I’ve always felt that if I had to describe my life in terms of the tortoise and the hare fable, I’m the tortoise. My spiritual evolution has been slow and steady.
I grew up in the seventies in a denomination where the only way to be saved was by immersion at some ambiguous “age of accountability” and even after baptism, you could fall away at any time. Grace was seldom given more than lip service and the Holy Spirit was something you got at baptism and never talked about again. On the most-emphasized sin list: instrumental music, un-submissive women, dancing and lust.
Image provided by Heather Reynolds. Used with permission.
My mom believed there were many paths to God, and that dogma was baloney. She made sure to debunk anything that needed debunking. This feeling that it was OK to question anything and everything was a priceless foundation. I hear people ask all the time how they should proceed in raising their kids: church? doctrines? I think about my mom and how none of that mattered nearly as much as the encouragement to question it all.
As a teen, I loved the things of god. My perspective on god and spirituality was broad and ecumenical, but I was a typical teen who wanted to change the world. I fell in love with a boy from church and married at age eighteen because, well, it’s better to marry than to burn with passion. We went into ministry in a pretty dysfunctional non-denominational church that felt “radical” and “sold out” compared to the church of my childhood. During those years, I moved away from the open mindset my mom had raised me with and sunk deep into dogma, thinking that this was a spiritually superior way of being.
My marriage was awful. A counselor I saw gave me an assignment: no “shoulds” for two weeks. Do only what I wanted, with no regard for what was right or wrong. In essence, it was a grace assignment. I skipped church. This seems silly to me now, but it was huge at the time (we were in ministry you see, so I was skipping work too). My husband took our two girls to church and I stayed in bed. It was heavenly. The second Sunday, as I was luxuriating in bed, I began wondering how the people at church whom I loved were doing and wondering what my girls were doing in Sunday School. I wantedto go to church. Hm. Interesting. Up to that point, I had been so focused on what was right, I hadn’t known my own wants and desires. I was completely disconnected from my heart. I thought if I removed the law, I would discover that my desires were sinful. Instead, I discovered they were about the people I loved and the things I loved. This was my beginning with grace and freedom and next it led to truth.
In my late twenties, I left ministry and became a licensed hypnotherapist and social worker. My journey at that time was a journey of self-discovery. Grace had given me the freedom to pursue truth. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the truth was setting me free. As I became more and more truthful about who I was, and what I wanted, my marriage fell apart. After sixteen years of marriage, my husband revealed to me that he was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, had a sexual addiction and had not been faithful. It was an excruciating time in my life. I did the religious things to try to cope like prayer and fasting, but my marriage fell apart anyway. I had done what I thought God wanted. They had told me if I followed the rules (sexual “purity”, marry a “Christian”, service to god….) my life would be blessed. God had failed and betrayed me. It was then that I realized that in thinking god had failed me, I obviously felt that what god was about was positive life outcomes. I had been using god as a vehicle for control and security. I had to decide if my faith was about control or about love. I chose love, which meant choosing surrender.
My journey since that time has continued to be about grace and truth, and surrender. As the years have gone by, life has upped the ante on surrender of control. Over the last 15 years I’ve had to learn surrender when one of my children was diagnosed with mental illness, and one attempted suicide, and one was raped. Each time life hits me over the head, I return to the idea of surrendering to the present reality instead of trying to fix it, and I find a freedom in it. I’ve also been trying to surrender where knowledge is concerned. I’m a huge questioner still, but I don’t think I’ll find the answers anymore. I am learning to enjoy the adventure of unknowing. I’m learning to walk on water, and put to death daily old ideas so new birth can occur. I don’t know what THE truth is anymore, but I try to connect to MY truth. I don’t know what god is anymore, but I know what god is to me. God to me is the logic, the ultimate reality, the life force that creates and sustains reality. I don’t really understandit, but my contemplative practice is the attempt to connect with the is-ness of this world and receive reality and experience grace in the midst of it rather than raging against it. In doing this, I find there is good wrapped up in evil, light wrapped up in darkness and life wrapped up in death.
I’m a scientist by profession now and love the connections I see between science and faith. I’m writing about the parallel between evolution in nature and evolution of spirit. In nature, it is the infinite capacity for error (mutations) on the genome that provides the raw material for life to evolve and thus continue through natural selection. Spiritually, grace allows for infinite error (everything is permissible) and it is this error that also provides the raw material for human consciousness and spirit to evolve. And evolution is slow and steady. At least that’s how it has been in my reality.
For more from Heather, check out her website.