Monthly Archives: April 2013

Athletes of the Spirit

Living the spiritual life is not for cowards.  It takes guts.  It takes belief.  It takes perseverance.  Our goals and dreams will not materialize in our lives unless we do the required work necessary for their manifestation.  When we exercise our spiritual muscles, we become athletes of the Spirit.

Being an athlete of the Spirit means centering and aligning yourself with your Inner Source. It means visualizing and seeing the completion of such things in your mind’s eye. It means focusing daily on what you plan to achieve. It means connecting with other like-minded people who will support, encourage, and inspire you on your path.

It means re-setting your mind when it detours. It means cracking open the hard shell of ego when it closes in to stop you. It means getting up when you fall down. It means keeping the faith when all you want to do is give up.

And it means giving gratitude every single day for everyone and everything that comes into your life because all things work together to push you toward authenticity. An athlete of the Spirit faces life head-on with determination, knowing that some days will require harder work than others. As we renew our minds and align with Source, we reshape who we are and create the lives we’ve always wanted.

The Body, The Temple

Dr. Candace B. Pert writes, “My research has shown me that when emotions are expressed–which is to say that the biochemicals that are the substrate of emotion are flowing freely–all systems are united and made whole. When emotions are repressed, denied, not allowed to be whatever they may be, our network pathways get blocked, stopping the flow of the vital feel-good, unifying chemicals that run both our biology and our behavior.”

Not only is the Universe outside of us, but it is within us. Everything is connected. Our emotions, when linked to thoughts, produce biochemical reactions in our physical bodies. When we feel stress, cortisol and norepinephrine (the stress hormones) are released into our bloodstreams, causing discomfort in the form of stomach aches, headaches, muscle pains, and if we have a continual release of these hormones, it leads to dis-eases and terminal illnesses. The body breaks down under the weight of stress, falling into disrepair.

 

On the contrary, when we are doing or thinking about things that make us happy, seratonin and/or endorphins release themselves into our systems and decrease stress hormones. Seratonin acts as a neurotransmitter and regulates our nervous system, while endorphins allow the body to feel calm and relaxed. It’s the body’s natural drug that relieves tension and helps us to sleep better. Any type of physical movement releases endorphins. Certain foods like chocolate and most fruits (oranges in particular) boost seratonin levels. When we open ourselves up to activities and the kind of thinking that makes us feel good, the body begins to repair and heal itself. Of course, moderation and balance is key.

We live in an amazing, complex, divinely designed physical body. When we take care of it, it takes care of us. The body is the temple. It’s where each of us lives with the Universe as our partner and co-creator. It’s a relationship offered to us as a gift. Honor it. Love it. Respect it. Celebrate it.

Photos Courtesy of Google Images

The Shad Beatitudes (or, Shaditudes)

For years I’ve attended Lambertville’s Shad Festival on the banks of the Delaware River in New Jersey.  For those of you who don’t know what a shad is, it’s a fish.  It’s the largest member of the herring family.  The American shad is an anadromous fish, meaning it lives in saltwater but it spawns in freshwater.  Each spring, shad make a run from the ocean up their natal streams to spawn and then return to the sea.  Known as poor man’s salmon, shad have been harvested by Native Americans during the annual spring spawning run for hundreds of years.  Native Americans also taught colonialists how to catch shad to feed their families.  This fish is also credited with saving George Washington’s troops from starvation in Valley Forge as they camped on the banks of the Schuylkill (pronounced skool-kill) River.  In a sense, the shad saved our country from the grips of British imperialism. Long live the shad!

Over 30 years ago, Lambertville was in need of reinventing itself due to challenging economic times. At the same time, efforts were being made to clean up the Delaware River. The clean-up efforts paid off when Alosa sapidissima re-emerged.  What a fortuitous event. Shad saved the day again and quickly became a symbol of rebirth for the town. The Shad Fest has run the last weekend of April ever since.

