A couple of weeks ago, I promised someone in an online group I belong to that I would share a little about my spiritual path and how I reconcile the sometimes apparently divergent understandings of spirituality and belief that comprise my world view. Since I haven't blogged here in awhile, I thought this might be the perfect venue in which to do this.
If you're someone who has been following me since I was hip-deep in the pursuit of ordination in the United Methodist tradition, you may know a little bit about my background. However, unless you're part of my family or my very close circle of friends, you may not have recognized how gingerly I have approached my Statements of Call and even the sermons I have given. You see, no matter how hard I tried to fit into what I believed the church expected of me, I never felt completely authentic. I never wanted to lie about what I believed, yet I wanted to be accepted and supported within that community. I withdrew and re-entered the process three times before I finally broke. I realized that I was trying to perform some kind of spiritual gymnastics to fit into a box that was too small for my spirit. Now, mind you, I had walked a thin balance beam for many years before I ever thought I heard that call to ministry with the UMC. I realize now that I was afraid to immerse myself into my own understanding because I feared being judged and found wanting. Not by God/dess, but by the humans who I believed would not understand. Specifically, of course, those whose "Christian" religiousity is informed by literalism and dogma rather than a metaphysical experience with something greater than themselves.
I want to share some of what I wrote about my spirituality during my pursuit of a seminary education and ordination in the UMC. I think you'll see that while I was never dishonest about my personal understanding of the relationship between myself and the Divine, I never quite defined myself either. I think there's a good reason for that -- which is that my metaphysical experience has rendered me very difficult to define -- even to myself!
The following is an excerpt from the Statement of Call I provided to the District Committee on Ministry in the UMC Conference in which I live. I wrote this in 2008, after I had worked in the UMC for about five years as an Office Manager. I was still also attending Neo-Pagan gatherings and festivals once in awhile.
I have spent a lifetime seeking a closer connection to God. I have honored God in many different ways and been moved by the imminent Spirit of God in unique places. Since I was a child, I have felt God’s Presence wherever I am, whoever I am with. As a teen, I would find myself lying on the grass with a friend, watching the stars and discussing the nature of God and the place of God in our lives. As an adult, I am drawn into the continuing conversation of the human experience in relation to God. I have had mountaintop experiences in my spirituality, and been blessed to learn how to bring some of that euphoria into mundane life. I strongly sense a unity between people, the planet, and the whole universe that can only be attributed to one all-pervasive, loving God.
This next piece was written as part of my Credo paper, written for my Theology class in 2009.
Any ministry that I work in will naturally be informed by my sense of
connection to all that is, all that will be and all that has gone before. I yearn to bring to those with whom I work
that sense of belonging and
connection that has been my gift for as long as I can remember. Whether it be in Christian, interfaith or
secular education, spiritual formation or research and writing, I wish to offer
a small vision of the Divine to others.
Then there's this, from my final paper in my World Religions in Dialogue class, also written in 2009.
For over thirty years, since the age of 12, I have been actively and consciously searching for my spiritual path.
My spiritual life has been adventurous. I've made pit-stops in Unitarian, Unity and various Methodist and Lutheran churches. I've woven my Path through Kabbalah, Mysticism, Wicca and undifferentiated Paganism. I've visited Druidism and Buddhism; New Age and New Thought. I have known Jesus all along the erstwhile Paths. I love the concepts of the Buddha, Sarasvati, and Kwan Yin. I have respected the image of the Hindu goddess Kali-Ma and embraced the feminist inspiration she brings to western thought. How, I have wondered, does my personal understanding of Jesus fit in to these discoveries?
Throughout my spiritual and spatial travels, I discovered similarities in all religions. It became a passion to seek and find that which runs through them all. While I have certainly meandered along an eclectic path, I have discovered that genuine spiritual experience is multivalent. God is boundless and simply won't fit into the tiny boxes marked "religion" into which we humans try to force God, no matter how hard we try. I have made the conscious decision to claim Christianity as my tradition. Still, as poet Solomon Grundy once wrote in a blog, "When you study religion it all finds its way into your head."
The bolded sentence above, "I have made the conscious decision to claim Christianity as my tradition," is where I thought I was going. It's what I tried to do during all my years of seminary and struggling through the somewhat grueling United Methodist ordination process. However, "claiming Christianity" in the way I was trying to do required me to turn my back on other valid belief systems that spoke to my spirit. I had discovered that these other ways of understanding overlapped with what I had come to understand about the metaphysical aspects of the teachings of Jesus the Christ, and I could not pretend that I didn't know this deep within my Being. In fact, all the years of seminary, all the years of facilitating progressive Christian studies and leading meditation and Lectio Divina groups, all the reading, discussing, learning, and, yes, praying...had led me right back to where I started.
I wrote the following bit on my LiveJournal (which I've moved to Dreamwidth) in 2003.
