I’m Religious

Religion – a definition:

: the belief in a god or in a group of gods
: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group
: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

“Religious”, then, being the practice or adoption of a religion. Most church-going folk, then, are considered “religious” if only because of the fact they devote some portion of their time, usually on a weekend, to attend a church service. Whether church-going folk are actually practicing their religion is a whole other story. They could be, many do. Some don’t, and the only religion they practice is the exercise of going to church to be in the midst of those more technically religious than they are. Like the holiness, righteousness and salvation of the god-fearing will rub off on the non-god-fearing church attenders. There is a difference between being religious, then, and being virtuous and faithful to one’s chosen god. My point. But I digress a bit.

So, by the same standard, then, there are folks who don’t attend some church building on a routine basis who are religious in the god-fearing, worshipping, virtuous and faithful way. The act of routinely visiting some building with hundreds of other “believers” does not, then, make one saved. The non-church-going god worshippers are also religious in their belief and practices surrounding their chosen methods of worship of the god they have faith in.

In common, everyday, language, some people refer to a set of secular practices, performed regularly and with a certain amount of devotion as being “religious”. Even godless, non-church-going folk may do some activity “religiously”.  Pagans.

So, then, I contend that someone can be “religious” whether they go to church, or not, and whether they actually believe in and worship some god, or not. When we say we do something “religiously”, we mean that we believe in and practice in some way, something we feel strongly about. We are devoted. I know folks who are religious about watching certain television shows. I am acquainted with people who are religious about swearing and using profanity. I have friends who are religious about adopting stray cats. And, not unlike the god-worshipping devotees, the religious, though some of them may beg to differ, we are imperfect, always, in our practice. Whether god-fearing, church going, or not, we are all sinners, however “religious” we may be.

I am religious.

Non-secularly; I am a believer in and worshipper of some higher power. So I have a belief and a practice. Of sorts. I like to think I live a fairly virtuous life, and may even “qualify” by some standards for an “after-life” or “eternal salvation”. I won’t get into details beyond that. But, aside from worship, godly powers and eternal salvation, I am religious. I have many secular, pagan, beliefs and practices that I follow regularly, that I am devoted and faithful to.

I eat clean. I buy organic, sustainably grown, locally grown, fairly traded and humanely treated food. I buy food as close to its natural state as possible. I not only read ingredients, I try to figure out just how many processes an item of food has undergone before I put it in my basket. The fewer the better. I avoid additives and unnecessary processes, I avoid unnecessary packaging and other practices I feel are detrimental to the environment, my health, or the purity of the product. About this, I am religious. It is a belief and a practice that I embrace, daily, that I am devoted to and follow faithfully. But, I do sin. I am imperfect. Occasionally, I eat crap, a Double-Double at In-N-Out, just because, or I eat M&M’s on a long drive to keep awake and alive. In my travels, I often have to eat in restaurants where I can only hope the food is a fraction as wholesome, unprocessed and pure as I’d like. My sin, my imperfection, however, does not in any way negate my belief and my practice. I don’t just stop believing and practicing eating clean because I sin now and then, by choice or out of necessity.

I exercise. I believe in, and practice, vigorous exercise on a regular basis. Daily would be my preference. I run, I do cardio at the gym, I do strength training, I practice yoga, I attend spin class, and I lead an active lifestyle beyond just my exercise regime. I am religious about exercise. But I am imperfect. I am slender, but still carry extra weight in a few “trouble spots”. I lack the desired muscle tone in other places. And I sin. It is humanly impossible to work out absolutely everyday. And there are those days, too, where I just don’t wanna. My sin and imperfection as a religious exerciser does not mean I am any less a believer in the virtues of exercise in my life. That I sometimes just don’t want to exercise some day or another does not mean I have abandoned the practice. I am still religious about it.

I meditate. I am religious about it. I believe and practice meditation. Not nearly as much, or as regularly, as I’d like. It is a newer belief and practice and I am still trying to integrate it into my “daily routine”. Like clean eating and regular, vigorous, exercise, I believe that meditation offers many benefits for health and wellness and general happiness.

On another note, I’m pretty religious about craft beer, red wine, and ice cream, perhaps a little more religious in my practice than I should be. Hallelujah! Praise the lord! Amen! Pass the offering plate!

I read. I write. I pray. I work really, really, really, hard. I post lots of food pictures to Facebook. All things I am fanatically religious about. All that, and my “daily routine”. I am religious about my “daily routine”. I make lists to help me accomplish all that I hope to in my “daily routine”, but, without fail, the routine is never completed, on any, one, day. Ever. I am imperfect, a sinner. Do I give up on my “daily routine”? No. I believe in it and practice it and it will never be complete or perfect. But it is still good, and I still try. What I don’t accomplish one day, I may the next, and I am better for it, just like clean eating, regular, vigorous exercise and meditating.

