Continued from Beltane
We fear that which we do not understand. But what causes even greater fear? That which we believe ourselves to understand.
The Maypole celebration ended with a ritual wherein the Priest, Priestess, May Queen and May King ceremonially offered cookies and juice to each attendee along with a Blessing. We formed a line, and one at a time went forward to receive a dual blessing: one each from the God and Goddess. I hung back a little, taking in the situation. It looked an awful lot like Holy Communion (if Holy Communion took place in the woods and was offered by people with flower crowns). Granted sprinkle cookies replaced bread, and orange drink the wine, but I couldn’t shake the similarity or decide if I wanted to ingest a Wiccan Blessing (er, Communion?).
I inched forward in the line while giving myself a silent pep-talk: There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s a Blessing Ceremony, silly, not a sacrifice! It’s just cookies and juice, baby, just cookies and juice. I flashed back to some unfamiliar things I’ve done this year (like bowing to idols and medium/psychic readings), and reminded myself that I’ve always come away with something good from every experience. Just as my fears cooled and I was up to bat, I noticed the ritual included the Priest and Priestess drawing Pentagrams on the foreheads of those being blessed, the same way a Catholic Priest would make the sign of the cross over a Christian in communion. It’s just cookies and juice, baby, go forward!
So I stepped up to receive my blessing from the Priest and as he started drawing the first line of the Pentagram on my forehead, everything in me jumped backwards, taking my body, almost unwillingly, with it. Whoa, I said, no Pentagram. I can’t handle the Pentagram. Then the Priest jumped back and almost simultaneously accused, “You the Christian? Someone said there was a Christian here!” Without thinking, I retorted, “I’m not a Christian!” (Meaning: I’m not the kind of Christian you are thinking of!), then realized what I’d said. All four of us were very worked up in a kind of energy gridlock, so it took all I had to step back up to receive the cookie minus the pentagram. The Priestess said she could give me a blessing that wouldn’t offend me, and I was all tears and sniffles and You’re not offending me! I don’t know what’s going on but I just can’t do the Pentagram!
Graciously, she blessed me with a simple hand on my head with a prayer that would be acceptable in any religion: it ended with May you never hunger…May you never thirst. Still teary, I drank the juice, while apologizing profusely for my behavior. It was all very intense, and I had to sit down to consider exactly what in the heck just happened?! I’ve done all kinds of things this year and all the sudden I back down from a Blessing? Great job, Reba, invading their Sacred Space only to ruin their ritual.
We discussed the incident later by the campfire, while the others were drumming and singing, and the both the Priest and Priestess were very kind: more concerned about the balance of my energy than my Blessing breakdown. I, however, took my perceived failure home with me. It took 3 days to sort through exactly what happened in the moment I collided headfirst with the Pentagram…then 8 more to fully process. (Eleven days for an incident that lasted maybe two minutes…like I said, it was intense!) But, eventually, I did figure things out and learn more about myself and this journey in the process.
More to come…
I’d like to address a few of the questions I’ve received on my recent Thirty Day fast:
So…what did you eat? Nothing. I didn’t chew for 30 days, nor did I drink alcohol. I also tried to limit medications. I did take in copious amounts of vitamins, lots of juice (organic if possible), and sugar-free protein on workout days. (Yes, I still did boot camp.)
Isn’t that UNHEALTHY? Well, not for me. Obviously I’m here, I’m fine and, it could be argued, in better health than I have ever been. But I would like to be VERY CLEAR that an extreme fast could ABSOLUTELY be unhealthy for a given person depending on factors such as overall health, weight, lifestyle, mental state, etc. PLEASE DO NOT CONSIDER an extreme fast without A.) A very specific calling to undertake it and B.) Consulting your doctor.
Why did you choose to fast for thirty days? First, I didn’t choose to fast for 30 days. God asked me to. (There will be much more on this when I cover the fast in depth between April 15th and May 15th). A 30-day fast is something I never would have thought of, nor did I think I could do it. I was called to fast in December, and it took me nearly three months of wrestling with the concept and telling God there was NO WAY I could possibly ever do that before I surrendered and… just did it. Once I got towards the end, I wanted to do 40 days, but that was made impossible by a pre-planned family vacation.
