I was raised Catholic. At best, we were pretty fair-weather Catholics. We attended mass on the occasional Sunday morning, but made sure to never miss an Easter service or Midnight Mass. My sister and I attended Public School Religion classes every Tuesday night until we were in middle school. I always struggled with my Catholicism. I always felt like a fraud in church. I never felt God, who I had been taught was separate from me. It pained me that I wasn’t touched by faith. Oh, how I wanted to have faith. In my youth, I never quite imagined there could be another path to God than the one presented before me. To say I worried about this is an understatement. If there was just this one way, and I couldn’t find myself on it… what would become of me? True to my own form, I spent a lot of time simply not thinking about my situation. I became apathetic, with a now-and-again spurt of religious fervor. The summer before my senior year of high school was one of these times. I fell in with a small crowd of peers who were active in their Catholic faith, and because I was both impressionable and, on a certain level, still desperate to feel God and have a faith of my own, I became slightly more dedicated to my religion. I started attending church on Sundays again and at the end of the summer, I went on a retreat with the youth group to Denver, Colorado. This was the first time I experienced God and Love. During this retreat, I felt emotions I had never known. I remember collapsing into weeping episodes that I couldn’t explain. I even stood up and committed myself to Jesus. I was saved.
The day that I got back from the retreat, I was with my friend, driving to go see my Mother for the first time in a week and we were in a car accident. I spent a couple nights in the hospital for observation. As if that weren’t enough for my poor soul, while in the hospital, the doctors found, completely unrelated to this accident, a tumor along my spine. With the utmost compassion and professionalism ever seen in the history of medicinal care, the young doctor who was assigned my case immediately informed me upon discovering said tumor that it was almost certainly a rare form of cancer, absolutely without a cure, and that more than likely, my short time on earth would be soon coming to an end. Then, after I, the 17 year old who had just come from telling God that she was His, that Jesus was her savior, spent a night lying awake in a hospital room, experiencing her mortality for the first time, the doctor returned with the news that what I had in my body was actually a benign tumor known as a Schwannoma. Essentially, an overgrowth of nerve cells and nothing more, easily taken care of with a simple surgery. No cancer, no dying just yet. (My thoughts on the American health care system to come a later point in time…) At any rate, what I’ll say about this ordeal and my faith as a 17 year old is that you could just go ahead and stuff your theories about “This is God’s test” where the sun don’t shine. I wasn’t having it. I gave my heart to You and this—THIS—is how you repay me? Commence the Dark Years.
Bitter doesn’t quite begin to describe my feelings toward God after this. In fact, I went staunchly in the opposite direction—as close to atheism as one can get without actually saying it. As it were, I don’t think I was ever an atheist, even if I had ever claimed to be one. Over time, I calmed down quite a bit and found what I considered to be a happy medium known as agnosticism. To this day, I don’t think it was an illogical mindset, and I fully understand the questions and concerns of the agnostic. What I eventually decided was that I just didn’t know. And what’s more, I had no way of ever knowing. Who was I but one little person. If there was a God, then He was so vast and huge and way beyond anything I’d ever have the capacity to understand or know. And at that time, that was just fine with me.
There were both good and bad reasons that led me to agnosticism. Commencing with the latter, I grew up seeing attending church as an obligation and subsequently, I saw God as an obligation, a chore at best, and achingly boring (even during my Religious Summer, attending church services each week was a test of my strength). Furthermore, I was raised with the idea that God was some Being outside of myself, of whom I should be fearful of and to whom I should spend my days begging to forgive me for all the wretched sins I committed throughout each passing day and please, please, please when I get to the pearly gates don’t send me away to the depths of hell for all of eternity. I remember thinking that God, if there was one, couldn’t possibly be so temperamental, so punishing and so full of wrath. Even before I reached the age of 10, I explicitly remember thinking that God (again, if there was one) couldn’t be anything other than Love. Allow me a pause here to note that I am not bashing Catholicism or Christianity, as I would discover later, it’s just that I came to understand it just simply was not the path for me, personally. This in no way means to say either are a less valid path to realizing God.
