There are things the homilies and hymns won’t teach ya.
~Aaron Burr in the Broadway Musical Hamilton
David’s best friend in college, one of the smartest, wittiest people I’ve ever known, became one of my best friends as well. He introduced me to Wordsworth, wrote me a poem when my grandfather died, danced with me at Stonehenge. He affectionately baptized me Sister Golden Hair.
I miss him. Not because he’s dead but because he’s dead to me. Or, rather, I am dead to him. After graduation, he became increasingly involved in what David and I considered to be a fanatical church. His plan was to move to Pensacola and “share the gospel,” by which he meant stand on a street corner and tell people all the ways they were sinning and how hot hell would be for all eternity. His list of damnable sins grew alarmingly long. Drinking alcohol. Being gay. Wearing provocative clothing. Abortion. Swearing. Premarital sex. Birth control. When I suggested his views were not mired in love but in judgment, he decided that we could no longer be a part of his life. The last time we saw him was at our wedding, where he chastised us for getting married in a garden and not within the walls of a church “where it would count.”
It’s baffling to me that someone might think that a spiritual practice can only occur within the confines of church walls. Some of the most spiritually evolved people I’ve ever met do not consider themselves dogmatic. I’ve sat in countless pews in numerous churches, temples, synagogues, and houses of worship in my life. And the Big G has never spoken to me there. For me, the walls separate me from source, remove me from my natural state.
The word religion arises from the Latin religare, meaning “to tie or bind.” I like to think this means that religion is anything that ties us to the present moment, binds our hearts and minds in loving awareness.
For me that means being in the arms of Mother Nature. Outside, I hear the whispers of the divine everywhere. In the drip of the water off the ancient rocks, in the whisper of leaves as the breeze blows through. In birdsong and babbling brook and the echoing cadence of my breath. Nature chooses us to be disciples, reminds us that no one gets through this thing called life without some spiritual help.
I now understand that every spiritual path looks different. We all have a unique relationship to the divine and real worship takes many forms. I hear the Keeper of the Stars when I am alone in Nature, but you might hear Her somewhere else.
There are so many differing opinions about what constitutes a holy, mystical existence. How do you know that you’re on the right path? How do you know that your spiritual choices are sound? I think it comes down to a single question.
Does your spiritual practice feel loving, both to yourself and to others?
That’s it. If your path thinks in terms of us and them, then you need new material. If your dogma is absolutely certain of its own merit (and discourages you from asking questions), then you need new material. If your collection of truths leads you towards hating the path someone else is on, then you need new material. If you regularly pass judgment on how evolved others are, then you need new material. If you’re standing on a street corner telling strangers that you alone have it all figured out, you need new material.
The best, truest path leads you steadfastly back to peace, love, and connection. It encourages you to live with an ever-opening heart and an eye skewed to awe. It’s less a way of thinking and more a way of being.
And, like life itself, it requires commitment and practice. While every moment has power, the practice, over time, adds up to more than the sum of its parts. The practice is where the rubber meets the road. Each meditation, prayer, journal write, hike, orgasm, long soak in the tub, or dance party with the Big G deepens the richness of your overall relationship to the divine.