything that happens in my life. My experience with religion has taught me kindness and gentleness, it has taught me compassion and understanding, it has reminded me that I am never alone. Without my faith, I don't even know if I would still be alive today, and if I was, I doubt that I would be very happy or really, truly alive - merely surviving. Therefore, my faith in God is very important to me, and the connection that I have found in my faith is extremely personal. (This is as detailed as I prefer to get about it, and even this is a bit much.) I owe no one an explanation to my spirituality, but I strongly believe that if someone who knows me well thinks that my faith prevents me from thinking critically, then they are no friend of mine and they have no understanding of what faith and religion really mean.

I didn't write this with the intention of sounding angry or rude, and I definitely am not trying to imply that my religion is better than yours, or that someone without a religion isn't fulfilled. I have no opinions or critiques on your spiritual practices as long as they are not physically harming you or others. I couldn't care less if you choose to not follow a faith practice, or if you simply have no found one yet. I just wanted to talk about mine a little bit, so that no one is under the wrong impression about me or my views of the world, and to remind you that everyone is fighting their own battle, and if they've found a healthy way to heal from it, then there's no reason why you should critique it.


Alaina M. said...

Thank you for this lovely post.

Anonymous said...

I follow your blog regularly for more than 2 years or so, although I have never commented before, today I have to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this post. I'm from Portugal, I'm catholic and I'm a master degree theology student. I'm a faith person and I'm tired of being criticized by other people. Thank you so, so much for share your feelings to the world. I admire you a lot.

Milex said...

love ♥

Bella-Marie said...

I'm sorry you had to deal with that, I am often appalled at the way people treat each other when it comes to religion. I am what I myself would term a 'practicing agnostic' meaning I don't have a set belief in the existence, or not, of God or the ethical practices which go with it, but I'm very interested in learning and reading arguments from both sides to make sure I'm well informed on the subject.
In my opinion people can believe whatever they want so long as they are following a belief they have come to through the course of their own life, not simply because they are blindly following tradition, and must be willing to accept that others will have different experiences that lead them to a different belief system and to respect that. I think you have a very healthy relationship with your faith from what you've told us here and I hope you serve as a good example to people who claim that all religious people are foolish or uneducated because it simply isn't true.


Susy Valencia said...

I must say I am very touched with what you've said. I can also relate. There have been many people who I've distanced myself from because they would call me things and throw my Christianity in my face whenever I did a mistake. Anyways, I'm very glad that you know where you stand because in the end, that's all that matters.

Laura Whitman said...

I'm loving this post - I'm so glad that you can open up a little bit, even though it means putting you "out there" a little bit. I'm also religious, but like you, it is something very personal to me. Some people at school didn't know until I told them I was considering seminary.

Let me know if you would ever want to compare reading lists!


Gemma Roberts said...

Some people simply think their opinion should be shoved down the throat of others. Religion and spirituality is such a personal thing. I think you're brave for standing up for what you believe in, however sad it is that you HAVE to do that, even to so called friends. I think people are of course entitled to their own thoughts and opinions, just have a little respect.
My mother found her religion in a much similar way to you, and actually described it as a feeling of 'coming home'. She faces ridicule and jest from 'friends', much like you did. At the end of the day you know what you believe, you live your life how you feel right, thats all that matters.
I am not sure what I believe, it's a very unexplainable feeling. I don't think I am religious but I know I have faith, I know there are things beyond our understanding and control, and I respect that. I don't mind not knowing, I think some things shouldn't be explained to death by science etc. Some things we just aren't suppose to know.

Faded Windmills

Priya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Priya said...

I'm really glad you posted about this, Chloe. You've mentioned faith here and there but I've always been curious as to what your views were like. I admire you for sharing them, but still keeping it very personal. I, like you, grew up in the church, even with my dad employed full-time by ministry; but if there's one thing I've learned as I've grown, it's basically what you said: faith is so personal. I think people get very turned off to religion and especially Christianity when people tell them how to view it. Lots of people could stand to learn from your passionate but still respective viewpoint. Thanks for sharing.

perfectly priya

Sonya Mann said...

Amen to all of this. I've had similar experiences, and it's very affirming to read your story.

Allison said...

I have found great comfort and healing in the Lutheran church in particular. Having been to a Baptist and a non-denom church I have found that the teachings of Lutheranism have spoken the most to my heart and provided me with the most strength and healing. I am glad that you are brave enough to share your beliefs on here. More people need to be more honest in this world. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh Chloe, To open up Pandora's box is very brave or very foolish.
Any person that trys to sway your thinking on religion is not probably NOT your friend.
You seem like a very strong woman, and I think your faith has so much to do with that.
Keep being the person you are, because you ate great.<3

Janey said...

I think it's great that you feel comfortable talking openly about your religion on the internet, especially with the internet being so harsh. I also don't feel as though you're shoving it down anyone's throat but instead you're merely sharing how it has helped you personally. However, my only complaint is that you stated that the "cool" thing these days seems to be rejecting religion, which sort of makes you seem as though you're looking down on people who reject religion or thinking that they're merely following a fad. My journey to accepting the idea that there is no God was a struggle just like your journey to accepting him was. It wasn't easy by any means and I really went back and forth for a long time. I don't, by any means, think you're intent was to belittle anyone, but I just wanted to bring it up. I liked this post regardless of my beliefs however, and I think it's great you've found a sanctuary to help you heal and find happiness in dark times.

~K said...

I think this is a very beautifully written. Although I am not religious, I sometimes feel as though I have some faith, but what or who I have that faith in I don't know. I'm OK with that. You don't require all the answers to have faith, it is just something we have and we all have it different even those that follow the same religion.

This is one of the most elegant posts I have seen lately and I can see how dear it is to you and you should celebrate that!


chloe said...

Janey - thanks for your comment! I definitely meant in no way to put down atheists or agnostics and I'm glad you pointed that out because now I realize how flippant it sounded. I guess my intention was that it's very cool for people to be openly in your face rejecting God, just as many people Bible thump. I don't believe that anyone should ever be put down for their beliefs and I also don't believe that it's appropriate to out right claim one thing as bad over another thing. I guess that I just find that a lot of young people are very outspoken and in your face about not believing in God, but in a way that puts down those who do. And I don't think it's intentional, but they are pretty much accomplishing the same thing as people who preach on street corners saying you'll burn in Hell if you don't believe in Jesus, etc.

My overall belief is that it's fine to believe whatever you want, so long as you're not offensively rubbing it in someone's face, and that's what I feel like many atheist youth are doing today (especially now that you have the internet). I think that these young people do it over anger of Christians who bible thump, but they are pretty much doing the same thing with their religion, and it doesn't make it okay. And again, this is not all people, but it's some.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment xx

Janey said...

I completely understand where you're coming from. I definitely see plenty of atheist people who will call religious people "stupid" or "mindless sheep" for following what they believe and that's just as wrong as, how you said for instance, a religious person telling people they'll go to hell for not following that belief. It's great to feel passionately about something, but some people need to learn to respect other people's beliefs and not use such harsh or demeaning words to say that they don't agree with someone's beliefs.

Anyway, I'm kind of rambling on a bit but thank you for responding and being so kind. I definitely knew it wasn't your intent, but sort of felt compelled to bring up the wording anyway.


Fluffy Tiger said...

wow, I just discovered your blog and.. I think its just amazing!! I love your style, you gave me so much inspiration for developing my own one, thank you very much for that!!!

Fluffy Tiger <3

Anonymous said...

I hope that you will always have a place for God in your life. Thank you for an inspiring read. You have many gifts and I hope you always use them for the positive; to uplift and bring out the best in others!

Anonymous said...