New Landscapes for the Soul
The story of one person's journey beyond religion.
by Elizabeth Miles.
My spiritual journey has led me along some interesting paths and
across many different religious and spiritual landscapes.
Seeking out a spiritual path, which is different from the one into
which we are born or raised can put us into conflict with family,
friends and community and the consequences, in extreme cases, can be
Yet, if we embark on our own spiritual path, asking the hard and
important questions in pursuit of the inner voice, we challenge what
makes us afraid and our diversity can become a precious opportunity to
recognize ourselves in others.
I was about nine when I first refused to go to Church. My loud protest
outraged my Grandmother. Despite her foretelling my wicked ways would
place me in jeopardy, my father stood up for me and I stayed home.
Unlike my father who was a comfortable agnostic until a year before he
died I wanted to believe in a God, I just didn't like going to church –
well that church anyway.
At 10, I discovered my Aunt's church. The chanting, smells and
ritual evoked a sense of wonder into my young imagination. Three months
later the novelty of the smells and bells of the High Anglo Catholics
wore off and I was back to being "wicked".
At 14, I became a Baptist and was dunked head to toe in a pool by
the rather nice Rev. Norman Wright wearing green wellingtons.
At 52, I am back to being churchless. My faith, or belief in a
universal deity, is stronger than ever and I am encountering many people
from a rich diversity of backgrounds who are like-minded, openly seeking
or practicing their spirituality who do not belong or identify with an
organized or formalized religion.
The Queenswood Centre in Victoria is actively marketing retreats,
spiritual direction and workshops. The spiritual directors are a
combination of lay people, ministers and those from a specific religious
order or tradition. The Spiritual Director used to be the province of
ordained ministers and those within religious orders, but this has
Kate Fagin-Taylor is the Executive Director of the
Queenswood Centre. “Queenswood is seeing an increasing number of people
looking to find someone to talk to about important matters. Many of the
people who come here want some one to meet them where they are at
spiritually and that can be anything from those who have mixed feelings
about faith and belief to an ordained minister. They want a different
perspective. We offer a diverse range of people who can help them with
their spiritual path and we use tools from a variety of cultures.”
Queenswood has a sliding scale for people seeking services and in some cases offer a bursary.
Marriages, births, and burials are traditionally where the non-religious and religious encounter new ways of thinking about God and spirituality. However, a couple of weeks ago I went to a very meaningful service for a friend who died from cancer. After the service, I realized that her faith or belief had not been mentioned and yet, the event – a celebration of her life - had felt so spiritual. I really felt that my friend was there with us as her story unfolded through a storyteller and as people from her family and her friends shared their stories. And perhaps that is the true meaning that we seek when we say we are seeking spirituality. It is there in the everyday things that we all do, that our friends and our family do.
One of my favorite bible stories is the story of Jesus and the Woman at the Well. A woman who was spurned by her community and yet Jesus, a leader took time to speak with her and help her. Whether the story is a true account or not has ceased to matter to me, it is the relationship which brings me closer to experiencing a universal spirituality – I can be close to someone I don’t even know and by knowing them, I can know myself.
In his book Creative Process in Gestalt Therapy Joseph Zinker writes
“Creativity is the expression of the presence of God in my hands, eyes, brain – in all of me. Creation is each person’s statement of godliness, of transcending the daily struggle for survival and the burden of mortality.”
If we break free from the boundaries that keep us rigid in a religious belief that grows tired and looses meaning we will find the freedom to sing dance praise and love each other and that is, I believe, the beginning of an abundant and united spiritual landscape full of colour and difference, in harmony with purpose.
And a footnote: My Dad discovered his spiritual path during the year before he died. He had attended all of my religious conversions and commitments, been there when I gave my first sermon and argued passionately (for hours on end) as to why God could not possibly exist. Six weeks before he died he gave me a hand-written piece of paper he had kept since he was a youth – over 70 years before and said, “I think this is true – don’t you?”
I may never see tomorrow;
There’s no written guarantee,
and things that happened yesterday,
belong to history.
I can’t predict the future,
I cannot change the past,
I have just this precious moment,
I must treat it as my last.
I must use this moment wisely,
for it soon will pass away
and be lost to me forever
as part of yesterday.
I must exercise compassion,
help the fallen to their feet,
be a friend unto the helpless,
make an empty life complete.
The unkindest thing I do today,
may never be undone,
and friendships that I fail to win
may nevermore be won.
I may not have another chance
On bended knees to pray
And thank God with humble heart
For giving me this day.
Elizabeth Miles is a writer, mediator/facilitator and art therapist in Victoria BC. For information or consultation call 250-589-6828