How much weight did you lose? It is inconsequential….that was NOT the point. This was purely spiritual venture. I like to say some of the excess weight enabled me to complete the fast, but it was in no way a diet attempt. There isn’t enough willpower in my world.
Why did you stop blogging during the fast? Part of the reason fasting, especially long-term fasting, is spiritually effective is because it clears out your life of everything that isn’t entirely necessary. Due to the vast physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strain, fasting forced me to re-evaluate every activity in my life by these two questions: 1.) Is [activity] actively bringing me closer to God and/or 2.) Is [activity] absolutely necessary? In addition to ceasing blogging, I limited my activities to work, prayer, meditation, necessary household duties, spending time with my husband, and LOTS of sleeping.
Why didn’t you tell anyone? Fasting is a personal matter between you and your God. It is extremely difficult, and there is no place for the critical negativity of others. You’re already doubting yourself…you don’t need anyone else to doubt you. Also, to be brutally honest, I often thought I was going to fail. (Daily. Sometimes minute-ly.) I didn’t want to announce, “Hey, I am doing this 30-day fast!” only to say, “Hey, I quit on day 10.”
I hope that clears a few things up! Also, as mentioned, I will be writing in detail about the fast and what I learned starting on April 15th. But if you are interested in the basics of how I got through it…check out this post.
”I immersed myself as deeply as possible in the rituals, beliefs, practices, and culture of 12 distinct faith systems (one each month for all 2011) and in the process, changed my life forever.”–Andrew Bowen
The house was empty last night; my wife and kids were out of town and I was left to my own devices. I did what any good, observant Jew would do: I said prayers and studied the Torah and other books on Judaism. Right now I’m studying the creation account in Genesis and paying close attention to the relationship between God, Adam, and Eve. We are told of how God visited Adam in the “cool of the day” and basically chatted about…anything and everything. It was a relationship. The Tanakh (Old Testament) is full of them, and they were down right intimate and personal. Rabbi Groner spoke about this relationship as being intellectual, practical, and emotional. We see this dynamic between God and the Children of Israel page after page, yet it seems so foreign, so far removed by all these years. I wondered if the Jewish people feel that intimacy today, if God can be as conspicuously present in their lives as he seems to be in those stories.
So I cracked open a bottle of wine and asked him to come over for a chat. No special prayers (except one specific for consuming wine), no rituals, no religious primer, I just sat down in the fading light of my livingroom and asked God to hang out with me.
Simple enough, right? I’m not asking for money or health or anything selfish, just for God to visit me in the cool of the day. Well, the day became cooler, and darker. I lit my fire pot and poured another glass of wine. I sat quietly and patiently as I stared into the flame. I “called” again. No secretary, no voicemail…nothing, and by this point I’ve got a healthy buzz. Did God just stand me up?
I was disappointed and confused. All I wanted was some company. All I wanted was what those folks in the Tanakh had. Was I asking too much? Did I do something wrong? Does God not like cheap Merlot? Doubt crept in during my weakened state. The rabbis of the Talmud, a commentary and guide on the Torah, recognized two forces within us: the Yetzer Hatov or Good Urge, and the Yetzer Hara or Bad Urge. These forces are constantly at war within us and Judaism states that only good action (as pointed out by the 613 mitzvot) and repentance to God will defeat the Bad Urge.
I thought my invitation to God was a good thing. What’s wrong with asking God to hang out?
“You’re being selfish,” my wife said. After a verbal beating for getting drunk, my wife went on to lambaste me for
forgetting my lessons so far. “Didn’t the Hindus teach you that God is everywhere? So why would you get upset that God didn’t show up where and when you wanted him to when he’s been here the whole time? And you really think he wants to talk to a drunk?”
Wow, no gloves, huh? She was right. It seemed so innocent to ask God to sit down and talk. But what was really going on here?
