What am I?

After my trip to D.C., I was officially finished with my religious explorations. From the initial visit to the Catholic monastery on an island off Washington State to jummah prayers at the Pentagon Chapel, it had taken roughly four years. I had sung, chanted, meditated, and prostrated along with thousands of others. At times, I had felt painfully nervous or confused or left out. Other moments brought unexpected calm, clarity, and connection. I had interacted with people whose lives were utterly unlike my own. I had formed genuine bonds with a few. I was different from the young woman who had started this endeavor—and not just because I crossed the threshold of age 40 while chipping away at it.

I had put in all this information and now it was my soul’s turn to do its mysterious calculations and spit out an answer. Shouldn’t it work like that? What was I?

My spiritual house had been spiraling around in this strange cyclone for years. Now, presumably, the winds were dying down and it was time for it to land…but where? I kept asking myself: what do you believe? As I was cooking dinner or walking the dogs or waking up first thing in the morning: what do you believe? Then I would take another approach. Just pick one, I would tell myself. Perhaps it wasn’t important what I selected. The goal was to settle in one spot, grow roots, develop, and evolve. I just had to commit to something.

The problem, as I began to see it, was that in selecting one version of one belief system, I was rejecting all the others—or at least that’s how it felt. In my imagination, I would make my choice. I would picture signing some official declaration of faith. Trumpets would sound. I now had license to declare myself a practicing such-and-such. But this scenario always made my stomach turn. My mind would wander to the options I wasn’t picking and I would feel queasy at those potential paths I had refused.

On some fundamental level settling down felt wrong. It occurred to me that perhaps my problem was emblematic of the criticisms regularly hurled at today’s younger generations. Our disengagement is a sign of some critical flaw manifesting in humankind. An aversion to hard work leaves us craving quick fixes. We want all the answers in our palm for no more effort than the light touch of an index finger.  We don’t have the patience for deep thinking. We’re too blasé and easily bored to struggle—especially with the intangible. I weighed these as possible causes of my indecision, but none seemed an appropriate explanation. In fact, it felt like the opposite. I suspected the problem might be too much interest, too much caring.

Nor was my reluctance to pick tied to a newly-discovered distaste for religion. On the contrary, I had found pockets of profound insight tucked within each faith. How was I to choose? In becoming a Christian, I could not be a Jew. In Judaism, I was not Muslim. In being Muslim, I gave up Buddhism. I had reached this strange crossroads where not picking among the religions felt like the best way to honor the religions. My not choosing wasn’t coming from a place of denial but, rather, a place of acceptance. And, if I chose no affiliation, wasn’t I also—in a funny way—opting for all of them? It made me think of the symbol of the open circle, so important in mystical traditions like Kabbalah. Represented in everyday parlance as a zero, it implies absence—but, at the same time, it is also suggests receptivity.

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40 thoughts on “What am I?

  1. How wonderful to arrive at a place of realization that one of your choices is not having to choose. On the other hand one wonders about group socialization for support or a feeling of belonging. Perhaps some of that can be taken up by becoming a part of some non-denominational group offering community services or involved in social action or whatever your interests are. Maybe it’s writing your book. Whatever it is it will come to you in due time. As the Zen Buddhist koan says, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” I have enjoyed this journey with you. I learned a lot and loved sharing with other readers whether or not I agreed with their point of view or they agreed with mine or simply made a passing comment. Peace.

    • Hi Frank, Yes, I still feel very much like a work-in-progress, so no doubt there are twists and turns on this journey that I can’t quite imagine yet. And for this and for you I am grateful.

  2. Corinna-
    Thank you so much for allowing us to accompany you on your journey. Its certainly been informing, enlightening, and entertaining. More importantly, I think you’ve demonstrated that people of vastly different beliefs (or of no spiritual belief) can discuss their ideas and even fundamentally disagree while still being respectful of each other. Your blog has been a true reason to hope in a world that seems increasingly divided and acrimonious. I like to think, for each of us who’ve commented on the blog, there were hundreds–maybe thousands–who didn’t comment but started their own journeys. You may have touched lives in ways you’ll never know. In your effort, you could be called blessed regardless of the religion!

    Okay, so here’s the big, unasked question. What’s next?!?

    • Hi Tim, Thank you. As for what’s next: I have a few more blog posts here, more concluding thoughts and such (plus a big announcement), and then….ahhhhhhhhhhhh….I don’t quite know. It’s scary because I’ve been working on this for so long now that it feels like such an important part of my identity. I’d like to somehow use the momentum to help bring healing, but I don’t know exactly what that looks like.

