I believe in God.
I didn’t always. I was raised by an Agnostic Mother, a Druid Father, and a lapsed Episcopalian Step-Father. As a young child, I began attending a Pentecostal Church alone. Each Sunday and Wednesday, the church bus would pick me up and whisk me off to Gateway Christian Center, where I would sit in a long pew with other children while Brother Billy used pastels to illustrate that week’s Bible lesson. Loud Christian Rock music would play on the overhead speakers, until the crowning moment when the lights were cut and a black light lit up his canvas. The room would erupt in oohs and awws – as what had seemed unclear was suddenly illuminated. I loved church, and was even a member of the Primroses (think Girl Scouts for God). My time at GCC came to an abrupt end however, when a well-meaning member lectured my mother on allowing me to watch Scooby Doo. Stating it was evil and against God’s will.
For nearly a decade, I would abandon God.
In High School, my boyfriend Bryan attended a First United Methodist Church. I started going to services with him and his family. We would attend Church lock-ins, socials, and dances together. As is often the case with young love, we eventually parted ways. I tried to hold on to the Church, but seeing him there each week became too difficult.
I felt God had abandoned me.
Throughout the rest of High School, College, and most of my adult life I would be a devout Atheist. I was surprised when Faith found me. I was on my knees, kneeling atop a black cushion, facing a white wall in the upstairs Zendo at Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. I wasn’t looking for God, or an experience of Faith, or even Enlightenment. I was simply tired. Tired of trying, tired of loving, tired of living – so tired surrender was the only thing left in me.
“You can’t get by on second-hand faith. It doesn’t matter what your momma believes you got to find out what you believe.”Joyce MeyerMy heart was broken. Broken so thoroughly that it took me nearly 3 years to feel again. To allow myself to love again. In the midst of my brokenness, I found my teacher. Or maybe my teacher found me? She invited me to come to LA and practice with her. To sit. And so I did.
I didn’t know the first thing about Zen or meditation, or Sesshin. I arrived on the doorstep of Hazy Moon like a lost orphan. I was still walking around in the fog of absent love. I felt numb. Looking back, I realize numbness is a gift. When we’re numb, we stop trying to make sense of it all. We silence our analytical minds long enough to come back to our bodies. Numbness blocks out our thoughts while heightening our senses, giving our minds a much-needed rest.
“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear”.Sesshin (a gathering of the mind), is a silent meditation retreat. For 8-12 hours each day, participants sit in Zazen. We even eat while meditating, in a choreographed dance of mindfulness called Oryoki. Sesshin is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. Days of silence and confusion and pain. Pain in your legs, back, shoulders, heart. All the pain you’ve spent a lifetime attempting to avoid – here it is – and you have nowhere to run.
There in that silence and pain, staring at a blank white wall, I heard the voice of God. The voice inside us all. The voice urging us to take the next right step. To do all with love. To stop doing altogether – and simply be.
I walked away from my first Sesshin with two things I never expected. Faith. And God.
We must remember that we are each others caretakers in this world. Our highest purpose is to promote good will, joy, and love in all we do. A belief in God is not necessary to live up to this purpose. A belief in Love is.
Which brings me to my latest heartbreak. I have begun attending church again. I began because the man who broke my heart attends church, and going made me feel closer to him. I feel vulnerable and exposed admitting that – but it is the truth. And truth is the foundation of love.
I have begun attending a church where they quote the Bible as often as they quote Indian Spiritual Gurus, Zen teachers, and even A Course in Miracles. A church of mixed faith and mixed ideology. A church where the only true doctrine is LOVE.
I don’t care one way or the other if you believe in God or Spirit or Christ or the great I AM. I don’t care if you pray on your knees or spend hours sitting on black cushions staring at white walls. I only care that you have faith in Truth. And belief in Love.
“Some people don’t understand the promises they’re making when they make them,” I said.
“Right, of course. But you keep the promise anyway. That’s what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway.”
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars