Pagan at Heart

At peace with myself and the world… or at least headed that way

Archive for the tag “Christianity”

Fundie Gone Pagan: Prayer & Spiritual Leadership

Last night I came to a conclusion about prayer and my own spirituality that I hadn’t previously reached. First, some background:

I’ve always known that praying aloud makes me anxious, but I never thought about it beyond acknowledging my shyness. Ever since puberty I’ve dealt with self-image issues and a crippling fear of doing things where people could notice me. Part of the fear came as a result of hating it when I made mistakes in front of people – I wanted to do and say things perfectly so that I didn’t look silly or stupid. Part of the fear stemmed from how I uncomfortable I was in my own skin due to hormonal imbalances that went un-diagnosed for years (that’s my way of saying I was unpleasantly plump and had trouble with acne). And then, you throw in my religious background of Christian fundamentalism, complete with patriarchal teachings and a constant demand for holy perfection. From family devotions to school to prayer meetings, the demand for praying aloud was pretty frequent. I very quickly came to the conclusion that there was little to be accomplished, spiritually, through praying aloud in those situations. Some prayers were genuine and perhaps powerful, but often it seemed that praying aloud was just another way to show how Christian you were. The young people were particularly guilty of this, with some teens even having a special voice they switched to whenever they started talking about spiritual things or were praying aloud (which I found sickening). 

So… praying aloud really wasn’t my thing. Perhaps the most bizarre and anxiety-inducing reason was a thought I heard taught in church from the time I was a small child: be careful what you say aloud, because Satan and his devils might be listening. For whatever reason, this thought terrified me. The idea seemed to be that, if you spoke aloud about your struggles, Satan would hear and then know how to better target you with temptation and attacks. After internalizing that teaching and all the ramifications that went with it, I developed anxiety over the thought of speaking anything aloud that might help Satan and hurt me/the cause of Christ. I’m not sure what the Biblical basis for this misguided teaching was… but it did serious damage to my mind as a child.

Now we jump to the here and now, with me relearning how to approach prayer. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Paganism is all about speaking things aloud. Why? Because saying something out loud makes it more powerful than simply thinking it silently in your head. Making a statement where it can be heard is taking a risk, because once it’s been heard it’s harder for you to back out of what you said. Make a statement where only you and the Divine can hear it, and both your body and the Divine knows and you will feel more obligated to stand by what you said. Spoken affirmations during meditation helped me realize this, and also were the gateway to a few spiritual experiences. Affirmations required me to set aside my anxiety and choose to speak my thoughts and what I wanted/needed to hear/say – it was very empowering. I have yet to participate in a group ritual, but I can imagine that speaking things aloud in the company of others requires even greater courage but produces equally greater results. When I pray in my own home, around my husband and step-son, I find myself riddles with doubt and worries about how I sound. Some of that harks back to the factors from my past that I’ve already described; some of that is due to the newness of praying as a non-Christian and wondering if I’m going about it correctly. Then, there’s the aspect of my gender.

In the fundamental Christian world, women are not hailed as spiritual leaders. Women can teach Sunday School, work at a Christian school, be saintly mothers and grandmothers who are powerful “prayer warriors” in their own homes… but women are not to be leaders. I once heard of a college-aged couple who broke up upon the realization that the young lady was the spiritual leadership in their relationship. Men are supposed to be responsible for/in charge of the spiritual leadership of the home while women are to answer to/defer to their husbands leadership. If a women “usurps” this position in any way, she endangers herself and her family by tempting God’s wrath. In my relationship with my husband, can you guess who is more spiritual and likely to wind up in a position of spiritual leadership? Yup… me, the wife… the woman. We both know I’m the spiritual leader, and Hubby is fine with that, but it’s something I’m still struggling with due to the patriarchal teachings from my upbringing. In general, I tend to look to my husband for guidance, approval, and even permission for every day things – it’s hard to not do that when it comes to spiritual things as well. I’m making progress in my ability to function as an independent person, much to Hubby’s relief and joy, but it’s slow. Anyway. I find it interesting that patriarchal religion deviates from what seems to be a historical norm of women being the spiritual leaders in their communities. Hubby and I were discussing just last night how we’ve both found it to be true that women are usually the more spiritually-minded gender. We both could recall the lament of many a young Baptist woman who couldn’t find a man who was more spiritual than she was. It’s ridiculous that we were taught that spiritual leadership was a gender role exclusive to men.