About 30,000 – 40,000 people descend upon the tiny river town of Lambertville over a two-day period to see live music, artists, crafters and to enjoy food and drink.  Shad, while very bony and oily, is a full-flavored fish and can be difficult to prepare, but weep not for there are historians and vendors who will show you the way should you plan to cook it yourself, whether it’s shad chowder, shad wraps, grilled shad or shad roe, a favorite delicacy. It’s all about the fish at the festival.  Well, not really.  But it gives reason to celebrate the warm weather after a long winter and to commence the party season in Lambertville and New Hope, another artsy town directly across the bridge in Pennsylvania.

Sadly, I will not be able to attend the festival this year since I have moved out of the area.  I will miss watching fishermen go shad seining, a Colonial-era method of using long nets to catch the shad. I will miss making my own shad prints, done by painting an actual shad and then pressing it onto paper.  I will miss the message board on the local church with it’s clever sayings like “seek and ye shad find,” and “knock and it shad be opened.” It has been a tradition in my life for many years to attend with friends and family and to buy the “O-Fish-l” Shad Fest tee-shirt for my father, who loved to fish the Delaware River for bass and shad before he retired and moved away.  The shirt became his birthday gift each year since it falls during the same week as the festival.  But ask and ye “shad” receive…one of my friends will be attending and has agreed to send me a shirt so my father doesn’t miss out.  He prizes his collection of shad fest tee-shirts like the fish he’s caught and mounted on the wall of his man cave.

For many people, the shad is “just a fish” and nothing more. It swims, it breeds, it dies. For the folks of Lambertville, it represents renewal, economic recovery, and a time for celebration.  I root for the shad the way Southerners do for catfish because it is part of the regional heritage of an area that I grew to love over the years.  It strengthens the bonds of community, bringing friends and family together each spring as spirits are rejuvenated after hibernating all winter.  Here’s to honoring a fish that saved a town, the troops, and the nation. Who would have ever thought that a fish would become so special?  If it’s not the national fish, it should be.

For more information about the Shad Fest, go to:  http://www.lambertville.org/ShadFestival.jsp
Photo courtesy of Google images at www.dec.ny.gov

The Spirituality of Being You

Being ourselves is not always an easy thing to do.  Most of the time we wear masks to disguise our true identities for fear of being ridiculed and rejected.  Other times we wear those masks so as not to offend the easily offended, especially in a world of political correctness.  But, the Universe gave you one job when you agreed to incarnate into this world:  to be YOU — not someone else.

Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”  True, but the adage “be yourself” is not as easy at it sounds.  However, there are ways to grow comfortable with who you are.  First, it’s important to define yourself on your terms, not someone else’s terms.  You can’t be yourself if you don’t know who you are.  This is when you must contemplate your life and your choices.  Take a self-inventory.  Ask yourself about the things you like and don’t like.  What attracts you and what doesn’t?  To what things do you find yourself gravitating? Then act on those things.  Your action will bring you into contact with those who are like-minded and who will accept you for who you are.  Sure, you may feel self-conscious at first, but that will wear off in time as you get used to wearing your “new” skin.

Second, leave the past where it belongs — in the past.  It is gone and it no longer serves a purpose.  Forgive yourself for past mistakes.  You had reasons for your choices and the decisions may have made sense at the time, but they are done and nothing will change what has happened.  Your mistakes do not define you.  If anything, mistakes are our reminders of our human side.  We are going to make them no matter how informed or educated we are.  Accepting mistakes allows us to learn and to grow.

Third, don’t take things personally.  Stop caring about others’ perceptions of you.  Some people will like you and some won’t.  You can’t be yourself when you are constantly wondering “Am I intelligent enough?  Am I pretty enough?  Am I popular enough?”  These kinds of questions undermine your confidence.  If you find yourself around people who don’t accept you for reasons of their own, leave their company and seek those whose opinions you value.  Internalizing others’ negative ideas of who you are is self-abuse.  Comparing yourself to others is the quickest route to unhappiness because you give too much power to image, thereby reducing your own power and worth.  This is unhealthy and leads to resentment.

Fourth, be your own best friend.  Value yourself as you value your friends.  Do for yourself what you would do for them.  Take responsibility for boosting your own self-esteem.  Self-affirmations like “I am deserving.  I am wonderful.  I am worthy” can be very effective.  As you positively affirm yourself, others will begin to notice that glow of self-confidence emanating from you.  Love and accept yourself as you are, just as you do for those with whom you are close.

Fifth, develop your own style based on your terms.  If what you like is not mainstream, be proud of it.  What matters is that you like it and that it has positive outcomes; it doesn’t matter whether others like it or not.  Copy-catting a person complements the original and it shows that you are trying to fit in with the crowd.  Be bold.  Stand out.  Be different.  There’s beauty in being different and it is magnetic.

When the Universe created you, it created an original.  You are not a copy, nor were you designed to be a copy.  You were designed to express your individuality.  Our humanity may have its imperfections, but our divinity is perfect in every way.  When we accept and love who we are, flaws and all, we can apply this philosophy to others, and in so doing, we become the “perfect” beings we are meant to be.

(Photo provided by www.freegreatpicture.com)

A Meditation on Death

There’s nothing more sobering than writing your Last Will and Testament. While it’s important to get your end-of-life details in order, seeing the words “Last Will and Testament” spelled out in front of you is akin to seeing your name engraved in a chunk of polished granite. It’s that feeling of finality that shakes you to the core. Let’s face it — we’re all going to die. It is a part of life. I know…this doesn’t sound too comforting, does it?

For most people, death is that dark unknown to be feared. People fear it because they don’t know when it will happen. Some of us live in denial of death; we pretend it doesn’t exist, or that it will never happen to us.  We distract ourselves from ever thinking about it. That fear blocks the awareness of what death can actually do for us. Death can actually save us from ourselves when we open up to its teaching.

While I was writing my will, it gave me pause to think about my life and my death, about what I have accomplished and what I would like to accomplish. I thought about the opportunities I took and the ones I missed. I thought about the relationships I’ve entered and the ones that have since ceased. And I realized my experience of life, moment to moment, has been a series of births and deaths. A moment comes; a moment goes. It’s what I do with the moment that is important.

I was a curious child. Probably too curious for my own good, some would say. While my friends were playing with dolls and toys that didn’t interest me, I was exploring the woods and my surroundings. I loved the adventure of discovering things. Whenever I came across a dead animal, I couldn’t help but wonder about its death and its life. I made it a habit of burying them out of respect. One day I got the bright idea to bring home two dead muskrats. I wanted to know why these two creatures died. I grabbed the muskrats by their tails, dragged them home, and laid them out on top of my mother’s brand new picnic table, the perfect lab table for my new scientific laboratory. My mission was to discover how life worked. And what better way to study life than to study death? Victor Frankenstein, eat your heart out.

I immediately went to work. I sharpened some of my mother’s kitchen knives, laid out some of the needles I found in her sewing basket, and began my search. I made the first incision without any qualms. I slid the knife from the neck all the way below its stomach. I repeated the same incision on the second muskrat. I didn’t want to cut too deeply because I didn’t want to damage any of their organs, so as I made the incisions, I slowly peeled the layers open and pinned them so I could get my ungloved hands inside. Once inside, I suddenly felt deeply connected to something much bigger than myself.  But my exploration stopped when my mother came home.  She wasn’t too pleased.  She gasped in horror and made me throw everything away. “Why can’t you be a normal child!” she exclaimed in frustration.  Off to my room I was sent.

I felt terrible after she made me throw the muskrats’ bodies into the trash. So, later, while she was taking one of her long showers, I untied the trash bags and carried my muskrats to the back of the yard. I plucked lilac blossoms from the unshaped bushes that lined the fence, grabbed the shovel from the shed, and proceeded to give them the proper burial they deserved. I prayed, “God, please accept these muskrats into heaven. Amen.” I covered them up and placed the lilacs on their little graves. God had two new playmates in heaven, and I helped them get there.  I never did discover what made them die, but I did discover a new-found respect for life at an early age.  I made friends with death that day.  I even told my mother that I wanted to be a pathologist.  I was sent to my room…again.