  3. Thank you for the journey and your willingness to share it with us. And for giving us the opportunity to hear other’s perspectives in this space as well.

    It may not be necessary to “choose between” but to “choose from”. You might integrate insights that have deep meaning to you and create your own practice.

    I grew up in a small town Protestant congregation, grew out of it and into a wider perspective by exposure to people of goodwill of many faith traditions in a teaching hospital.

    I knew I had found my spiritual home when I found a Unitarian Universalist congregation which explored and respected wisdom from the world’s religions in a traditional looking building. I found a community where I am at home nearly 40 years (and still growing). My beliefs and my practices have evolved over the years, yet these people are my people.

    All UU congregations are no more the same than all Protestant denominations, so if the first one you find isn’t to your liking, try others. Some are more Christian, some more humanist, some more conservative, some more socially active.

    I hope you will keep us posted if you continue this blog or create another one. I appreciate your thoughtful writing.

    • Val, I am also a UU. Have been for nearly 50 years, although I haven’t always found a UU congregation nearby where I was living. The individual congregations are all diverse….because they are individually governed by the people in that congregation….and, as you say, they allow for a great deal of room for people to practice their own beliefs….and the encouragement to keep on growing spiritually.

      Much to my surprise, I slipped out of being an agnostic to the realm of atheism during this journey with Corinna. I don’t, however, believe that you have to be religious in order to have an active spiritual life. That is where I find myself at this time, anyway! I try to do what is right and what is good….and I am happy with a community of people trying to do the same.

      I have much enjoyed Corinna’s stories…..they brought humanity to all of the belief systems. Faces on the beliefs. MET

      • Thanks Merrill,

        I find it difficult to rationally believe in a supernatural being, but science and astronomy don’t hold all the answers, so my mind wonders if there isn’t some entity before “the big bang”. I call that entity the Mystery with a capital M, so perhaps I am an agnostic. I am in awe at all the ‘coincidences” in my life.

        I don’t believe I have to be in alignment with anyone else in order to live a kind, just and grateful life. My favorite Bible guidance is Micah 6:8 “what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

  4. To me, all ideas are simply tools or toys to be played with, thought-through. Yet, the human-world seems bent on demanding that we take at least one idea very seriously, giving our beliefs and attaching our identity to it.

    Growing up, perhaps one of the most common questions we are asked is “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Throughout high school, I remember being asked all of the time “what would you like to do? What would you like to study in college?” So, I would tirelessly search for something – anything – just so I could have my pre-formed answer well prepared. Because God forbid I would be forced to say “I don’t know.”

    Does this come from mankind’s fear of uncertainty? What do you think?

    • Hi Jack, Yes, I think it’s fear that causes us to cling to certainty…as if anyone could ever have all the answers, especially to the big existential questions. Acknowledging our own vulnerability is so scary and hard–and, yet, it is perhaps the most fundamental certainty we share. I think there can be so much strength in “I don’t know.” To me, those are beautiful, healing words.

    • Jack, I was humbled in the presence of my oldest son when he was in Junior High. A classmate of his asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My son’s answer, “a jockey.” The questioner hesitated, looked puzzled, and said, “But you’re already almost 6 feet tall!” My son’s answer, “Money isn’t everything.” I laughed too hard and too long to ask him how long he’d had that prepared.

  5. It seems that the more we open our hearts and our minds, the more room there is for diversity. Choosing seems decisive given all of the wonderful experiences you have shared with us. Peace, Corinna! Merrill

  6. Corinna:

    I’m feeling a bit sad here, as I contemplate the thought that your “journey” is done. In truth, it is never done. While I am a Christian, I know that I am not where I started, nor do I understand God or Jesus or….. in anywhere near the way I did some 40+ years ago. I know him more and understand him less.

    I know that we have all been rooting for our own team at some point along your way. I do hope you will continue to write and share some of your insights here, like, perhaps, what you have learned about people or religion, or indeed, God. I believe he has certainly given you a unique and rare opportunity and I for one am very thankful that you have done this. My life is enriched from you and from all the others of this ragtag crew.

    I doubt that any of us who have gone all the way along with you would fit anyone’s stereotypes of our particular brand of religion. I suppose we’re all just weird. I pray you God’s richest blessing for all your life and–I’m sure others would add their agreeable ‘amen’ to this–don’t leave us just yet.

    Walt

    • Couldn’t agree more, Walt, We’re “weird” in the way Paul was “foolish” and I’m quite okay with that. And you are so right about faith evolving and maturing as we age. My beliefs are much more nuanced than they were 20 years ago, and because of that, I feel more committed than ever to them. What a dry, stiff and lifeless thing faith would be if it were static!

