I want to write about some of the gems I’m finding in my search for religion lately, and I find myself hitting a bit of an internal wall about it. I fear that religious language is triggering of a negative response in people, maybe people I know and am friends with. It would have been for me not so long ago.
Looking back now, I see that I looked down on religion in part because it wasn’t ‘cool’. It was an admission of weakness to turn towards religion. An admission of having failed at something. It seemed like a lot of people around me were rejecting religion, swiftly and soundly, as though it was a new discovery our generation had made. Whatever wave of rationalism we’ve been a part of was picking at the stories told by religion and the negative stories of what some religions have done throughout history, and people were on board with the logic. The dominant conversation about religion that I was aware of was pretty condescending. It was the same tone we take when we talk about primitive human cultures in relation to us – that we are evolved past that and superior.
I get it. I really get it. There’s logic there, and we are very logical. Though in hindsight, it wasn’t my meticulous rationality that drove my thinking; I was mostly just going along with the crowd on this one, going along with what was cool, and being proud of not hitting that wall of (shameful) personal weakness that drives people to pursue religion.
Of course, that was a total and utter lie. I did pursue religion for a time in high school, when things were the hardest, around the time I was recovering from a really risky relationship and some family trauma, and developing an eating disorder. I remember writing on prayer cards every week at church asking for help. I remember one of the pastors personally telling me he was praying for me, and it making me tear up. Things often fall apart before they get better, and whatever order I was trying to construct in my life ended up falling apart, the religion along with it, before I started rebuilding things. And I got swept up in teenage shenanigans and sort of let myself forget the religious structure, or write off whatever it had given me. I didn’t need it anymore. For a time. And I could look back on it and say, I dipped into religion, but that’s all in the past. Almost like an ex-alcoholic.
Ironically, religion is totally about surrender, but from a religious/Christian standpoint surrender is a very good thing. The only option, in fact. The idea is that there are places life takes you that literally give you no other option but to fall to your knees and give up. And when you do that, the idea is that something larger than you takes over. The burden is lifted. Life doesn’t punish you for admitting weakness; it helps you see a different way. It helps you rebuild things a little differently. When we break down and give up, we admit we don’t have all the answers and have more growing to do.
It’s the kind of humility our culture doesn’t really train in us, but we could use a lot more of.
And what happens when everyone is too proud, too afraid, to admit their faults?
A culture that is hostile towards people when they feel weak, that is upheld by… fear. Fear of how other people respond to my weaknesses. Fear of being seen as irrational.
I’ve lived my life like that, always afraid of being weak. It took enormous pain for me to seek out religion in high school. And as soon as my ego gained back some strength, I wrote off my foray into religion, at least outwardly, as something I did out of pain – as if that made it less real. Saying to myself that weakness can only be justified in situations where we feel a lot of pain. It’s an interesting dynamic inside myself, and one I’m very invested in working on, because I don’t want to keep hurting myself with my thought habits. Every time I judge myself as being too weak, a part of me hides, and comes out in the shadows in ways that aren’t healthy. It’s like I wrote yesterday about our shadow side, and my binge eating – that shit doesn’t happen unless you’re suppressing parts of yourself! The energy has to come out somehow. It really all comes back to self love, which isn’t just something fluffy. Self love is made up of acts of bravery in letting yourself be as you are, even through your fears. Believing in yourself before you have the validation of others. Owning the parts of yourself that aren’t stellar according to our culture’s value system. That all is important work.
The bible, and other religious texts, have lessons for living that steer us away from that hole that is rejection of weakness. I think there are a lot of holes we can fall into, individually and collectively. We just can’t see all that clearly, particularly when we’re relying only on our individual rational thought, our flawed linear logic in a chaotic, nonlinear world.
So I went to a church service today in DC. I’ve been exploring spiritual communities in Durham – a methodist church, a Quaker group, a metaphysical church, the Unitarian Universalists. Today’s service was at a nondenominational Christian church that reminded me a lot of the church I went to for a time in high school. It was vibrant and full of glowing people. The music was truly incredible, and moved me to tears. Regardless of your religious affiliation, if you open your mind and heart to it, there’s nothing quite like belting out songs with a good group of people who are unashamedly putting their souls into the singing.
Part of the message today was about brokenness and surrender. God flows into broken places, they said. God flows towards things that need to be excavated and re-built. Again, the concept of surrender. Admit your brokenness and a light will shine upon you. Set your ego aside and be willing to follow instead of lead, trusting the force of life where it takes you next. We weren’t meant to be perfect, we were meant to be human, and the Universe supports our imperfect human nature, supports us when we admit ignorance. All I know is I surrendered something of my ego in song today. It was profoundly peaceful, and joyful. I’m blessed to be where I am.