Guest blogger: Najla
Websites: Najla Dances
Royal reader since: ummm…day one?
I am a princess because I skipped the whole tiara phase and just bought a crown, and I have the ability to kick butt while looking fabulous.
♕ ♕ ♕ ♕ ♕ ♕
When I was asked to write a guest post for the Pagan Princesses I was flattered but also a little intimidated. I’ve read other posts on this site that are full of citations, footnotes, definitions and specific, tangible descriptions related to faith and religion and I feel a tad inadequate in my ability to discuss my faith. My spiritual path to this point has been unintentional, intuitive, and not-so-academic. When asked about my religious beliefs I offer the non-descript “spiritual but not religious” phrase, and on occasion I may offer the “spiritual in a Buddhist, tree-hugging, slightly Methodist bending way.” In short, I’m a religious mutt of sorts.
I grew up in a religious household. Both of my great-grandfathers on my mother’s side founded churches in Georgetown and Hutto Texas in the late 1880’s. The Georgetown Evangelical Free Church (originally named the Swedish Evangelical Free Church at Brushy)* and the St. John’s United Methodist Church (originally named the Swedish Methodist Church) in Georgetown remain standing today. My mother frequently spoke of the pride and joy at having family who immigrated, settled, endured hardships and survived here in Texas.
My maternal grandfather was equally involved in the church and served as a Methodist minister (long before the formation of the United Methodist Church.) He began his career preaching to Swedish immigrants in Central Texas in both English and his mother tongue in the late 1920’s.** He traveled around the country throughout his career but passed away when my mother was in college so I never had the chance to meet him. After his death my mother and grandmother were continually active and present in the United Methodist church until their deaths, but that attendance felt more like obligation than inspiration.
Although my mother did have a more spiritual side, she kept those feelings to herself. My childhood is filled with memories of church activities and events. But there is a notable absence of any conversation about faith, God, or the Divine. I sense that for my father, the church offered an opportunity to belong, to commune, and to find social interaction in a responsible, appropriate manner. Everyone was expected to attend church, but there was an absence of discussion on why we should. I don’t know if my mother kept her beliefs to herself out of deference to my father’s opinions or perhaps she just didn’t think it necessary to have those discussions. I do know that the church has always played a major role in both of their lives, whether it is for social or spiritual reasons.
I didn’t really understand how much the obligation and attendance played into my parent’s feelings until I was in high school. I was trying to assert my independence and decided I didn’t want to go to church. My parents seemed at a loss to explain why I should. We had many arguments on Sunday mornings until I inadvertently stumbled onto a solution to this dilemma. I started babysitting during the worship services and Sunday school classes. Suddenly I was at church for multiple hours during the week, in a visible, active role. I got to spend time playing with babies and toddlers, gossiping and giggling with friends, and getting paid at the same time. My parents were able to arrive at the church every Sunday morning with one of their daughters, and the mere act of me stepping foot on the property seemed to satisfy the requirements of ensuring my salvation.
After I left for college, I quickly abandoned any obligations to attend church; any attendance at a service either indicated a pot-luck dinner for students, or a trip home to see my parents. In my twenties I never thought much about faith or spirituality. I harbored no ill feelings toward churches and churchgoers, but I also never felt an affinity towards them. But as I grew older, I started to feel a pull towards something larger than myself, though what that was or where it was pulling me was a mystery.
I started expanding my outlets for self-expression and through this, met a lot of different people of different faiths. This provided a way for me to learn about a variety of spiritual paths without having to commit to any of them. When I started belly dancing, I was exposed to conversations about the Divine, the Universe, and Goddesses. As I practiced martial arts I was exposed to meditation, Buddhism, and Taoism. Yoga exposed me to Hindu faiths and practices. My wide and diverse circle of friends let me taste bits of Pagan and Wiccan traditions. What I learned in all of these experiences is that faith is an intensely personal experience and part of our growth process is finding the path that satisfies our own individual needs. Even with these tidbits, I happily stayed on the fringe of any deep spiritual exploration.
A few years ago, I tried the 12-week program called the Artist’s Way, written by Julia Cameron. This book provides a way to either recover or energize your artistic and creative practice. Although the book clearly is labeled as “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” I never realized how heavily the author relied on notions of God, the Universe, and the Divine until I started reading. I remember sitting in the first group meeting with several others actually feeling a little trapped when I realized the book was talking about that kind of “stuff” so frequently. In order to make it through the first several chapters and lessons I had to tell myself I could re-phrase the G-O-D word any way I chose. Euphemisms (my favorite is the generic Universe) became my good friend, and I could safely stay arm’s length from any sincere exploration of what those words really meant.
And so I did, until I hit a lesson mid-way through the book that requires you to list all your grievances with God, and then describe God as you were taught growing up. Finally, the book asks you to redefine God conceptually in a way that supports and encourages your beliefs. It never occurred to me I could alter my concept of God. I didn’t have to accept my parents’ definition. I didn’t have to embrace the Christian definition. I didn’t have to adopt any particular religious tenet of God or the Divine. For me, this was a fairly revolutionary concept and a moment of epiphany. Accepting it finally allowed me to step closer to a more spiritual path in my life.
I know there are important reasons to study the lessons, tenets, traditions and beliefs of a faith. However, I need to focus on finding a strong connection to the divine, a connection that works for me, and one that doesn’t keep me distanced from spiritual awareness. Once I let go of what I thought God and the Universe represented to others and embraced what it means to me, I’ve been able to call upon a higher power to help guide me through my day-to-day life. I can’t say my life has changed dramatically since that epiphany, but I am aware daily of a presence that is larger than I am. When I tap into that energy and that divine inspiration, beautiful things do happen. I have gone from just dipping my toes into the spiritual pool to feeling safe enough to jump in.
So readers of the realm, have any of you felt like you wanted to be spiritual, but didn’t know how? Or like you wanted faith without religion? What has your journey been like?
* The featured image for this post is a picture of the Swedish Evangelical Free Church at Brushy.
** The maternal side of my family was very involved in Central Texas history. In fact, almost every Johnson, Youngbloom and Munson from that region are related to me. You can find out more information at Swedes in Texas and Williamson County Historical Commission.