Over the years I have written a fair amount about faith and spirituality here at The Patch, and yet I don’t think it’s always abundantly clear exactly what it is I believe, nor how I came to be in this place. Whilst talking to my friend yesterday, she said something which really struck home. She said that I have been censoring myself, and even though I have written at length about faith, I have always done so through a filter of what I think will be acceptable, rather than what is true for me. And she is right, I have done that.
I’ve been so scared of not being taken seriously or alienating people, that I have only ever scratched the surface of my faith. And in doing so, I have also hidden away aspects of my faith in my life itself. So much of what I used to feel so easily now feels so distant, and I want to reclaim the depth of faith I experienced years ago, before I got so hung up on figuring out where I fit in and what felt “acceptable” or “respectable”. And so, I’ve redesigned my blog to reflect some of the many aspects of my faith, and plan to write a whole series of posts about it, starting with this one. Because how can I even begin to share my faith, without first explaining where I stand?
Walking Between Worlds
I’ve entitled this post “Walking Between Worlds”, because that is what I feel I do when it comes to my faith. I am a member of the Methodist Church, and consider myself to be a Progressive Christian. However I also celebrate the 8 Sabbats on the Pagan Wheel of The Year, find it easiest to connect to God when out in nature, and have a deep desire to explore the Divine Feminine. One of my very favourite places on earth is Glastonbury, because of it’s beautiful mix of Christian heritage with the Abbey and the Goddess Movement there.
For me, there is no issue with mixing these different paths together into a sacred faith journey of your own. I am very much a Religious Pluralist, in that I believe there are many ways to know and have a relationship with God, and no single religion has a monopoly on truth. That means that on any given day you could find me praying the Lord’s Prayer and reading my Bible, singing a Sanskrit chant, listening to a Buddhist Monk, practising yoga, burning incense, using Oracle Cards and crystals, or even creating my own ritual for a special occasion. There is no limit to my faith, because I believe that God is limitless.
Over the coming months I hope to share more information about each of these different practices that make up my experience of faith, but for now I just want to give an overview of the variety that exists within my daily life. I’ve previously described my faith as “fluid”, and I think that’s still the best way to describe it. Like a river, it twists and flows through my life, sometimes gently trickling over me and at other times racing in a torrent around the rocks along the way. Some days I barely think about my faith, it is simply there in the background. At other times it is the most significant thing in my life. Which is why I really want to write about it in much more detail.
So Why Did You Censor Yourself?
Now here’s an interesting question, which can only be explained by going right back to the beginning of my faith journey, so make sure you grab a cuppa and are ready for a whistle-stop tour through my life from childhood right up to my mid-thirties.
My “Spiritual but not Religious” Upbringing
My earliest memories of faith fall into three main categories – Christian ideas I learnt at school and via occasional visits to my Grandma’s church; thoughts about concepts such as reincarnation that simply popped into my head from nowhere in particular; and a belief in angels and the afterlife which I got from my parents. In addition to this, my uncle became an Iridologist when I was a child, introducing me to the world of complementary therapies from a very young age. All of this combined to create a somewhat hodge podge idea of faith which didn’t really fit into any single category.
After my Grandad died when I was 8, my parents visited a Spiritual Medium. It was at this time that we began talking about my twin brother, who had sadly died before birth (my mum did not know she was expecting twins, but when I was born there was a twin placenta). We had always known about this, but never really talked that much about it. But apparently at their first meeting, the medium asked about her three children, and mentioned a boy who had chosen the name “Daniel”. As a child, this fascinated me, especially given the fact this medium could not have known about the twin I never got to have.
At that time I had absolutely no idea that talking to spirits was not a mainstream view. As far as my young mind could comprehend, anyone who believed in God must also believe in all of these other wonderful things I had heard about. There was no distinction between different paths, even though I was vaguely aware of different religions. I accepted it all at face value, even once asking my dad whether my Grandad would still be in Heaven by the time I died or whether he’d have already reincarnated. I asked this question whilst we were at the local swimming pool, totally throwing my dad!
I also remember at an earlier age hearing that my Grandma would be upset as her sister had died, and I told my dad that it would be all okay, I’d tell her that she’d see her again when she died and went to Heaven. Such childlike innocence, and I got very upset upon hearing that I shouldn’t say such a thing to my Grandma as it could upset her. For me, it was all so simple when I was a child.
How The CHristian Union Threw Me Into Spiritual Crisis
So imagine my surprise when, aged 18, I went away to university and joined the Christian Union and discovered that a large proportion of my spiritual ideas were not accepted within mainstream Christianity. The Doctrinal Basis of The Christian Union left very little space for people like me, who came to Christianity with a spiritual background as opposed to those brought up in traditional Christian families or those completely new to faith.
