Friday, September 23, 2011

Losing my Religion

What is it about the traditions that we are raised with that are so difficult to relate with? I was born to Catholic parents. Well Catholic by upbringing, but that's about the extent of it. I was baptized Catholic under the influence of my grandmother but that was the extent of my interactions with the Catholic church as a child. When I was 7 or 8 my family started attending the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Va. It was a wonderful tradition to grow up with for a number of reasons. The religious education program was designed to offer children knowledge about different religious traditions and encouraged participants to come to their own understanding of their relationship with the divine. This was great for me as I found witchcraft at a young age and the UU church offered me the privilege of growing up with access to elders and teachers in this tradition.

I became involved with the Pagan group at the church, helping to form a youth contingent of the pagan group and later got involved with YRUU, the national network for UU youth. YRUU was a wonderful place for me to grow spiritually and socially. As a queer kid growing up in Virginia, it was tremendous to have a spiritual community where I felt seen, held, and loved for who I am. My involvement with my congregation was a significant part of my life as a young person and helped to ground me amidst the chaos of my life in public school and, in many ways, a homophobic town.

When I look back at that time in my life, I am so grateful for that community and the way that I was lifted up as a human being by my church and by the UU community as a whole.

At my first Two-Spirit Naraya dance, I had a dream the third night of the dance. I my waking life, I had recently been accepted into a UU seminary and was trying to decide if I was going to go (yes, my discernment process has been going on for several years now). Discernment was part of my prayers for that ceremony.

In my dream, I was speaking with an elder. I said to him, “I don't think I'm a Unitarian Universalist anymore.” I remember the feeling in the dream. My heart hurt to say it, a feeling of sadness and loss washed over me as I was saying it. But as the words came out, I felt this weight being lifted from my chest. I woke up with confusion about the meaning of the dream and again the feeling of relief.

The words of that dream came back to me when I recently received an email from someone at the regional office of the UUA reaching out to UU students at my school. I'm not sure how to respond. I don't think I'm a Unitarian Universalist anymore.

But what does it mean to lose your religion when your religion is Unitarian Universalism? What does it mean to be a Unitarian Universalist in the first place?

I know that my spiritual path as an adult has led me deep into a beautiful and complex forest that continues to unveil itself to me. I know that this path has led me to traditions and practices that have opened me up to direct, embodied experiences with the divine. I have felt myself crack open and touched by creator.

I know that I have never had one of these experiences in a UU worship service. Occasionally, when we're singing, I'll feel the gentle breeze of spirit but nothing more. And that's the piece that's holding me back. How can I step into a leadership role of a tradition where during worship, I have never once felt touched by the divine? How can I step into that role when I have felt creator so closely, so clearly, somewhere else?

In my heart, I know that the way I was held as a young person by my congregation back home was the work of spirit. I know that community is sacred and that holding each other is a sacred act. But we don't need a church or an institution to hold each other. I've seen spirit move like that when we were organizing a union at my old job. I've felt spirit move like that when we we were in the streets protesting the iraq war. I have heard spirit whispering like that through the voices of the congregational leaders during my work as a faith based community organizer.

I've been introducing myself as a pagan and not as a UU to people I'm meeting at school. I feel like it's a more accurate portrayal of my spiritual practices and beliefs. But there's something in me that just can't let it go.

So I'm going to meet with the UU's at my school and the person from my district. What have I got to lose?

Nothing but my religion.

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