When I heard the story of Deborah told in church, it was told in such a way as to shame men for making it necessary that a woman step up and fill the shoes of leadership. Now, I find myself stepping into the shoes of spiritual leadership for my family. The importance of spiritual leadership becomes more apparent with each day, as our extended family seeks to Christianize my stepson. Buddy now asks about praying frequently, and yesterday he was confused that I didn’t mention Jesus in my prayers. With the birth of my son looming in the very near future, I feel all the more need to get my act together so I can provide him and Buddy both with the atmosphere they need. I want to show them what an empowered woman looks like – I am the queen and high priestess of this house. So many things I want to teach and share. Hopefully this is the start of a beautiful new future for us as a family. 🙂

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Mormon + Pagan = Interesting

Mormon + Pagan = Interesting

I have a few family members who are Mormon, and have come across a few other Mormon bloggers in the past whose stories fascinated me, so I’m pleased to have discovered a new Mormon blogger to read – and a Pagany one at that! I came across her blog whilst looking for ideas on how to celebrate Imbolc (she had some good stuff). I’m always fascinated by any flavor of Christian who blends Christianity with Paganism. Maybe it’s because the branch of Christianity I grew up in was so diabolically opposed to Paganism and made it clear that the two worldviews couldn’t exist together.

Reclaiming the Divine

While meditating yesterday, I was drawn to focus on the image of a woman – the Goddess. She was smiling; I sensed that she was extending her hands to me she might teach me. As I took her hand, I saw the image of a man – the God – standing in the shadows. He too had a warm smile on his face, but he did not make any movement toward me. He nodded at me and seemed to tell me that he was content to wait until I was ready to seek him out. And then the vision was gone.

My background is dominated by patriarchal religious fundamentalism of the Baptist flavor. Men are venerated over women in the Bible, which is a reflection of the people who wrote it. This way of life – patriarchy – was taught to me at church, at the school I attended from K-4 through 12th grade, and at the Baptist college I attended. The god of the Bible is male, and boy does he have a temper! He was to be feared and obeyed, lest he choose to strike you down.  His son, Jesus, was a much nicer fellow, whom I always viewed as the kind-hearted ambassador who kept his father from smashing us like bugs. In short, my previous experiences with male divinity and masculinity have not been positive. As a result, I struggle with approaching the male side of the divine right now. It will take time for me to learn how to reclaim the divine masculine.

Conversely, the female side of divinity is completely new to me. The notion that women may have divine status as well is incredibly empowering and has already had a huge impact on me. Instead of being stuck as the gender which led Adam astray (and, as a result, cast the whole world into sin), we may see ourselves as the beautiful, good beings that we are. The Goddess has always appears as a mother-figure to me. She offers warmth, love, nourishment, and protection like a good mother does for her children. This aspect of the divine is what I need to heal my hurts and help me as I change and grow into who I am meant to be. I find great joy in discovering the divine feminine.

I am a huge fan of balance. I find it is very important in my own life; I’ve seen the damage caused by imbalance in my life and the lives of others. At some point in the future, I will embrace a more balanced approach to the divine – embracing both the female and male aspects equally – but I’m not ready for that yet. And the divines know that and understand, as my vision so kindly reminded me. The God is waiting for me, patiently, knowing that I will one day find and reclaim him in my life.

A Realization

A thought struck me earlier today and I haven’t been able to shake it, so I will write about it.

My spirituality has never been allowed to be about me.

The strict Baptist upbringing of my first two decades did not allow for anything that even hinted at selfishness. We weren’t Puritans by any stretch of the imagination, but we were taught that our lives weren’t about us because they belonged to God. We were born because God had a purpose for us. This purpose might include many things (pain, ridicule, sacrifices as huge as dying), but it ultimately culminated in bringing glory to himself. All that we said or did was supposed to please him and bring glory to his name and cause. How we worshipped, what we wore, and even the secret things we pondered late at night belonged to him. To do things because you wanted to was selfish and sinful. Rebellion was “as the sin of witchcraft,” (1 Samuel 15:23) after all. Most of the Christians I have known toss around the phrase, “it’s God’s will” or “the Holy Spirit is leading me to do this” or something similar to that to justify the decisions they make. I’ve seen those phrases used to justify some pretty terrible things, but that’s a topic for another time.

