Religion: What it means to me
Religion: What it means to me
When I was a child I had a very strong and natural connection to a true sense of religion. I can claim this in hindsight because, once I entered teenage years and adulthood, it wasn’t so much that I doubted this connection or that there was such a thing as true Religion, it was more that I had lost the confidence to openly feel that connection.
Feeling my connection to God was like a jewel I possessed, hidden away. There were many things in my childhood that could be called ugly but this sense of God being everywhere kept me somehow untarnished or unaffected.
One way I can describe this to you is when I was in nature. I was blessed to grow up on an English farm. We had plums, apples, greengages and damsons all growing on ancient trees which my sister and I would pick and sell at the bottom of the drive. But most days, we’d head outside into nature – mostly the ‘woods’. In springtime it was first ‘bluebell woods’ then it transformed into ‘daffodil woods’, with a generous scattering of primroses. I would pick a bunch of flowers each day to bring home to Mum. All year round, we would jump the ditches, get stuck in the mud, explore – I knew every path, tree and turn in those woods. There were other woods we’d explore too. Another cherished memory is simply sitting in the garden and making daisy necklaces.
In each environment a connection was struck – and I want to try and capture in words the joy that was felt in this connection. It was like these environments or moments with nature gave me a known sense of oneness, of beauty, of joy, of immense knowing; an immense space of a love that didn’t feel at all like emotional love.
In that oneness I felt God, not as a separate ‘man with a beard’, but like a delicate breath, which had been breathed forth and was everywhere and in everything.
It was magical. The most magical experience in this connection with nature and God was the connection with myself. I could sense my own unique sweetness but, as with my sense of God, it wasn’t a sense of myself as a physical being, it was a sense of myself as part of that breath – it was my essence and it felt sublime.
This was my marker of God and my knowing of religion. It was an essence of true oneness, love and divinity, imbued everywhere.
I went to a small Church of England Primary School, which was next to a beautiful 11th Century Norman Church. We sang hymns and I joined the church choir when I was about nine. I went to Brownies in the same village and for a while there, my sense of the oneness of religion felt as if it was everywhere – I was part of a community. Looking back, this was how I was observing and receiving all I was seeing – I was seeing beauty and oneness in everything. Because divinity is always there – in everything and everyone and this was what I was choosing to see.
However, as I moved into early teenage years, the balance seemed to tip, and I started to see more ugliness and observe behaviours which didn’t reflect the divinity I knew was there. I started to sense a great deal of hypocrisy – the purity of the religion I was connected to and was everywhere was starting to feel tarnished within the church and at school. The pure divinity and brotherhood and equality that I was naturally imbued with and knew all others to be, was not being displayed. And I started to feel a sense of inequality with the God which was spoken about in church – he felt like a figurehead, someone we followed.
Whereas the God I knew felt like the warmth of a loving presence who walked alongside me in equal-ness, holding my hand.
I stopped being in the choir at around sixteen and only went at Christmas time until I left for university and didn’t enter a church until, on a return visit home, I joined my youngest sister who herself was now in the choir, and something profound happened. As we went through the order of service we came to a prayer which I would have recited week after week, year after year. It went along the lines of, ‘I’m really sorry for everything I’ve done this past week, please can I seek forgiveness.’
My whole body recoiled. I was never an overly outspoken person, however, in that moment I couldn’t bear the hypocrisy.
Despite not having entered a church for a couple of years, I still had a connection to and sense of religion and God. Each day, to the best of my ability, I respected mankind and treated all persons with whom I interacted with an equal-ness of knowing they were from the same divine breath as me, and I knew God did not judge them or me when I wasn’t as spot on with it as I could have been.
Yet the prayer I was reciting felt like it was insulting everyone by asking them to seek forgiveness: how come they did not innately know of the true connection to religion and God they are imbued with and come from? It was holding God separate – it felt like they were actually attacking God by not being in this oneness of love with him.
Worse still, it felt highly irresponsible – as if people were saying: I’ll do what I want each day, come to church and beg forgiveness, then all will be good... rather than seeking to be loving to the best of their ability in each moment. I’m not saying this is what everyone was doing, but the prayer was inciting this and the people were going along with it.
So I walked out, right at that moment. And have never been back in.
I have walked in and with the breath of religion and God all my life. The connection I described earlier with nature is now a connection I feel in everything – cooking, cleaning, working, writing, interacting, walking. You see, my livingness is my religion. Everything I think and do is my religion – and with this connection I am with God and I am with myself.
It is an ever-expanding connection – I am still not fully holding myself in equal-ness with that which I know to be true – but by having a religion that is a connection with everything I speak, think and do in my day, I expand my sense of my essence of me, which is one and with the beauty of the breath of God, which surrounds the all.