Friday, January 30, 2009

Walking Along the Way


I've always been aware of myself as a "spiritual" creature, i.e. I have a belief in and an awareness of something greater than myself. I was raised in the Lutheran church and never had the usual adolescent rebellion against the world of religion. I liked going to catechism class, and my confirmation in the Lutheran church and my first communion was a proud accomplishment. I was never dissatisfied with my church and what it believed, and yet...

When I was a senior in high school I met some classmates who belonged to the Baha'i Faith, and this was something new and intriguing. It seemed to go the next step beyond where I was at the moment, so I followed. I spent the next 32 years reading and studying and praying and meditating. And what I discovered in all that delving into what the Baha'i Faith was is that, in the end, it isn't the next step forward; there really isn't much difference between Baha'i and Christianity, or Baha'i and Judaism, or Baha'i and Islam. It's another man-made attempt to approach the divine, and in that attempt it claims a revelation and it establishes rules to control the actions and thinking of its adherents. What I had discovered was that it was time for me to get out and move on.

In the course of my life I've been an avid student of the world's religions, faiths, myths, etc. My personal library has all sorts of religious scriptures and books about religion, and covers everything from Native American beliefs and practices to Walter R. Martin's Kingdom of the Cults. There's even more on the hard drive of this computer, everything from the Zoroastrian Avesta to Guru Nanak's writings. And of course I'm addicted the the Internet Sacred Texts Archive, and every time they update their DVD-ROM to include everything they've added to the website, I pony up. So I'm well-read in the texts of the world's spiritual beliefs.

When I first left the Baha'i Faith to strike out on my own, I mostly hung out with neo-Pagans because the idea that all creation, including ourselves, is sacred appeals to me. Even now I celebrate the turning of the Wheel of the Year, and especially love Samhain and Yule, the central celebrations of the Autumn/Winter half of the year. And I have my personal altar with candles and incense and the requisite representations of the four elements - Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. But on that altar I also have: a homemade Lakota-style prayer stick; a Tibetan singing bowl; a Laughing Buddha figurine; a Ganesha figurine; seashells of all kinds; a bouquet of different kinds of bird feathers; and other things of that nature. I cover some pretty diverse territory on my altar. Why? Because it all represents the sacredness of everything to me.

Part of what I discovered in my post-Baha'i studies was Matthew Fox's Creation Spirituality, which, like my own and Pagan beliefs, centers on all creation being sacred. And one of the things Fox points out about the multitude and diversity of religious belief in this world is that we all try to define the divine by what we know, how we were brought up, where we live, etc. In his book One River, Many Wells he compared the world's religions to the five blind men of the Hindu story, who could only describe the elephant standing in front of them by the part that they had each grabbed: a leg, the trunk, the tail, an ear...

Now, I've always been a big fan of the Tao Te Ching, and one day while reading it, the first two verses all of a sudden said something to me:
The way that can be described is not the eternal Way.
The name that can be spoken is not the eternal Name.
There it is! If you put a label on something, if you try to name or define it, you take away its sacredness. Do you know how freeing that discovery is? The Bible, the Tao Te Ching, the Qur'an, Rumí's poetry, Matthew Fox's works, the lectures of Rinzai Gigeng, the Dhammapada, the Vedas, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan - it's all true, it's all part of the eternal jigsaw puzzle that is our understanding of the cosmos. But...

Nobody's standing over me claiming any of this as a definitive revelation. It doesn't try to enforce any rules or modes of thinking on me. I don’t join an organization to do it, and I don’t give it a name. I walk the Way without trying to describe it or name it. And in that I’m a free man, much more free than anybody sitting in a pew of a Sunday morning (while I’m out wandering in the woods and the salt marshes saying good morning to the birds).

And that freedom is such a divine gift!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

6 comments:

  1. I'm amazed at how similar our spiritual journeys have been. I was raised Catholic, and went to parochial school. In public high school I met David, the son of a Lutheran minister. He and I, along with his sister and a group of about 6 other students, on the minister's recommendation, spent a year visiting other churches. That was quite an experience. In my early twenties I began attending the Church of Christ with friends, and even taught Sunday school, until their stance with a young woman whose husband was abusing her just went against every fiber of my being (they told her to stay, as long as he wasn't being sexually unfaithful, and if he did THAT, then she and her baby could leave). In my early 30's I studied with and joined a coven, where I stayed for 5 years. I learned a lot, but ultimately found the same power issues that (I think) corrupt churches, corrupts paganism. It is the existence of the power structure that (again, IMHO) strangles spirituality.

    I went back to college a few years ago, and I've studied general philosophy, religious philosophy. mythology, anthropology (lots of anthropology) and these all led me to read much of what mention in your post. I've been struck by how much these supposed 'different' faiths have in common, how long the threads of the myths & beliefs are, and I've learned that 'believers' in general don't know much about the history of their own faith, how the beliefs came about, and often what the sanctioned beliefs even are!

    After all of this, I find the magic and beauty and wonder of nature tells me more about spirit than almost anything else has. The most holy place I've ever been was Lady Bird Johnson Grove on a misty fall morning.

    Life's quite a journey, isn't it? Glad to meet a like minded traveler.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You say it well with "the idea that all creation, including ourselves, is sacred." I too have studied philosophy and the world's religions. As a yoga teacher and student, I spent about 2 years studying the Yoga Sutras, Sanskrit, and other sacred texts. It is very comforting to see universal truths reflected in all religions and interesting to see the connections and threads between all the faiths and customs.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was raise Mormon, but I can't remember a time I was ever comfortable there. I have a talent for knowing a lie when I hear it/read it. It makes going to many churches all but impossible for me.

    However, I'm happy believing my own way and living the best way I know how.

    Lovely post, Roy.

    ReplyDelete
  4. thanks for sharing your journey.... beautifully crafted....much of it rings a deep chord within my own soul.

    I love how you liken the spiritual quest as a cosmic jigsaw puzzle....probably explains why I like jigsaw puzzles.

    have you ever been to the baha'i temple in evanston, il? it is gorgeous....I visited many years ago and as with you many years ago (for me it was while I was in college) I was very drawn to it.... nowadays if I have to label myself I just state that I'm a pantheist - in the sense that I find god in all things and beings - namaste brother roy!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ditto Roy ... no labels required. Just walk your journey and BE.

    You expressed yourself wonderfully.

    ReplyDelete