I don’t think any examination of my life, particularly as a person of colour, would be a complete without looking at religion/faith. So as the sun sets on what was a very lovely Sabbath, I thought today is a good day.
By matriarchal lineage, I was born a Jew. I was christened an Anglican (Union United) because Reverent Este did not check for marriage certificates. I was raised a Christian, an Adventist to be exact, and baptized into the faith at a young 13 – my uncle was doing it and it made my Grandpa happy so (shrug).
My grandfather, who guided us in faith at home, did not preach blind faith. He believed that God gave us a thinking mind for a reason. He encouraged rational questioning and thought that science and religion need not discount one another. The space between the explainable and the not, is where faith lies. Moreover, he taught that the bible was a parable – while yes it was a guide book to God and life, as it was filtered through the minds of men and politics, it had to be interpreted critically.
I left the church in my early teens. Here is the thing I noticed about church: When you’re a kid, it’s all good and Jesus loves you. As soon as you’re old enough to bring in some money, God becomes a judgmental meanie, and you’re going to hell.
I also began to see way too much hypocrisy in the church and I did not want to be one of those. Keeping the Sabbath is hard when you figure out the days of the week are an invention of man. I REALLY like bacon. My heaven will include LGBTQ people. I value honesty over politeness. When sermons started to weigh me down rather than uplift me I was out of there.
Now, I think I have mentioned, I was on the path to nowhere for a while. I would wander away from any perception of faith for a good 10 years. Sure I prayed in dark times – I was still a believer- but I did not have any real sense of connection.
The rise of the Nation of Islam in Montreal started me thinking about religion again, and while I found them a curiosity, it never went further than that, because, did I mention, I LOVE bacon.
Instead, what I did explore was Neo-Paganism. This started my spiritual dilettante phase. It all started with a book: When God was a Woman by Merlin Stone. I was introduced to the Sumerians, and other faiths that predate Christianity.
Given discoveries I had made by this time about Christianity and colonization, I was primed for other world views. The book was more about how women have been sidelined than about religion itself, but it did get me questioning.
Then I got into the fun side of new age; I learnt to read tarot, do astrological charts, cast I Ching and interpret numbers. Learning about these things introduced me to paganism and Wicca. The basicness of these faiths appealed to me – “in that it harm none,do as you will”. They became even more appealing when I realised just how much modern day religions can trace their origins to paganism.
While this did lead to a better connection to the natural world, and a broadening of my understanding of God, I never felt called to dance naked beneath the moon. Around this time, I began working in a multicultural setting, and had the opportunity to learn more about faiths common outside the western world; Buddhism, Islam, Baha’i etc. The more I learnt the more I came to understand that it was all the same thing. Sure there are some differences – I think that is more about religion than God. In the end however, all religions seem to share the same central message: don’t be a douche.
Then one Christmas season, I was at a bar when Michele Sweeney came in and sang Silent Night. When she was done I was in tears. I felt the presence that night and welcomed it back into my life. I had come full circle. I left the church, but God never left me.
Since then, I have come to realise that I have always lived my life by the foundation that my Grandfather set for me; I just needed to wander my own desert until I could hear the voice for myself.
I still have little use for organised religion; but I do understand the need for it in terms of laying a foundation one can grow on. For me, church represents a passive type of faith that I find distancing.
My God is no longer the sky God of my youth, but rather an active presence in my life. I perceive my relationship to God to be one of active partnership and don’t feel the need for a go between. For me, God is the source from which we come, a part of which resides in us as we walk this plane and is the source we return to when it is all over. My God does not sit on high and judge pass/fail, but rather like any parent, sees that I am encouraged to learn and grow, and holds me accountable for my actions by making me face the karma I create.
I do my best to observe the Sabbath now, though not in the restrictive way as dictated by the dogma of my childhood. It is about a pause for renewal and reflection, a time to quiet the bustle of daily life and allow spirit the space to flow.
My faith is no longer about fear of the big guy getting me, but rather a celebration that I am never alone. Faith reminds me that no matter what I am worried about, it is all fleeting. Faith makes it so I don’t feel like I have to have all the answers, but when needed; all I have to do is ask the questions.
While I get that religion has alienated many, and some just simply do not believe, I could not imagine my life without my faith as a guiding influence. While horrendous things have been and continue to be done by the religious in the name of God, I am not about the throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Best of all, when I freed myself of the dogma of religion, I was able to rationalise things that confounded me as a child. So for example, I have no problem with creation and evolution both being right – I have no problem thinking of God as amoebic or that God set off the big bang.
There is so much I don’t know for sure, and I am ok with that too. Fact is, if I am wrong, I still will have lived a good life, served a purpose, and done more good than harm in my time.
As for Christianity, I still believe in Jesus. I also believe in Mohammad, Buddha, and all the rest. It makes sense to me that the message was sent through many voices and just like a game of broken telephone, the message can get a little garbled along the way.
I think if Grandpa was still here, he would be cool with that.