Today’s Spiritual Sidebar is featuring Ang’s homie, Leslie. Leslie and Ang have been friends since they met while planning their weddings in 2006. Their conversations have evolved over time from candy buffets, to literature, to comforting and relating each other when they both lost their fathers. Ang has always found Leslie’s description of herself as a “Recovering Catholic” amusing and was very interested to hear her take on spirituality.
1) Tell us about yourself.
My name is Leslie, and I’m 35 years old. My Instagram bio describes me this way: Woman, writer, wife, mother. I’m many other things, too, but I move through the world with these descriptors most firmly anchored to me.
2) What do you believe spirituality is?
Spirituality to me is a relationship with what’s divine in the world. I believe that everything is, or has the potential to be, divine. Cheryl Strayed writes about this in one of her Dear Sugar columns, describing this phenomenon as “the ordinary miraculous.” I think mindfulness is a key aspect of noticing and appreciating the divinity in all things – if we have our heads buried in our iPhones, we will miss quite a bit of the ordinary miraculous.
I also believe very much in mystery, that there are many things in the world that do not have answers and never will. These things without answers range from where we came from to where we go when we die to the complete meaning of T.S. Eliot’s poem “Ash-Wednesday.” We can speculate, we can write treatises and books, but we cannot really know for sure. That uncertainty, that unknown, is something to be respected. For me, respecting mystery and my own lack of answers reminds me of how small I am. I can’t help but feel humble in the face of the unknown that surrounds me.
3) Did you attend church? Did you identify with a specific religion? How was it presented to you? How did you relate to it?
I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic Church for my entire childhood. (I also attended a Christian school from kindergarten through 5th grade.) At the age of 16, I was confirmed into the church, and shortly after, I stopped attending. Church was boring to me. Sunday school? Snoozeville. I’d been listening to talk about Jesus my whole life, but none of it resonated with me. And that made me feel guilty. I wanted to believe, but there was nothing in my heart but guilt. There was a fair amount of disgust for myself, too – it’s really difficult to approach the subject of sin with a sensitive child (as I was) and enable her to understand such a deep and complex subject.
I have no doubt that my teachers and elders within the church had the best intentions. I actually loved my church and my private school, all my Christian friends and teachers – none of them were bad people – but the things that I was taught about God did not feel true to me. Oh, how I wanted them to feel true. I tried so hard.
4) Tell us about a significant moment that caused a shift in your spiritual development.
When I was 18, I met someone who called himself an agnostic, a term I’d never heard before. He explained agnosticism as a “don’t ask, don’t tell” type of thing, which didn’t make much sense to me. However, meeting someone who had a different viewpoint on all things God paved the way for me to really begin asking questions, reading different texts, and exploring what it was I actually believed – not what I was told to believe, but what I, as a free thinking individual, actually held to be true. This coincided with my first semester of college, which in its own right is a time of huge growth, change, and evolution.
As I grew into my early 20s, I started reading more philosophical and spiritual texts. I was in the process of working on my English degree, so I was introduced to many writers – the cool thing about studying literature is that you are essentially studying life. I read up on Christianity and Buddhism, Atheism and Kabbalah. My favorite book was the Tao Te Ching (translated by Stephen Mitchell) – as I read it, I felt its words sink into the very core of myself. “WOW!” my heart said. I experienced the same feeling when I read Joseph Campbell, who studied and wrote about comparative mythology. Through all of this reading and exploration, I began to really embrace the idea that there are many paths up the same mountain of life. I do not believe in absolute truth – or that any one religion or spiritual path is the right one for everyone. I completely respect that others might feel differently, because they are following a different path. For the majority of my 20s, I thought of myself as an agnostic with Taoist leanings.
5) What is your spiritual life like today?
My beliefs are still in the process of evolving. I’m still reading and learning and trying to undo some of my own fears and prejudices. I still struggle with saying the words “prayer,” “worship,” “religion,” “faith,” and “church.” (Even touching on the subject of divinity like I did earlier made me feel strange.) These are such loaded terms, and I’m slowly unpacking them and finding what they mean to me. Someone described me recently as someone who doesn’t know what she believes, and I would say that may be partly true – and I actually don’t think it’s a bad thing to not know. Remember, I’m a big believer in mystery, so I accept the unknown as a teacher and a guide in my life. I don’t need to know the answers, though they are very nice when they come.
My family attends a Unitarian Universalist church, which is a free, liberal faith with an emphasis on community service and social justice, and I find it to be a safe place to examine myself. I also think it’s a wonderful faith to expose children to, because they get to explore and learn about different faiths in their Religious Exploration classes – something I wish I’d gotten to experience as a child. I don’t read spiritual books with the rabidity that I did in my early 20s, but I do still explore through journaling, thinking, and attending church – and it’s not as if spiritual lessons are only gained through those avenues. Reading poetry, listening to music, washing dishes can all be spiritual experiences – remember the “ordinary miraculous”? As far as spiritual reading goes, though, I have carried a pocket-sized copy of the Tao Te Ching in my bag for many years, and I also have a Christian app called She Reads Truth on my iPhone. I love Anne Lamott’s essays on faith, and I find Pema Chodron to be one of my touchstones.
My main hopes for my spiritual journey are that I will remain open to possibilities, miracles (yikes, another heavy term), and truth; that I will grow in my mindfulness; that I will remain respectful and kind towards others; that I will embrace what feels right to me, even if I’m told it’s wrong; that I will continue to help others. I’m looking forward to where life will take me and how my spirituality will unfold. I know I have an infinite amount of things to learn with a finite amount of time in which to do it – but that is one of the beautiful things about life: it’s fleeting and thus it’s something to be cherished.
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