What If: I Can’t Find a Spiritual Path That Seems Genuine For Me?

This week, I sat down with the last 6 ‘What If’ Questions on my Numbers spreadsheet and I stared at this one. I know what I need to say. I know what I want to say. But typing it just seems to be a bit harder than I ever imagined. For those that have held tight with me the last 40+ days, you know that blowing up my boxed-up world is challenging for a single track thinker. In genuine vulnerability, this question asking series started from a place of fear of the ‘what if’. If I began to publicly say some of the things that have been rolling around in the depths of the deep, what happens? What I found is that I am still here. A bit more free. More empowered. Absolutely, more sure of myself than ever before. So, back to our question today.

The box we are exploring is one of the very square shaped boxes in my mind’s historical journey. Each “spiritual path” is a neatly packed box. We have the Jewish box, Buddhist box and the Hindu box. Can you see the acceptable “other religions” categories? We have the Christian boxes (each with their worthiness pre-determined) of Catholicism, Evangelicalism, liberal theology, protestant roots and traditional liturgically intense practices. And THEN we have the ones that I was taught are the no-fly boxes of cultish expressions of faith. All of the boxes.

I remember the first time I read a book on contemplative prayer practice that drew parallels to the meditation practices of eastern faiths. I almost closed the book. WE DON’T BELIEVE IN THESE THINGS. And by we, I mean that the brand of religious expression that I was buying at the time. But I began to explore these ideas of stillness and intention and I did’t combust. My next big boulder of struggle was literal biblical understandings, even going so far as to question heaven and hell. What if? What about…? As I began to study, the cardboard walls of my boxes began to soften with the water from my tears. On many days (let’s be honest, late nights) I would take a breath and say in my deepest spaces, ‘I don’t believe that anymore.’ And then I would cry. Sometimes the tears would be a glorious release. Sometimes the tears were from the pain of loneliness. In many seasons, I have felt like I was walking out on a wobbly branch of a forbidden tree, alone and scared.

The number of times that I have admitted that my box was inadequate for my truth is terrifying. If you have not guessed it from the last many days, I’m not sure I even have a box anymore. I have fully embraced that there is not ONE spiritual path that seems genuine for me. However, there is MY spiritual path. And that, dear friends, is very genuine. There is much of this season that is confusing, but there is one thing that is NOT genuine: to stop searching and exploring. Out of fear of doing it wrong or an unclear direction or any other speed bump, the thing that I cannot and will not shake is the journey. I am a spiritual person. I am deeply tied to exploration and question asking. I will never not be able to connect the dots of the Mystery with the revelations of truth in my own existence.

I love the question asking of the Jewish faith. I am obsessed with the deep history of the Orthodox Christian church. I find grace and peace in the openness of the modern Episcopal Church. I am learning and growing from the inner contemplation of the Buddhist faith. I read with great excitement from many spiritual teachers that would quickly tell you they are not religious. And most importantly, I have learned to listen, sit and discern my own truth. This single act of freedom has allowed me to let go of finding the ‘right’ in favor of the ‘best’ or ‘most true.’ If there is one thing that I have embraced in this season it is my full acceptance that the spiritual journey is a deeply personal one. Those that chose to judge or convince or manipulate with fear or threats of pain and judgement are not the ones that I’m here for. There is nothing “genuine” in that kind of spirit quest today.

May we find the holy spaces with genuine searching and learning. We are worth it.

What If: God

I’ve tried to write this “what if” question in every imaginable form and nothing seems sufficient. My ramblings range from questions of existence to doubts about context, explanations and religious framings. More than anything, I want you to know that I’m not afraid of the biggies in this journey. If we are going to ask the questions, I think we need to start with the BIG question.

What happens when we begin to doubt and reframe and disagree and leave behind and embrace the things that formationaly define the Creator? This is scary territory. And for those of us that walk into these conversations with heavy baggage (which is most of us, right?) we spend equal parts our our energy defending our past or preconceived beliefs and fighting to give shape and open minded wonder to the ‘what if.’ It is from this seesaw battle of the mind that I come with a deep desire to set aside the things.

I recently attended a 12-step meeting that used a prayer that I had never heard before.

God, Please help me set aside everything I think I know about myself, my disease, the 12 steps, and especially You; So I may have an open mind and a new experience of all these things. Please let me see the truth.

This prayer is known as the Set Aside prayer. The roots of this prayer come from the chapter called “To the Agnostics” in the AA Big Book. This important section of the book is dedicated to those who come into the program without a concept or even willingness to consider a power that is bigger than themselves and more importantly their addiction. This prayer was exactly what I needed on that day and many days since. I have reached (again) a season of life where I cannot deny the presence of a wonderfully mysterious Divine power. But I am more sure than ever before that my human attempts to define, name, gender type, quantify and contain are insufficient. Often the language of humanity fails at explaining, and seems hopelessly empty in light of, the very real experiences that I have had with this unexplainable force. These unworldly experiences have propelled my heart to love in ways that are bigger than my humanity allows. Thats how I know it is not of my own making.

If there is one thing that this season of imposed down time has given each of us, it is an unplanned journey of slowing. I have had many recent experiences that remind me that we are all grasping for the things that we know. The times that I think I know God in a way that is sure, I miss the entire point. To engage and approach and interact with the Creator is to intentionally invite the unknown into our experience.

So for me, today, the question is: What if our experience of God is bigger than religion and language can articulate? And to that, I can say, “YEP!” I’m taking off the reigns of certainty, and trading them in for the deep, longing, searching, fear excluding, shame expelling gift of setting aside what I have known for the willingness to learn what the Divine still has to teach me.

To those that don’t even know where to start with this one, may I offer an invitation? I wonder if the unframed nature of mystery is one of the scariest parts of this quest. What if I do it wrong? What if this thing that I want to believe in is actually a lie? I get this. I really get this. In light of that, is there one thing that you CAN believe in? The love you have for your child? The moment that you felt loved for the first time? The deep desire to know and be known?

What if these are the very things that gift you connection to the inner gift of the holy. We over-complicate God. But you already know divine truth in your most quiet self. That moment, you know it already, when the friendship soars, the truth is finally said, the pain is admitted out loud. These are sacred moments. In those unexplainable seconds, you are experiencing the presence of something far more powerful than our human capabilities can manufacture. ‘What if’ changes nothing and everything all at the same time.