Every year we celebrate a birthday.  Have you ever stopped to think that every year you also pass your death day, that day when you will shed your physical shell and depart life as you know it?  What day will that be?  Will it be on August 10th in 40 years?  Will it be on December 22nd in ten years?  We will never know until that day arrives.  
How does one possibly make friends with death?  It requires that we change our whole approach.  First, you must challenge your fear about it. Examine your beliefs about death.  Where did these beliefs originate? How did you develop your beliefs about it? Once you become conscious about those fears, then you can work to overcome them either through prayer and meditation, research and study, or some kind of counseling.  When you face your fear, you take control of it and you take control of your life.  Deprive death of its strangeness.
Second, cultivate an awareness of the immediacy of death.  For many, this is a frightening thought because it threatens our sense of control.  But at any given moment, realize that a part of our life is already gone.  The other part has yet to happen.  If you’re 40, then 39 years are gone forever. Such a realization that death is imminent helps us to reconnect with the immediacy of life in the here and now. Keeping the thought of death in the forefront of our mind is to remember what is uniquely important to each of us. Being aware of the uncertainty of the time and date of our death is to be mindful that we are still alive. To accept death is to accept life.
When we accept death as a part of life, then we free ourselves from the fear of it. We free ourselves to live authentic, meaningful lives. We don’t waste any part of life. We stop postponing what we really want. We begin to appreciate all that we have. In this way, death becomes a wise adviser and a true friend.

Rumors

As an educator, I approach teaching as a spiritual endeavor. The challenge is to make subject matter, and in my case literature, relevant to the lives of students so they can connect with characters’ conflicts and plights in order to gain a better understanding of themselves, others, and the world in which they live. I rely on Spirit to guide me and to present teachable moments that students never forget. Sometimes extreme measures have to be taken to get the point across.

We had been reading and analyzing The Crucible by Arthur Miller, a dramatization of the Salem Witch Trials that occurred in Massachusetts in 1692 and 1693. Miller wrote it as an allegory of McCarthyism when the U.S. Government blacklisted accused communists. In the 1940s and 1950s Americans feared the encroachment of Communism. With the Soviet Union growing in power, Americans feared a nuclear holocaust. Eastern Europe was in bed with Communist satellite nations. With China added to the mix, Americans felt surrounded by a Communist threat. Paranoia ensued. During this time, Joseph McCarthy, a U.S. Senator, claimed that more than 200 “card carrying” members of the Communist party had infiltrated the United States government. It became a witch hunt. Rumors spread uncontrollably.

As my students and I discussed the topic of the power of rumors, I felt that familiar inner prompting to test the velocity at which rumors spread. Without hesitation I said, “What if we start our own rumor? Mwah ha ha…” My students immediately perked up. We decided to start a friendly rumor, with the permission of another willing teacher, who happened to be out of school for three days at a conference. I called the teacher from the phone in my classroom to let him know the plan to which he wholeheartedly agreed. We agreed to start the rumor that he had won $2.5 million. My students were to record their observations and then complete a written assignment about what they learned. When class ended, the rumor mill began. Before my next class ended, my phone rang. “Is it true? Did Gerald* win the lottery?” Trying not to laugh, I said, “I don’t know. But I heard he did. I’ll talk to him later today.”

Later that day in the hallway, whenever I saw my students from first period, they couldn’t wait to report what was happening. “Ms. McDaniel, so far Mr. Johnson* has won $25 million, and and and…he bought the apartment complex where he lives and kicked everyone out so he can turn it into a mansion for himself!” Corey said. Oh, jeez. This was really getting out of hand. When I saw the superintendent and the principal in the hallway, walking past Mr. Johnson’s room, wondering if the reason he wasn’t in school was because he won the lottery, I knew I had to fess up. And I did. Surprisingly, I didn’t get reprimanded. Instead, I was told, “Great lesson for everyone in this building to learn. Good job. Just let us know ahead of time the next time you do a lesson like this.”

