Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Journey (so far!)

I wrote this for a contest called "Why I am a pagan"

I was born some years ago to a conservative, Christian family.  My father was head of the family and my mother stayed home and did things like sew, can, garden, cook and clean.  Our house centered around my father and I adored him.

Our church at that time was Methodist.  In case you aren't familiar with that denomination it involves typical Protestant beliefs with the addition of no drinking or dancing.  When I was older we moved to the Church of Christ, which in my opinion is similar but adds in a healthy dose of everyone else is going to hell so convert and proselytize!!

My parents were firm believers in their religion, they had converted when I was about 5.  I remember once as a small child going with my father to sell his enormous record collection.  The church told him secular music was sinful so he got rid of it, and mourned the loss the rest of his life.  My brother and I were kept isolated from...well, pretty much everything.  We had no TV, were not allowed to listen to the radio, and had little contact with families outside our church.  If a school friend invited me to come to their home my parents had to carefully check them out before I was allowed over. If someone had a birthday party on Saturday night I had to be picked up before church Sunday morning.  Nothing was allowed to enter our life that didn't fit in with church teachings.  We were taught that our way was the one right way and it was our duty to not only spread the word, but also to shun those who didn't follow our rules.  I was happy, content, and felt very loved.

I grew up, got married to a man my father approved of (I liked him too) and had my son.  We went to my parents church, worked for my Dad's company, spent every holiday and most weekends with my parents.  To be perfectly honest, however, I never felt forced or oppressed.  I truly loved my parents and liked spending time with them.

Then my father died and my life imploded.

I had an affair (my fault and shameful), got a divorce, all of my church friends (and there were a lot of them) stopped speaking to me.  I was now a sinner and they couldn't be around me.  One of the most painful experiences of my life was being told I couldn't have a friends daughter stay overnight with me anymore.  Her husband felt I would be a bad influence.

The next few years were chaos.  Many people, including myself, say they would rather die than go back to middle school.  I would rather go back to middle school than relive those painful years.  I was completely lost.  Everything I thought I knew or believed made no sense to me anymore.  I was taught to hate homosexuals, yet had homosexual friends.  I was taught that my religion was the only way, yet I saw many unhappy, mean Christian people, and met many happy, kind non Christians.  I was taught evolution was wrong, yet loved dinosaurs and paleontology.  I finally just said screw it and refused to think about spiritual matters at all and focused on mere survival.

I grew self destructive and developed bad habits.  I became deeply cynical and sour.  I hated myself and everyone around me (except my children, I sometimes think they are the only reason I survived at all).  I developed a personal philosophy that went something like this: Everyone is hiding something and is a liar most of the time, religious people are hypocrites, prepare for the worst as it always happens, trust no one,  life sucks and then you die.  My glass wasn't half full, it was cracked and leaking. I couldn't go on like that.  I was killing myself by inches, destroying my marriage, and not being the Mom I knew I could be.  To add insult to injury my illness, which had nearly prevented me from having children, became much more severe.

So my search for myself and my place in the world began.  I started reading, looking and trying new things.  I got a tattoo, bought a motorcycle, went to nudist places, changed political parties, dyed my hair odd colors, refused to wear make-up, and bought books on female rights, sexuality, politics, and religions.  This might not sound that radical to some of you, but to someone who had never even highlighted her hair to dye it pink was a huge rebellion and exploration (my mother was horrified).  I spent several years in this mode.  Also during this time I started reconnecting with a few of my old friends, and my family.  One friend in particular hadn't shunned me as others had, and with admirable restraint had NOT commented on my life choices and welcomed me back as a friend when I was ready.  (Blessings and kisses Jen)

Even with all this positive change I still had a huge hole in my life.  I was a person who had been used to going to church weekly, plus a bible study, now I had no spirituality in my life at all. I first tried to go back to a Christian church as it was all I knew, but I didn't fit there anymore.  I was too angry about my past in churches, too bitter to listen or learn anything, and I just didn't agree with many of those beliefs anymore.  So I turned to psychology and self help.  I got some counseling and read some great books.  I slowly stopped hurting myself and began trying to be positive and open for the first time in years.  I began to like myself again, but I still felt empty. 

In the middle of this lonely time I ran across Jeffery's online classes.  I knew absolutely nothing about being a pagan except for what I had learned in church, and I had serious doubts about the veracity of that information.  It seemed unlikely that pagans called demons, ate raw sacrificed animals or murdered babies.   And as for being naked under the moon with other people...well, I had done that and it didn't feel evil to me.  So my husband and I started watching, and listening, and learning.

