As anyone who has read this blog will know by now, I have not only left Christian Science, but Christianity as well. I am not religious at all. The Judeo-Christian/Abrahamic “God” is a capricious, sadistic, insecure concept of deity I have rejected. I would say I am perhaps a variety of agnostic: I believe there is a higher power, but it remains somewhat undefined for me. I feel like I have an idea of what I think it is, but is that how it actually is? I don’t necessarily know. I am forever suspicious of anyone who claims to “know God”.
The spiritual path I now follow is what many would call Native American or First Nations spirituality, also known as the Red Road. It is a path that brought me tremendous healing when I was in a dark place during the year my parents both passed away. It is free of dogma, and allows for a personal relationship to your higher power that isn’t defined by someone else’s preconceived notions. Yes, there are protocols at ceremonies, and there are those who sometimes will be abrupt with you if you violate them, but I’ve come to see that the protocols exist for reasons–usually to teach lessons; illustrate something; or as a form of respect for the ceremony, its participants, and Mother Earth. Respect is extremely important–not only for ceremonies and those who run them, others around you, the Earth (Mother Earth), elders, youth, and the environment around you, but also for yourself. Gratitude is equally important–gratitude for all that we have in our lives–I have been told that we should never run out of things to be thankful for, including life itself. Each day is something to be grateful for. I love this walk. It fits my worldview in a way that Christian Science never did, and no religion could. As one who is not of First Nations/Native American descent, I feel privileged and honoured to be able to be a part of the ceremonies I participate in, and to gain knowledge from elders who share it, and to be on this walk.
Which brings me to the main topic of this post. I spent the better part of today with good friends gathering wood for our sweat lodge. Sweat lodge is a ceremony I attend every week. It is my “church” if you will, but it is something very unlike any church at all. If you want to know more about sweat lodges, the Wikipedia article is pretty good, and also gives links for additional research. One thing that I always think about when we do work for the lodge is the fact that we never take collection. What we contribute is the work that is needed to keep it going–things like gathering wood for the fire (which we find free of charge–usually from landowners who want the wood hauled away), the rocks that are heated in the fire (which we gather from old quarries or from creek beds), fir boughs that line the floor (which we gather in the woods).
After each sweat lodge ceremony, there is a feast, and everyone contributes something to it. It really doesn’t take much if any money to keep the lodge running, and if we do need to buy something (currently, we’re working to acquire a wood splitter to make the wood gathering easier), we find a way to raise funds, or someone or a few people step forward to buy or contribute whatever is needed. The main thing is, most everyone who comes regularly contributes something, whether it be certain food we enjoy weekly at the feast, and/or work to gather what is needed to run the lodge, and its not out of any sense of obligation or “you’ll go to hell if you don’t contribute”. Nobody is ever asked to contribute, and nobody is shunned if they don’t–not everybody can contribute in visible ways. The word is just put out that we’re gathering wood, or we’re gathering rocks, or whatever, and people meet up and we get it done.
I also love the fact that there is no building committee, no treasurer, no fancy church to maintain, and no central authority to be accountable to other than to respect the wishes of the person who runs the lodge. There is no membership–you just show up, and all are truly welcome, no matter where they are in life. It’s a very simple way that when we see that something needs to get done, we simply just do it. No questions asked, no procedure, other than permission from the person who conducts the lodge. It’s all very organic. It’s the path for me. It’s not necessarily the path for everyone, and I respect that. Many find their peace and salvation in their religious faith, or none at all, or in a complete disbelief in any deity. Where I do have a big problem is when someone tries to convert me to their faith, or tell me I’m going to suffer eternal damnation because I don’t follow some religious path. My usual answer now when someone tells me I’m going to hell is, “no, I’m not going to hell, I’ve already been there.”