I went along to the Friday evening meetings, and tried out a few churches at first, until one Friday night something happened which made me feel so uncomfortable I felt I had no choice but to walk away entirely. The visiting speaker that week read out the poem May You Always Have An Angel By Your Side, which goes as follows:
May you always have an Angel by your side,
Watching out for you in all the things you do;
Reminding you to keep believing in brighter days
Finding ways for your wishes and dreams to come true;
Giving you hope that is as certain as the sun,
Giving you the strength of serenity as your guide,
May you always have love and comfort and courage.
May you always have an Angel by your side.
May you always have an Angel by your side,
Someone there to catch you if you fall;
Encouraging your dreams,
Inspiring your happiness,
Holding your hand and helping you through it all.
In all of our days, our lives are always changing;
Tears come along as well as smiles.
Along the roads you travel,
May the miles be a thousand times more lovely than lonely;
May they give you gifts that never, ever end;
Someone wonderful to love
And a dear friend in whom you can confide.
May you have rainbows after every storm,
May you have hopes to keep you safe and warm,
And may you always have an Angel by your side.
When he first started reading it out I thought, “how wonderful!” You remember that one of my earliest faith memories was learning about angels because of my parents’ belief in them. Well, this particular poem was displayed in our living room on a greetings card my sister had given my mum (I think when she first went to university herself). So it was very special to me. Which meant that when the speaker started ridiculing both the poem and those who believed in it, I felt so uncomfortable I had to force myself not to run out of the room.
When I say the speaker ridiculed it, I truly mean that. He used the verses in the Bible where it says that angels tell people to not be afraid (such as in Luke 2:10) to suggest that angels were terrifying beings and not gentle helpers and supporters of humanity as many in the New Age believe. And the room was filled with laughter. That in itself was deeply uncomfortable for me, but the hardest part of it all was realising that I was sitting in a room where ridicule was accepted, when the central tenet of Christianity is supposedly love. Thus began my spiritual crisis of 2002-2003.
I remember sitting in my room, wondering where on earth I fit into all of this. I clearly wasn’t a Christian (or so I thought at the time). And if I wasn’t a Christian, could I call the loving essence I know God as by the name God, or was that only for Christians to use? Did I need to find another name, such as “Source”? Because let me be perfectly clear here, my spiritual crisis was not a lack or loss of faith, but rather a “where do I fit in” situation. If anything, it made my faith even stronger, because I was suddenly invested in figuring out the details, whereas before I had simply flowed through life without so much as a thought as to whether any of it made sense to anyone else.
The Start Of My Self-Censorship
So why am I telling you this? Well it was this period of time, when I was still a teenager first figuring out her voice in the world, that I began the self-censorship that I still use to this day. What you need to understand here is that I was a painfully shy teen. I struggled to talk even to people I saw every week unless they were close friends of mine, and so going to university where I knew nobody was a terrifying experience at the beginning. And the vast majority of the friends I had made were through the Christian Union. So with this new spiritual crisis, I suddenly feared losing the friends I had made.
Looking back, I know that I didn’t give my friends the benefit of the doubt that I perhaps should have done. But I had only known them a short amount of time at this point, and they had known me as a fellow Christian, because I had known no better when introducing myself. I told a couple of my friends who I knew I bit better than the others, and one of them asked me to write out what it was I did believe because she “thought I’d make a very good Christian”. Which meant I suddenly became afraid that expressing my doubts would lead to a bit of a pile-on for reassuring Amanda and ensuring I wasn’t “lost”.
So I censored myself. I stopped going to the weekly meetings and only went to church occasionally. I used the excuse that I had a heavy workload, which was true, I did – picking up Russian from scratch and fitting that in around German lessons too meant I was constantly busy, but I could have made time for church if I’d wanted to. And sometimes I really wish I had been more confident back then, because I feel as if I missed out on so much opportunity to explore that side of my faith. It took me more than a decade of intense seeking before I felt able to fully return to the church and consider myself a Christian. Which is why the self-censorship has become such a natural part of my being.
Exploring The New Age
During this time of spiritual crisis I began reading everything I possibly could about angels and spirit guides, which lead me down the path into The New Age. It’s very difficult to describe what The New Age is in a short space of time, and I plan to do a full blog post about this in future, because I know there are a lot of misconceptions about it. For now, if you’d like to read more, why not check out my post about how Christianity and The New Age can go hand-in-hand.
That post was written in response to one of the most famous New Age spiritual writers, Doreen Virtue, becoming a Christian who is incredibly critical of the New Age circles she used to be such a big part of. In fact her website is a great example of the kind of narrow-minded criticism that put me off Christianity in the first place!
