As many of you know, I have been a graduate student in Theology for the past two years. These years have not been pleasurable for me for a variety of reasons, but one of the most painful parts of any endeavor is dealing with being let down. It’s taken a while to pinpoint what the frustration I’ve felt is due to, but I think I’ve pinned it down. I also think that it might be helpful for others to read.
By the time I decided to go to graduate school for theology I’d already gone through a period of time of being extremely “pious” or conservatively Catholic—for example, in high school I frequently drove to Eucharistic adoration prior to class. In college I hit a point when I realized the black and white moral code I’d believed in did not truly exist and neither did the God associated with those black and white morals. Without any other viable option as to what/who God was, I decided I was an atheist or secular humanist. This was a partially correct answer as that God does not exist (though is a useful starting point on a spiritual path). After college I moved to New York City and met a glorious group of spiritual people from a variety of traditions and with varying amounts of appreciation for religion. With these people as my guides, teachers, and friends, I learned and experienced that religions or spiritual traditions (religion tends to be a loaded term for many so spiritual tradition takes away a little of the automatic rejection response) are trying to capture and pass down to others an experience of the reality of interconnectedness and love amongst all created things (sentient and non-sentient beings).
It was with this understanding that all religions are carving out a pathway or procedure by which followers/believers can tap into the underlying reality that all is Love that I entered graduate school. With this understanding the purpose of any religion is not to pray to the “right” God, because that question does not really make sense anymore, but rather to use the method laid out by a religion to tap into that Love that is “God” (for lack of a better, less-charged word). My mission (though not well articulated) was to reinvest or re-understand the symbols and rituals of Catholicism for myself through this lens.
With this mindset, the specifics of rituals and canons, conversations about how more power should go the laity, women’s ordination being necessary, etc are only important insofar as they aid in the mission of the Church helping people tap into the understanding that it’s all Love (all things, all ideas, all creatures). For example, do I think women should be ordained? Yes, the Church has no truly legitimate reasons not to ordain women. However, hopefully the lack of women’s ordination won’t stop people from being able to use the rituals of the Church to tap into that undercurrent of Love. The trappings of religion will always be in need of fixing as society evolves to be more and more conscious, but that doesn’t mean the tradition is broken.
This Love is everything mindset particularly becomes problematic when discussing suffering and evil, as it sounds like “Well, if all things are love, then murder is really loving, right?” Not quite. That argument and what I’m trying to articulate come from different places. I would say quite definitively that evil and suffering exist and are on the one hand horrible and ought to be prevented, but on the other had Julian of Norwich said quite well, “All shall be well, All shall be well, All manner of things shall be well.” The challenge becomes understanding that both are equally true and not contradictory at all.
The past two years have been a challenge to communicate my ideas in a way that is understandable to others… and overall I’ve failed (much like I’ve probably done in this post). Mostly what this means is that I’ve consistently felt sorely misunderstood. Not in a bratty teenager way, but in a way where I’ve understood where the people I’m speaking with are coming from, but they don’t really seem to get where I’m coming from. I’ve had minor victories here and there, but mostly it’s been a disaster. One that has left me spiritually and emotionally exhausted.
One last thought to put sexuality into the mix of this understanding of spirituality…. Sex is a privileged space where realizing one’s union with another becomes easier. Hopefully, by realizing union with one person, this by corollary can extend to a felt sense of union with all things (and God). Religious traditions like to keep people from participating in sex outside of very specific circumstances. On the one hand this makes sense, because sex has major repercussions (procreation for example), and can also cause lots of emotional injury. However, by clamping down on the space where some of the most deep mystical experiences can occur, religions also prevent individuals from experiencing God as fully as they might (even when they are having sex within the boundaries thanks to the guilt and hang-ups due to previously held beliefs). By stifling personal experiences of God as the undercurrent of Love in one of the easier spaces to experience it, individuals remain dependent on the rituals of a religion to provide these experiences.