Pagan at Heart

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

Archive for the tag “fundamentalism”

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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Article: “My Defining Moment” & My Thoughts

Article: “My Defining Moment” & My Thoughts

I’ve been reading John Beckett’s writing on Patheos Pagan for awhile now. I have grown to appreciate his perspective and wisdom. This article made a part of me quiver with excitement. I still have not had a “defining moment,” but I sincerely hope I will, and soon. Hearing that Beckett was also raised in a fundamentalist background (Baptist, it sounds like) was encouraging to me; if he can overcome past indoctrination and embrace paganism, then so can I.

I’m still terribly unsure of what I believe. Gods, goddesses, archetypal beings, a universal spirit… nothing? After rejecting fundamentalism I struggled with what to make of the universe once the Christian god was removed. In IFB, there is nothing but the Christian god… it was engrained into me that to take away the god of the Bible was to take away everything. Atheists and agnostics were angry, spiteful people who put too much stock into science, Anyone involved in pagan or other worldviews that focused on other gods and goddesses or nature were for silly, crazy people. Overcoming this way of thinking is not easy. But I’m working at it! I want to believe. I hold science very highly (and think science and paganism can coexist), but I want more than just science for my worldview. I feel that there is much more than science can tell us. I’ve always felt there was more.

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.

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