Religion & Spirituality

I have long pondered the connections between religion and spirituality. They are interrelated but they are also quite distinct. To quote my friend Tom Legere: “Religion has to do with rites, rituals, dogmas, doctrines and moral codes. Religion is a pathway, a human construct designed to facilitate a person’s journey to God. But religion is not God. Spirituality has to do with one’s experience of God. This experience may come through a formal religion, but then again, it may not.”

In my own life, I began a profound, conscious spiritual journey on the day I turned 21. The journey has led me to explore my own direct connection to Spirit as well as many of the major world religions, curious to see if I could find the places where they intersected one another. I finally found connections between the 3 major monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) in their esoteric teachings, which looked and sounded very much the same when compared to one another.

I found a non-denominational, Inter-Faith church that I attended faithfully for ten years. Its weekly gatherings were called “Celebrations” and they gave me joyous inspiration and a wonderful sense of community, which I’m sure is a major reason why so many people choose to go to a church, synagogue or mosque.What I found particularly refreshing about this Inter-Faith church was its lack of dogma. Each  Sunday Celebration would introduce us to ideas and teachings from all the faith traditions that were inclusive rather than exclusive. Eventually this led me to enroll in the Inter-Faith Ministry school where I was able to deepen my study of the major world religions and look more closely at the connection between my personal sense of spirituality and organized religion.

I have always felt spiritually connected and at peace when I am out in Nature, either walking or sitting quietly and meditating. I have lived in rural environments my whole life, with the exception of 5 years in Boulder, Colorado where I went to the University of Colorado. I am definitely not a “city” girl! I have lived at 10,500ft in the Colorado Rockies and in the dense PA woods and know that my feet need to feel Mother Earth on a daily basis! That’s what keeps me grounded and sane in an increasingly insane world.

Being a bead artist also allows me time to sit quietly and focus.  Beading is a form of meditation for me, as reflected in my book: Beading – The Creative Spirit: Finding Your Sacred Center Through the Art of Beadwork. In the book, I share ways to use beading as a meditative, spiritual practice so that the readers might also be able to find their own spiritual awareness within the art of beading.

I do not consider myself religious. I prefer to study the world religions and not fall into the trap of being defined by any one religion. Can anyone actually define God? I believe one cannot definitively define what is undefinable! However, when asked by a Sufi to define my Christian God, I replied that the closest definition I’ve ever found is “God is the Infinite Source of all possibilities”. “Ah”, he replied with a smile, “that is a Sufi answer!” And when I asked the Sufi teacher in my ministry school what the Sufi’s definition of love might be, she said she would have to think about it and get back to me. At the next class, she let me know that the Sufi definition of love is “God seeing God”. Ah,  I thought to myself, this is also the definition of Namaste, the Hindu expression that means “The Divine Light in me honors the Divine Light in you”. These are the spiritual connections between religions that truly help me understand some of the universality of human experience expressed through religion.

Nor’easter

Batten Down the Hatches

The winds are blowing strongly through our woods tonight as a Nor’easter blasts its way south. It sounds at times as if a train is coming through the forest. The lights flicker occasionally and even went off briefly earlier in the evening. We have a big generator that will kick on if the power goes off and stays off. We got it not long before Super Storm Sandy came through and knocked out the power grid for almost three weeks. It was such a sweet sound to hear that generator start up and know that we would have water from our well, toilets that would flush and food that wouldn’t spoil!

I am reminded this evening of another Nor’easter I rode out in Manchester, Mass about nine years ago. After my father died, my mother remarried a childhood friend and relocated to his home beside the Atlantic Ocean in Manchester by the Sea. I decided to visit them for Valentine’s Day, only to find out the night before that her new husband had passed away quite suddenly. My sister was there comforting our mother and let me know that I was needed.

All the people who had been caring for my mother and her husband had been summarily fired by his adult children. This included the person doing the cooking as well. My sister let me know that a big Nor’easter was headed directly for Manchester the following day that would bring freezing rain and snow to the area. By the time I got there, everyone had scattered except for my sister.

We decided to ride out the storm with our mom and pack up all her things while the winds were raging. We had to buy food to prepare when we discovered there was nothing in the kitchen and wondered if the cook had taken everything with her when she left!

I remember sitting in the kitchen looking out the window at the roiling ocean waves pounding the shoreline, listening to the sleet and freezing rain hitting the sides of the house and wondering about life and death. Wondering at the brevity of my mom’s second marriage. Wondering how my mom would handle the sorrow of another husband’s passing.

There were so many lessons during that stormy weekend for me! The first was that it is so important to live each moment to its highest potential. (That’s actually my definition of love.) We don’t know what is coming down the pike in our direction so we’d better stay open for anything and everything. Life can end so quickly! Happiness and joy are food for the soul. You’re never too old for love and love is love is love.

When a Nor’easter hits, batten down the hatches and ride it out! The sun will come out tomorrow!