Fundamentalism removes the individual’s self. An individual (in the sense I’m speaking about) is comfortable in their own skin and is quite happy to find his/her own way in life. An individual is empowered and free. Individuals don’t last in fundamentalism (unless they become cult leaders or the like). Fundamentalism must break down people’s sense of self, tell them it’s evil (play on past guilt, etc.), and then insert a controlling measure (strict adherence to particular teachings, lifestyle, dress, etc.). The Bible often uses the imagery of sheep needing a shepherd to illustrate humanities’ need for the Christian God. Sheep are very stupid animals, or so I’ve been told, and will get themselves into all kinds of trouble without the guidance of a shepherd. People often act like sheep; sometimes we like being told what to do rather than having to make our own decisions and then being responsible for them (and sometimes it’s necessary, to a degree). Individuals don’t fit well in flocks of sheep, though.

I’m an individual. I’ve always struggled with fitting in with the flock or going off on my own. I have many vivid memories associated with this struggle. In childhood I tried to blindly implement the rules I was taught, but kept finding them to be silly and impractical. I fought violently against the herd as I grew older, but kept being pulled back and shepherded into conformity. I earnestly believed but struggled with who I was as an individual. I worked at packing away my individuality, thinking it to be sinful, and tried to be a good little sheep. Keeping one’s self under control was prized, so I worked and worked at that. All this packing away and control did great damage to me on so many levels.

  1. My ability to love and accept my body was trashed. Fleshly bodies are evil, after all, and only of this sinful world. To this day I still have a hard time separating what I look like (my weight, what I’m wearing, how sexy or frumpy I am) from who I actually am and what my worth as a human being is. I should be confident enough about my worth to not care how I appear in other people’s eyes, but I’m not. What other people think about me (must constantly worry about my testimony!) still runs me ragged at times.
  2. My growth into a mature, emotionally-healthy human being was stunted. Keeping control of yourself, never letting loose was supposed to be a good thing. Instead, emotions and experiences I should have worked through as a young person (when the repercussions would have been smaller) have caused extreme pain and heartbreak now. I didn’t allow myself to be “crazy” as a young person. I thought I was really “out there” the first time I wore my Converse high tops in public, when I started listening to Josh Groban, and if I wore anything that was sleeveless. I didn’t allow myself to go through any of the phases most Americans deem normal because I wanted to be mature and Christ-like. I didn’t allow myself to process emotional pain or trauma correctly, because to do so would have involved expressing pain and needs to others, which was selfish and showed my relationship with God wasn’t strong enough.
  3. My understanding of what spirituality meant was monopolized, causing my spirituality to be shallow.
    A.  My former spirituality was starving me. It was about making an invisible being happy by doing and saying the right thing. Everything was about him. I didn’t matter, and I told myself that was good and should make me happy. That sort of relationship between humans isn’t healthy and doesn’t work in the long run (I know from personal experience), but it’s exactly what many Christians teach and promote. Complete denial of self is a form of starvation, like anorexia. A strong, healthy personality doesn’t stem from an anorexic sense of self. I starved my self for many years and my personality and life suffered the side effects. Now, I’m trying to feed it and make it healthy, but it’s insanely hard. It’s easier to nibble on guilt and feelings of worthlessness than to stomach empowerment and self-worth.
    B.  My understanding of spirituality was so deeply tied to exclusively Christian things that I couldn’t separate spirituality from my religious beliefs. The spirituality of others was confusing to me, because they too claimed happiness and satisfaction, even if they didn’t associate with a particular religion. I was taught to discount the happiness of others and to call it blind ignorance instead. Because of that, I learned to judge others and discount the truth of what they said about themselves if it didn’t line up with what was “right.” I’ve come a long way here, but I still struggle with being judgmental and dismissive about other people’s thoughts and lives.
    C.  My spirituality was so bound up in Christianity, with its rules and scrutiny, that I wouldn’t let myself seriously consider other belief systems until very recently. Having the belief that everything outside of the KJV Bible is evil and a lie pounded into your head 6 days a week is incredibly effective. My Baptist upbringing also taught me that religions and spirituality were an all or nothing deal – everything was to be taken seriously and literally. Now, my spirituality allows me to explore, question, and piece together my own set of beliefs from whatever sources I chose. I don’t need rules or parameters.

Now that I’m free to be me, the possibilities are endless! My body is mine. My sexuality is mine. My intelligence is mine. My thoughts are mine. My life is mine. My spirituality is mine. My own! Where should I go with myself? The realization that I am my own person is deliciously freeing.

IFB Teaching: Nonsense

IFB Teaching: Nonsense

A post written on my other blog discussing some of the Independent Fundamental Baptist teachings I was raised to believe. I’m so grateful I have moved away from this mindset and its harmful teachings.

You Are What You Believe

1. What issues has this chapter raised for you? How would your family and friends respond to this material? If you are a Pagan, how would a member of your prior religion respond?

