Warning: I had wine and olives for dinner tonight. So I'm not sure if this will be an actual post, or some stream-of-consciousness rant that only makes sense to me... because wine. Lots of wine. But anyway...
This will probably be another one of those unpopular posts that have the church folk calling my mom and asking her a million questions about my wayward life. Y'all gotta chill. I'm sure she's tired of answering your questions. Geez.
So I've been diving into the spiritual realm quite a bit lately in my life. I guess it's first necessary to give you some background information on my spiritual journey thus far.
I was that kid for whom church was NEVER an option. As long as I woke up on Sunday morning with breath in my lungs, I was going to church. Period. I was christened at 3 months, baptized when I was 7, and I served in every possible youth capacity imaginable. I was an usher, I sang in the choir, I was even a delegate to the Progressive National Baptist Convention for several years. Most of my friends were from church. I am a deacon's kid. I even attended Christian school for two years. It's safe to say that my life, until I was 18, revolved around church.
Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I left for college and was no longer forced to get up at the crack of dawn on Sundays, don stockings, and go to church. The first few weeks of school, I absolutely relished spending my Sunday mornings in my bed, snug under my covers. But around the 4th week of school, I felt empty, like something was missing from my life. The following Sunday morning, I woke up, got dressed, and went to service at the chapel on campus. Every Sunday from that Sunday until I graduated from college, I, without being under duress of any kind, woke up for church. I even sang in the choir-- even up until the day I went into labor with Michael. (His daddy was the drummer. Lol. ) So, just like that, church was, once again, an integral part of my life.
I graduated from college, came home, and jumped right back into my childhood church like I'd never left. It wasn't long before I was in the choir, singing on the praise team, and facilitating a ministry. Spending several evenings a week at church and attending both Sunday services was the norm for me. That was just... what I did. Until one Sunday, when I was 31 years old...
I'll spare the grizzly details and just say the church leadership and I had some irreconcilable differences, and for the first time in my entire life, I found myself without a church home. I was genuinely lost. Within a few months of leaving the only church I'd only ever really known, I joined another church-- a very popular megachurch not too far from where I lived. Michael and I went through the new members classes and I was excited to get involved. I'd always loved the pastor and really enjoyed the services. The Sunday before Thanksgiving 2014, Michael and I received the Right Hand of Fellowship at this new church. We were officially members. I joined a couple of ministries, and got Michael involved with the youth, but as I sat in the services along with the other several thousand members there, I felt lost. Absolutely lost. Like a needle in a haystack. Yes, there was a worship experience going on around me, and yes, the pastor preached the Word better than any pastor I'd known, but nothing about that church felt personal to me. I was going through the motions. I was just... there. One of a sea of members. I didn't know anyone. Mind you, I was coming from a small, community church where EVERYBODY knew me, where I had been loved and spoiled my entire life. This new church wasn't for me, so I stopped going. It just never "felt" right to me.
I church-hopped for awhile. There were a few other churches I'd visit. I'd even attend my childhood church with my parents from time to time (but the petty in me was careful to avoid speaking to certain people... because I don't forgive so easily). But I never quite felt like I belonged anywhere. I was church homeless. Eventually, I stopped trying, and just stayed in bed on Sundays. Forcing church felt so inauthentic to me. As a result, I suffered spiritually, which was completely confusing to me. Spirituality had to be just more than attending church and listening to sermons, right? But I felt so empty
I decided to stop searching outside of myself for a spiritual connection and do my own research, look inwardly, and figure out what spirituality actually was.
What I discovered kinda surprised me.
All my life, I heard that spirituality was my relationship with God, which was strengthened by my attending church, going to Bible study, and assembling with the saints (and the ain'ts... because y'all already know they're there, too). Spirituality, then, in my mind, was directly linked to church. And, according to my mom, who is VERY concerned about the lack of church in my life, there is no way I can grow in my spiritual life without being part of a church.
I'm not saying she's wrong. But I discovered she's only telling a very small part of the real truth of spirituality.
One night, I was on Twitter and I happened upon a thread about a full-moon ritual. It sounded kinda hocus pocus, but I was in a space in my life where I felt so spiritually empty that I was willing to try it, just to see how it worked. In this ritual, I was supposed to write down the things I wanted to get rid of in my life, and the set the list on fire. As it burned, I was supposed to imagine those things I wrote down evaporating into the air with the smoke. I made my list, and as it burned, I was moved to tears. I actually felt the weight of those things leaving my shoulders. As I cried, I prayed... and thanked God for taking those things away from me. It was strange that a full-moon ritual led me to the most sincere prayer I'd prayed in months.
