As a little girl growing up in Denver, I had to take 3 city buses each way to school and home every day (I went to a private school). This made traveling around the city by bus – all by myself – seem like normal behavior to me, beginning about age six. My parents slept in until noon on Sundays, so I got in the habit of getting on the bus on Sunday morning and going to church or Sunday school. I tried out a different church every Sunday. If I liked what I experienced, I might stay awhile and perhaps even memorize Bible verses so I could “win” a Bible. Some churches would have a youth choir, so I would stay and sing hymns with the choir with great enthusiasm until it was time to explore further. I even went to Jewish temple on Friday nights with one friend, and to a Wednesday night Christian Science service with another. Finally, as I entered sixth grade, I landed at the Episcopalian church near my home. I liked it. It had all the mystery and ritual of the Catholic Church, but it was in English – and you were free to do whatever you pleased as opposed to being under the guidance of a priest.
I had found my own religious brew: freedom of thought and action combined with mystery, ritual and ceremony. I didn’t really understand the spiritual principles underlying it all, but one message became deeply imbedded: God was temperamental. You didn’t want to get on His Bad Side, because punishment would surely follow. It seems now that I wasn’t so worried about going to hell when I died as I feared unthinkable punishments while still living – for being selfish, irresponsible, ornery, stubborn, sassy (“Mommy, you make me want to vomit!”) and other undesirable traits which my mother clearly saw in me and helpfully pointed out. If I wasn’t careful, the Great Cosmic Thumb would descend from the sky and rub my face into the dirt until I learned my lesson of humility, subservience, selflessness. I was on earth to do the will of God and others – certainly not my own. But I was a willful child.
We moved to Santa Fe when I was in 6th grade. I was baptized and confirmed at the Episcopalian church there – the first ever Episcopalian in my family. Then, two years later, we moved to Albuquerque and my church life was suspended for many years. I went to Catholic mass with boyfriends, but it was an occasional thing.
Internally, I continued to live in fear of Divine Wrath. Unhappy in my first marriage, I feared God would strip me of everything because I wasn’t grateful enough for what I did have and was selfish enough to yearn for more. I became agoraphobic – afraid to leave the house for fear God would strike me – or worse, my two little boys – dead, just to make a point. Just before my third son was born, I awakened from my state of dread. For some reason, one day I visualized my tombstone. It was engraved as follows:
“She Stuck It Out”
That horrified me. I did not want that to be the summary statement of my one and only life. That was not what I wanted to teach or model for my children. It was up to me to claim as rich and full a life as I could possibly encompass, rather than cowering in fear of divine punishment for being selfish and greedy. So I risked. Terrified, I told my husband I wanted a divorce…and waited for the Cosmic Thumb to Smush me. Nothing happened. My baby was born, and the divorce went through 5 weeks later.
One week to the day after that, I met my (highly improbable) second husband, who moved in three days later. That was forty years ago, and he’s still with me. The development of our relationship over time, along with many outside influences and experiences, has transformed my perception of God, of Divinity, of intimacy, and of union into one of Lover and Beloved rather than Temperamental Parent/Lord and Disobedient Child/Servant. I guess you could say I grew up in all dimensions of being simultaneously.
During those years, there have been many profound and soul-transforming experiences. A daughter was born. I read deeply and widely. I went to encounter groups, weekend workshops, seminars, enlightenment intensives. I went to see the Mevlevi Dervishes turn. I had an enormous spiritual opening that triggered a complete re-integration process for me in terms of who I am and what my life means. My husband participated for years in the most traditional Native American ceremonies, which deeply moved and changed me. I worked with a spiritual teacher in the Sufi tradition. I traveled to Turkey and was received as a spiritual family member among the dervishes. I found Unity Center of Walnut Creek and the Unity Movement, and became involved in church again every Sunday. I graduated with an M.A. in Consciousness Studies, and then created and ran a graduate program in Interdisciplinary Consciousness Studies in the Bay Area for seven years, teaching a wide range of fairly esoteric courses. My Unity minister was murdered one Sunday morning, and I was launched into ministry with her death. I was minister of one of the first all-faith churches, which I pioneered – Unity of the Spirit – for 14 years. Then I spent five years teaching financial planners and advisors in the US, Australia, UK and Netherlands how to listen deeply, connect at the heart, express empathy, and help their clients create a life of meaning and purpose – a life truly worth living.
It has been a long strange journey, and I’m immensely grateful for every moment of it. There is much that I can share that may be of value to others who are also consciously, intentionally on this journey.