1) Deep down, I was jealous of the stories in the Tanakh, and we are asked not to covet what others have.
2) I set limits on God. If God is everywhere, why do I need him to sit in my chair? Which leads me to my next point.
3) I wouldn’t need a physical representation if my faith was strong enough to begin with. Let’s face it: when we ask God to “show us a sign” or just show up in general, what we are really saying is that we don’t believe enough by default that he is there. Our fast-paced, materialistic world has conditioned us to only pay attention to what we can immediately see and consume.
God presented himself to the faithful when they had no previous physical representation. It seldom works the other way around. This doesn’t mean that one should increase their faith just for the reward of a divine peep show. I would have done well to remember my Hindu lesson in the Upanishads stating that enlightenment and moksha is reached once we realize the divine in everything and as everything, therefore making representations useless obstacles. Think about it, if God showed last night, my impression of him would be forever cast into that limiting aspect. I would lose all ability to recognize the divine in all of creation because for a split second, he was reduced to a point in space in my living room. This is why God (in many faiths) strictly forbids the creation of idols, not because of jealousy on his part, but because he knows how such an image limits our perception of him. Ironic, isn’t it, that the abstract then becomes a far greater representation than the specificity of a physical form.
I know what you’re thinking: this guy has lost his mind. He’s a crack job. Fair enough, but just remember: I’m not perfect. I’m going to screw up–a lot–and I think we can file this one under “screwed up,” but not before we learn something, and that’s what this is all about.
We remember that every time someone messed up in these stories, God was there. He clothed Adam and Eve after they partook of the fruit (kind of what I did last night) in the Garden. He brought the Children of Israel to the Promised Land after wandering for 40 years. Like a Chinese finger trap, we discover the way out only when we stop struggling. In connecting with the divine, struggling isn’t the answer because we are literally in his presence 24/7. The epiphany only comes once we bring ourselves to rest and open our minds and hearts.
So what’s the moral of the story? Don’t drunk-dial God. He won’t answer, but he will show up in the morning to help you sober up when you’re ready to let him move freely.
Read more on Project Conversion here: http://blog.beliefnet.com/projectconversion/2011/04/drunk-dialing-god.html#ixzz1oIROa3l5
Thanks Andrew! And, speaking of drunk dialing, here is a throw-back article “Digital Hangover“. No God, but a lot of regrets! Enjoy. Blessings to you all in the journey–Reba
Friday night is date night, which usually means Trent and I can be found at Studio 35 (only the best historic, independent food-and alcohol-serving cinema!). After taking in a show and a few drinks, we call a taxi because A.) We are committed to obeying the law! Buzzed driving is Drunk Driving! (At least, according to the billboards). and B.) We prefer to avoid jail.
This means most Fridays around 11 pm, I can be found enjoying a fifteen-minute chat with a cab driver. I always make a point to nicely chat up cab drivers because A.) They have great stories hidden under those thick accents B.) I love great stories C.) They hold our lives in their driving little hands. (Ever wear a seat belt in a taxi? Didn’t think so. I, for one, prefer our lives to be held in happy hands!)
Being that I am, well, me, I can never resist inquiring about our driver’s religion after we’ve covered family and interesting stories. (I’m curious, OK? Especially after a few drinks. No buzzed driving remember?) Recently I’ve been fishing for the best Somalian mosque to attend, because Columbus has the second largest Somalian population in the US, and Islam is the religion of the vast majority.
So far, I’ve had one driver tell me, “You are going to hell…” because I’m not Muslim (In his defense, I did ask his opinion. And, he informed me nicely.) Another driver who had a Catholic mother and Muslim father said: “What I am you ask? Maybe…confused?”
Last Friday’s operator is my hands-down favorite though. Not only was he wearing a suit (I always wear suit for driving!), and supporting SEVEN children (Boys give me most trouble; girls, they easy!), but he was very forthcoming about his religious practices. This is the conversation, as close as I can recall.