While this rumor didn’t hurt anyone, it was a big risk to prove the power and speed at which rumors move. Students are no strangers to rumor and gossip; they deal with it on a daily basis, and they know the damage that can be done. In their written responses and in our follow-up discussion, my students realized that while rumors can’t always be avoided, they can take positive steps when rumors happen. Below are tips for rumor control, as suggested by my students:

A. When a rumor is circulating about you, respond quickly and directly. Confront it head-on. Saying “no comment” only adds fuel to the fire. If the rumor is about someone else, don’t perpetuate the rumor by gossiping about it. Instead, challenge those spreading the rumor to stop.

B. Use evidence. Present the facts. Rumors will dissolve fairly quickly, providing that the rumor is untrue. If the rumor is true, you may have to own up to it. One student commented, “A rumor started about me once. I told everyone, ‘Yeah, I did it. So what? Get over it.’ They left me alone after that.”

C. Educate others and begin changing the culture of a particular environment like work or school. Be a positive role model by treating others with honesty, respect, and dignity. Such behavior may encourage others to do the same. Some of my students went on to create and implement a school-wide campaign to combat rumors and bullying, and they developed events and activities that promoted team-building and new friendships. Students love being connected to a cause.

Rumors cast a harsh spotlight on a person, pushing him or her to feel alone and isolated. Stopping rumors starts with us. But some rumors can be beneficial, especially when it tips you off to something potentially life-threatening or dangerous. Whatever the case, rumors are reminders for us to be the bigger, better person. Rumors offer us the choice to engage in gossip and thereby contribute to the negative energy of the situation, or the choice to do something positive about it and thereby combat and diffuse such negativity. When moments, such as this one, transcend the classroom to teach a life lesson rather than a grammar lesson (not that anything is wrong with grammar!), then I know I did what I was called to do in that moment. By the way, did you hear…

*Names changed to protect the guilty…

Sunday School Drop-Out

If I had to pinpoint the start of my spiritual journey, I’d say it began with my Great Aunt Bonnie.

Aunt Bonnie was one of the first manifestations of God that I can remember, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I had no previous religious training or understanding. Aunt Bonnie lived in Florida, near Disney World. Disney World had just opened and this was our first trip to Florida. I was nine years old. Aunt Bonnie welcomed me and my brothers into her home. I didn’t know much about her. I never knew she existed. I learned that she was married and had two children, a boy and a girl. The girl couldn’t walk or speak and could only lie in bed. She was much older than I was. “Is she retarded or something?” I asked my aunt. In those days, using the word retarded was acceptable. “Yes, she is,” my aunt answered matter-of-factly. “She was born with a cord around her neck.” I had never seen a “retarded” person before, and here I was related to one. This left me with a strange feeling I couldn’t quite understand.

But Aunt Bonnie tended to her daughter with total mindfulness. I watched her feed her, clean her, dress her, comb her hair, change her diaper, performing acts only a mother, or a saint, would. I admired my aunt, but she scared me. She was very religious. Maybe too religious. I didn’t know what it meant to be religious, and she wasted no time in giving me a crash course. Moses. Noah. Job. Jonah. Mary and Joseph. Jesus and his rising from the dead (what?). The Apostles. Heaven and Hell. And, then the kicker: If I didn’t want to go to the fiery pit of Hell, then I needed to get down on my knees and accept Jesus into my heart as my Lord and Savior. Say, what? Out of respect for my aunt, I kneeled down and repeated whatever she said. None of it made sense but the “Hell” thing scared me. I don’t think Aunt Bonnie meant to scare me, but she did, and maybe this was God’s wake-up call for me. That’s when all the questions began.

When I returned from Florida, I had a lot of questions for my mother. Who is God? What’s a virgin birth?  Why did God let his son get killed? How did he come back to life? What’s Heaven like?  Is there really a Hell?

“What’s with all the questions?” she asked, “Go play with your dolls.” I guess my questions annoyed her, so rather than answer them, she enrolled my brothers and me in the religious education program at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. Another day of school? At a church? Are you kidding? Since we weren’t baptized as babies, Sunday School and confirmation classes would pave the way to being “christened” into the Christian life.  Our church didn’t practice full immersion baptism.