And there was also the good (or at least, what I see as good). From the things that I found negative, I established my own idea of “religion.” I developed the belief that church was not necessary to express your devotion to God (ITWO). I thought, “If I really love and believe in God, then I don’t need to go to church to express that love.”
Next, I allowed myself to develop an interest in how other people, cultures, religions devoted themselves to God. I opened my eyes to other possibilities. The summer before I went away to college, I became enthralled by Hinduism. This is where I was first introduced to Yoga. I loved the openness of the religion, the way you could practically cherry pick the things that worked for you, the deity that helped guide you to God, the prayers you chose, the way you prayed, etc etc. This was also my first introduction to the idea that God was not a Being outside of myself, that God was in me, that God was Me—that God was Love.
To make a long essay slightly less long and boring, I spent the next 5 and a half years simultaneously in love with the Hindu religion, and subsequently parlayed that into a love of Buddhism, which, being itself a spiritual philosophy, satisfied the part of me that still harbored a “thing” against any form of organized religion. But I still maintained my agnosticism. The rest then, is history, and if you’ve read my blogs at all, or know me, then you know my struggles in between then and now and how I came to where I am in my life- my dedication to yoga and the new eyes through which I see the world.
Why am I telling you this? (And jiminey- thank you if you’ve stuck with me thus far through my tale. I did NOT think it would be this long. If you’re still here- stick with me! I think I’m almost done.) I’m telling you this because one day a couple of weeks ago, I was milling about in my kitchen, making a batch of soup and, suddenly, like I had been slapped across the face— or maybe in this case, gently tapped on the heart—I felt my faith again. Without a doubt, to the point that just writing this sentence brings a knot to my throat that makes me want to cry with joy, with wonder, with love, I have faith in God. I mean… God. A word that I have struggled to reconcile myself with for so many years. Even at the beginning of my Yoga journey and self-transformation, the best I could offer up was the word Energy to explain everything, just so I didn’t have to say the G word. But I’m sorry (ha! no I’m not!)—God is alive and well inside of me. Oh, and I can feel it. I can feel the Love. It’s ready to burst right out of me. I have felt the call lately to take up my sitting meditation again. To rise with the sun and sit with God. Suddenly, with everything I do, I find myself thinking unconsciously, “I can be with God right now.” That mantra alone, fills me with love and contentment and unity with the world.
I have finally released my old emotions, and the old connotations that I had toward God, the word. I am embracing divinity. Never in my life have I honestly had as much faith as I do in this moment. I am certain that God is inside of me, that the universe is working with me, that when I send out my intention and my prayer that it is being heard and not only considered, but put into action. And if God is inside of me, then God is not beyond my reach, like I imagined was the case as an agnostic. I can know and realize God.
And, oh, how I want to know God and how I am going to put so much energy into knowing God (and consequently, knowing myself.) There is too much in the way that my life has changed in the past 2 years, or even in the past 7 months to deny that God is not providing for me. When I have broken down and screamed in my head that I could take it no longer, the Universe, with it’s never-ending charity, generously gave to me the strength and the direction. When I was aimless and exhausted from a lack of inspiration, overwhelmed by trying to choose a path for myself, there was God, answering my prayer and showing me the way.
It’s not that I believe in leaving it all up to God and letting everything just happen. No. In fact, I believe that it is equal parts God’s charity, and my elbow grease. God is in me, the resolution is in me. It’s a matter of tuning into my Truth, practicing and training my ear to acutely hear the answer coming from Me, not the answer coming from my ego, who is a workaholic and constantly aims to undermine the work I’ve done (who is even at this moment audible in the background, jumping up and down and saying, “Do you hear yourself? You sound like a kook! No, listen to me! I’m the rational one! Faith isn’t rational and therefore can’t be trusted! No, listen to me!”). Faith, by its very nature, is not rational, or else it would not be faith. So all I can say now is that I’m done trying to sound rational or logical about faith. Because God’s talking to me, and I’ve got no interest in only listening half the time and defending myself (to who, anyway?) the rest of the time. No more. God’s got my undivided attention.