So…if I may ask, are you Muslim? Yes. What is the best Somalian mosque to attend? It all same. Somali, Pakistani, any race… we not discriminate. Any mosque best place. I pray five times day. In Mosque if possible. What if you’re driving the cab when it’s time to pray? If I drive you to airport, I drop you off then go to close mosque to pray. What if you aren’t near a mosque? I pull over, pray in the cab. I can do this right here, in cab.See? What if you’re sleeping? I pray as soon I get up!
This is where it gets interesting.
The important thing not where pray, but pray in heart. That most important. Yes, I definitely agree with you. You pray, yes? You Christian? Yes.(I took the easy way out here and didn’t explain the whole Thirty by Thirty thing.) See you pray too, you pray in heart? Yes. It same. Very important to pray to God. I am Muslim which mean I honor all prophet and sacred book. Mohammad, Jesus, Qu’ran, Bible…I believe in all prophet and book. So you and me, we not so different. You pray, I pray. This all same. This important thing. So…you are Muslim, you pray to Allah, but it’s OK if I pray to Jesus? Yes, OK, all OK.
The gentleman is highly devout, very devoted to his faith. He prays five times a day! But yet…he holds his beliefs with his mind open to other faiths. I like him, I like him A LOT.
Post-payment and tip, we thanked him and I left the cab spiritually shell-shocked. Here I am: spending a year of my life in 30 thirty places of worship, looking for theology that fits…and I find it. On date night.IN A CAB.
Not from the pulpit: from the front seat. Not from a minister: from a foreign taxi driver. Not while sensitively journaling about my faith: while buzzed after a good film.
I doubt our driver will ever realize the impact he had on me in our short minutes together, but I’ll always remember he added a few sentences to my personal theology. And that was well-worth the cab fare.
Sister #1: I got a remote start in my car for Christmas!
Sister #2: I got an IPAD!
Me: I got a pair of socks from the emergency room…
Brother-in-law: At least your present was the most expensive.
Henceforth this holiday shall be known as: The Christmas Rebecca Landed in the ER. (For a case of hives that migrated to her throat, which started swelling shut.)
It shall also be known as: The Year a Doctor Scares Trent. (When, upon our arrival at the urgent care clinic, we were immediately sent away by the attending physician to the “Real ER, where they can do something for your wife.”)
And this is why I do not have a post about attending a Christmas service.
On the bright side, I did pray fervently between the urgent care and the “Real ER”.
Lesson Learned: Only go to the urgent care clinic with urgency…not an emergency.
Bonus Lesson: If, in the excitement of a swelling throat, you fail to wear socks, the ER nurse will gladly provide you with a pair for the
nominal astronomical price of your stay. But only AFTER you have bared your bottom* to your mother-in-law, your mother-in-law’s neighbor’s son [he is a doctor! I do not expose myself to visiting neighbor's sons for fun!], three urgent care nurses, one incompetent urgent care doctor, three ER nurses,two ER physician’s assistants,and a partridge in a pear tree.
(*My bottom would like to note that it prefers to remain covered. However, if it is called to duty, in such cases as it being eclipsed by welted, migrating hives and thus becoming a threat to the life of its owner, my bottom is very patriotic and willing to be bared, even if said baring causes much shame!)
I realize this post has nothing to do with going to places of worship, except that I skipped going to church on the biggest church day of the year. So….sorry about that.
In my defense, I am certain more people find God in the Emergency Room in one day than find Him in some mega-churches on Christmas.
1. Do you know what caused the hives? No.
2. Have you eaten anything new or changed anything recently (add long list of things you think I may not have considered as a cause but, believe me, if you think your throat is swelling shut you ponder possibilities. Very.Very.Thoroughly.) No.
3. Can the doctor tell you what caused them? No.
4. Are you OK now? I am drugged up on Benedryl, steroids and various antihistamines. Everything is OK.
A big shout-out to Jen Lancaster, NYT best-selling author of multiple books (including my fav Bitter is the New Black),whose hilarious, sharp-witted voice I heard in my head while considering the absurdity of my Christmas Situation in the ER. Though I have not the faintest idea of Ms. Lancaster’s religious views outside of her former attendance at the Magnificent Mile Mecca,I believe we share an affinity for mild, mind-altering meds (Her: Ambien. Me: Benadryl). Thanks for your great sense of humor…it ( and the drugs) helped get me through My Very Bare-y Christmas.
