Growing Out of Religion and Into Spirituality
At the age of 14, I walked out of a church sermon. My mother, seeing me leave, came to find me, perhaps to scold me. She found me crying on the stairs outside of the sanctuary. I explained to her that I was afraid of going to hell because I didn’t have the holy spirit.
The sermon was about the importance of the holy spirit in our lives. In every church I had attended (and there were many), the holy spirit was explicitly defined. When people danced uncontrollably to loud church music, they had the holy spirit.
“Hello God, my name is…”
I had been going to church since I was eight years old. I had never felt the slightest urge to do more than sway consciously to the music. The sermon made me feel rejected by God — again.
I had survived several adverse childhood experiences that I already didn’t understand why God would allow. Maybe I was never going to be God’s favorite. That’s why I had not experienced the holy spirit.
My mother, for the first and only time, rejected the words of a minister. She put her arms around me, wiped my tears, and said the minister wasn’t talking about her God. I was comforted and confused.
If I wanted to know about God, I would have to ask God for truth.
My mother’s compassion in that moment remains one of the most tender memories I hold of her to this day. The advice she gave me changed my life forever. I asked her why the minister would say something about God that wasn’t true. She said she couldn’t speak for the minister, but that if I wanted to know about God, I would have to pray to God for truth.
Praying for Truth
At the age of 14, I began to pray for truth. I prayed for it in many churches, mosques, and temples over the years. I read the Bible cover to cover. Ultimately, I found the truth of God when I began to look inside of me. I became the observer of the God within me instead of the God people were teaching about that sometimes had nothing to do with the God within me.
More than 30 years after my mother imparted her profound spiritual wisdom upon me, I found myself browsing the section on spirituality and wellness. A CD box for the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle caught my attention in the New Author section.
Around this time, I was irregularly attending religious services. My husband and I would take our children to service for the cultural experience. One day, I referenced God with the use of a feminine pronoun in a Sunday School class. The teacher and other women were confused by my statement, although the context specified God as the subject.
My unconventional feminine reference to God stirred discomfort that no one in the class addressed beyond pointing out the blasphemy in my language. I frustrated them, and they disappointed me with their insistence that God must be referenced as male and identified as an external deity. I dropped the conversation and began a slow withdrawal from religious affiliation altogether.
No religious perks
I wanted to feel empowered inside. Throughout my life, I had watched men draw on their internal sense of power, and women give theirs away. I could not separate the imbalance of power between genders from the pandemic of sexual violence against women.
Each time I walked into a church, the imbalance of power stifled me. Masculine references like “Our Father,” “Praise Him,” and “Bless the Lord” filled men with pride and entitlement every Sunday, as clergy told them to lead the country, their families, and to reign over women.
“Our Father,” “Praise Him,” and “Bless the Lord” filled men with pride and entitlement every Sunday, as clergy told them to lead the country, their families, and to reign over women.
I did not feel the freedom of God extended to me. I began to rebel against the request for my obedience to male dominance. My mother had told me to pray for truth, and I concluded I would not find it in a church.
I had read the Bible from cover to cover but discovered no new revelations, only questions that clergy never answered beyond denominational interpretations. Religious protocol and concepts had little to do with God and everything to do with cultural standards, all designed by men.
The Fork in the Road
I broaden my search for the truth about God and the connection to humanity, and to my pain. I listened to The Power of Now every night as I fell asleep. I came to understand God as energy, neither male nor female, except when reflected within us. I began to see God as a reflection of myself and to see myself as a reflection of God.
I accepted that God exists through connections. The more connections I make, the more I reflect God. In a world where I had always felt disconnected, I began the slow journey of trying to connect. I tried to notice people for who they were rather than what I thought they should be to me. I let down my defenses and opened my heart. This effort remains a challenge for me.
Finding the road less traveled
I continued my search for truth through a spiritual rather than a religious practice. I meditated, read, and talked with friends who sought God without fear. I searched for authors who spoke about God outside a religious context. Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, Caroline Myss, and Oriah Mountain Dreamer invited me into myself, which is the best view from which to see others. Connecting with others meant I had to learn to connect first with myself.
I noticed that whenever I disclosed my disinterest in religion, people immediately tried to defend God, never asking about my belief in God. People assumed that if I disconnected from the church, I disconnected from God.
I feel sorry for people who go to church to find God as I did. I also feel sorry for those who believe they need to defend God, as God would have to be pretty small to need defending.
I feel the opposite to be true. I feel sorry for people who go to church to find God as I did. I also feel sorry for those who believe they need to defend God, as God would have to be pretty small to need defending.
The God I found within me cannot be diminished by anything human beings say or believe. While I have tried to express my beliefs about God, I never tried to defend God, no more than I would advocate for gravity.
No one would protect gravity, and most people know little about how it works. We only understand that it is critical to our existence on earth. The same with God: God, in my understanding, is the totality of the universe and exists limitlessly beyond any belief we hold.
Bakari, R. (2019). What Makes Me So Amazing: You Should Be Amazing Too. Medium. what-makes-me-so-amazing-you-should-be-amazing-too-4aab8902e370.
Bakari, R. (2020). Let down your defenses, you are safe to love and live. Medium. https://medium.com/the-ascent/let-down-your-defenses-you-are-safe-to-love-and-live-6f493c3ab617.
Chopra, D. (2000). How to Know God. Penguin Random House.
Dreamer, O. (1999). The Invitation Harper. SanFrancisco, 1999.
Tolle, E. (2004). The Power of Now. Namaste Publishing. Vancouver.