Danielle at Sometimes Sweet is asking some tough questions! This week's challenge is to explore our religion, or lack of. I have written about religion and spirituality- and I do believe there is a difference between the two- so much here that I'm not sure if I've ever really "summed up" my thoughts on the matter. My thoughts have changed since I started this blog – I initially began writing to explore how to be a pagan in modern day life. The practical applications of Paganism are a bit challenging now that our seasons don’t dictate our day to day lives. And just try asking your boss for a paid holiday so you can observe the vernal equinox.
I do have so many thoughts on religion but it's something I have had a hard time writing about for various reasons, so bear with me... this may not make a whole lot of sense. I will speak about my beliefs in terms of absolutes about what I know to be true; please understand that I know this for myself, and do not pretend to know it for you. If your beliefs and experiences are different from mine, know that I respect that difference and I respect what you know as well.
To put it simply, I do consider myself religious. I am a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints... a Mormon. I am active in my church and I fulfill the responsibilities that I am given (some responsibilities get better fulfilled than others). I also consider myself spiritual: I study scriptures, I study the teachings of the prophet of my church, as well as the teachings of past prophets. I use my testimony of the gospel to improve and enrich my life. There is quite a bit of doctrine given to members of the LDS faith about the afterlife and heaven; it is such a big topic that I'm not even sure I can go into it all, nor do I want to. I do believe in heaven and eternal salvation, though, and I believe it is offered to each one of us - during this life and after we die.
The idea of heaven used to be such an awkward concept for me. I was raised catholic but never believed in the heaven-and-hell doctrine taught there. For several years I practiced Wicca, a form of paganism, which focuses on the Earth and our energy; Summerland is the Wiccan idea of afterlife and that didn't really resonate with me either.
Most of my spiritual development came when I was practicing Buddhism, which teaches of karma and reincarnation. I felt most connected to Buddhism before I joined the LDS Church, but the issue of reincarnation brought up some un-answerable questions for me. The purpose of reincarnation is to come back and learn new lessons, or re-learn old ones. According to that theology, we might be reincarnated as humans or animals if we had more to learn; or we might come back as spirits if our previous mortal lives were lived with moral integrity. Essentially, as long as we remained spiritually ignorant, unenlightened, and/or attached to our possessions our spirits would be reborn into bodies. It wouldn't be the same "self" and that new consciousness would set about trying to learn and learn until it became enlightened.
I absolutely adore the idea of learning and growing in that way; of shedding spiritual ignorance, of becoming enlightened and "whole". But the concept of our spirits being reborn over and over brought up those unanswerable questions – Who or what decides when I'm no longer spiritually ignorant? Who or what decides what lessons are necessary for me as an individual? Because I didn't believe in God, that wasn't an answer to "who". The concept of “universal truths" didn't resonate with me, because it always sent me into this tail-chasing cycle of wanting to know who is making the rules, who is setting these so-called truths to be universal? It's an awkward set of questions when one doesn't believe in intelligent design. None of the traditional Buddhist answers resonated with me either. So I decided a long time ago that I wasn't sure what happened to our souls after death, and I rejected all the modern answers.
I did believe in the soul though, and felt sure that something happened to it after the body died. In retrospect, I guess even back then I was not so far away from what my church teaches about the afterlife. Even if I couldn't wrap my mind around God and a saviour and heaven, I knew that our souls have an eternal purpose.
I felt more comfortable with Buddhism than I did with any other spiritual path, even with those awkward questions that I didn’t have answers for. I wouldn't have considered myself "seeking" a religion but when I told a friend of mine that I was joining the church he mentioned that I'd always been looking for something new or better. This surprised me somewhat, but it is true that the teachings of the gospel fit very nicely with so many of the spiritual truths I have learned through other paths. Once I got over my disbelief of Jesus, that is.
An idea that I have struggled communicating to others about my spirituality is the idea that I was incomplete before my conversion to Mormonism. I didn't feel incomplete then - I was as spiritually fulfilled as I had ever been up to that point and I was very comfortable with where I was. Sure, I didn't have answers to some big questions but one of the lessons I have learned over and over again is that I don't always get answers. I learned to be comfortable with all my not-answers and I focused on the parts that made sense. Buddishm taught me how to be open-minded spiritually; it taught me that every person, creature, spirit, and idea has value and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Those are important lessons to learn, and I am so grateful I learned them in the way that I did. Joining the LDS church certainly "rounded out" my spiritual knowledge (and continues to teach me) but I feel like it's an important distinction, at least in my own head, that I didn't join the church because I was missing something - I joined because I was ready.
I had gone as far with Buddhism as I could. When I started learning about the church and studying the scriptures, eventually it opened up new ideas for me and allowed for some of that deeper exploration that I hadn't been ready for before then. It didn't happen right away because I am stubborn and was reluctant to be a Christian; but when it did happen, it resonated with me in a whole new way.