For the next five lessons, I urge you to read and listen in tongues. Whether you are religious, agnostic, spiritual, or an atheist, the lessons that follow are grounded in my experiences of larger Truth. I do not expect you to agree or understand, but I hope you will open your heart and mind to consider my discoveries around faith and God over the last three decades. I feel comfortable with the word God and know that others are not. The word carries a lot of baggage, is inherently limiting, and sometimes perpetuates cultural assumptions. Choose to read with the words that speak to you, whatever those words may be.
Living your Faith is more important than the form of your Faith
I grew up in a multi-faith household with parents who pointed us toward possibilities and who allowed us to discover and choose what fit. In our home, there was always a deep sense of morality and virtue. The core was being a good, kind, compassionate, and loving person. There was never a sense that there was a wrong way to reach that end and we were encouraged to explore the world, serve others, and ask a lot of questions. We talked about God. We occasionally went to Quaker Meeting or Temple. We had large and loud Passover Seders, and quiet yet rejuvenating Christmas Eve dinners. Religion was there as a structure for the Spirit that moved within us and around us. In my adolescence (or perhaps even earlier), I gravitated toward Quakerism. I appreciated the lack of rigid doctrine, the named acceptance (and not just tolerance) of all people, and the emphasis on every human having the innate ability to directly commune and communicate with God without the need for mediating persons or rituals. From an early age, I was also drawn to my grandfather, a Quaker minister and the most deeply grounded and spiritual person I have ever met. Ten years after his passing, I still feel his presence and his faithfulness in everything I do and everything I am.
I have been experiencing and getting to know the Divine since I was very young, but I have not always had the words to name it and I have certainly not always had the confidence or courage to shout the good news from the rooftops. I do not currently attend a Meeting. I do not worship regularly. I rarely pray and even more rarely read the Bible. I also have never received formal religious education of any kind. However, after many years, I have made an intentional decision to focus on the powerful ways that I live out my Faith rather than apologizing for the ways I do not live out my Faith. My Faith is not about theology or scripture or Jesus or even the Quaker testimonies. My Faith is a vehicle for living as my most authentic self, being the person God created me to be, and doing what God has called me and is calling me to do in this world. My Quakerism gives my Faith a home, and while it sometimes lacks traditional religious structure, it does not lack integrity. My Quakerism has taught me how to not only accept the myriad spiritual gifts that God has given me but to also use them for the benefit of humankind in both secular and spiritual settings. I know that I am doing work that I was created to do, grounded and elevated by the Light.
One of my closest friends is and always has been one of the most Catholic people I know. I remember when gay marriage was legalized in our very liberal, mostly Protestant town, she remained largely silent. I remember being angry at her for being “full of hateful beliefs.” I remember judging her and eventually telling her that I thought she and her belief system were wrong. I remember her unwavering confidence and more than anything, I remember how after a few days, she confronted me and pointed out my hypocrisy. She was gentle. She was loving. She understood we did not believe the same things but affirmed my right to have my truth even if she disagreed. The conversation gave us the opportunity to maturely discuss our differences and it also became a launching point for us to discuss our and our religions’ many similarities. We talked about how hurt I was that she didn’t think I could go to the same heaven as she could. We talked about each of our commitment to being good people in the service of something bigger than ourselves. We talked about how to keep loving and respecting each other moving forward. We forced each other to see the other’s point of view, and it was powerful and transformative. Looking back, it is shocking that we had this conversation at sixteen and that she was brave enough to initiate it, especially since I was being incredibly close-minded and hateful. That said, this conversation was a turning point in my life and changed the way I consider and approach religion and Faith. It also made our friendship stronger and solidified a bond that exists, to this day, beyond the forms of our spirituality. Last year, I stood by her side as she married the love of her life. I sat on the altar and the Priest offered me prayers instead of communion. Truly, the way we live and treat each other is what is most important. How we execute our Faith is far more meaningful than the form.