    • Hi Walt, Thank you. I’m glad I did this too–it has enriched my life beyond measure. I deeply appreciate everyone who has read along the way. If there’s one thing I’ve gained in doing this, it’s a genuine openness to many faith points of view. So, in a funny way, I feel like everyone who hoped I might embrace their faith has “won.” I feel like a Christian, just not exclusively so. I’m also a little bit Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim. That feels like a very strange thing to type…

      I’m not leaving yet. I have a few more posts to go.

  7. Corinna, your heart will tell you. The universe always shows you the next step. There is TRUTH out there, and I hope you never stop looking for it. Don’t be afraid to go deep with something. By the way, have you seen your dad’s movie, Finding Happiness yet? I think it’s awesome…but I’m a little biased.

    • Hi David, Thank you for that–I love the idea that the next steps will be revealed to me if I’m paying attention and I believe that, too. I have seen Finding Happiness and loved it.

      For all my readers who might be interested: My dad is a secular filmmaker who directed a movie called Finding Happiness, which is about a real community in California that is built on a foundation of religious ideals. I find it interesting that while I’ve been doing my One None project, he unexpectedly also was working on his own faith project. I’m going to try to link to the film’s webpage:

      Finding Happiness

  8. Dear Corinna,

    I have great admiration for your exploration, your research, your willingness to learn by experiencing each religion, entering in with others, and having an open mind. I still remember your article in the newspaper which prompted me to contact you. You spoke such truth in that article about the value of spiritual life. You also write beautifully. In addition, you have managed to gather a group of people together here with quite divergent beliefs and hold a conversation. Like everyone else, I would like to see it continue, on some level. We all agree, it’s been wonderful.

    Honestly, I am wondering if, in your not “settling down” as you call it, you might be driven by a deep desire to please others. You state that to believe something seems to be a rejection of those who do not believe the same way. Is that really true or reasonable? Can someone not respect the beliefs of another because they do not believe the same thing? If that’s the case, then the highest truth becomes “I don’t want to offend/reject anyone.” Is that the highest truth? Is that really fair to yourself to order your spiritual life around “I don’t want to offend/reject anyone’s beliefs” therefore I am uncommitted to any one faith.

    Yes, there is division that occurs when I say “Jesus is Messiah” (God’s Anointed One, Savior) and Merrill says “I don’t believe in God at all,” as she says above. But, Merrill and I should respect each individual’s conscience and still be able to engage in community for the common good. I think Merrill and I (using her here as an example because of the distance between us in belief systems) would be able to join hands in “Loving your neighbor” and not, say, “chopping off each other’s head” as has been going on in this world recently. We should be able to see those nuggets of profound insight in each and every religion, and with your exploration, your have exposed them and increased our understanding.

    Perhaps that is what your blog has accomplished. Learning to be in the same room together and have a conversation with respect, making new friends in the process, and with the smiles that brings, real healing indeed comes.

    Love, Ginger

    • Well said, Ginger. Just because there’s an “us” doesn’t mean there has to be a “them” in the sense of excluding or condemning others. I’d much rather join hands than chop heads!

    • Hi Ginger, I think I would secretly like to please everyone and, yet, it’s remarkable how many people I have managed to NOT PLEASE with this endeavor! I have never in my life been the target of so much displeasure (though much of it is sent via my personal email). It’s sort of ironic. However, I think my decision to be a None (at least at this point in my life) comes from a source deeper than what I might want or what might be most comfortable. It feels like a deeper calling.

      • Oh, Corinna!! You are far, far from being a None. For four years, you have filled your life with many beliefs and people of many beliefs. I don’t know what simple name one would call you—and me, and many others like us—-but it isn’t None. Some of Many? Or is that the Sum of Many. And I understand your comments about “a deeper calling.” All that you have experienced seems to have centered and integrated and become one set of unified beliefs for you. Of course, you still may grow and change. I certainly hope so! But for now, go in Peace.
        Merrill

    • Corinna, Ginger, Merrill, Patti, Tim, Frank, et al:
      I think Merrill said it well when pointing out a “better” title might refer to “who” rather than “what”.

      We men so often identify ourselves by “what” we are (usually, @ our job). I know that, for me, I tied my identity to what I did: student, soldier, missionary, teacher. Problem was that every time I left some work, I “lost” my identity! But I never had an answer for “who is Walt?” until, as I’ve shared, I knew that I was my Father’s son. That’s been a recent thing for me (7 years) as opposed to having been a Christian over 40 years.