My lunch. See?
My lunch. See?

My point. Whatever your religion, whatever you believe in and practice, you cannot, will not, no matter what, ever be perfect and sin-free. Don’t ever abandon your belief and practice of something you find worthwhile because you stray. Be religious and you shall find salvation!

Hallelujah! Amen!

 

 

 

God I Missed You

I had a revelation last night.

I’m reading a book about happiness. I read lots of books about happiness, it makes me happy. I am, generally, a very positive and mostly happy person. True, like anyone, I have my moments, but, for the most part, I attribute my relative success in life, through good times and bad, to my general, overall happiness. But I still read every book I can find on the topic. I’ve decided happiness is my passion. And my mission. I want to know as much about happiness as possible, and my hope is to be able to help others find their happiness. I have faith that I can.

The book I’m working on presently is “Happy This Year – The Secret to Getting Happy Once and For All” by Will Bowen. It is a great read, one I recommend. I stayed up until nearly 1:00 AM this morning and am nearly half way through the book, on my first venture beyond the title page.

Having read much on the topic of happiness, and having practiced my own happiness for quite some time, now, I’ll admit, I don’t know everything. I do know quite a bit, and, as I read this book I nodded in agreement, “I do that, I do this, I agree with that, I love this, I practice that,” and so on. Then I reached the chapter on spirituality.

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California
Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

Spirituality has been sort of a tough one for me the past several years. I do still consider myself “Christian”, but my views have evolved into a far more broad, progressive definition. I still find churches and the practice of going to church centering, though I no longer attend churches other than for weddings and funerals. I appreciate the teachings, though, in my more progressive view, I think all religions exist for the same purpose and tell, basically, the same story, hoping to instill, basically, the same values and virtues. I think “church” itself, is just a community you choose to belong to in order to hear the stories in a frame of reference perhaps more convenient, comfortable, familiar or palatable than another. My “problem” with religion, modern, organized religion, is not so much the message or story, the virtues, the values, but, perhaps, the method of delivery, and, for certain, the constituents.

My ventures into bastions of organized religion over the past decade or so have been disappointing, after moving away from the very comfortable, forgiving, tolerant church where I converted to Catholicism nearly twenty years ago. And with that particular priest being reassigned, even that bastion of organized religion has evolved into something somewhat less. When I attend a church, now, I am appalled at the behavior of many of the members as they try flaunt their piety like a Rolex watch. Cliquey and judgmental. Constantly comparing themselves to their brethren, judging their relative level of salvation. Thou art more righteous than I, yes, because thou knoweth the words to the songs, as evidenced by the loud singing and over-annunciation of the words. I am humbled. Not. There seems to be a clamoring for salvation, like tickets to the Super Bowl, just not enough room in heaven for all of us, and he, or she, who can outwardly demonstrate their over the top righteousness, piety and faith wins.  And this amongst “the saved”. I thought “witnessing” was for the benefit of those who were not yet “converted”, “born again”, or “saved”. Whatever that all means. Live a good life, get into the game. As I see it. Righteousness is in how you live your life, not in how you flaunt your relative level of devotion with other Christians, like some sort of baton-twirling competition.

To me, religion, the practice of faith, of worship, of spirituality is a personal journey and not something to be flaunted, measured or compared. Maybe that’s just me.

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California
Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

So, I’m reading this book and I get to the chapter about spirituality. The author, Will, has some great and very refreshing interpretations of passages from the Bible I quite agree with. I’m nodding my affirmation as I read on. The book suggests we should be spiritual to foster happiness. Okay. I like to think I’m spiritual even if I don’t attend church and sing all the right words to all the songs, loudly, even if I don’t serve on twelve congregation committees, even if the ushers don’t know me by name and make small talk with me as I enter the chapel. I meditate. I am reverent. I live a good life. I have good values. I consider myself fairly virtuous.

The plot thickens. The author suggests we should pray. Well, I sort of do. I state my affirmations and I list out all the things I am grateful for, daily, is that not praying? No. Apparently not. The author suggests our prayer be to the attention of someone, like God, or, insert your deity here. To whom it may concern. After our proper salutation, rather than rattling of a laundry list of “I wants”, we should state our affirmations, positively, in present tense, and with power. Then, in conclusion, we should say “thanks” and sign off. I’m fidgeting now. I haven’t prayed, in that manner, for some time and I’m not sure I’m ready to.

