It’s Sunday morning and I’m sitting at the coffee shop drinking coffee on the patio in the morning sunlight writing and thinking about the sacrament. I’m trying to figure out how to honestly share my experience of my faith without alienating my LDS audience. And per usual, I’m going to go with the truth as close as I can tell it.
First, let me be clear about my motivation for sharing this. I am not looking for sympathy. I’m not looking for proselytization. I am not looking for anecdotes meant to tie up my complexities with a nice bow. I am looking for honest dialogue about something that I view as incredibly sacred and important. I am looking for light. I am looking for love.
I come from an extended legacy of membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am descended from Mormon polygamists who crossed the plains with Brigham Young. My family history is rich with the devotion and grit characteristic of so many Mormon pioneers. I can trace those qualities down through the generations to the family members I know and have known intimately. I love this legacy. I share many of their values.
My family tree also contains social pioneers. People who felt the call to live another life. People who answered that call in a time and a way that must have taken incredible personal strength. I like to think that I hold both of these personas simultaneously and maybe there are others out there in the world like me. If this is you, then I am primarily speaking to you.
I was raised by two awesome, but human and therefore flawed, parents. I was raised with an awesome, but human and therefore flawed, religion. I like a lot of the things my religion gave me. Maybe paramount, is exposure to and a reverence for sacred things. It gave me a set of rules to live by that have shaped me into who I am today. It gave me a way of thinking about divinity and a way of communicating with the divine.
Like many people struggling with organized religion, I can point to some things that occurred as a result of my association with the church that impacted me in a negative way. Most—maybe all—of these things, I trace back to the human part of the church. The part that misunderstands God’s intent. The part that loves power over. I believe these weaknesses are bound to occur in any organization run by humans, because these are the weaknesses of being human. So I can be pretty forgiving of those and my struggle is only peripherally related to those things.
As I’ve written so much about, my main goal, the thing on which my survival of this phase of life depends, is listening to the inner voice. I believe that inner voice to be the part of me that is divine, and therefore is ALWAYS with me. So the changes I’ve made in my spiritual practice, are intended to help me hear the inner voice. I think what I’ve learned lately, is that some of these practices I was depending upon by wrote, actually weren’t helping me and were even shrouding the inner voice.
I’m not blaming the template of the church for this. I’m just relating my own experience. Surrounding the religious principles and practices, is the culture of the church, there’s also the culture of my family, the culture of the family I married into, the culture of my BYU education, the culture of Southern Wyoming, where I was raised. All of these things have shaped me and shaped my relationship to my religion.
Recently, I’ve found that following the religious template, brings up a lot of chatter in my mind. I will own that a lot of that chatter is related to all of these cultural influences, but have you tried to sort that out in yourself? It’s a lot of work! Maybe a lifetime of work.
The Mormon template recommends, in this situation, to continue to follow the prescription. These practices are referred to as the “Sunday school answers” — scripture study, prayer, church attendance, temple attendance. But as I tried to keep forging ahead with these practices I kept running into this intense chatter in my mind. It made it hard to hear the inner voice.
So I put them down, not all at once but slowly, piece by piece. I’ve held on to God. I’ve held on to spirituality. I’ve held onto love as I’ve done this. What I’ve been seeking is a way to stay in relationship to all of this history I have with religion, all the goodness it’s given me, and still hear the inner voice.
Let me say something about this process—it’s been terrifying. I am not naturally rebellious. I’m not naturally a questioner of systems. I’ve historically been a good hoop-jumper. So setting foot off the path has been terrifying.
It’s also enriched and deepened my faith. I’ve been developing my own prescription—my own spiritual practice. And the focus of that practice is to stay in relationship to all of these parts of myself. I don’t want to strangle the part of myself that loves religion because I need her. I don’t want to strangle the part of myself that doesn’t follow the formula because I need her. I need all the parts, all the things, all the love, all the paths.
The things I know—I KNOW. Meaning I know them deeply. I am also much more aware of the things I DON’T know. There is something very humbling about this. And I’ve learned that humility is actually a huge relief. Humility is the basis of compassion for self and others.
I think that’s the note that this needs to end on. Humility. This is why I love the word namaste so much. It’s humility. We all hold light. We all hold shadow. We are enough. On days when I know you are enough, I know this extends to me. And on days when I know I am enough, I know this extends to you. Namaste.