Once the pastor completed his opening remarks, he excused the children from the pews to Sunday School. I wanted to stay with the adults to learn the answers to all of my questions. “Get your ass to Sunday School…now!” my mother whispered, with a sharp elbow to my side. “Okay, okay. Jeez, mom.”

My Sunday School teachers weren’t very helpful or knowledgeable. I don’t know how much training they had to teach us. Nothing they taught was new. I was aware of most of the bible stories, thanks to Aunt Bonnie, but they were just stories. We played games and did crafts most of the time. One of our projects was to create a clay head of Jesus on a block of wood on some kind of egg-beater device that was designed to hold the head. When I finished, the teacher walked over for inspection, and said, “Your Jesus is too fat. And why is he smiling? Jesus never smiles.” Perplexed, I looked around at all the other Jesuses. They looked emaciated and sad. “Well, if he rose from the dead, wouldn’t he be smiling? ” I answered back. “Who said Jesus has to be skinny? You told us to make him the way we picture him. And he’s not fat. He’s healthy. My Jesus is happy,” I finished. If there were a principal’s office in Sunday School, I would have been sent. Instead, I had to sit out in the hallway for the remainder of class.  It wouldn’t be the first time this happened to me.

Finally, the day came for my brothers and me to be christened. Supposedly, this was a big deal in a Christian’s life, and it was to be performed during the Sunday service. From what I learned about baptism, it meant a new life with God. John the Baptist had baptized his cousin Jesus in the Jordan River, and a holy spirit dove descended from heaven over Jesus’ head. Maybe I expected too much, but as the pastor sprinkled water over my head, I felt absolutely nothing, except the water dripping into my eyes and off of the end of my nose. The heavens didn’t open. A bright, blinding light didn’t shine down upon me. No voice spoke. “That’s it?” I asked the pastor. He didn’t look too pleased. I went back to my seat, dejected. God didn’t make a big deal over me. So, I put him on the back burner. But Spirit would move in other ways to push me along the spiritual path, though I was unaware at the time.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment of my spiritual birth; rather, it has unfolded and evolved. Kneeling next to my aunt in front of a crucifix on her wall with one hand on the bible and repeating words that I didn’t understand was simply an act.  I mimicked what my Aunt did and repeated what she told me to repeat, much like I did in the various churches I attended over the years.  But that one act left me with so many questions.  Those questions sent me on quest; they became my guides on the spiritual path.  Since the religious education program couldn’t answer my questions, I dropped out of Sunday School, determined to find answers through other avenues.

Do I still have questions?  You bet I do.  God may have his hands full with me and my constant questions, but at least He lets me stay in class.

Storms

It had been a very warm day.  We sat down to a dinner of fried chicken, collards, white beans and cornbread.  The breeze through the windows suddenly picked up in intensity, enough so that my grandfather took notice.  He slowly lowered his fork and in a slow southern drawl said, “Kids. Get to the storm shelter.  Now.”  Without hesitation, we sprinted toward the shelter across the road.  Granddaddy stood outside, surveying the skies with a stoic calm and an I-dare-you attitude.  He never feared storms.  Sometimes I think they actually feared him.

This was at a time when warning systems were not in place for tornadoes or other severe weather.  Granddaddy knew the weather patterns.  He could always tell when rain was coming.  Said he could smell it in the air and feel it in his bones.  “Wind is like a woman,” he told me.  “When it gets angry, all hell breaks loose.”  His simple wisdom spoke volumes.  Not long after, an F5 touched down and devastated the town in which I was born.  Warning systems were finally put into place.

The weather forecast today is sunny and warm.  It’s been 39 years since that tornado whipped its fury on an unsuspecting town.  And severe storms are expected later this week.  Spring is here and so is the turbulence that comes with it here in the South.  The threat of severe weather can be quite unsettling for some.  For others, it is what it is.  For some, storms bring excitement as they watch the skies in anticipation.  Some even chase storms.  Whatever the case, storms affect people in different ways.

