Friday, March 23, 2012

On Faith ~ The Scinitilla Project ~ Day 6

Talk about an experience with faith - yours or someone else's.

When I was 17 (and living in Cyprus), my boyfriend at the time and most of my friends were born-again Christians.  Most of them hadn't been, when I first met them.  Then, they started hanging out at a Friday night youth group run by a super-friendly and welcoming English couple.  They didn’t seem like Churchy people or odd people or any adults that I’d ever known.  They seemed youthful and vibrant and unafraid to talk about anything, answer any questions, even about sex.  Reluctantly, I started going to these youth group meetings too.  First because I didn’t want to be left out, but then it started to become important to me.  Eventually, I ended up converting too.  

I often look back on that time and cringe.  I can see that I joined in because I desperately wanted to belong and because it gave me a sense of purpose, no matter how misguided.  But it’s not something I’m proud of and I’m reluctant to admit to it or talk about it.  Mainly because I became very over-zealous about it, especially when I went to University (in England) and met a group of people through the Christian Union there.  It was a small group and we didn’t really affiliate ourselves with any particular church, but for a while, it was very fundamentalist, evangelical and extreme.  We met regularly to pray together and always someone would be “speaking in tongues.”  There was always a great deal of emotion being poured out, usually in response to cheesy Christian music.  I’m certain that I was addicted to the way that made me feel – supposedly overflowing with love and yet I managed to ignore the emptiness that always came afterwards.  At one point, our group were walking around campus at night setting up angel sentries because someone read a passage in the Bible that said that the truly faithful could command the angels.  I also remember praying outside a metal gig that was taking place in the Student Union one night, in the belief that we were battling Satanists. 

There was one of our group in particular whom I remember going to America one summer to attend a programme with a well-known American evangelical minister and who came back completely changed.  He had a crucifix shaved into the back of his head.  He renounced his family and all his non-Christian friends because they refused to convert and he told them they were all going to hell.  He even told a friend of ours, a fellow Christian, that she didn’t have enough faith because she had a disability - that if she were a "true" Christian, she would already be healed.  That was the beginning of the end for me.  

I started to cut ties with the group and worried that they would hound me to come back.  It was the opposite – it was as if I’d never existed.  It was a huge relief.  I started to question my “faith” – something I hadn’t allowed myself to do before.  I met some Christian priests and a nun on a counselling course I took a short time after I left University and talked to them about their faith and was shocked to see how different it had been from my experience of Christianity.  I then started reading about other religions and spent years exploring all kinds of spiritual and “new age” subjects, although I made a point of not having any sort of religious or spiritual practice for a long time.  I have remained sceptical of any organised religion and of belonging to any group with religious or spiritual overtones, even a Buddhist meditation group, though I do follow a meditation practice of my own.  And I will happily chant Om in my yoga class, or other mantras on my own at home.

I read a great book last year by the Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg that resonates a great deal with what I feel faith is really about – trusting your own deepest experience.  I don’t think there is really a substitute for that, no matter what fancy clothes it might be dressed in.


Laura Moe said...

Nice post.

Annette said...

I was nodding my head in agreement the whole way through this post. We had very similar experiences with extreme Christian groups -- and it did seem to me to be more about emotionalism than faith. I'm with you 100% on this post.

Ty Unglebower said...

I appreciate the candor and depth of this post.