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“Aunt Rebecca, do you believe in Santa Claus?”
(Carefully) “Do you believe in Santa?”
(Vigorous head-nodding and jumping around) “Yes!!!”
(More carefully) “How do you know he’s real?”
(Puzzled) “Don’t you know if you believe in Santa you can hear jingle bells when you close your eyes?” (Squishes eyes tightly) “I’m hearing them…right…now! Do you hear them?”
I shut my eyes, but all I hear is my seven year-old niece’s excitement.
How I wish I could hear the jingle bells: my niece’s irrefutable proof that Santa lives, that elves are working happily away in the North Pole, that presents will appear under the tree, that the world is full of joy and peace, that all is safe and right and magical.
Her bells hold all the magic of Christmas wrapped into a sound that fights the inevitable hows and whys. How can Santa reach all the children of the earth in one night? Why do people without chimneys still get presents? How do reindeer fly? Why is there a Santa at every store?
But all these questions? They mean nothing to her now. Because she can hear the jingle bells.
When my niece talks about Santa, she glows; her eyes light up with the wonder and magic of Christmas, and reflected in her is all the world’s joy. I encountered the same shiny look on the faces of the Mormon missionaries, and I wanted to throttle them—actually lean over the coffee table and strangle them with their Army of God-issued ties.
Because I felt very, VERY jealous…as evergreen with envy as a Christmas tree.Because they shut their eyes and hear jingle bells, but when I close mine questions are all I hear. I know how it feels to be so, SO certain of everything. To believe. To hear the jingle bells.
It is so happy and easy to have all the answers handed to you, to wrap yourself tightly in the peace that surpasses understanding. To share the belief, the wonder, the magic, with people who love you because you can hear the same jingle bells as they.
But what happens for my niece when someday her best friend whispers more questions in her ear, planting the seeds of doubt? When a boy makes fun of her on the playground, taunting “You still believe in Santa?Don’t you know he isn’t real?”
What happens when the Mormon missionaries open a closet before Christmas Eve, and all their presents tumble out?
When they all close their eyes…and can’t hear the jingle bells?
I’ll tell you what happens: you lose your faith. In Santa, in religion, maybe even in God. And you push it all out of your mind, ignoring the ache that lives where there once was magic. You denounce everything that you once put your belief in, grow up, and don’t acknowledge the hurt, the betrayal, because it simply hurts too much.
Nine years later.
You wake up and realize you want to believe in something real. You want to hear jingle bells without closing your eyes.
And seven months later, on Christmas Day, you realize you DO hear them ringing… loud and clear.
With your eyes wide open.
Because you are the one shaking them.
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Post-Christian Spiritualist Temple Experience, no one was more surprised than me to discover the existence of dark energy outside the confines of Paranormal Activity I, II and III.
I boast a long and rich history with Satan, wherein certain parents and pastors of mine systematically rebuked him in the name of Jesus, regularly banishing his malevolent minions from our house, my bedroom, and the church. I even witnessed the exorcism of a church camp sound system that was behaving badly. Clearly this was no ordinary power surge! The Evil One himself infested the equipment to keep 4th graders from hearing the message of salvation for the twenty-seventh time in six days! This process, known in Christian circles as Spiritual Warfare, was simultaneously comforting and frightening. I understood said warfare to mean that Satan could enter our house and possibly hide out under my bed (scary!), but my Dad could easily make him depart by praying (calming!) until he came back again (alarming!).
Upon considering the Devil as an adult, I threw out the idea of a lurking,evil entity preoccupied with ruining church camp sermons. I also tossed the notion of intelligent evil altogether and, carefully refraining from exorcisms of inanimate objects, proceeded happily along in my life without the heavy burden and time-commitment of telling Beelzebub to Depart from me! In the name of Jesus!