Without preaching or pushing or being negative about anyone or anything Jeffery led me down a new path.  A path about acceptance, personal responsibility and love for all creation. A path that wasn't about everyone walking the straight and narrow, but about a journey of discovery side by side, twisting together, sometimes diverging, but all headed the same general way.  Suddenly all the thoughts that had been swirling around in my brain crystallized into a totally new way of thinking.  I began to see connections, similarities, parallels, whereas before all I had seen were differences and separations.  I began to let go of a lifetime of judgment and filters and substitute empathy and acceptance. 

Once of the themes Jeffery touched on often was how powerful we as people are.  This was a huge revelation for me.  Previously in my life anything having to do with magic or mysticism was ruthlessly stamped out.  My father had prophetic dreams and could sense and communicate with beings other people couldn't see.  When he became a Christian he turned his back on all of that, and trained me to not notice or at least not act on what I could see or feel.  After hearing Jeffery I began to open up again. Suddenly my dreams changed.  I began to meet dream friends long forgotten, our ghost started shyly appearing once more, and nature began to call to me again. 

As I changed I still felt held back by my feelings about my past.  After a few more classes I learned that instead of focusing on churches and false friends and proper behavior ruling my past I should remember other things. Suddenly my dream-time began showing me old memories.  I remembered being very small with my father in the deep forest, he is holding me in his arms, his beard tickling my cheek and the trees are swaying and murmuring over our heads, he is whispering "Do you hear the trees talking?".  I remember my mother showing us how to tickle salamanders out from under their rocks, how to hold perfectly still until the hummingbirds would fly near us, and how to talk to and care for our pets. I remember being taught to look, marvel, and admire the creation around me and the Creator who could encompass all this beauty and wonder. I remembered finding a file in my father's things after he died with a list of elderly women whose homes he kept repaired.  His payments were cookies and pies and gratitude.  I learned to remember love and let go of everything else.  I accepted my past and the good things about it and forgave those things that shouldn't have been there.  This gave my soul a freedom it lacked and desperately needed. 

I still felt I needed a church though, and after much looking I came across the Unitarian Universalist Church of Eugene.  The first time I read their web site I cried, here was the place I had been looking for!  In this church it doesn't matter what religion you identify with, all that matters is your fruit.  Are you kind, patient, loving, generous, honest and loyal (or at least do you try to be)?  Then you are welcome.  We celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and Winter Solstice with equal exuberance.  Easter and First Fruits, Halloween and the annual youth vision quest all are accepted.  We have Christians, Buddhists, a few atheists, a pagan coven, and too many others to list coexisting in our group.  We are active in our community in politics, charity, and environmental causes.  The Sunday morning teachings draw from the Bible to the Koran to popular music and everything in between.

And that leads me to today. Am I a pagan now?  I don't know, and I'm not sure I need a label to be content.  I do a variety of things to keep my mind open and my spirit fed.  I get and read daily emails from a Buddhist group I like. I'm working through a read the bible in a year book.  I read Jeffery's pagan lesson every day and try and connect on the Old Ways page when I have something to share.  I go to church when I can and do my best to learn about other religious paths and the truths they have to show me (one of my current favorite books is about ancient Egyptian wisdom and teachings).  I try and take time throughout my day to appreciate the beauty around me.  As often as my health permits I got outside, especially with my children, and show them how much I appreciate Deity and nature.  I got another tattoo, this one reminds me to stay positive and live in love.  When I find myself getting down about life I make a conscious effort to count my blessings.   When things get overwhelming I pop online and listen to one of Jeffery's classes, or some of the music he posts and remind myself of what I have learned and how far I have come.

I admit to feeling a little dislocated occasionally.  While I am no longer a Christian I am still politically conservative.  In groups of people I feel either too liberal for the conservatives or too conservative for the liberals, this has made it hard to form connections and make friends.  Old Ways, though, seems to envelope all paths and I'm beginning to see that some of my discomfort is me being unsure of myself, so I'll be working on that.

I know I have a long road stretched out in front of me and I can occasionally glimpse the many lessons waiting along it, but I am content to take one step at a time and let Deity choose when I'm ready to move on.  Instead of rushing through life, pushing and fretting and trying to "get things right" I am learning to appreciate where I am and the lesson I am learning now.  I don't always get it right.  I get tired, busy, cranky, or slide back into my old patterns of cynicism and anger, but it's getting easier to stay on this track.   I think now my personal philosophy is something like this: Worry is fear, fear is the opposite of love, live in love; people are human and so am I, don't judge; there is no one true way; everyone has something to teach, everyone has something to learn; and take one day at a time and let Deity worry about the rest.  I will be forever grateful to Jeffery for starting Old Ways and sharing his path with us.  I believe it provided the catalyst for huge, positive, life changing lessons for me, and I hope it has led to me being a much better, happier, kinder person than I was in the past. Be Blessed friends -=)

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