Bad memories from the past, about what I once believed, things I once said – all out of blind ignorance. My family, friends, and former church-mates would be appalled, blame the devil for my sinful life, and think I was crazy. Sad that open-mindedness, love, and embracing science are deemed crazy.  Thankfully, my partner is open-minded and loving. He is supporting me through all of this, which means the world.

2. What are the essential elements of spirituality to you? Do you think there is a difference between religion and spirituality? Where do you see Paganism fitting in?

I do see a difference between religion and spirituality. I personally find paganism in general to be more spiritual than religious. I think the essential elements of spirituality are: a sense of something bigger than yourself (be that the rest of humanity, a deity, connected energies of the world, etc.); search for inner peace and acceptance of self; desire to learn more about the world around you; and, of course, love. This is what religion means to me – following holy books and being bound to exclusive ideology.

3. What beliefs are important to you now? Why are they part of your personal philosophy? Where do you think they will take you in the future?

Important beliefs are: equality for all, world-wide love, peace, harmony, acceptance/tolerance, respect for the earth. They are important because of things I’ve read, heard, seen, and felt. I believe they will lead me to a more harmonious, happy life than I’ve had in the past.

Spiritual Timeline – Physical Crisis, Mental, Spiritual, and Psychic Breathroughs; noticeable change in state of being; sudden change in beliefs

Age 0: Born to parents who were newly entering the IFB scene. Regularly attended the local IFB church as a family.

Age 4: Mother says I wanted to “be saved” after church one night. She led me in a prayer and from then on I claimed to be saved. I never had any recollection of the actual event, but I trusted my Mom’s account. Began attending the church’s Christian school.

Ages 8-11: Had a teacher get onto me for saying “gosh;” had teachers tell me that it was wrong for girls to wear pants, so I went home and cleaned my drawers out because I wanted to please God; was obstinate enough that my dad questioned my salvation, distinctly recall him praying with me one night to show me whether or not I was really saved and to help me not be so rebellious. I remember my first attempt at witnessing – to a fellow child while we were playing together, she was Catholic.

Ages 12-18: Began to feel excluded from other students at school because I wanted to do the right thing, became very down because of the exclusion; often confused by the lack of sincerity of the other students; battled between being inquisitive and accepting what was being taught to me; loved to ask questions and do lots of thinking; I can remember wondering how we Christians could know that we were the only ones who had it right, what about the rest of the world?; did lots of reading; became involved with children’s programs at church; sang in the choir, sang specials with other people, played music for specials at church and at a nursing home; wanted to leave for college so I could get around more spiritual, mature people; worked at a Christian camp for two summers in a row, had a huge impact on my spiritual life; got my first real job, felt the need to be a good testimony by dressing right and not behaving worldly.

Age 18-21: Went to a Baptist college where I planned to study youth ministries, which changed to cross-cultural studies, which then changed to a humanities program that focused on English and history; by the time my second year rolled around I was making friends with a different crowd of people than before, and became very close to a few people who really changed my life, not sure if it was for good or bad; my new friends lived more liberally than I had once though acceptable, but they convinced me that their life was Christ-centered so I changed my views; those friends dominated my life for many months, telling me what I could or couldn’t do, pushing me to be like them, arguing with me and putting me down when we didn’t agree on something; spiritually I thought I was on a mountain top, because I was constantly reading my Bible and praying to God, truly trying to do what I thought his will for me was; became very ill while still at college, had to leave and go back home to live while tests were being run; very depressed and confused, in lots of pain.

Age 21-now: found out I had fibromyalgia, battled with depression, was in lots of pain; lonely and disheartened by current friendships; after one fight too many with my friends, we separated; I claimed my spiritual independence; shortly after that I began to question Christianity, the inspiration of the Bible, and lots of things I had been raised to believe; I left Christianity and claimed the title spiritual-but-not-religious; read heavily about deism, agnosticism; met a guy, fell in love, got married; read about and then felt a connection with paganism but pushed it away because my then-husband decided it was creepy; guy turned out to be trash, we separated, and it was very dark and sad in my life; my mother found a book of mine about paganism and flipped out, telling me it was the devil’s work and that I was his tool; found a new life, new love, and happiness again; began studying again, looking specifically at druidism and eclectic paganism.

Now I am who I am. I’m tired of taking crap from people. I’m tired of being beaten down. I’m claiming my spiritual independence and self worth and making the most of them. This is my life. These are my choices. I am strong and ready to continue my journey towards greater spirituality (sans religion).

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