Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Spiritual, but not religious

When you join internet dating sites, they always ask you to state your religious beliefs using canned phrases. There was a time in my life when I would have checked atheist. I was so empty spiritually I doubted everything. But somehow this always felt wrong. Deep inside there was a tiny piece of me that wanted to believe in a higher power. I lived in Las Vegas for a year and a half before moving to the PNW and started seeking a spiritual path there.

During my first year in Seattle, I found a branch of the non-denominational church I went to in Vegas. It was a small church in an intimate setting that suited me very well. The man I was living with went with me for a while, but then lost interest. That was okay, because I needed to start building my own circle of friends and he and I had no burning desire to spend all of our time together. We were already starting to dance around the inevitable demise of our relationship.

A few of the people at the church decided to start a Course in Miracles study group, and I was delighted. I first learned about The Course in Las Vegas and welcomed the opportunity to be part of it. My interactions with the people in that group eventually forged some of the most important and positive spiritual influences in my life.

We met every Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. and there was a core group of about eight of us. In case you are unfamiliar, The Course is divided into three sections: the “Text,” the “Workbook for Students,” and the “Manual for Teachers.” At the advice of our original group leader, we started by reading from the “Text” and then closed every session with one lesson from the “Workbook.” By the time we got to the “Manual for Teachers” we realized it was probably where we should have started, because according to The Course, everyone is a teacher and that section was the most basic and easiest to understand.

Over time, we went through The Course from cover to cover several times – all 1,108 pages of it - not including indexes. The first time through, it was like walking through a maze. We’d round a corner and see what looked like an exit only to find a dead end which propelled us back into the labyrinth. We talked for hours about what it meant, reading one heading and sometimes one paragraph per session in our attempt to decipher it. It was confounding and confusing and frustrating.

There were times I walked away from our meetings thinking I would never break through the complicated language to find meaning from the words. People who had already been studying The Course tried to help us. We also watched several tapes by people like Marianne Williamson who are experts on The Course. But slowly over time it started to make sense. It was through our own united willpower and desire that we were finally able to break through.

I learned it’s more important to be happy than to be right. I never thought about how detrimental my stubbornness was to my happiness, and how hurtful it could be to others. As I examined my actions, it seemed that sometimes the things, about which I most needed to be right, were not really very important in the general scheme of things. Simple things like how to arrange your kitchen cabinets didn’t really matter. I had to let them go.

I learned the world is filled with love and happiness and we will find what we are looking for when we know what we want. This was a very difficult concept for me because since my early childhood I’d never known real love and happiness. I had no idea what I really wanted and how it was supposed to look and feel. There was no role model to go by. There was no list and no rules to guide me. Figuring out what I wanted was a seemingly impossible task.

I learned every person we meet is a mere reflection of ourselves. We can learn something from them all, and the briefest encounters or the longest relationships provide opportunities for us to grow. Considering the fact I didn’t particularly like a lot of the people I met, it was painful to think they were personal reflections. The most irritating part was many of the people I disliked kept hanging around. When I finally realized the only way to make them go away was to actually learn the lesson they were here to teach, they gradually started disappearing.

I learned everything that happens is either from love or from a call for love. All the negative feelings - anger, fear, hatred, envy, etc, - are just a call for love. We can see things differently just by looking at situations and people with unprejudiced eyes. Instead of reacting to the negative feelings with more negativity, if I looked at them as a cry for help from that person, it made it easier to tap into the love inside myself and return love to them. It didn’t always work, but over time, it became deep-rooted in me and it was more natural to react from love.

This explanation may sound simplistic but that’s the beauty of it. For years we tried our best to make The Course really deep and complicated. We got caught up in all the beautifully crafted words. But in the end it wasn’t about the words – it was just about love. It was about letting go of the fear and loving our selves and each other. It’s amazing how long it can take to see what’s right in front of you.

The Course changed my life. It brought me peace and gave me a deep well from which to draw.

Now the box I check is: Spiritual, but not religious.

10 comments:

Stephen Parrish said...

I read The Course website. I gather from the "What It Is" page that it is indeed religious:

Although Christian in statement, the Course deals with universal spiritual themes. It emphasizes that it is but one version of the universal curriculum. There are many others, this one differing from them only in form. They all lead to God in the end.

Great post, I love talking about this kind of stuff.

The Anti-Wife said...

It never felt religious to me, but it did feel very spiritual. I think there's a difference in that religious implies a certain amount of dogma.

Stephen Parrish said...

I think organized religion is characterized by dogma.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

I've never read A Course in Miracles though have often heard of it. The lessons you have learned though have struck me and they are ones I've learned through other books and life experience. I've long ticked the "spiritual but not religious" box :-)

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

PS - really liked your story over at Clarity of the Night.

Bernita said...

People themselves may be miracles.

The Anti-Wife said...

Stephen,
I agree!

Absolute,
thanks for commenting. The Course is only one means to an end. There are many paths but we all have to choose the one that works best for us.

Bernita,
People ARE miracles and what we learn from them can have a profound impact on our lives if we just allow ourselves to be open to the lessons.

Rebecca Burgess said...

Hi, Saw your posts over at Pat's and thought I'd drop in. I loved this post, thank you for sharing such a personal journey.

The Anti-Wife said...

Rebecca,
Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

When Anti-Wife said that we had very different lives as if we had completely different parents, she was quite right. But we had completely different religious upbringings as well. The responsible adults who actually paid attention to the children in *my* neighborhood when *I* was growing up were 3rd generation orthodox Presbyterian missionaries; their kids were my playmates, and to this day even their children remain active in mission.

While I was very disappointed in the hypocrisy in our church and our family, I always felt grounded in that form of Christianity, and returned to it as an adult. So anywho... not to be argumentative, but the concept that all religions lead to God in the end would pretty much by definition not be orthodox Christian. Christianity is defined by the idea that Jesus was fully God as well as fully human, and believing in Him is the way to eternal life. Theologians who are orthodox/evangelical consider the course in miracles to be a modern form of gnosticism rather than Christian.

Personally, I have found orthodox Christian life a relief, compared to the idea that I must somehow extract all that secret knowledge from others in order to spiritually ascend from an illusory world. No... We live in the real world. Salvation has already been achieved through Jesus' death and resurrection. We just have to live our lives like we believe it, take care of others, be responsible and trust in the Lord.

Anonymous Sister of Anti-Wife