Our perspective about storms is akin to our perspectives about life.  Life is either mystical, magical, powerful and full of meaning, or it is not worth getting up for in the morning.  Life is either something totally out of our control, or it is something we co-create with the universe’s energies and laws.

The storm has long been a metaphor for the struggles we face in life. They will come, and they will go. Some storms will be large and fierce, and some will be quiet and gentle. They can be life-threatening, yet life-quenching. They can be destructive, yet cleansing. Storms bring us face to face with who we are, or who we aren’t. Our struggles may seem destructive and life-threatening at the time, but as we weather them, we come out stronger, wiser, renewed, and happy to be alive.  Our personal storm may rage for a night, but we can take comfort in knowing that it too shall pass.

The Paths of Spirituality

For many years I church-hopped while my friends bar-hopped.  As they were altering their states of mind with libations and other substances, I was searching for the perfect spiritual high.  I shopped for the “right” denomination, the “right” pastor/priest, the “right” kind of service, the “right” congregation, the “right” message, and it didn’t occur to me until later that I was wrong in trying to squeeze God into my idea of what God should be.  What an ego.  I had a lot to learn.

Attending church had been a very meaningful path for me; however, when the rituals became rote, dry, and increasingly meaningless, I knew it was time to leave to find another church.  My spirit felt stagnated; it wasn’t growing.  I began to think that something was wrong with me, that I was such a “sinner” that God didn’t want to have anything to do with me.  I felt like a spiritual orphan.

Dejected and disappointed, I left the church and its religious practices altogether. I wandered in my own personal desert for years, searching for something.  I had always been drawn to Eastern philosophy and traditions and the kind of thinking that would be deemed heretical by the Church.  I had also been attracted to Native American Spirituality, Wicca, and Earth-based traditions.  But I had grown up thinking that the study or practice of any other kind of religion or tradition other than Christianity is blasphemous.  I could go to Hell.  The fear ingrained in me about burning in damnation if I veered off the path shook me to the core.  But why?  What was there to fear?  If God is a God of love, why would He use fear?  And in a moment of clarity, I realized, “God doesn’t use fear.  Man does — to control.”  Boom.  The doors blew wide open and I was flooded with an intense knowing.  All the fear I had known fizzled.  I was free.

That one question of “why?” opened the door to many more.  I had been brought up not to question the authority of the church.  “You just don’t question God,” I was told.  Well, Why not?  Moses did.  The prophets did.  Jesus did.  After being fed up with getting nowhere, I couldn’t help but begin to question what was happening.  Questioning became my path to enlightenment.  Those questions became doors through which I walked, and I found myself on my own unique path of spirituality, one that broke the confines of a building with a steeple, one that transcended religious laws and dogma, and one where God-Spirit is alive, dynamic, and leading me to answers.

I realized that there are as many paths to God/dess, Enlightenment, Spirit, etc. as there are individuals. The path for one will not be the path for another because each person has different lessons to learn and different blessings to receive. Paths may be similar, but they are never the same. Following the same path as others has the trappings of religion…following your own path is spirituality.

What matters is that your spiritual path is uniquely yours. No one else will travel the same exact path as you. There’s a certain comfort and freedom that comes in knowing this. As Paulo Coelho said, “Having faith in [your] own path, [you do] not need to prove someone else’s path is wrong.” I have no need to prove anyone’s path as wrong; in fact, I celebrate it, as I hope you will celebrate mine in knowing that Our Highest works in mysterious ways to bring all things together. We can learn from all of God’s Avatars (Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, etc.); their messages are the same. These Avatars came to teach, to preach, to warn, to give hope, to heal, to comfort, and to show us the way to our Highest Self, no matter which faith we follow…all paths lead to the One Same God. God is a diverse God; S/He transcends all religion, and no one religion can define God.  God manifests in and through my life every day, and God manifests in yours — through others, through animals, through places, through things, through art, through your work, and through you. May we all come away from this with a little more enlightenment on our respective paths.