We recently moved, and because the process of the move was a little slower than I would have liked and frought with a number of obstacles magically overcome (I am speaking literally there), I had a lot of opportunity to ask some big questions and spend some time in serious reflection.
My parents were on my mind a lot at that time and, consequently, my religious upbringing and my current spiritual affiliation. I’ve written a lot about my parents and being raised in a conservative Christian household, so I won’t rehash that here. Spirituality and spiritual differences is one of the huge points of contention between my parents and myself and is one of several thorns in the side of our relationship (my non-heterosexual orientation and polyamorous lifestyle rank right up there as well). I’m not sure which of those three they’re most concerned will damn my soul to a firey oblivion, but in all seriousness I imagine it’s a big fear of theirs that I (obviously) do not share. So during this period of transition, I found myself pondering the Christian “answer” to eternal life/’salvation’ engrained in me since before I could remember: inviting Jesus into one’s heart and accepting him as one’s ‘savior’ knowing that is not something I will share with them.
Now, I left the Church about 10 years ago when it stopped making sense to me and I found my spiritual home in Witchcraft and Paganism; however, I spent more than the first half of my life practicing that religion so I’m pretty well-versed in it and its doctrine. Regardless of whether one chooses to believe the Bible’s “divinely inspired origin” as Christians contend (which doesn’t really matter to me personally either way – lots of books contain valuable information, insight and Truth), for the sake of empathizing with my parents, I tried to step into those particular shoes during my time of introspection and reflection. I thought about how JC almost always spoke in metaphors and parables. And I concluded that where a lot of Christians miss the boat is that they forget this tendency of his and take what appear to be simple words literally. The thing is, just because they’re simple doesn’t mean they are/were intended to be interpreted concretely. I thought about the various traits that JC embodied – Love, Compassion, Mercy, Kindness, Faith, Hope, etc. – and I came to the conclusion that was what he meant with that whole, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” bit. That the goal was to integrate those characteristics and traits into one’s self and spirit, to plant them, let them take root, grow, and bloom. I happen to think that those characteristics are pretty awesome and the Goddess and God embody them and have told me I should as well. So, despite the different paths we may take to get there, my parents and I could very well end up on the same page as far as they’re concerned.
Witchcraft is a mystery religion. It is very straightforward in its identification about that. Having practiced a mystery path for about 10 years now, I have a certain calmness and level of tolerance for ambiguity that I have experienced some others as not having, which brings me to my second major realization: All religions are mystery religions. Some are just more straightforward about declaring and owning it. The thing is, because of the fact that we’re spiritual beings having a human experience, part of that human experience is the not knowing. The Big Three (and any number of other organized religions) can try to take as much mystery out of it all they want through the creation of rules, guidelines, by-laws, etc., but I think they do a disservice to their followers as a result.
I’m not saying that all the leaders of those faiths behave in such a way. I think a huge part of the problem comes from not distinguishing the difference between religion and spirituality – one is man-made and the other is Divinely gifted, respectively. The former is supposed to be a vehicle for connecting with and expressing the latter, though that is sadly not often reality. The ones who pitch the rules and religion over the spirituality are like used car salesmen; and, most (though certainly not all) of the buyers out there either don’t know enough, don’t want or are too lazy to ask questions. These religious leaders (because when they behave this way, I don’t think they deserve the title of ‘spiritual leaders’ seeing as they’re not engaging Spiritual Truth) make it seem clean, clear-cut, concrete, and straightforward with no grey area; however, in spite of all the rules and regulations, there are still inconsistencies, still contradictions, still unanswerable questions, uncertainty and the unknown. It’s like a redacted car fax report. There is still mystery. There will always be mystery.
Most people, though, fear the unknown, so they buy into the idea that it’s not really there – that those redacted sections aren’t important – and immerse themselves in the following of the aforementioned rules, regulations, and routine. They tell themselves that they have a step-by-step formula to follow. But here’s where it gets a bit dodgier – because there are inconsistencies and contradictions, they can sort through and choose which pieces they like and which ones are easiest for them and then ignore the rest (hello, KKK, nazis, scary-ass cults and other zealous fundamental sub-groups). And all of this serves the purpose of making them feel better about who they are and where their soul will go when their body dies. Really, I think that those literalist practitioners of the Big Three and other rigid organized religions are just as uncertain as the rest of us – whether you follow some other spiritual path or not. They just cling tighter to the routine when those pesky questions that pull at the rest of us about the mystery all around us dog them in order to avoid facing the questions head on and to ease the existential anxiety the lack of answers leaves with them.
But I don’t think the answer is in trying to avoid those questions, trying to escape that faceless opponent who’s one hell of a grappler. I know it’s scary, but engaging with the Divine and Its Mystery, I am convinced, is always better than not. So if you’re struggling – whatever your path and affiliation may be – your best bet, I think, is one of two options: A) Scream, fight against, resist, cuss, kick and claw that mystery till your throat is raw and your hands and knees are bloody. If you’ve tried that course and it hasn’t gotten you what you’re looking for, try this on for size: B) Embrace that Mystery, lean into it even more. Instead of trying to fight and resist that nameless, faceless, mysterious figure, let it pin you to the ground and stare straight into your soul. Then give it a big, passionate, and sloppy kiss. Follow that kiss up with the innocent giggle of a new lover. Stare right back and ask it what it wants. Then, Listen.