That which lies at the root of the religious, the spiritual, the human, the earthly.
I want to tell you a story. A story of pleasure and joy. A story of love and acceptance. A story of possibility. A story of creativity and connection.
I’m not religious. At least not in the way I think most people think of what it means to be religious. I used to say I was spiritual and not religious, but I don’t even know anymore what those words mean to me. After many life experiences, those words — religious and spiritual — connote something before words and beyond ideas.
We didn’t go to church much when I was young, but my great-grandmother was a healer, and her granddaughter, my mother, was on her own spiritual journey for most of her life. She taught me to question, to listen to dreams, to realize that there is deep, divine hear of love in everything. When I was around twenty years old, I felt this great longing for something deep in my heart, something I couldn’t name. And then I had children and focused on everyday life. When my husband died suddenly, I felt nothing holding me and this deep heart longing returned. I embarked on my own decades-long spiritual journey. Recently, though, surprising especially to me, I’ve found a great love for a specific church I attend and for how the people there explore what it means to be spiritual through the lens of faith.
Words. They attempt to define. They have particular ‘definitions’ in the language they are part of. They attempt to convey what we are feeling. They attempt to express what is deep inside of us. Yet they’re limited. Words point to things and what they point to can be different for each of us because what’s under words are experiences, feelings, images, memories, and so much more. Words like spiritual and religious — wow — just think of all the things they connote for so many of us.
If we’re not aware of what words are pointing to, both within ourselves and within others, we run the risk of miscommunicating. We cannot really know what they point to within others unless we listen, deeply, to what is being said and what is left unsaid.
So, the story…
On Tuesday evening, late, I received an email from this lovely church I used to attend weekly, but now go to when I can since I’ve moved about an hour away. This church, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, is still my church. I love it. This email was an invitation to be part of a volunteer choir for the next evening’s, Wednesday’s, Pride Mass. Hosted by The Vine at Grace, a special weekly service held Wednesday evenings in one of the small, side chapels, Pride Mass is the big service of the year for The Vine held during Pride week.
I read the email and my entire body said, “Yes!” A complete and total Yes. I could feel the excitement at the thought of how much fun this would be. I’ve attended Pride Mass over the past few years and have loved it. The church rocks. People singing their hearts out. And everyone encouraged to be free just as they’ve been created to be.
I responded saying I would be there.
The next day, I arrived at Grace at 4:49, 4 minutes late as the volunteer choir was slowly assembling behind two main singers and four back-up singers — those with, clearly, beautiful voices to carry the bulk of the choir’s ‘voice’. I was the fourth to show up, and soon after six more arrived. We, the happy volunteers, were ten in total as we rehearsed.
I was familiar with some of the songs — Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, I Will Follow Him, Oh Happy Day. I began to try to learn the melodies of the others having only the lyrics in front of me. And even though I could have gone into stark terror at the thought of singing in front of hundreds of people not knowing these songs, I didn’t. Why? Because the feelings of joy and exuberance and pleasure were already coursing through my body. I was feeling so alive…and happy. When we are alive in our bodies, we’re in touch with our innate capacity to meet whatever comes with our infinite internal source of creativity. As long as we don’t believe the voice of judgment that harangues us and instead listen to the aliveness inside, we can dance with what comes. For me, this is being with that which some call God, that which some call Goddess, that which I call the Source of my life.
We rehearsed for about an hour and then adjourned to the back of the church as people began to file in and fill the pews.
Grace Cathedral is a beautiful Episcopal cathedral built in the French Gothic style and sits atop Nob Hill. It has a storied history in San Francisco. But what I truly love about this place is how welcoming it is, and the time one really can feel this is during Pride Mass.
By 6:30 the church was filled to capacity. Those of us who would be in front on the altar and speaking from various places around the altar were led through the church to the back and then around to the main aisle. Our sweet volunteer choir led the procession. At the altar, we made our way to our positions at the front left. I was amazed that I felt no fear. I am not a ‘singer’ as most people think of such, but I love to sing and I do sing so in reality, I am a singer.
We began singing and for the next hour-plus, we sang, prayed, and listened to the wonderful sermon that encouraged everyone, every single person, to come out of the closet, to become who we are meant to be and to be allies for each other. It was beautiful and moving. Yes, there were religious pieces to it. Yes, there were spiritual tones to it. But what I felt more than anything was a call to the expression of our full humanity.
This is what I am now feeling myself to be — a human being who has had awakening experiences, feels and knows the unseen realms, is awakening to the soul that I am and is aware that we as human beings must take responsibility for our lives and for our powerful abilities to be a source of love and compassion for all of life here on Earth.
I know there are humanists that, from what I read, feel similarly, yet see this as a rational thing without any supernatural or religious ties. I feel and see and experience this humanist perspective. I also see and experience what is at the heart of so many faiths — a sacred source of life. And at the heart of a lived spirituality, I see this same source. I wonder if there is a place where eventually we can all meet, no longer separated by words and labels, no longer held in separate containers by words and beliefs and identities. For it is a belief in separation that most re-enforces our ability to be unkind and harmful to each other. When we cannot, or will not, see what is the same within all of us and cannot, or will not, feel our interdependence, we fear each other and armor ourselves in response.
At the end of the mass, everyone, the choir and the entire body of people filling the cathedral, belted out Lady Gaga’s, Born This Way as very large pieces of rainbow-colored confetti rained down over the altar. In mere seconds, even as we were still singing, children came running up to gather up handfuls of the colored paper. When we were done singing, the entire church felt playful, joyful, and alive as everyone filed to the front of the cathedral to eat a rainbow-colored pride cake.
There can be great joy in coming together and celebrating life. For a long time, I’ve wondered about and looked for that which lies at the root of the religious, the spiritual, the human, the earthly. I know in my heart that this root is a place where we all can meet. I sense this is what Rumi meant in his words, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”
There is a root from which all life blossoms forth. It is before words — words that only point to things but can never capture the fullness of this world. It is beyond ideas. It truly is in the joy and exuberance of expressing that which the life inside of you that you enter this field.
We each have these moments in our lives where we’re invited into the possibility of this field; moments when we feel this clear, YES. This is the source within you inviting you to let yourself out, to let yourself be seen and known — especially to yourself. I came away feeling so much like myself. I found the root I’ve been looking for.