      One of the things I’ve learned is that we human beings have worth simply because we are human. I didn’t figure that out until I could see clearly that the little boy I was at 6-7 years old (and deeply hurt) deserved to be cherished and loved and nurtured–as we all do, We generally always think we’re not worth much, and it’s so easy to tell others that they aren’t worth anything, either. I used to joke with my “spiritual father” (the guy who led me to Christ) that Christians are the only ones who shoot their wounded. It’s no longer funny.

      Actually, we all do that, and I’m sure you, Corinna, got a taste of that in your emails–and even here on the site. (I’m sorry that some of those, I know, claimed to be Christians. Christians often talk about everyone outside of Christ to be wicked and evil and rebellious to God. Well, we all have done wicked things and we’d all like to run our own lives, but God’s valuation of the human race was simply that he thought we were worth the cost of his Son’s life, which has to be somewhere above infinite. That’s an amazing thought to me.)

      I just wanted to say here, Corinna, that what’s so amazing about this blog is NOT just that you explored all these religions and provided us a venue to interact and get to know one another. What’s so amazing is that, through the blog, we’ve gotten to know you and your heart, which for me, anyway, has been worth the journey. We’ve gotten to know “who” Corinna is, and we like it! We love you for who you are. So what if you want to please others. Your secrets out!! Most (all?) of us are in some fashion. I’m a life-long people pleaser, which often led me into some bad situations and lots of self-doubt. Now that I have recognized who I am, I can still use the instincts I’ve developed, not for self-protection, but to be sensitive to others. It’s part of the tapestry of my own life, and it’s good, woven by an unseen hand, whatever you may call it/him.

      Thank you.

  9. What you have done, Corinna, is to create bonds among many people who would otherwise have not met. And each and every one of us is better at being US for having met, and the healing of which Ginger speaks.

    Also, when you say you haven’t ‘become’ anything, or chosen anything……all I can say to you is, it’s a long journey (God willing) and you are young yet. You may find yourself in surprising places before you are done. When I was reading Tarot cards at the age of 32 or so, I never really expected to be a card carrying Anglican at 65. Whatever you find or become or decide, the first thought that comes to my mind when I read this post was the words I saw once on a refrigerator magnet of a small worm. It said “Be patient. God’s not finished with me yet.”

    And we all hope that you aren’t finished with us, and that somehow, through your writing or blogging, there will be a connection to you. I think everyone who has read your blog has come to consider you a ‘boon companion’, and one we would choose not to lose track of. I personally am also grateful for several good friends (and diverse!!) that have come to me through your existence. Thank you.

    Yours in Christ,

  10. You have a card?!? I didn’t get a card!

    I absolutely agree–the friendships made and understanding acheived by Corrina’s blog are a real gift to all of us.

  11. Ginger…..and Walt and Patti and Tim and Frank….all the others:
    I would join hands with any of you any time. It really has been a pleasure being on this journey with Corinna and the rest of you.
    I don’t think that it matters whether we are Christian, Moslem, Buddhist, Jewish, atheist or any of the things in between. I think that we all share a desire to make this world a better place….to work for the common good. We have sparred here and there, and we pitched our own variety of religious beliefs, but I believe that we share much that we can agree upon, and we have been able to show the kind of respect that we would wish were more widespread in this world.

    Thank you. All. Can you feel my hand in yours?

    Respectfully and in peace. Merrill

  12. Corinna, I have just re-read all of this before going off to bed. I think that really the question you asked in your title may be the wrong one…..perhaps “WHO am I?” more accurately gets to the heart of the matter of beliefs. That is really the essential thing, in my way of thinking. It is not so much about what you believe, but what you do with those ideas. This takes out the necessity to choose…..or not choose. It is about how you live.
    MET

  13. Still speaks to my favorite biblical passage about Jesus, speaking with Nicodemus:

    New International Version
    “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

    I think John 3:8

  14. Ah Corinne — I wish I had come in on the beginning of your journey. What amazing experiences to have. I remember doing the same thing back in my 20’s — nothing ever really fulfilled me tho until I found the Science of Mind, (taught by Religious Science Centers – who are now called Centers for Spiritual Living). The Science of Mind is a little bit of everything. I’ve now been a minister in this faith tradition for almost 28 years, and still find it so refreshing!! Thank you for having the courage to make this journey, and to share it with us!

    • Hi Angelica, I’ve actually read the Science of Mind. I happened upon it at a used bookstore and it’s right here on my shelf. I haven’t visited a Center for Spiritual Living yet, but I hope to in the not-too-distant future. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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