I’m applying for admission to an Interfaith Seminary, to get ordained as a generic spiritual leader and spiritual counselor. Part of the application asks for a 2-3 page essay on my spiritual journey. I was daunted at first, wondering how to put it into words and make it that SHORT. A friend suggested to just write, and then edit it down later. I got up early for the several days, before anyone else in the house, and this is what came… (and it comes in at exactly 3 pages!):
My early childhood was mostly non-religious. We went to a Methodist church as a family until my parents divorced when I was six, then both parents stopped attending and religion was no longer a part of our lives.
Early in High School I got involved in the Christian youth group, Young Life, because a close friend invited me to go with her. I felt compelled by the social acceptance and sense of community I felt there, and then started believing what was said about Jesus, the Bible, and God. I found power and meaning especially in the Bible verses that glorified the power of God, emphasizing the works and laws of the spirit as greater than the works and laws of people.
I dove in, and attended all the weekly Bible studies, social evenings, and regional gatherings with other high schools. I started dating a boy who identified strongly as a Christian, as did his whole family. I attended church with them regularly, and we spent a summer teaching Vacation Bible School together.
Around this time, my mom started attending a Unity Church of “New Thought” Christianity. At first, going with her to Unity felt like an extension of my new Christian identity, and I enthusiastically got involved in the high school group there. The teachings of Unity about “Christ within” gave me an enriched understanding of Christianity that felt powerful and personal to me. It brought all the history of the Bible into a new and relevant context. Through new practices of meditation and guided self-reflection, I began to experience a connection with the sacred energy within me.
When my Christian boyfriend came to church with me, he was appalled by the blasphemy of the idea that all people have the same potential as Christ. He said if I believed that, I wasn’t a real Christian. After long hours of tearful debate, I conceded that I believed in “Christ within” more than the concepts of sin and salvation that we taught in Vacation Bible School. He said he couldn’t date a non-Christian, and we ended our relationship. His family, who had taken me in as a “third daughter”, told me they were very sad I was going to hell.
My new identity as a “non-Christian” was powerful to me, because it was a choice to go against what was socially acceptable for the sake of following my truth. Looking for truth within me became my spiritual path.
For the rest of high school, I continued attending Unity and developing my understanding of the sacred flowing through all things, including through me. I experienced deep self-acceptance, unconditional love with my peers, and respect from adults in the congregation. The summer I graduated, I attended an international conference at Unity Village, where I participated in a long meditation to connect with my purpose in life. When asked in the meditation “what are you here to do?”, the answer rose clear and strong from deep within me: “to help people learn to love”. That was the first time I remember hearing the voice of spirit so clearly, and the message has been an important mantra of purpose throughout my life.
That same summer after graduating, we took a family vacation to Moab, Utah. We camped out in the desert, and slept under a sky of stars that left me speechless. Driving with my mom and her sister in an open Jeep through the wild canyons, laughing and singing, a new sense of inner freedom rooted in me. We were “wild women”, full of power and potential, loving ourselves and each other and the amazing Earth that embraced us.
On the drive back to Denver, we stopped at a tiny truck stop on the side of the highway. I took a walk through the woods to stretch my legs, and walked around a bend to witness a magnificent vista of a grand mountain rising above and reflected in a clear lake. I stood in awe and gratitude, feeling my connection with the Earth and the spirit flowing through all things. I got back into the car a changed person, devoted to the Earth on a spiritual level.
That moment marked the beginning of my exploration of Pagan spirituality. I was fascinated by the practice of honoring the cycles of the seasons and using the elements of air, fire, water, and earth and the four directions for their different qualities. In college I took weekly walks in the forest for “church”, learning to intentionally tap into that sense of connection.
My mother recently told me that she thought I had given up on spirituality while I was in college. She didn’t know about those walks in the woods, and she also didn’t know the spiritual side of my academic work. I majored in Religion, because those were the classes to which I felt most drawn. I studied “Myth and Symbol”, “Use of Dance in Aboriginal Rituals”, and “Images of the Divine in German Literature”. I eagerly explored the Bible as historical document, comparative analysis of Judaism and Christianity, the philosophy of religion, Confucianism, and Zen and Taoism. These classes enlivened me. Schoolwork wasn’t tedious – it was spiritual exploration. In all my classes, I tried to weave the essence of the different teachings and doctrines into my spiritual understanding, and through that practice I developed a multifaceted sense of the sacred that transcended any one religion. Since then, I’ve found it difficult to identify with any one religious category.