My issues with prayer; I used to pray, well, religiously. For most of my life. I’ve always believed in the power of prayer. I still do. In fact, I have to say, it works, perhaps a little too well. I prayed for so many things in my life, and, usually got just what I asked for, and always ended up with a whole lot more than I bargained for. I’ve envisioned God up there, chuckling, listening to my daily prayer, saying, “well, okay,” and shaking his head. Or maybe Bruce Almighty was in charge and just granted me everything I prayed for by pressing the “Yes to All” button. Perhaps I was trying to micro-manage God through prayer and He got tired of it and just gave me everything I asked for to see how I’d handle it. I got it, I got it all, and everything that came along with it. And when the house of cards all fell down, I looked heavenward and thought, “I know you’re there, though I’m not sure of your form. I know you love me, though you have a funny way of showing it, and I don’t think I know how to pray. Obviously.”  So, I stopped. And since then, my thoughts on religion have evolved, as have I, into something far more open-minded, tolerant and accepting than modern Christianity seems willing to bear. And my “prayers” have evolved into just the affirmations and the gratitude. I’ve omitted the salutation. I just throw it out into the universe and am comfortable with that. It’s all an “energy” thing, right? The positive energy of affirmations will certainly be returned in the same, positive form, and my affirmations will manifest. I am oh, so careful how I word things, lest they be taken, by the “universe” too literally, or misinterpreted. I’m mincing words.

Well, up until the prayer part of the spirituality chapter of this book, I’ve been in complete agreement with every word. Maybe there is something to the prayer part I should consider. Or reconsider. I decided to give it a try.

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California
Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

My first dilemma was to whom I should address my prayer. The book left me some wiggle room here, it could be God, Father, Lord, Creator, or Universe, or whatever deity or power you wished. Just insert the name of some responsible party here. Long gone are the days of envisioning God as some floating form in white robes and a long white beard, shrouded in sunlight. Nor do I see any other holy figure others may pray to. It’s a mystery. To all of us. No one can know, no one will know, until we are in the great beyond, and so, beyond the ability to share the truth with those of us still here in life. I believe in creation, creatively, as sort of a morph between science and the whole seven days and Garden of Eden thing. I believe both are true, and that the stories we have collected into the Bible and other accounts are just that, stories to explain the creation that obviously occurred. And, the creation, however it was sparked, ignited or made to happen, was the result of a great amount of energy. From somewhere. So, that was my choice. I decided to pray to Mr. E, which, if you know me well, you’ll see, is a play on words; Mr. E for Mr. Energy (though I think the Mr. is open to interpretation) and, if you say it fast enough it sounds like “mystery”. Ah, you see how my mind works?

So, I started, “Dear Mr. E”. Long pause. Rather than go through ALL of my positive and powerful affirmations, they fill a whole page written out, stated in the present tense, per direction, I decided to just go with a couple of the biggies, at the top of the list. I selected a couple and as I said them, even in the safe, secure silence of my head, I was suddenly overcome with great emotion. My eyes welled up, threatening to spill over and wash away that new, million-dollar eye cream I’d just applied. I was completely awash in a feeling of immense relief and an overwhelming spiritual connection. All from adding the simple, silly, cheeky, salutation to my “prayer”. It was an epiphany, a revelation. It was humbling and faith affirming. And I felt happy. And I thought, “God, I missed you.”

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California
Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

My beliefs have not changed. I’m not going to go door-to-door handing out religious reading materials. I’m not going to shave my head, don robes, and chant and grasp hands with strangers at the park. I’m not going to give Jesus the wheel. I’m not going to join twelve congregational committees and sing loudly at church every Sunday. I am, however, going to pray again, in my own, unique way. I am going to try to grow more spiritually. I am seeking that blissful, mysterious, spiritual connection I felt last night. God, I missed you.

On the Contrary

I beg to differ. I disagree. You’re wrong. Nuh huh. Yah, but …

How many times a day do we disagree with someone we’re speaking with? Our parents, our friends, our co-workers, our children, complete strangers, our significant others; everything seems like a debate class topic we must win in order to pass the course. Am I right? (Yes.)

Why is it so important for us to be right all the time, or most of the time? Why are we so dang contrary?

The answer is, it isn’t us, we aren’t actually all that contrary. It’s that ego of ours. The ego being that voice in our head, which really isn’t us. You and your ego are separate and learning to identify the difference and separating yourself from that voice in your head is actually one of the biggest steps you can take towards happiness and success. There are lots of books on the matter, I enjoy Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” and “Make Every Man Want You” by Marie Forleo. Both highly, highly recommended.

