Thursday, April 28, 2011

The first Sunday

Initially, I intended to highlight and identify the churches I visit, but I changed my mind. If I am to be honest, and sometimes challenge doctrine, I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings in the process. If I poke fun at the woman who smells like moth balls, and sings hymns off key, I don't want that woman to know it was her. Therefore, I think I will talk freely about the church, without divulging where it is. I reserve the right to change my mind about this as the blog evolves, but right now, I think I will talk about my experiences with the church and honor the parish's anonimity.

Rigid doctrine is hard for me. I feel like I am pressing against the religion when I disagree with some of their rituals and beliefs, but that is why I am doing this, right? To push the limits of what I think, and what I feel is the balance between humankind and spirituality. I am looking for a fit for me, but in so doing, I want to educate myself with different and sometimes challenging beliefs and practices. So my first week... I chickened out and went to the Unitarian Universalist church nearby. I always wanted to check out a service, and gave myself permission to dip my toe into this project.

Unitarian Universalists hold a very "hippyish" reputation. I guess I expected tie dyed shirts, dead head stickers on fuel efficient cars, and rainbow flags everywhere. I had expectations of new age music, flax clothing, and the scent of pachouli. What I found was a traditional New England church.

I entered the sanctuary alone, and looked around at what I can only describe as a traditional New England Protestant church. High ceilings, tall windows, elaborate moldings, classic pews, and soft organ music welcoming us to worship. Minimalistic decorations (no statues, stained glass, etc). There was a choir, a pulpit, balconies, and parishioners who were not dressed as the hippies I imagined, and quite a few singles like me.

The format of the service was very familiar to me. The church bulletin, white, with a pen and ink sketch of the church on the cover, announces upcoming community events, thanks the hosts of the coffee hour, and recognizes the family member of whom the flowers are in memory. The format of the service looked familiar, too. We opened with welcome and announcements, we listened to a hymn, heard opening words and repeated in unison, the prayer that accompanied a chalice lighting, "
We gather this hour as people of faith
With joys and sorrows, gifts and needs.
We light this beacon of hope,
Sign of our quest
For truth and meaning,
In celebration of the life we share together.

Then a patriotic hymn. I belted it out. (Sing as if nobody is listening?), Followed by another unison prayer:
Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest of truth is its sacrament,
and service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve mankind in fellowship,
To the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine-
Thus do we covenant with each other and with God.

I liked this. I pondered the prayer, and then its applications to my life. I wondered what differentiated this church from so many others. I flipped over my program to read the answer. It was spelled out in detail on the back of my Sunday bulletin.
Historical Affirmations of our Unitarian Universalist Faith. (Talk about ask and ye shall receive... I was stunned.).. and also about to be educated. It read:
1.That God is a Unity as opposed to a Trinity (sure, I see it as an all encompassing force, but a Unity.. ok)
2. That all human beings can hope for salvation (even middle aged divorcees?)
3. That there is in each human person a spark of the divine. ( absolutely... even the rude ones..)
4. That relevant and meaningful statements of belief are personal statements. (Wow, did I stumble upon one and done? This fits me to a T)
5. That truth grows and changes
6. That people should be free to judge whether or not to accept the pronouncements of the church. (totally)
7. That a broadly inclusive tolerance in religion is preferable to an enforced uniformity. (Rock on!)
8. That religious assertions must be reasonable if they are to be accepted as valid. (subjective..what is reasonable?)
9. That doubt can help to winnow truth from untruth. (honestly I had to look up "winnow".. it means to free (grain) from the lighter particles of chaff, dirt, etc., especially by throwing it into the air and allowing the wind or a forced current of air to blow away impurities.)
10. That a person must develop a trusting reliance on him/herself and his/her own capacity to make sensible life improving choices. (still in progress)
11. That religion ought to be concerned primarily with this life. (I am not sure what this one means... is religion over when we die? The jury is out..)
12. That answers to questions, solutions to problems and comfort from discomfort- to have any real or lasting effect-must come from the person, not from the outside. (That is 100% true! Easier said than done, but true!)
13. That God is in the world, not outside the world. (Isn't God everywhere... including other worlds, infinity and beyond, and all that stuff?)
14. That suffering is part of Life, not punishment for a way of living. (Still all changeable from within. How much we suffer is our own decision. )
15. That religious literature gives symbolic, rather than literal, truth. (YES, that is for me. I believe in symbols and messages, rather than absolute truths)
16. That religion ought not to involve only ritual, but also reflection and action for goodness. (this statement brings me peace, and reminds me why I am on this quest.)

So the sermon began, and it was a perfectly appropriate parallel between life and the seasons of the crops. I particularly liked this, as I was beginning this spiritual journey. "A time to plant" was the name of the sermon, and I felt it speak to me. I am planting roots for my own future. Some of my garden needs replanting. My garden had many hearty plants from seeds I planted earlier in my life, but some of them were suffocating other plantings. I weeded, thinned, and tilled. I, too, am ready to plant. To grow, to offer my fruits.