In parallel to my classes in Religion, I found myself passionate about the study of society and culture, and chose to also major in Sociology. I loved wrapping my mind around all the ways that reality is filtered and obscured by the social meanings that we learn through our culture. Learning to identify and disarm the social assumptions in my perception and understanding of the world around me became yet another spiritual practice.
My studies in Sociology led me to a determined belief that there must be a different way for people to live together, a culture that intentionally combats destructive social assumptions like racism, sexism, and classism, honors the Earth, and celebrates our connectedness instead of dividing people through economic competition. A year after graduating from college, I learned about Twin Oaks, an “intentional community” (aka commune) in Virginia that had started in the 1960s and was still thriving. I visited, loved it, and made it my home for 4 years.
At Twin Oaks I found a group of 100 people who were creating the life I had envisioned. Working together, sharing, and cooperating were at the center of all social systems there. I found myself connecting more deeply with people on a daily basis – in celebration and in conflict, but it was the depth of relationship that compelled me. Our inherent connection with each other was undeniable. So too was our connection with the Earth, as we lived rurally and ate from the garden, heated with wood from the forest, and worked and played outside most of the time.
At Twin Oaks I practiced the art of having integrity in relationships with others, and with myself – life on a commune doesn’t work, otherwise. Through observation, mentorship, and trial and error, I learned how to be lovingly honest, compassionate, and accepting of hard truths. This became a deeply spiritual practice of stepping beyond the layer of emotions and ego, learning to open my heart in the face of fear, developing a faith that what lay underneath my ego was far more powerful, and would lead me where I needed to go. I attended, and eventually taught, workshops and retreats focused on various practices for creating healthy relationships based on these principles. This became the bedrock of my current spiritual beliefs and practice.
I left Twin Oaks when I fell in love with a man who didn’t want to live there. I knew deeply that he was my partner in life, and left the life I loved to marry him and create a life together. I felt like I stepped off a cliff. I stumbled through 4 years of early marriage and creating a life in mainstream culture. My husband and I got tangled up in our differences and shut down to each other. I sank quickly into the darkness of fear, self-judgment, and blame. I didn’t recognize myself anymore, and I was so caught in the darkness that the idea of doing anything about it felt overwhelming. I felt alone, ashamed, and hopeless, lost in the realm of ego.
After our daughter was born, I felt a spark inside me to get my life back on track, a refusal to raise my child in the life I was living. I slowly recommitted to my practices of self-reflection and opening (writing, tarot, meditation), knowing I had to go through the painful process of looking at my life and facing what I had created, so I could change it. I knew that the alternative of staying shut down and hopeless would ultimately be even more painful, for me and for the child who was looking to me for love and truth.
I began with the determined belief that a better life was possible, and stubbornly searched until new possibilities emerged. My husband and I came back to conversations we had ignored because they created too much conflict. We started to find the magic we had forgotten, the beauty of our differences working in tandem, and the joy of surrendering as individuals to the spirit of partnership between us.
Early in the process of recreating my life, I felt compelled to find a church. After visiting the Quaker Meeting and the Unitarian Church several times and not finding what I wanted, I gave Unity a try again. I immediately felt at home. I cried through the service, and prayed with a chaplain afterwards to remember my strength and connection with spirit.
I started attending regularly. Though the language didn’t match with what I had come to use for my spiritual experience, the message behind the words rang true. I felt embraced by the congregation, supported lovingly in my process of coming back to myself.
I committed myself to my spiritual practice again, and the voice of spirit within me came clearer and stronger. Listening and accepting became easier, and exciting. The teachings of Unity reminded me of the beauty and magic that unfold when I act in alignment with Spirit. My spiritual practice began to expand beyond self-reflection and contemplation, into the realm of action and creation, moving out of my mind and into my body. I committed to the practice of following my inspirations, even when I didn’t understand them.
This has brought me to a new way of living in the world. I tap into the web of energy that connects all things, and look to find my place in it, to feel inspiration. I feel it as a tug within me, calling me forward. When I struggle to feel the pull, I open again through writing, dancing, tarot, and meditation, listening for the distinct voice of spirit, the now familiar sense of knowing.
My current sense of this Divine Spirit is that it is the energy that composes all that is, the substance of the Universe. It has a resonance and a movement that is growth, opening, and union. Any sense of separateness is an illusion that distorts our perception, and this illusion is the source of fear, pain, and struggle. When I release that illusion, surrender the ego to the flow of Spirit, my life aligns and resonates with all existence. From that place, I know what is mine to do.
Moment by moment, again and again; this is the work of Living.