Why does our ego want to be right all the time? For validation. We, our true selves, are far more peaceful than that. We can take in all the information and agree or disagree without making a federal case about it. Can you imagine what our world would be like if everyone shut their ego up for a while! Ah-mazing! Don’t you think?

I was married to a man for many years who felt very strongly (gross understatement) about certain political points of view. If I told you that twenty-five years ago, our clock radio went off each morning to the voice of Rush Limbaugh before anyone knew who Rush Limbaugh was, yes, while he was still only on a local Sacramento station, you may have an idea of his beliefs. My (former) husband’s twin brother was as opinionated, but at the other end of the spectrum. The twins were extremely vocal, extremely opinionated and extremely loud, because the louder you were, the “righter” you were. Phone calls between them were long and insufferable, only hearing one side. It was far worse when they were together, in person. Family gatherings were always a nightmare. The women folk would always beg for a “no politics” family get-together, but that seldom lasted more than five minutes and any objection or enforcement on our part was drowned out in the din. Neither of them were completely right, neither of them were completely wrong in their opinions. There is no right or wrong, only opinion. I have mine. We’ll leave it at that.

Like “the twins”, the nation is divided, politically, about 50/50. What does arguing, bickering, and slandering get us? Annoyed and upset. And that’s it. You, no doubt, land on one side of the fence or the other, if not completely, then, at least on some of the key points of debate (e.g. gun control, healthcare reform, abortion, the budget for defense, education, Medicare). Tell me that anything anyone could possibly say would convince you to “switch sides”. Interestingly enough, this is one of the few areas we are pretty committed to as individuals.

Politics. And religion. Again, lots of heated discussion and debate here. I have admitted before, I hate bumper stickers. But, there is one bumper sticker, these days, as I have mellowed with wisdom in my advanced years, that I actually smile inwardly at (no, I will not put it on my car); the “Coexist” bumper sticker. I’m sorry, but are all the stories really similar enough that they could just be different interpretations of the same story? Who cares who is right and who is wrong? I’m a believer!!! I believe that if you live a good life, do service for those less fortunate than you, work hard and stay out of prison, you’re alright. Call me enlightened or call me a fool, but you’re not changing my mind by arguing with me. And if arguing is “saving” or “witnessing”, um, bye bye. I’ve got work to do and service to perform. See you in the “after life”, I’ll have time to chat about your righteousness then. Do you really think your god and my god are duking it out somewhere over which of them is right? Hint; pretty sure our “god” is all the same dude, just in a different storybook. Blaspheme.

We’ve covered a couple of taboo topics; politics and religion. Shall I venture into another? Sports. How is it that fans have become so rabid they are willing to kill for the sake of “their” team? Right? Meth-fueled, pit-bull walking, bumper sticker covered egos on steroids. Just my opinion. And what about the parents of future (or not) athletes; soccer moms and dads, Little League parents, hockey moms; they make Raider fans look tame! But it’s all in the name of good sportsmanship. Bang. Bang.

What is wrong with us? Let’s put down the energy drinks and the triple shot espressos for a minute and listen to ourselves! In the end, does any of this matter? At all? Um, no. In the end, no matter who you cheered for in Little League or in the Major Leagues, no matter which church you prayed in, which “god” you trust, and no matter who you voted for in whichever election year, we are all going to die, decay and turn to dust. And, at that point in time, we will be completely equal and, for the first time for most of us, at peace.

I prefer to pursue a little peace, now. So, whether you agree with me, or not, I really don’t care. My ego may care, but I don’t, and my ego is on a short leash these days and is not likely to engage in debate with you. I just want some peace and quiet so I can go about my day; work real hard, spend time with people I love and cherish, serve those less fortunate than I am, do something active and enjoyable, take in a new experience, improve my physical and emotional health, eat clean, maybe read a little, maybe write a little and get a good night’s sleep. Those are the things that are truly important to me, not how you vote, who you cheer for or who you worship. I have my philosophies, I have my beliefs, and I have my values. I have educated myself on them all, I have thought about them carefully, and yes, they are subject to change, but only I will illicit that change, if I choose.

Am I trying to change the way you think, or what you believe in? On the contrary. I only want you to consider thinking – for yourself. I only want you to consider believing – in yourself. The rest, is up to you, you’ll hear no argument from me.

20130609-182358.jpg
Visited my dad’s gravesite today. In the end, we all die, decay and turn to dust, no matter how loudly we express our opinions. No one is right, no one is wrong, in the end.