"There is only one reality, but there are many ways that reality can be interpreted." BKS Iyengar
I was raised between the Catholic church on my mom's side, and a protestant Menonite church on my dad's side. Also, I liked church. I liked the Catholic church's rituals, architecture, art and color but most importantly that mass was short! When I went to church with my father, it was a whole day event starting around 9 and ending at 3pm. But what I liked about that church was bible study and the sermons. When there was a good preacher, usually a guest preacher from another church or sometimes from another city, I was riveted: moved to my very core and often to tears of hope and faith. To this day, I LOVE a good sermon.
In bible study, I was always somewhat of a troublemaker though because I COULD NOT accept the idea that only Christians would be saved and everyone else would burn in fire and brimstone. It depressed me deeply because I had friends who were not Christian and were, in my young estimation at the time, good people and I often said to the teacher that I couldn't believe in a God that would condemn good people. I was lucky that our teacher was young and allowed for open discussion. And I was lucky to grow up in this great city, New York, where I had friends in school that were Jewish, Muslim, Jehova Witnesses, and even what at the time we called Wiccan.
I always believed in Jesus (and still do in his teachings and his love) and I always believed in God because...I felt her energetically, but I was also always curious about how other people believed and why everyone felt they had it right without any clear evidence one way or the other. I always felt so sad at how much judgement and sometimes hate or disdain was expressed between different religions. To me, intuitively, God was God was love. I remember hearing about Ramadan with fascination, and about Yum Kippur with reverence...when my best friend began to explore the feminine divine aspect of God through the old religion, or what at the time was called Wicca or Pagan, I was resistant (that Christian fear and guilt) and yet also totally fascinated by the idea of God as a woman.
When Yoga came into my life, it resonated so deeply with me that it opened up my spiritual heart in a way that I began to see that it doesn't matter what you believe- every path has commonality and every belief system, value, and they all lead to the same place: a universal source that is part of us as much as we are a part of it. Whether you call that Jesus, Mary, Ganesh, Buddha, Mohammed, Jehova, Durga...doesn't much matter to me because they all tap into that same center of love and compassion.
During teacher training, my teachers would explain and educate us on the Sutras and Tibetan buddhist philosophy and even Shamanistic principles and our discussions reminded me so much of bible study in church with my cool, young and open teacher, except without the condemnation. My teacher, Kelly Morris, would give us dharma talks about the subtle body and the feminine divine that were so eloquent, passionate and heartfelt, they would move me to tears of faith and hope, not unlike those sermons I used to hear as a young girl. And we would often burn sage and create nature mandalas and chant, reminding me of the ritual of the Catholic church my mother had baptised me in.
I know many people who don't believe in God, some who only believe in fact and science and evidence so vehemently and emphatically, that it reminds me of the fervor and fanaticism of those who do believe in a higher source. And so in the end, they too believe in something larger than themselves and in that way, have more in common with religion and spirituality than they realize.
One of the best trips I've ever taken in my life was to Spain. I visited Toledo when I was there and left with the energetic imprint of tolerance of that place where once upon a time, three major religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism coexisted in peace for hundreds of years. To see mosques besides temples besides churches was for me, a feast for the soul.
I find myself praying a lot these days and thinking about how and what we believe and what that means given the current state of affairs of our country, and the world. I find myself examining my own prejudices and fears, and shifting out of them to love. 9/11 created a lot of fear and bias in our country, including in me, but I'm releasing it because what I've learned since then is that working from fear only leads to more fear. And I worry about our country and how much fear is ruling our choices and how much it might even rule our government.
I look at the horror in Syria, the conflict in the Middle East, and the fear and judgement against Muslims now right here in our own backyard and I pray that we all find tolerance and respect for each other. That we try to listen and open our hearts and see that all of us are just trying to love and be loved. That if our belief system is tinged with fear or the need to be "right", we reassess because God is not fear- God is ALL love and love doesn't deal with right or wrong, it just is. Love is an energy we can tap into...and that energy is what I personally believe God IS. When we are attuned and aligned with it...we grow and thrive and present ourselves in the world from a divine center that is infectious and connects us all. I think that if we can do this more, we can save each other. If we can align with that energy of love, that universal divinity in our own way and through our own paths and respecting that different things resonate and move us closer to that divine source, then peace on Earth and goodwill toward men (and women) will actually not just be something we say, but something we live.