To recap: this year, for the first time in my life, I am observing Lent. I am not Catholic, nor particularly *religious* in any other way. I am, however, deeply curious and a believer in something.
I've explored (either voluntarily or involuntarily): all manner of Christian paths: Baptist, Congregational, Born-again, Unitarian, various strains of Presbyterian and Protestant, Quakers, Catholicism, etc. I've explored various Eastern faiths: Zen, Buddhism, Baha'i, Hinduism, Taoism. I've peeked into Judiaism. I've dabbled in Wicca, the teachings of Don Juan Matus (Carlos Castenada), various other earth religions and feminist religions.
I would like to say I'm well-rounded, but I'm really just sort of confused. Well, not confused. I just like to explore. I find religions fascinating.
I have a good friend who is very happily identified as a Cafeteria Catholic (I'll take a little of this, a little of that...). I think I'm kind of a Cafeteria Believer. I like this from this religion, and that from that faith, and this other thing from over here. But that is kind of hard to explain, and religions tend to choose these things over those things. I can't choose. The closest I've come to something that felt like a spiritual home to me was Unitarian-Universalist. They take everybody. Even atheists. I like this.
However, my sweetie is Catholic and has a deep love for the symbolism of this faith, particularly the season of Lent. This year we decided to observe it together. She is also strongly Jungian and sees things through a Jungian filter, and that helps me understand it as well.
I mentioned earlier that my Lenten practice this year isn't giving something up, but rather doing something. I'm reading Lent guides and writing each evening. This has been interesting, compelling, and also sort of eerie.
Interesting, because I find stories of all sorts interesting, and the Bible is full of amazing stories. But my readings are not really Biblical readings, they just take a short passage from the Bible and then talk about it in everyday terms. This works for me. I think the Bible can be a great source of inspiration and comfort, especially when someone like me -- not exactly Christian -- can filter it through storytelling and symbolism. So I've been enjoying that.
Compelling, because there is so much emotion in this season (I'm learning). The story is all about Jesus spending 40 days in the desert, where he is with the wild animals, and angels watch over him. So we are instructed to spend some time in our own scary, dark wilderness (where we usually do not go) and spend time with our wild animals (the parts of ourselves we would rather not look at) and listen to our angels/God (our thoughts, messages and signs that appear, etc.). The point is to come face to face with the hard stuff. That can be pretty intense.
And eerie, because each day the readings (we're reading from three or four different books) seem to relate exactly to what I'm thinking or feeling in my life that day. I find myself feeling as though the books are like my horoscope, when I'm particularly in tune with the stars. When this happens, it feels like my horoscope was written for me. This is how I'm feeling with the Lent readings: it's as though they were written for me, at this time in my life. I wonder if it feels like that for most people? (the personal part, not the astrology part)
What I've been most surprised about is how easy it has been for me to "write to God." I have totally shied away from the term "God" most of my life because I have some bad associations with 'the old man in the sky'. I feel like if I use the word "God," then somehow it means that I'm talking about this thing that I don't really want to be talking about. However, for some reason, thsi time around I don't feel much internal struggle with saying, "Hi, God. It's me. Here's what I'm thinking. What do you think?" Maybe it's because I feel like I have been talking to God pretty intensely for the past year and a half or so. I've been practicing. I know what I mean when I say "God." I don't feel like I'm reluctantly borrowing the term.
I don't even know if Lent is a uniquely Catholic thing, but I have really been enjoying the symbolism, too. Terri and I have been in the wilderness -- deep in the darkness -- for about two years (or more). I am finding it very satisfying to talk to the wild animals and acknowledge the angels. This is making my experience of suffering seem to have more meaning. Or at least, I feel less alone, and it feels less like agony and more like a journey, with dark parts and light parts. We just haven't gotten to the light part yet.
I also like how the books are leading us along the path -- first we go into the wilderness, then we sit there and have an experience. Then, presumably, we will be led out of the wilderness and into the light, and then we have a celebration. I'm looking forward to that part, but I'm also experiencing a lot of thoughtfulness and meaning in the wilderness part, too.
Probably I won't ever convert to Catholicism. I don't know if: a) I could commit myself to one faith and b) if I could ever reconcile the beautiful parts of the faith with the parts that I have such strong objections to. I know people do, every day. I know there is room for doubt, and fear. I just don't know if *I* could do it. We watched "Deliver Us From Evil" a few years ago and I was so horrified, I just can't forget that. I don't think *people* who are Catholics are bad, I just have such conflict about the official Church and its practices.
But, I do enjoy the rich tradition of so many spiritual practices (not just Christian practices, either), and Lent is now one of them. I actually feel pretty lucky that I get to tag along on this Lenten journey and see what it's all about for myself. I might even start talking to Mary, who knows? (I've always missed a strong sense of the feminine in most religions, but I know many 'pagans' took Mary for their own when Rome and other conquerors came, and I like that. Also I feel a strong connection to Mary-art and always have.)
Mostly, I don't think God (or Whoever, or Whatever) cares what religion you are so long as you are a good person and kind to others. I refuse anything that promotes hate or separation from others. I like spiritual communities, and I don't mind being a heathen in their midst as long as they don't mind me.
Next week is Week Two of Lent. I am kind of excited. It's been awhile since I've done something completely new, and this is new!