Who am I?
One never really knows the complete answer to such a question. I am a woman who has been a student of the spiritual for most of my life. I have practiced some form of magick for 29 years. Unfortunately for all of my practice, I have not always been practical - I have made horrible relationship choices and shortsighted career choices. I could lament these for the waste of time and energy; however, I choose to celebrate them as detours that have given me insight and experience, strength and character that were necessary to bringing me to the me who sits here today. I am a good person who has made mistakes. Who can say anything better about themselves?
Over time, this place will reveal many facets of the me who is and the me who is to come. Perhaps something deeper will be revealed; perhaps not. Perhaps, it will all be in fun. Whichever it is, know me today as the mother of Dragon, Monkey, and Ox; the daughter of Thor, the sister of Frigga and Aphrodite, the friend of Kali, and the beloved of Herne. True, this is an amalgam of deity and concoction of cultures - but this is how I see deity and my life. Not one is all true, none is all wrong; but God has as many faces as S/he has names.
When I was a senior in High School, I took a Local History class. The school, Conestoga Valley, is in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, smack in the midst of Amish country. The area has a rich history of religious traditions, having been settled by the Anabaptist Amish and Mennonite, as well as Moravians and Quakers. The Pennsylvania colony was known for its religious tolerance, which allowed these different denominations to settle in and grow side by side. I had been initiated into The Craft approximately six months prior to starting at this school (my seventh high school, as a side note) and I had been studying Occultism in general for about five years. When I was asked to take part in a panel to discuss various spiritual/religious beliefs in class, I chose to call myself a "Christian Mystic." Of course, I was pretty naive and silly when attempting to discuss the things in the universe that we cannot see but which I believe exist alongside us. Still, this is evidence that I was already experiencing a rather rich spiritual life.
So, it comes to this. I am Christian, I am Pagan, I am Heathen, I am all of these and none of these. It boils down to this one thing: as a spiritual being, I simply am. I no longer see any contradiction between spiritualities. The differences between religions is the difference between people and cultures. Religion is not spirituality, and spirituality is not religion. They often go hand in hand, as religion is a framework within which a group practices their spirituality, yet religion is not necessary for spirituality. History shows us beyond a doubt that spirituality is not necessary for religion. If it were, we would be living in a very different world.
As many know, I graduated from Claremont School of Theology with my M.Div. in 2013. Not long after that, a friend of mine introduced me to the Bishop of a small interspiritual church, the Universal Anglican Church (now called the Universal Anglican Interspiritual Church, or UAIC). While the church is foundationally a Christian denomination in the succession of the Anglicans, it is inclusive of individual lifestyles and the various practices that spiritual people encounter and resonate with. Priests in the UAIC often practice an amalgam of traditions. After a long conversation by phone and submission of papers and transcripts, I was accepted for ordination. In October of 2013, I flew to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to the General Assembly, where I was ordained in an extremely moving and empowering ritual. For a few years after my ordination, I still struggled with the labels and preconceived expectations of what it all meant, partly because I remained associated with the United Methodist Church as a lay employee. I still have many friends in that tradition who supported me through those difficult times. I will always be grateful for them.
A few month's before my ordination, with permission from the Bishop, I founded St. Brigid in the Desert UAIC, held meetings, and provided ministerial services. I went on to Clinical Pastoral Education and completed 800 hours of Chaplaincy training. Then, after 11 years of working in the UMC, I changed trajectories in my "day job." It wasn't long before I was reintroducing myself to my other traditions in greater depth than I had in ages. I picked up my Tarot cards, crystals, and runes. I was, and am, finally truly interspiritual. About a year ago, I dropped the "St." from my church's name and registered it with the State of Arizona. Today, Brigid in the Desert is still a small group of individuals who meet only sometimes, in different places, and online. I officiate weddings, handfastings, and other rituals and blessings whenever I can. I'm the priest who will work with you to create the wedding ceremony of your own choosing -- whether you want to refer to God/dess or not. Right now, Brigid in the Desert is something I have to do "on the side" while I do some serious ministry in my "day job" in Behavioral Health. I'll be semi-retiring in about nine months. That's when I'll really be able to focus on Brigid. There's something powerful in the metaphor of waiting nine months to birth something new.
In the meantime, I'm reacquainting myself with myself. As I wrote back in 2003, I am a daughter of Thor (I once used the magickal name of Gaelyn Thunarsdottir). I am beloved of Herne (I also called myself Shae O'Herne for awhile in the 90's). As I was taught in Sunday School, I know "Jesus loves me." And, as I was told at my ordination, I am a Priest in an order that has no home, but wanders the world, serving as I am called to serve. That's still kind of Wesleyan, isn't it? After all, it was John Wesley who said, "The world is my parish."
And the magickal name I was given at my initiation in 1975 is still a secret.