June Converse

My Journey from Awareness to Acceptance to Authenticity

Recently I wrote a blog on spirituality versus religion. The concept of spirituality has been swirling in my mind ever since. As most of you know, I was raised on the Baptist version of God and can no longer accept aspects of that belief system. But I do miss some aspects of that version of God, too.

I live with a murky, confusing duality. Can you miss something you no longer believe? Or does the fact that you miss something mean you do believe but you’re pretending you don’t? I can’t believe in a God who rejects massive groups of people because they don’t say the perfect verses. But I do miss several aspects of my former religious dogma.

What I Miss

I love gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. In the past, I considered these a gift from God. I had “someone” to thank. Now, I acknowledge that nature is a gift of the universe or the Godiverse. I can still feel gratitude but that feels different.

When you spend a lot of time in Bible study and prayer – and  when you believe ‘God so loved the world’ and ‘all things work together’ and ‘more valuable than the birds in the air’ – then you feel special. Chosen. Now, I recognize I am just one of millions of created beings. Sure, I have a bigger brain and I am more evolved than my dog. But I’m no more special than the atheist next door. Let me restate – I AM as SPECIAL as all of creation.

Being part of a church is having a ‘group’. A ready-made place to fit is one of the best and worst parts of organized religion. But a group is often exclusive and judgmental of those not on the inside. I learned this the hard way. Once I started to evaluate my belief system, I was summarily dismissed from the inside track {not everyone dismissed me, but most did}. I’d like to say that I was better than this. But, truthfully, when I look back on that time, I only had friends with the same beliefs. I was as exclusive as the next guy.

Another benefit of being a Bible beating Christian is a readymade excuse TO or NOT TO do xyz. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said – and heard – “I’m waiting on direction from God” or “God hasn’t put that on my heart” or “God told me not to …” or “God told me to …” Want the truth? I never once heard from God. Or if I did, it sounded a lot like what I wanted rather than some outside power. Now when I say yes or no, I have to own it.

Just as I could use a message from God to do or not to do something, I could blame God when it went to shit. Or even better, I could claim that every failure or consequence would eventually ‘work out to the good’. If I could profess God ‘told me to’ then obviously I could blame God when what he told me to do didn’t work out. Now, I have to own my decisions and I have to own the consequences.

One more benefit:  When there is a god in your life, there is always someone to talk too! And in the Christian faith, you believe that somebody is listening and actually cares whether I go for a walk or not.

Treat Other As I Want To Be Treated

I’ve yet to find a belief system that fits. Maybe there isn’t one. Or maybe I’m being too fastidious. Do I need a belief system at all?

When I look at all the belief systems, there is one commonality: Treat others as you want to be treated.

For now, that will be my dogma.

Click HERE for the Journaling Activity that goes along with today's blog.

I have a new therapist. I like her. She's more aggressive and less focused on my past and more on my future. Yesterday, without any preamble and within a context I didn't understand, she asked: What Is your spiritual practice?

The question elicited an immediate bodily reaction. My spine stiffened, my heart raced, and I felt an almost uncontrollable desire to either run or lash out? Why did I react that way?

How do I answer that when I didn't even understand the question? I am absolutely NOT religious. But spiritual?

Religious Phases

My religious background occurred in very distinct phases:

  • Birth to age 12 – nothing at all
  • Age 12 to 20 – my parents 'discovered' religion, and we went from nothing to a Southern Baptist lifestyle. Church twice on Sunday, once on Wednesday. My father even became a deacon. It felt schizophrenic, but I bought in lock stock and barrel.
  • Age 20 to 25 – too much partying to be religious
  • Age 25 to 45 – back to lock stock and barrel. The church I chose described themselves as 'non-denominational,' but the back of the chairs was stenciled "Baptist".
  • Age 45 to now – I believe in a creator but not the "god of the church". The human church has irreparably hurt me, and that has altered my view of GOD, God, god and left me with no religion.

If I have no religion, can I be spiritual?

I learned that 'spiritual' was a 'new age' concept and therefore, 'bad'. Spirituality, in contrast to religion, was counter to following Christ. When I think of spirituality, I think of incense and kumbaya. I think of crystals and weird chants around a fire.

When I researched spirituality, I found this:

The religions are like the separate fingers, he [Bede Griffiths] said, and are quite distinct from each other. For example, they have different revered teachers, sacred texts, dogmas, and rituals. But, Griffiths continued, if you trace each finger to its source, the palm of the hand, you see that the religions all come together in their depths.

Spiritualityandpractice.com

For someone who was taught that the ONLY way to GOD is through the Baptist Christ, this statement is counter-intuitive. For someone who was taught that unless I said certain verses in a certain order, I was going to hell, the concept to "religions all come together" can be frightening. I was taught that only Baptists knew the path.

I no longer follow the Baptist or probably even the Christian path, but that fear took root. I'm scared to delve into other practices. After all, what if that fire-brimstone preacher was right. If I light a candle and sing kumbaya, am I damning myself? And if I have no construct for GOD, God or god, what exactly am I seeking? And how will I know when I've found it?

Some of you are reading this and laughing at me. Some of you are getting angry at my naivete or what sounds judgmental. I am not judgmental. I am searching, but I'm not even clear what I'm searching for.

The Goal?

Spirituality and a spiritual practice feel abstract and too big to understand. If you google 'spirituality' the number of sites is impressive and daunting. Who do I trust? Some of what I read is just too funky for me, too outside my comfort zone.

I think part of my problem (besides being scared of it) is that I don't know the goal of a spiritual practice. And because of that, I don't know where to begin and/or how to be brave enough to try.

The article I reference above can be found at https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/about/what-is-spirituality. The first page can't even give a concise definition. It's confusing and upsetting to someone who likes to 'get it'. I rooted around the site, and it's fascinating, even exciting. They have several courses (as do other sites) but who do I trust?

Try What?

My therapist would like me to develop a practice. She recommended the book Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss. Oh my – it's about 'past-life therapy'. I can barely handle 'this-life therapy'. I'm officially freaked out!

If I find the courage to delve into a spiritual practice, what the heck would that look like? What does a successful practice mean? Please don't suggest meditation – been there, done that -- have the t-shirt but did not find it helpful.

Several people in my life profess to be 'spiritual,' but when I ask what that means, I get blank looks or defensive posturing. My therapist said that for her being spiritual means a belief that all things do happen for a reason, and she will see her mother again. She went on to say that she 'feels' her mom's presence. What the heck does that mean? Is that the goal – to feel my mom's presence?

Now What?

Is this something I need to do? Can someone talk to me about this in a way I can understand (something more concrete and less 'woo-woo')? Can anyone make suggestions for a former Baptist who has roots in that dogma? Can someone recommend a practice for someone who is not sure she wants to a practice?

Click HERE to download the journaling activity that accompanies this blog!

All of my novels, at least so far, have an element of mental illness within a character. Decide to Hope is the most autobiographical in that I struggle in many ways exactly as the female protagonist.
- J.C.
June Converse with purple hair
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....
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