I started reading A Course in Miracles again as I do every new year. It's an interesting book, much touted by Marianne Williamson, whom I adore. She and Anne Lamott are so totally invited to that imaginary dinner party where you can invite anyone you want, dead or alive.
Jesus' mother Mary will also be invited.
We will drink wine and eat bread with lots of butter and chocolate and there will be a lot of laughing.
So now I begin each day by reading a section of the text and then look at the lesson for the day. Today's lesson is "I am upset because I see something that is not there".
The first part of the book is about unlearning all the ideas that you might have about the world and God and connection to the divine and the second part is learning about what is true about that connection.
At least that is what I was told in the introduction. I've never made it past lesson twenty two. Not because I don't want to, but because as the year progresses I stop making the time to do the reading and and look at the lesson.
For me there is not much "deprogramming" to do because I was not raised in any formal religion. My family did not attend church regularly and in the few years that we did occasionally head out on a Sunday morning, it was to the Unitarian Church where I spent the mornings outside looking at mustard plants or some other agricultural reference that could be found in the bible.
Fundies they were not.
I was just really glad to be at a church on Sunday like the rest of my friends.
I did dip my toe in the fundamentalist pool and I really wanted to be Jewish for a while back when I was thirteen. At 15 I was rolling with the Pentacostals with all the fervor and dancing and passing out and speaking in tongues. Much like getting married I just wanted to fit in and do what everyone else was doing, but I seem to always run up against the wall of common sense.
Sort of like those nights in the 80s when I was sitting around with a bunch of drug addicts waiting for the next pass of the mirror. The me that knows what's what would be sitting on my shoulder with her arms crossed, shaking her head and sighing at the colossal waste of time.
Going to church, believing in God or whatever version of God is being sold at your local house of worship feels like something we do in a lemming like fashion. It felt very weird to be the only kid on my block that did not go to temple or church. As a child I felt a bit ashamed and more than a tad concerned that I was going to go to that hell place. A place I had no real reference for because I didn't go to church.
My father had been raised as a Southern Baptist with hell fire and brimstone and very little joy and he completely rejected that theology and did everything he could to protect his children from the rhetoric. Unitarianism worked for him because he was a social worker and if you think about it so was Jesus so that was the POV and my father could make peace with that.
By the time I was exploring the options of the Christian realm I was grounded in rational thought and the idea that helping people was a form of religion. But I also really loved the ecstatic aspects of the Pentacostal and Fundamentalist church services.
I really did feel the love that they talk about. I felt connected to myself and everyone in the world through my heart and it was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes.
It was like a perfect high.
The other night when I was talking to a friend whose sister has become an mikvah visiting orthodox Jew with seven children and she pondered why someone who was raised in the San Fernando Valley, and who was intelligent, would make a decision to live that life.
It's an interesting question.
I believe it has something to do with that feeling of connection and the high one gets from feeling connected to a group that is all feeling that ecstasy of connection. It's something you want to share with everyone. It's a feeling that moves you literally and figuratively.
It's like a drug.
But here's the thing - the path to that feeling is not only through the doors of a church, or a temple or a mosque. That connection is not something that you receive because you follow the rules and you make sure that everyone else follows the same rules. The ecstasy is not a feeling that only certain people who are saved, or chosen are allowed to have.
The belief that you have to adhere to laws, belong to a certain group, sing or don't sing certain songs, pray a certain way, to only love certain people and not others - that is divisive.
That is the wall of common sense I have always run into in my forays into organized religion. The organization around certain rules and ideas have ultimately led to a division between one group and another.
That ecstasy of connection - feeling love for all life - that perfect high is our birth right. Any belief system that creates separation is confused and fear based. I'm all for many different paths, maps and flashlights to connection, but we would do well to remember that there is no other.
We are all one.