Sunday, January 3, 2010


So when did religion become a bad word? As someone who grew up without any specific tradition or religious teaching, it has always carried a slightly nuanced connotation for me rife with mistaken assumptions, personal indecision, and culturally and familially-influenced bias.

But even then, despite my heretofore predominant apathy and clear lack of knowledge it was never - for me or the people with whom I came into contact - something to be embarrassed of or hidden from others. You attended church or you didn't. You affiliated yourself with a certain faith or not. Someone might ask, you might answer... and that was that.

Not so any longer. I have noticed, in the last several years, an increasing hesitance from those around me (and seemingly society in general) to engage in discussions of spirituality, divinity, or religious leanings. People seem ashamed to admit they believe in God (or any form of higher power/force/etc.). They seem reluctant to use the word... as if somehow speaking the language of faith might thrust them into a spotlight glowing with social ostracization. Bringing up the concept of the sacred, or linking the human experience to something beyond a tangible and physical realm often produces uncomfortable silence with averted eyes and nervous smiles.

This has made my current quest a somewhat lonely and awkward journey at times. I find fewer avenues for open conversation about multiple faiths, the presence of the sacred in everyday life, the purpose of art and similarly divine expressions, and the purpose of belief and spiritual responsibility on an individual and societal level.

I have decided to be mindful of my emerging discomfort in the wake of so much silence from those with whom I am most intimate. I seek to be increasingly aware of how my journey and exploration becomes impacted by the responses I receive (or don't receive) to new language or a different perspective... specifically impacted by a conscious and self-reflective process of spiritual or religious awakening.

I am also trying to do less self-editing borne of social self-preservation. Rather than moving away from religions or shielding myself in faiths more covenantal or philosophical in execution; I find myself instead lately motivated to learn more about all faiths. To dive into greater study and gain more knowledge so I can see the similarities and distinctions among them... and hone an ability to speak in many languages guided by faith because I truly believe in the fundamental cohesion of the human spirit.

These two goals are linked to a recent realization that I have been somewhat remiss in my treatment of those who practice religion and/or consider themselves religious rather than spiritual. Although I have long been aware of the overlap among multiple faiths and expressions of belief and the inherent importance of many viewpoints, including agnosticism and atheism... it was only recently I understood how my capacity for tolerance differed greatly from a genuine sense of respect for beliefs differing from mine.

Within that gap - tolerance vs. respect - lies the development of compassion, mindfulness, humility, and authenticity. These ideas share emphasis among many paths, many forms of belief (be they faith based or no), and many people. That somehow seems extremely significant and something worth pursuing as 2010 begins to unfold.

May you speak a language and find expression genuine to your feelings and beliefs. May you listen to others with compassion and openness.

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