After the full moon ritual worked so well for me (I actually let go of those things I wrote on the paper and have not picked them up since), I decided to dive into crystals and explore how they worked. I contacted a friend of mine who was well-versed in crystals, and asked her a million questions. Her answers led me to really taking the time to look at myself and see which of my chakras needed the most work, so I could determine which crystals were best for me to begin with. I read about each chakra, and was honest with myself about my flaws. I discovered that my solar plexus (the chakra in my belly) was the weakest.
I've had digestive issues and ulcers for several years. Last month, I had my gallbladder removed, and I was diagnosed with celiac disease, or an allergy to gluten. I also suffer from anxiety, have fluctuating self-esteem, and doubt myself and my abilities a lot. All of things are directly related to having an over- and under-active solar plexus. This site was really helpful. So I bought a couple of crystals-- citrine and tiger's eye for strengthening the solar plexus, and quartz for calm and serenity. I began to learn about the power of the crystals, how to use them, how they worked in my life. I bought a Himalayan salt lamp and sage for smudging. I began to really pay attention to the energy around me and, as a result, I started exploring meditation.
Meditation was difficult at first. I could never really clear my mind enough for it to be effective. My thoughts would wander. I would end up making to-do lists or thinking about writing projects when I was supposed to be mindfully mindless. So, instead of clearing my mind, I'd use my meditation time to pray.
So I'd be lying still, clutching my crystals, pouring my heart out to God in prayer, talking to Him as honestly and candidly as I knew how, giving Him all my burdens and issues, sharing with Him my dreams and hopes, and feeling His spirit literally filling my heart in ways I didn't even feel when I was attending church 4 times a week.
I'ma rewind that for you.
I left church, got into moon rituals and crystals, which led me to learn about energy, which led me to meditation, which caused me to pray to God in ways I'd never been able to pray in church.
Learning who I am, what my fears and flaws were, and exploring alternate ways of strengthening my relationship with the world around me, with the universe, and with myself, led me to God in ways that church never did.
Spirituality, then, is not a relationship with a Higher Being. It is a relationship with self.
All my life, I'd learned that spirituality equals church. It took me years of feeling empty and lost to discover that spirituality is so much more than that. Spirituality is nature. It's honest evaluation of self and a vow to improve weak areas. Spirituality is appreciating the beauty in nature and its healing power. Spirituality is gratitude. Church is simply a building. Religion is simply indoctrination, or a list of rules and rituals that govern how we live. Religion really means absolutely nothing, which, for a woman who spent almost every Sunday of her life in church, deeply enmeshed in religious activities, is shocking discovery. Spirituality is a deep appreciation of life, of self, and of nature. It's placing your relationship with your Higher Power in perspective. Sometimes, when I meditate, I simply say "thank you" over and over again.
I want us to get away from the idea that church is the only way we can connect with God. It's not.
I like attending church services. I like the singing, the preaching, and the fellowship. But I understand church and church activities as mere portals to spirituality. If a song or a sermon ushers you into the presence of the Most High, then that's amazing. But, for me, it was nature. It was learning about crystals and the moon. It was focusing on chakras and energy. It wasn't until I really found myself that I found God in a way that was real and meaningful to me.
Yes, I believe in the Law of Attraction and other laws of the Universe. Yes, I believe that my citrine and tiger's eye stones have energy that have improved my confidence and self-esteem. Yes, I believe in the power of the moon and its cycles and how they impact our lives. Yes, I believe that my salt lamp and smudging changes the energy in my home. But I also believe deeply and sincerely in God and His power in my life. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe even more in the power that God gave ME when He created ME in HIS image... I believe he made me a god in my own right, just like Him. And I believe in doing all I can to cultivate that power in myself.
Don't let anybody tell you that these things are mutually exclusive. I got into an argument with someone on Facebook who said that anybody who believed in the "universe" couldn't possibly believe in God. How stupid. Humans are smart enough to understand that everything isn't absolute. I can believe in the power of nature and in the God who created it at the same time. In fact, I think that reverencing the power of nature is another way of showing respect and admiration to God. It all works together, in my opinion.
If you are a person who believes that church and worshipping God are the only ways to engage spiritually, I want to tell you that there is so much of the spiritual realm that you are missing out on. The more I got to know myself, the more I got to know my Creator. As I grew in love and awareness of self, my awe and admiration for God grew, too. The better I knew myself and the universe in which I exist, the better I understood God. I discovered spirituality through a deep, very honest, sometimes painful and discouraging awareness of myself. As I discovered the god in me, I discovered the God in whose likeness I was created.
So. Do your moon rituals, Use your stones. Sage. Meditate. Face your flaws. Celebrate your beauty. Understand your chakras. Learn the laws of the universe. Show gratitude. Give for the sake of giving. Pray. This is the very essence of spirituality.
Funny thing... I had to leave church to find God... and I found Him where I should've been looking for Him this whole time: inside of me.