Fast forward to the drinking portion of the Eat, Pray, Drink blog. I had lofty goals here as well.. discovering local pubs, tagging them in my blog. The first day of my church commitment, I was invited to play laser tag with friends and their kids, after which, we went out to a nearby Chilis, where I had a margarita and a rather fattening appetizer. Maybe not the culinary direction I had in mind for this journey, but as I looked around the table, and thought about planting my garden, I realized that I have friends. Friends who will water and nourish my seeds, and friends who will stand by me as I grow my new garden. This is where I will begin.

Friday, April 15, 2011

My Journey into Religion; Divorce, Enlightenment, and other fun stuff..

It is my intention to start going to church. I don't know what church it is going to be. What I do know is that I am on a spiritual journey, and I am looking forward to attending a different church each week and blogging about it, after, of course, I grab a Sunday afternoon beer or glass of wine, and eat a nice meal.

Almost three years ago, I had a strange experience happen to me on the beach one beautiful moment. I think I saw God. It was in that moment, and I describe it in detail in my other blog "energy attracts", that all things I had come to understand.. science, nature, our connectivity to each other and the world around us came together in this instant. There were more coincidences in that moment, but suffice it to say, I suddenly became aware that this connectivity, this very thing that I was connected with, and held inside me, was God......and it was ok to call it God.

I choose the word God because it is familiar to me, but often switch it out to say, Spirit, Energy, Great Force, because sometimes the word, God, conjures up childhood images and beliefs. As a child in Sunday school class, where we colored pictures of shepherds, and humanized God to look a little bit like Santa Claus. I had doubts. I knew that if there was a God, he didn't make things happen, like natural disasters. I never believed that God was an angry or jealous God, I didn't believe that it was necessarily a "he", and did I believe that Jesus was the son of God, or the Spirit, or was he highly evolved, a born leader of his time; a man? And what about science? What about other religions? What about reincarnation? Superstitions? the law of attraction? I didn't know. I wasn't even sure if there was a God.. I mean.. my parents, after all, turned out to be Santa. (literally, although I will save that story for another day, but my dad actually does play Santa for charities at Christmas.. sorry, I digress)

So, very long story short, I saw God. Or Spirit, or Great Force, or whatever, and gained a sense of peace and inner joy. I felt that I understood the energetic connectivity among all living things. Then I got divorced. Although I could get into the details of this, and talk for hours, I will not. I will say that it was a careful, heartbreaking decision, that broke both of our hearts, and left us each on a different path. A path I am still seeking.

So, God on the back burner, I channeled my inner Bridget Jones, and moved into an apartment by myself. My kids are both in college, and for the first time in my entire life. House. College. Marriage. Boom, boom, boom. I was alone.

As in all things, there is a balance, a Yin and a Yang, and divorce is absolutely one of those things. There are days of freedom. Days I want to throw my hat into the air like Mary Tyler Moore, or live independently like Marlo Thomas, and sing how great it is to be me. My daily motherhood tasks, my cul-de-sac life of dinner parties and socializing are long behind me. I was off of that treadmill. Who was that? I feel free. And there are days of bitter despair, insecurities, loneliness, tears, and depression. (Is it hormones? I am 46..) This roller coaster has brought me to today. Or rather to an idea I had about the exploration of religion.

It is time for me to crawl out of my shell a little, and dip my feet into the life after divorce thing. I have decided to make the appropriate changes to focus me on that path, and thought it would be an absolutely great thing to explore religion. I don't know what kind of religion I am now. I was brought up in the Congregational Church, and my parents were semi-active participants. So, basically, I am a New England WASP, and have the guilt to prove it. I figure I will try them all out. Even if I don't connect with the doctrine, I intend to attend at least one service and be open minded, and pay attention to the people, the rituals, the music, and the communities, and learn about spirituality through the experiences of others. I seek the underlying truth that all religions have in common. I don't know where this will lead, but I am excited to begin my journey.

I loved the book, "Eat, Pray, Love", and truly honor the author, Elizabeth Gilbert. In honoring the book, and Liz's spiritual, humorous, and human journey, (I also can't believe the parallels in our lives), I thought the title, "Eat, Pray, Drink" would be catchy, and show my human side, too.

So my year long journey begins. Gulp. I live in Massachusetts. I will be attending churches within an hour of my home for the next year (as often as I can). (except for the weekend I have planned in Vegas... attending church there ought to be will hear about it!) and will blog about my experiences. I will attend churches both alone, and occasionally, with friends and family. I encourage suggestions for day trips around spirituality, natural beauty, and great communities. I also would love recommendations regarding local pubs, and places to explore while spending the day in different communities. I am a yogi, an artist, a photographer, a foodie, and a lover of travel. I encourage responses from readers with ideas for me that coincide with the things I love. My ultimate journey would be to travel abroad to explore cultures, food, and religion there! Someday. Until then, my journey starts close to homel Will I end up finding the perfect fit? Stay tuned.
Next post: My First Sunday