There are many people who don't believe in a higher being. I'm not one of them. I look at the world around me and see the touch of a master's hand in what can only be described by my mind as beautiful design. I don't consider myself religious by any means but I do consider myself spiritual insomuch as I believe in God and communicate with Him and am comfortable with that. I don't need to search for answers or to be convinced for or against and respect how you feel about the matter too. You don't have to believe. It's okay. I still respect you and your right to not believe. I even understand the ire, disappointment and bewilderment that onlookers feel when they see those who believe, whether they flourish, flounder or fail. And many of us do fail spectacularly, don't we?
I was 'born' Roman Catholic to a family that had been that way for many generations. I loved the universality of belonging to such a huge 'family' and feeling cared for and I loved (and still do) the ritual and mysticism. I especially love the devotion and unselfishness of the believers. Not so much clergy, although Sister Eileen at St. Mary Star of the Sea was a peach, but I always took issue with authority figures because I've found that power is intoxicating and most don't handle it well, and my personal experiences bore that out.
I don't know what was the catalyst but my mother and grandmother began to go to a tiny pentecostal congregation some nights and before I knew it, my entire family with one exception, me, had converted and embraced their new religion with fervor. For a long time my family seemed drunk with happiness but I was skeptical. I was asked to shed many beliefs in favor of frankly fantastical stories based all on the Bible and subsequent interpretations of spiritual authorities and I was doubtful. I participated in the small church of warm friendly and generous people and I made a half-hearted attempt at saying the Sinners Prayer but I felt nothing much the same as I felt nothing when I was in the Catholic Church. I kept waiting to feel 'something' and was disappointed when I was told by my pastor that my problem was that I was thinking too much. I realized that any God that required me to suspend logic wasn't the God for me and quietly withdrew while remaining cordial to my friends and family within the community.
Thinking for myself, according to many, my parents, religious teachers and the little church was always a problem it seemed. Around the tulmultuous ages of 15-20-ish I decided that I had to choose between God and myself and chose my own desires. The truth was that I felt rejected by God because I felt He didn't care enough for me to give me some huge epiphany or the gift of speaking in tongues as everyone else in my congregation had. I felt left out of God's Club and although they loved me, I was more of an auxilliary member stuck in some sort of limbo because I hadn't cracked the code. I felt like I failed God and them and drifted away but I had friends who kept reaching out and loving me and pulling me in with their love.
A few of those friends were considered rogues within the church because they challenged authority, not with defiance but with their own fervor and zeal. They loved regardless of whether one towed the lined and it exasperated and later enraged those in power because as long as believers did what they were told under the guise of being a good Christian, everyone would be good well-behaved little soldiers. Eventually my friends would literally be barred from entering the church in a shameful display of abuse of power and I stood there and wept because while I was in good standing with the congregation for appearing every Sunday and tithing, I felt spiritually empty, while they were driven out because their passion and spirituality didn't fit well.
My dear friends didn't even use that horrible experience to their advantage as they well could have. Instead, they began to conduct little bible studies in their home on Tuesday nights and had an open house to anyone with an open heart and it was there that I first felt a spiritual awakening.
I am reminded of a little joke about how some churches like to clean a fish before they catch it, because I had been found wanting many times in the little church. I was a smoker then, and refused to wear skirts or dresses at the time because I was very self-conscious then about my weight and I was penalized by not being allowed to teach Sunday School or sing in front of the congregation (until they got choir robes) all of which drove a further wedge into my feelings of rejection and not being up to snuff. Contrast that to the humble little bible group that didn't care what I did as long as I wasn't disruptive. I and subsequently, my spiritual life bloomed under such freedom and acceptance and I had a real thirst and curiosity to know God.
I also realized that my withdrawal from God was a mistake. I had blamed Him (and I do think of Him as a 'him' but am comfortable with other descriptors) for other people's mistakes. The distance between us wasn't because He had rejected me; I was just led to believe I didn't know the magic formula to be favored, but that was human error, on my part and on others I trusted with my spiritual life. Now I see that while we are all on different walks on our spiritual journeys, should we choose to follow them, we owe it to ourselves, to God and to each other to be honest and responsible. What I believe may not be what you believe but if I'm going to believe in God, to put Him in a box and try to define Him for others is dishonest, self-serving and destructive.
The best way that I can show I am any kind of believer is to live my life in a way where others might wonder and seek out answers and desire it for themselves and if they need my input to tell them, this is how I feel and what I think, but you have to think and decide for yourself. Don't let anyone tell you because there are no magic tricks or secret handshakes. There IS love and compassion, forgiveness and gratitude and power and humility and if it seems so simple, it is. If it seems more universal and less religious, it is. Maybe that's the point.