My lifelong fascination with witch tales has drawn a question regularly: What are your religious beliefs? Are you pagan?
The TL;DR answer to the second question is short: No.
The longer answer to the first question is more complex.
I was raised under the influence of the Pentecostal church. During the first two decades of my life, I considered Christianity to be a defining characteristic of who I was. I clung to my religion as a life raft throughout high school and college, trying to live by the conservative edicts laid out in the Bible.
The key word in that previous sentence is “trying.” I failed, repeatedly. And with each shortcoming, guilt hammered at my conscience like a particularly tenacious woodpecker drilling for sap.
When I was alone in silent contemplation with the God whom I worshipped, I felt comfort. Accepted. Loved. But the second I was out among people again, I drowned in the overwhelming sense of judgment and guilt. Organized religion made me feel as though I had failed spectacularly at being a decent human being.
By age 22, I experienced a spiritual identity crisis. In multiple congregations, I witnessed believers casting aside the majority of people as damned. I saw cliques of people huddling within their religious circles and preaching outward at others rather than embracing them in. I saw disdain toward those labeled as sinners, not love.
A guillotine blade crashed down between me and churches, beheading me from the rest of the religious body. As usual, when I was alone in worship, I felt connected to my God. When I was in a congregation, I felt the most disconnected.
In the 10+ years after college, I’ve spent a lot of time soul-searching – and God-searching. I still am.
So what is my religion? I can’t claim a denomination these days. I can only claim my beliefs.
- I believe in the soul. Science has so far defined life to the best of its ability and understanding, but I think there’s more to the human consciousness than the electrical sparks powering our brain. I hold to the conviction that there’s a deeper sentience within us that continues to exist beyond the point when the body fails.
- I believe in a higher power beyond our comprehension that ties us to the entirety of the universe and harmonizes with our souls. That harmony is the pathway to how God communicates with us.
- I believe the extraordinary, beautiful, awe-inspiring planet and universe in which we exist are more than a stunning coincidence. I believe there’s a source, a pattern, a meaning, a destination. I believe in a grand design.
- I believe the most important biblical commandment comes not from the Old Testament, but from the New. In John 13:34, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” To love — simply that, without judgment or condition — is the message I take away from the Bible. That seems to get lost in translation.
- I believe I am closest to God not when I’m in a church, but when I’m in the place of his design. When I inhale the woody waft in a cedar grove. When I feel the tickle of grass against bare soles or close my eyes to feel sunlight kiss my cheek. When I hear bees hum, crows cackle, or the rustling applause of leaves in the breeze. When I behold mountains and sand dunes and centuries-old trees, or crane my neck to a sky sequined with stars. In those moments I feel connected. I feel simultaneously part of something enormous and individually small.
Maybe that smacks of pagan influence. But if you trace belief systems and rituals far enough back, chances are you’ll find a point where they blur and tangle and merge.
My religion is simply to be a seeker, to search for God around me and admire the beauty of the natural world he has gifted to us.