AN ATHEIST RESPONDS TO MY BOOKEarly in November, just before I would leave Albuquerque for British Columbia, my friend Sharon Prewitt invited me on a hike with her and eight other women who meet once a week to walk together. This hike would be at the Elena Gallegos Open Space in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. One of the women I chatted with as we walked was Margery Barol. Soon afterwards we became friends on Facebook. And then, to my surprise, I discovered that Margery had bought and read
GUEST POST by
To Drink from the Silver Cup. I love it when I learn that someone has bought the book, not from me, but on their own, so to speak. And I especially love it when any reader tells me how the book has affected them.
I have generally thought of my audience as conscious spiritual journeyers; seekers; outcasts of one stripe or another; LGBTQ+ folk, especially those with a religious background; parents of LGBTQ+ people; and perhaps members of faith communities still trying to decide how to include LGBTQ+ people in their fellowship. But Margery is none of those; in fact, she has told me that the descriptors
agnostic/atheist/nonseeker/non-religious person could all apply to her. And yet my book resonated with her. She messaged me about something unrelated, then added, “Your book stirred up things for me that I haven't contemplated for eons. It did prompt me to write a bit about my own spiritual journey, even though I hesitate to call it that!”
This was when I learned that Margery had read my book, and with a little encouragement she sent me what she’d written. I asked if I could post it as a guest blog because I thought a lot of readers would resonate with it. Also, I loved the way Margery included some of her mother’s story in the telling of her own.
Your book certainly stirred up some old memories for me!
I would never call myself a spiritual seeker. My mother was, all her life. Perhaps I watched her struggle and developed a cynicism about spiritual paths. I grew up in the Methodist Church. I can still smell the dark wooden pews, so hard and uncomfortable. It seemed I had to sit still forever. But I loved singing the hymns, and I knew many by heart. My mother sang hymns to me every night as I was growing up. Her beautiful soft soprano voice lulled me to sleep. I asked to join the church when I was nine. I don’t remember why, but the rituals of communion and community probably were important to me even at that young age. I adored the little white bible my parents gave me to mark the occasion, and a simple silver cross I wore for many years. In high school I enjoyed the youth choir and the social life of youth fellowship. We took a bus trip to Philadelphia where I saw the Liberty Bell and the Betsy Ross house, and attended a black church service where the parishioners yelled out “amens” and “praise God” after every phrase the minister spoke. But in my senior year, a friend committed suicide, and when I went to the minister of our church for solace, he told me that my dear, sweet friend had gone to hell. I walked out the church door and never went back.
My mother grew up in the tiny North Carolina mountain town of Montreat. It was established by the Southern Presbyterian Church in the late 1800s. Its most famous resident was Billy Graham whose mother was a friend of my grandmother. My grandmother was one of the first residents, moving there from Philadelphia in 1898 for health reasons. The clean mountain air returned her to good health, and within a few months she had purchased a lot and built a cabin. She married a retired railroad engineer 30 years her senior, and they raised 3 children. The Bible was read every morning and night, and church activities defined their lives. When my mother graduated from high school, she continued her education at the Westminster Choir School in Dayton, Ohio, and eventually became a church choir director.
I was born when Mother was 35. By that time she was questioning her spiritual beliefs, although she always maintained she was a Christian. She attended ashrams in the summers, and sometimes explored the Pentecostal faiths, taking me along. I remember the tent revival of Spiritualists, where a bald man stood up before the crowd, rubbing his head to call the spirit of his dead mother. He acted as a medium, where parishioners would use his mother’s spirit to get messages from their dead loved ones. And at least one time we drove to a tiny church in the rural hills where the “Holy Rollers” held services. Everyone there was black, and vocalized their prayers throughout the service. Later my mother studied mysticism, taking a mail order course from the Rosicrucian Order. She received exercises every month she had to do in private. It was all very mysterious to me. The only thing I knew about were her meditations. Sometimes she would let me sit silently with her while she lit red votive candles and prayed in the dark. As an older adult she found the teachings of Joel Goldsmith and Walter Russell gave her the spiritual sustenance she craved.
Religion has always disappointed me. In fact I find religion a source of so much hypocrisy. Wars are fought; people are persecuted; hate is spread, all in the name of some religion or faith. When I was doing Shanti trainings with priests during my time as a volunteer helping people living with AIDS, I wondered why these sweet, caring men were not “allowed” to love one another. I saw Jesus in them: a sweet, caring gay man who walked the countryside preaching peace and love, and being persecuted for his “hippie” ideology. Why was the Catholic Church so threatened by sexuality that it banned it entirely?
All forms of prejudice look absurd to me—pointless and degrading. And arrogant. Nowadays the Christian fundamentalists make me crazy with their narrow vision of what their believers should believe.
Even though I sometimes miss the community of church, I find solace in the church of Mother Nature. I see “God” in every sunset and every leaf; I feel “God” in every warm hug and every lick from my dog’s tongue! If Life makes me afraid or uncertain, I find my comfort, not in a church or on a therapist’s couch, but in the beauty of nature. Even though I enjoy and need the company of others, I only find companionship nurturing if the time we spend is in exploring the woods or deserts or beaches of our life experience. All of the times I have needed to grieve a loss or a disappointment, I have retreated to a quiet, private grove to let my tears soak the soil.
I can in no way relate to your struggles of faith. But I admire your tenacity to find peace in your struggle. If anything, I feel anger that you had to go through the struggle at all. It escapes me that we humans pile such burdens onto those we supposedly love, and then wonder why they take such different paths from our own. You have amazing strength. To come out of your personal darkness, and to share that journey with others, is an immeasurable gift.
Thanks for listening to my diatribe!
And mostly, thanks for sharing your wounds. I truly hope your healing continues… Read More