Friday, April 26, 2013

Religion 101: Spiritual Not Religious

the Flames of Faith
Which of the world’s religions most accurately defines me as a person?
One of my very favorite parts of the service is in the very beginning. “Lighting the Flames of Faith, a Call to Service” when a reverend will light a candle for each of the world’s religions

“We perform this ceremony at the start of Sunday service to promote the universal consciousness of Life which acknowledges that all peoples and all faiths, all sentient beings, come from the One Great Universal Presence, which we call Spirit. Fundamental to this truth is the unifying nature of all Religious thought and experience, which we honor here today.”

It also makes me giggle a bit. I think of “Religion 101.“

It’s spring 1986. I am looking through the college catalogue to pick my classes for my first semester. I choose Religion 101. It not only provides me an opportunity to examine my beliefs but also fulfills a Humanities requirement.

Fall arrives and I’m a freshman in Religion 101 and our first paper is due. I diligently read all the reading assigned and proceed to answer the essay questions. I’m confused. My studies didn’t give me the world religion sampler platter I was anticipating.

I have vague, very vague, memories of those reading assignments, scattered pages across multiple obscure titles in the dusty section of the library, some selections just a page or a paragraph each. Something about a pole and everything revolving around the center ...

I was just wondering if I should remain a Catholic or maybe check out the Unitarian Church down the street?

Does it matter? Is church just a way to ruin a perfectly good Sunday. I remember going to church with my “Protestant cousins” and was shocked when I discovered we sang and recited from the very same missalette. Maybe we weren’t that different?

Does organized religion have anything to offer me?

In a panicked scramble that I failed my first paper and a desire to tell the professor that I AM LOOKING FOR ANSWERS HERE I end up furiously writing a 17 page stream-of-consciousness rambling missive of my religious beliefs sprinkled with a few incidences of psychic phenomenon. I run to the professors office to deliver this masterpiece. I blurt out a few incomprehensible statements and run off to my next class.

Now I cringe just thinking of the babbling dither that was on that paper. But I was honestly looking for answers and all I knew to do was to look at my personal history.

The following Monday our papers were handed back. My paper had received an A. After all that ... my paper was fine. Wish I understood it.

I was feeling a bit exposed in class. I settled down and realized this class was probably not going to be guiding my personal decisions. I had assumed that a religion professor, someone who had devoted ones life to the study of religion, would pick the best one.

Throughout the semester the professor revealed he had practiced about 44 religions up to this point and the last one he mentioned I was sure I read about in the paper. They were accused of behaving very inappropriately with one another on some international plane flights and they wore a lot of red.

I resolved to never let myself get that crazy.

It’s much different now. I’m not looking for a label. Labels I did wear in the interim “Spiritual Not Religious” or "Recovering Catholic." But I have come to believe that Truths are repeated across centuries, civilizations and religions. I can appreciate them dressed in whatever tradition they come.

For me ... it’s in that candle lighting ceremony.

“Fundamental to this truth is the unifying nature of all Religious thought and experience, which we honor here today.”

And that’s why I’m here. To get a piece of that.


What is the path that led you here?