Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why I'm Not Religious

I've been feeling inspired to write this post for a few days now, fleshing out thoughts in my mind that keep surfacing for me as I become more spiritually aware and I seem to find myself in more situations where faith, and what I'm learning on that journey, arises in my mind.

One of which is: I'm still not religious, and I don't think I ever plan on being so. My spiritual walk is a daily, hourly, deeply embedded and life-long occurrence, but I don't feel 'religious.'
I don't believe in a god who causes suffering and famine in the world. I don't believe in a god who causes people to be ignorant in ways both trivial yet frustrating and large-scale and violent. I don't believe in a god who wants me to feel guilty for 'sin,' who doesn't want me to have any fun, who intends me to forgo the use of the logical and intellectually capable brain I have been given; who judges me for things, who won't let me live my life, and who has caused me any personal suffering and hardship in life.

And, as has surfaced in quite an amplified way for me over the past two years of my life, I don't believe in following 'rules,' whether society tells me what they are or whether the Bible does. But living a Biblically-based life, I am learning, isn't about rule-following for the person with the courage to want to do it.

And, the most fundamental, bottom-line, unwavering, convicted sense of identity that I have- before I am an artist, before I am a writer; before I am the daughter of persons A and B or a sister or a cousin or a niece or a girlfriend; before I am a passionate lover of art, of science, of ideas, of learning, of whatever else I love and pursue dearly- is as a Christian. By which I simply mean- and I don't expect this statement to make a lot of sense without further detail (which I hope to provide in later posts)- that I see the entire world through the lens of Love.
What I am looking at doesn't always look or feel like Love, but that's not what we're talking about. We're not talking about the outside, we're talking about the inside. I am not religious, and God is the heart-center of my existence. I am not conformed to anything, but transformed by something. There is a subtle yet great difference.

But the God I know through Christ (and that too is a very long story for another day, which I do intend to tell and explain at some point: how particularly Christ leads us to an intimate and real relationship with God)- via inquiry both literary and intellectual, via endless not only studying but experiencing faith at work around me, via a diligent letting go of the life and control to which I used to cling, via releasing myself from the bondage of what other people think, and via too many other means to list here- is a God who causes joy.

The God I know is a God who liberates from suffering beyond any intellectual, emotional, or psychological work that can be done for us or unto us (and you'll have to take my word for it, but I've done what I actually have come to see, as I get older, is a very extensive amount of intellectual, emotional, and psychological work for a 27 year old, or a person in general). 
The God I know has not intended me to give up reason or rationality to see Him; does not want me to live life in any kind of sadness or misery (quite the opposite, actually- He is a God who calls for boundless joy; only a person carrying that can also carry Him); does not want me to go without things, does not want me to be made guilty by 'sin' (another word and concept which few people explore the deeper meaning of, beyond that it is a word that seems offensive somehow), but wants me to feel eternally liberated by its understanding and recognition. 

The God I know doesn't want me to stop loving the things that the world may say don't align with Christianity (people have often asked me why I have a consistent yoga practice if I'm not a Buddhist or how I can possibly love scientific and intellectual pursuits when I also believe in Jesus), but rather He wants me to pursue with reckless abandon the things that make my heart glad, my character strong, and my mind developed.

Why I attribute this joy, love, goodness, kindness, peace, healing to God now, and not just to good, clean, self-attained, self-aware, spiritual, intelligent moral leaving without Him, is because the depth to which I have experienced these things in my life- this joy, goodness, kindness, peace, healing, creativity- go far, far beyond what I ever imagined to be true or attainable on earth. Quite honestly, a life of unshakable peace with superbly deep roots has replaced my formerly anxious existence with a trust in goodness so deep that I wouldn't be able to say it was of my own human making. To become Christ-like, to live with a Christ-like nature, is this process.
Godly living versus good living depends on what depth and to what extent you are willing to release your own ego to go to the heart of yourself- and other people- instead. And this is not something we display with personal brilliance or intellect or effort. It is something we display with life, by the courage with which we live.

"Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced; even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it." -John Keats 

You don't need to do that, of course, go to the hearts (as opposed to the minds, or even the egos) of other people to live this life, of course not. But the meaning every human being craves to meet in this existence is only possible from that place: authenticity. Like a Christ-centered existence, it is not easy, convenient, or terribly common. And, like most things people call uneasy, inconvenient, and uncommon, it is still completely possible.

And that is part of the beauty of this whole deal: I don't want to be religious, or knowledgeable, or wise, or right. I want to love God. I know I don't have to, but I want to. The best kind of love to fall into is one to which you are drawn, and that you choose to voluntarily serve. I don't read my Bible to avoid Hell and I don't go to church to 'do something positive for myself' or 'to be a good person.' What's not why.
My why is Love, not convenience. Christianity has nothing to do with serving my self, making my self better. It has to do with losing my 'self' by serving my Lord. The only truly happy people are those who have learned how to serve, to give selflessly without fear that they have anything to lose or control. It has made me a better friend, employee, woman, human being, sister, daughter, artist, than any other self-transformational pursuit has.

"The more you are motivated by Love, the more fearless and free your action will be." -The Dalai Lama 

And I find over and over again that when the first thing you seek is this- Love, God- you get absolutely everything else you could imagine- and, more profoundly, even what you couldn't. I love these words by John O'Donohue: "functionalism is lethal when it is not balanced by reverence. Without reverence, there is no sense of presence or wonder." I'm not Christian because I want my own happiness, because I think I can work out my own salvation, or because it's useful or functional to be. I am Christian because I revere God. I find wonder and learning there more than anywhere else. I don't just want to go through the motions of saying, 'ah yes, I am a good Christian person,' I want to actually marvel at and delight in the underlying principles that allow the light of God to be present in my life, and not just in theory or convenient words. 

"Holiness is not a personal achievement.  It's an emptiness you discover in yourself.  Instead of resenting it, you accept it and it becomes the free space where the Lord can create anew.  That is what it means to be pure of heart. And it doesn't come by your Herculean efforts and threadbare resolutions."
-St. Francis 
I am not a Christ-follower because think I know anything or can do anything. I am Christ-follower because I know I don't and I can't, and when I operate from that space of awareness every single day, I learn more than is merely humanly possible.

But as for my religion, I don't really think about it.

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