I was brought up in a home where religion was not a part of who we were. Other kids would go to Sunday School or join in with the Sunbeams at the local church. I didn't. My dad always used to say if the Brothers Grimm had come before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, then we'd be worshipping Pinocchio!
My mum used to clean the local church hall and I used to go with her as a pre-schooler and play as she swept, washed and tidied. I vividly remember the church in its dark, intimidating splendour, and I still have sinister dreams set in that place some 40 years on. Having driven past this place from my childhood recently, it was as if it was trapped in a bubble of time. Everything around it had changed, blocks of flats and buildings had sprung up but the church was still there, dwarfed but just the same as I remembered it. It gives me goose pimples...there was something so unsettling about that church.
As I got older, my own personal darkness descended. The depression that has been my companion for all my life set in when I was still a child. I was the soulful one. I used to feel that there was a void inside me. As a teenager I recall being envious of those with faith. To have a belief system must be so comforting. To believe that what you are feeling is God's test for you and that He is there by your side must make the dark days more bearable. But I could never find that in my heart.
I dated a guy who was Catholic. I never forget the first time I went to his house. There was so much Papal memorabilia. John Paul was the man at the Vatican back then and the array of fridge magnets, framed photos, ornaments and paintings amazed me. It was just normal to him but I found it strange and quite frankly amusing to have so many Pope related items around the home. I'm sure the Ten Commandments said something about worshipping idols...or does that not apply to Pope inspired ornaments or indeed Catholicism? I really don't know. Needless to say our relationship did not work out and my confusion over religion escalated.
After having the children I read a lot. Spirituality became something I wanted to explore, but the traditional church was not a direction that inspired me. The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield was a book that opened my eyes to some of the New Age teachings rooted in Ancient Eastern teachings. The nine insights revealed by the book made some sense and answered some questions...however the story, as it is a work of fiction, was a tad thin and purely a vehicle for Redfield's message. However, in reading it, I was exposed to more books of a similar ilk. The Field by Lynne McTaggart is a powerful book looking into scientific explanations and proof of the paranormal and spirituality. It brings together research from numerous sources and presents it in layman's terms. It serves to offer proof of the teachings of the ancient enlightened ones!
I found great comfort in explanations that didn't rely purely on Faith, which is something that does not sit easily with me. Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch was another inspirational book I read, in trying to find a core belief system that fitted with my values. Walsch, at a low point in his life wrote a letter to God and unexpectedly received a response albeit penned by his own hand! Regardless of the authenticity of this work, it looks at our concept of the Divine in a completely new light, making God more secular and less traditional. It is about spirituality and the universe and not about the Bible. All the criticisms I have of the traditional teachings were stripped away. It is enlightening. The sceptic in me questions the reliability of the source who went on to make millions from his revelations, but whether he had genuinely tapped into the Almighty or just came up with a fabulous money making scheme, it ultimately doesn't matter. The ideas are just as powerful.
With a new found understanding of spirituality, I experimented with Paganism and the teachings of Wicca. I love the connection with nature and the feeling of unity with the seasons, the sun, the moon and the universe. But I failed to take the idea of casting circles and weaving spells very seriously. As always, the human based rules and regulations left me cold. However, I took from it what I wanted and gave my daughter a beautiful Wiccan based naming ceremony on her first birthday, with personalised blessings, readings and gifts from the Earth. It was lovely and an incredibly wonderful day.
A friend of mine became a Born Again Christian. It was an incredibly full-on embrace of the church. So much so that a white leather bible was carried everywhere she went. I know at the time my friend drew great comfort from this rather extreme version of Christianity. She was transformed by it, physically, mentally and spiritually. However, she seemed lost inside this preaching, praying, hymn singing, bible wielding person she had become. She prayed for my "house of sin" when I refused to be swayed by the teachings. It was awkward and uncomfortable. Thankfully, the essence of who she really was resurfaced and my beautiful, happy, bubbly, non-judgemental friend re-emerged. Her need for something to believe in had overwhelmed her, I'd go as far as to say brainwashed her. I was so relieved to see her return. There is no way that the second version of herself was better than first. She was in danger of being completely washed away by her new found faith and that in itself can not possibly be seen as a positive effect of finding religion. I appreciate her experience was extreme
These days, I still consider myself a spiritual person. My beliefs are so personal, so inherently me, so a part of who I am. They are not a major defining part of my persona, they quietly lurk in my innermost feelings. They are not typical, mainstream or something I'd take comfort in sharing with others. I still envy the comfort that other people are able to achieve through their shared belief systems, but I could not be a part of that...it just wouldn't be right for me.
In the mean time I will pour all my faith into my family, I will believe in the good inside us all and I will give thanks for all my blessings. The wondrous, mysterious universe will one day make its secrets known to us. Until then I will live in blissful ignorance and stay true to who I am.