Anyway, through my reading of books I discovered online forums where I met lots of other spiritual seekers who became like my second family. I even met some of them the first time I visited Glastonbury, and several of them remain dear friends of mine to this day. In fact one of them is such a good friend that she became Little Man’s “Fairy Godmother“, and we try to meet up with her every time we visit Glastonbury (we’re doing so again at Easter, and I cannot wait!)
Some of these friends came from Christian backgrounds, and helped me to understand that the experience I had had with the Christian Union was far from representative of all Christianity. And so alongside my exploration of New Age ideas like Reiki, crystal healing, and oracle cards, I also began to seek more information about Christianity. I had a few issues, such as being kicked out of a Christian online forum for saying the wrong thing (whoops), but I also had some wonderfully healing experiences, such as my time volunteering with The Salvation Army during the German half of my year abroad.
Finding My Way Back To Christianity
Despite dipping my toe back into Christian communities during those first few years, I remained resolutely “not Christian”, feeling like the only place I could truly be myself was within New Age circles. And for a while that worked for me. But after my time in Germany, I began to really resent not being a part of the Christian community. I remember loving my time with The Salvation Army, with someone even saying at one point I’d have made a good officer. Except I wasn’t a Christian. So, over the years since I graduated university, I began to explore a bit deeper, trying to find a church where I might belong.
Tim and I tried a few places, such as the Unitarian Church and Quaker Meeting Houses. But whilst I deeply appreciate their more liberal theologies, I never quite felt like I belonged in either of them. So when we first moved back to my hometown in 2015, I decided to return to my Grandma’s church, which I had known as a child and which felt like a “coming home” of sorts, even though I had only attended the odd service before. It is a Methodist Church, something which I value greatly, because of their view on faith and, in particular, the Methodist Quadrilateral.
The Methodist Quadrilateral includes reason and experience as two central part of faith, which mean that I feel I can read the Bible in a progressive manner and experience God in whatever ways make me feel closest to him, without feeling like I am too “out there” to belong. That’s not to say that I don’t still worry that I’m a tad too quirky, because I do. But I do feel that there is more space within Methodism for people like me than there are in some other Christian denominations.
God Is Big Enough For Everyone
One of the things that has helped me the most in my return to Christianity has been the support of people within the church. My dear friend Rachel, whose comments yesterday inspired this very post, had a very different upbringing to me. She grew up on the mission fields in West Africa, and comes at Christianity from a far more conservative place than I do. And yet I have my very best theological discussions with her. Being her friend has taught me that I can belong, even when I feel like I sit so far on the edge I must be outside of the circle.
The other big influence has been our minister. When I first approached him to ask about being baptised, I told him that I was worried that it wasn’t right for me to do so because I am not exactly what you’d call a conventional Christian (if such a thing even exists). His response to me was simply, “I believe God is big enough for everyone”, which was incredible. I didn’t have to justify anything, I was accepted just the way I am. And since that time I have been as active a member of the church as I can be (despite my ill health), running the Facebook page and creating the website for the church.
None of this would have been possible without discovering Progressive Christianity, and reading books and watching videos by Progressive Christian scholars such as Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. I hope to write more about these in future posts, but for now I must mention that they were also highly influential in my path back to the church. They taught me that it was okay to interpret scripture in different ways, and that there was room for people like me who walk between the worlds of different paths to still be an integral part of Christianity.
Where To From Here?
Which all leads me back to today. If I have been on such a long and winding faith journey, and have found a place where I can feel connected to at least two different faith communities (Christianity and The New Age), then how come I’m still self-censoring? Well, fear is a hard thing to overcome, and the fear I developed as a teenager when first discovering I didn’t quite fit the mould when it came to Christianity still remains.
Walking between worlds is tough, often it feels like you never quite belong anywhere. But I fully believe that it is perhaps far more common than we often realise. Which is why I want to stop censoring myself and start writing about my faith in more detail. I want to share with you the ways in which I blend different paths into my own faith experience, in case you too feel the desire to do the same. I want to create the kind of content that I wish I had been able to access all those years ago, when my faith journey began in earnest. And I want to connect with others who are also walking this kind of path.
So, I’ve redesigned the blog to reflect this new emphasis on open and honest sharing of my faith journey (which also includes what I call “my sacred healing journey” through chronic illness). And I have a whole A4 page of blog post ideas, to cover all the different aspects of my faith, from Progressive Christianity, The New Age, and Modern Paganism, through healing modalities such as Reiki, Reflexology, and Crystal Healing, as well as how I read Scripture, books I’ve enjoyed, and people who inspire me.
There is so much I want to write about, and now that the gate has been opened I cannot wait to get started. Please do leave me a comment if there is something you’d like to learn more about, and I can try to prioritise posts on those topics that are requested. And if you’d like to join a friendly group of people who are exploring faith in an open and diverse way, come and find us at The Faith Space over on Facebook.