Around the same time, I rejected praying out loud. There are more reasons for this than the exorcism factor, but it suffices to say here that 99% of the (few) prayers I uttered after my 21st year rose from my mind to the Almighty’s ear. I conscientiously objected to spoken prayer on the grounds that an all-knowing God needed not hear my voice. And, it was just too traumatic to pray out loud. Much to close to my past for comfort.
Anyhoo. An alert reader needs this background information to understand just how bizarre the events following my time with the Christian Spiritualists really were. Please keep said background in mind when I say this: something sinister followed me home from the witchcraft/Christian-craft conference.
You know that time you randomly stepped in a pile of dog poo? And didn’t realize it until you walked in the house, took off your shoes and sniffed? That’s how it was when I arrived home after five hours with the Christian Spiritualists.I discovered (too late!) some metaphysical ju-ju clinging to my spiritual shoe-shoe.
In the immortal words of bumper sticker-ists everywhere, “Sh** Happens”. And apparently it happens to me…in the First Christian Spiritualist’s temple sanctuary…with a crystal. Or maybe it was a tarot card–or a divination rod–or a hymnal?
It started simply enough— with a headache—which became a bad headache— that turned into The.Worst.Headache.Ever. EVER! My head hurt so badly I thought it was going to split open right there is the bed, which I was in for a full fourteen hours. Note: migraines have never, ever plagued me, but plagued I was, and would continue to be, for the next three days.
I awoke that night and the following two nights promptly at three a.m., with a disturbing weight on my chest and terrible anxiety. Once awake and thoroughly freaked out, I felt some kind of dark presence in our bedroom. Note:I have never felt unsafe in my own bed, unless you count the time Oxley knocked over the laundry basket and I thought someone was breaking in.
I prayed silently;it went away. I stopped praying; it came back. Feeling crazy, I woke up Trent, who rolled me into a bear-hug and told me to calm down. But calm down I could not…not while this creepy energy was hanging out with me.
After two days of this weirdness, my spiritual circuitry was so hot you could fry a metaphysical egg on my chakras. I was on high-level alert, like a red rating of spiritual terrorism. I considered calling a priest, even though I am not Catholic. Instead, what did I do? I called my father. In the middle of the night. To pray for me. OUT LOUD. It helped, until the next day when the weirdness forced me to do the unthinkable.
I personally got down on my knees and prayed. OUT LOUD. Rebuking whatever evil was lurking around me and commanding it to Depart from me! In the name of Jesus!
I refuse to name the weirdness Satan, and I suspect that invoking the power of Christ against it was a conditioned knee-jerk reaction based on my childhood and watching too many scary movies. My best guess is that in willingly (and foolishly) joining my energy with about twenty other psychics of dubious origin, I managed to carry home some transference of negative energy. Spiritual or natural I do not know, and I realize this whole thing is very New Age-y and stinks of sensationalism. But still.
If I ever consult a psychic, or medium, or Christian Spiritualist again, I plan to take a crucifix, garlic, and a rosary with me. And possibly bathe in Holy Water before and after.
I am thankful, however, that the spiritual ju-ju forced me to break through my praying wall. I can now pray out loud with anyone, anywhere, for any reason. Except maybe to banish Satan from church camp sound systems.
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The circumstance is the spiritual forum at the First Christian Spiritualist Temple, and I am sweating bullets. Is it because I actually feel heat radiating from Mr. Fro-Bro’s hands or because this historic church building lacks air conditioning?
I’m about to grab my sandals and bolt until I notice an angelic, white-haired oldster rise from a seat in the corner. She hobbles over, lifts her hands over my forehead, and begins channeling energy into my crown chakra. I relax. Nothing truly bad is going to happen to me in the presence of Psychic Grandma.
I’m in a church building, with a totally normal sanctuary and yet things are just….off.
Truthfully though, I do not recommend it based on what happened to me after I got home; it was not good. More to come on that…