I’d like to begin this month’s column by saying thank you for the warm welcome I received last month, and also for the wonderful suggestions. I’m delighted that so many PaganPages readers are open to the idea of an exploration of faith that is going to move outside of traditional Pagan boundaries.
About midway through May I began my project. Rather than jump right into to my search with a heavy theological tome or holy book, I decided to start with something a bit lighter, a spiritual biography of a sort entitled Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine. In it, Eric Weiner, a self-described “gastronomic Jew” decides to explore several religions in an attempt to find a spiritual home. He whirls with Sufi Dervishes, meditates with Buddhists, does a Shamanic workshop, and even takes part in a Wiccan ritual. Reading this book let me live vicariously through an eclectic mix of religious experiences: my favourite kind of living.
Okay, true, reading about religion is not at all the same as experiencing it. And Weiner freely admits that his “seven-eighth-assed participation” (his term) in a lot of these rites didn’t and couldn’t lead to real religious experiences for him either. To know a religion, to feel it in your soul, you have to really try to live it. That, I think, was my problem with Wicca. I studied it and I knew it well, I even lived the morals and ideals, but I didn’t live the rituals. I didn’t make them my own. Saint Francis of Assisi said “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” That wasn’t how I was living my spiritual life. I guess you could say I was a library or bookshelf Wiccan.
I’ve spent the past several years saying “I don’t know what I believe, but I do know what I don’t believe.” Reading Man Seeks God helped me to find a few more things I don’t believe. I’m good with the Golden Rule, which finds its way into Wicca as the Rede, and into Buddhism as “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”, and into numerous other religions in similar but different words. I’m also all for prayer and/or meditation, for charitable deeds (as long as I can stay clean), for contemplation, and possibly even for fasting. In his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James describes people for whom “religion exists not as a dull habit but as an acute fever.” That is what I want, and that is how I want to believe.
One of Rumi’s most famous sayings is “Either appear as you be or be as you appear.” I think this might be one of the touchstones for my search. Do the practices and beliefs of the faith cause a fever in my soul, or do they land me back on the bookshelf?
What about you? Do you live as Saint Francis did, demonstrating the gospel of your faith through your actions, or is more a mental exercise? I’d love to hear from, either in the comments below or via email.