In my last post I wrote about recent feelings of detachment from Jesus. That is not to say that I am without spirituality. I would consider myself a very spiritual person, and though I am jaded with organized Religions, I still practice religion (small r) in my own way.
As a Mormon I remember hearing others say similar things about their spirituality and not being able to wrap my head around it. How can you be spiritual outside of Religion? For those who wonder, I thought I'd explain how it works for me. This is what I wish someone had shared with me:
When I think about spiritual experiences I think about two types of experiences--inspiration and euphoric feelings. I used to be afraid that if I left the Church I would loose both, but actually I have these experiences just as often as before. I still have moments of inspiration when I write, draw, sleep, reflect, and make decisions. And quite frankly, these "personal revelations" are taking me down a great path, because everything is really working out for me. My art is going in a new direction I am excited about. I have a great husband and a stable life. I am happy.
I also experience a holy sensation comparable to the "burning in the bosom" I used to experience as a Mormon. I say comparable because it is different. It is calmer, less fraught with desperation, and it is less fleeting. I would describe these spiritual experiences now as more of a peaceful, satisfying assurance that things are good and that there is beauty in the world--it's a better feeling than before, and I experience it when I am surrounded by beauty in nature, architecture, or even my own thoughts.
Mormons call them ordinances, but everyone else calls them sacraments--these are rites of passage, rituals that advance you from one stage to another. On my mission I knew there was a possibility I would leave the Church, and I wondered how I could replace these rites. I thought I might have to create elaborate ceremonies on my own to satisfy my need for ritual. Not so.
I think the biggest sacrament a gay man goes through is the process of coming out. Though it is different for everybody, it is a rite of passage, and for me it changed everything. It opened doors. It made me a better, more honest person. It was like baptism, washing away old habits and renewing me with a new life and community.
Marriage was also a holy sacrament for me, as it is also in Religion. We made our marriage ceremony unique to us, loaded with personal symbols that made the day sacred and significant. The wedding was definitely a rite that changed me forever. And looking forward I see other rites of passage in the future that will shape me--graduating grad school, buying our first home, having a child. And I also see traditions that provide that sense of ritual I need--vacations with friends, holidays with family, anniversaries with Michael.
I still have beliefs, though they are different than what I believed as a Mormon. I believe in eternal life, though I believe it is less physical than most Latter-day Saints believe. I believe life has meaning and purpose. I believe it's okay to not know things. I believe it's okay for people to believe in different things, both being right and neither being wrong.
Beyond simple beliefs, there are principles that guide my life--a creed, if you will. It's too complicated to describe here completely, but I'll tell you how it came about. The way I see it Christianity has organized the Universe into two categories: good and evil. I didn't like that dichotomy, though, and so I decided to organize the world differently. I created two different categories to explain the Universe (neither being good or evil--more like yin and yang). I believe peace comes in balancing these too forces. But enough of that--it's too hard to explain here, I just want to demonstrate that I still have "doctrine" in my life. I don't view my "doctrine" as some sort of capital T ultimate truth, rather it is just the way that I look at the world--a way that works for me.
Just because I don't feel like Jesus is active in my life right now doesn't mean I don't believe in the Divine. I will say that I don't believe in the God of Mormonism--a tangible man of glorified flesh who lives in a tangible place with a wife (wives?). There are too many problems with the idea of a corporeal God, and it's just not how I have experience her. That's right. Her. When I was in the Caribbean last year, I felt very strongly that there was some sort of awesome power at work in nature. The sea and the weather and the geography and the birds and the turtles and all of nature there just seemed so powerful and so in sync. It just felt like God, but at the same time, it was so obviously feminine. It wasn't subtle at all. Creation and life and nature is very female. I don't believe that God is literally a woman--like I said, I don't believe in a corporeal God, but I do believe that the Divine is as much woman as it is man, if not more so.
Really I just use the word God to describe that awesome, inexplicable power behind this world. There is something incredible about the way the world works, and rather than try to explain it, I'd rather just have a reverent awe for the mystery of it. I don't need to know how it all comes together, I just need to respect the fact that it does.
It is that reverent awe that is worship, and frankly I think I worship more now than I did as a Mormon. For some reason, Mormons don't do worship very well. Maybe it is because they don't allow for mystery and instead seek to explain everything. Whatever the reason, they seem to prefer meetings to worship services. I find myself expressing awe and celebrating mystery and the divine more now, which is funny because I have a much less concrete Deity to worship. I guess that's what makes it easier, though, when God is everywhere, so is worship.
So I guess if I were to address my former Religious self wondering how to be religious after Religion, this what I would say: Yes, you can still be spiritual if you leave your Church. In fact, you can be more spiritual. So stop saying "I know this Church is true" and start embracing mystery. Amazing things happen when you let go of the need to know.