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Genuinely curious about where I fit in...advice from the faithful please - LONG sorry

(23 Posts)
Dilettante Fri 22-May-09 11:20:48

I know this has been asked in various ways before and I don't wish to start a fight discussion between the atheists and the believers, but I'm struggling with spirituality at the moment and would like to hear other peoples views.

I feel drawn towards some sort of spiritual practice - but I also don't really know if I believe in "God". Sometimes I've had quite profound moments of revelation where I have felt that I do believe in a Higher Power, other times I have convinced myself that this is just an emotional response/psychological conditioning on my part. Except those moments have been so profound and come from outside myself and have felt so right and true and permanent - but then they disappear and I'm left alone again.

I feel a gut reaction against atheism of the Dawkins variety because I find it so dull and reductionist and that it kind of misses the point. I feel a gut reaction against the kind of religious belief where people will say things like "God told me to x y z" because I just don't think it works like that - maybe you prayed and then you were able to find an answer, but come on...did god really talk to you?

I am not attracted to "organised religion" (ie church, mosque, temple) because it is manmade and rigid.

In a way I wish I could be a Christian - I think the radical message about inclusion, love and selflessness in the here and now is a good way to go and to my mind is not present in other major religions - no offence intended - but I just don't believe that Jesus was "the Son of God", I believe he was a human with a radical message about our purpose in life. So I don't believe or accept the Trinity etc.

However, I can accept it as an idea that transcends the need for literal belief - in the sense that the central image of Jesus on the cross retrospectively has come to symbolise the need for self sacrifice in all of us, stripping off layers of our own egotism and selfishness etc.

I am attracted to Buddhism in terms of the mindfulness and meditation, but I find the aspects of it which are to do with escaping from the world take things too far in that direction and away from the joyful profusion of life in all its messy clamouring and humanity.

I can see things that I instinctively know to be true in pretty much all traditions, but I couldn't follow any of them because I couldn't truthfully go along with the rituals and central creeds because I think they are all a bit distorted and lost in translation.

So what happens to a person like me, do I just go along being a spiritually aware yet non-developed person without an actual spiritual practice, teetering on the fence of agnosticism with occasional dips into faith?

I am spiritually thirsty and often notice that even when I start thinking about things like this, life flows better and I experience a certain quality or essence in life that is not there when I am not thinking like this. Surely that has to mean something, right?

CMOTdibbler Fri 22-May-09 11:24:48

Have you considered the Quakers ? There are humanist and atheist Quakers, and they believe in questioning and finding your own faith. No heirachy in it - everyone is equal.

AMumInScotland Fri 22-May-09 11:34:08

It sounds like you can see things which you relate to in a number of religions, but also things that you disagree with. Have you tried looking at the Belief-O-Matic to see how your beliefs and attitudes match up to different faith systems? It can be really interesting, even just thinking about some of the questions they ask, as it helps you to focus on what things are important to you in your beliefs.

I've never been in the position of looking for a belief system from scratch - I was brought up Christoan, lapsed, then went back to Christianity when I got older and felt an interest in the spiritual again. It worked for me, and I do consider myself to be a Christian, so I've never started again with a clean slate to see what other options are out there, but there are lots. Some have more in terms of theology and practices, others are more a general belief and attitude.

solidgoldSneezeLikeApig Fri 22-May-09 11:37:47

I think most religions at the core have a shared idea about being a nice kind fair person and living well, it;s just that too many of the organisations clutter this up with stuff about what you can't eat and who you can't shag and colourful ways of harassing the infidels. Oh, and how much money they want off you...
CMOT has a point about the Quakers - though I am not one, the most ethical decent person I know is.

Dilettante Fri 22-May-09 12:20:49

Thanks.

I guess I should have added, it's not that I am looking for a tradition to follow particularly...more that I was wondering how people who do follow a tradition have got where they are.

I'm interested in the gap between actual spiritual experience and religious inclination - because for me certainly the two aren't necessarily linked.

If you came to Christianity for eg as an adult, how did you come believe in and accept Christ?

Pinkfluffyslippers Fri 22-May-09 13:01:05

Hi D
I'll second the suggestion of Quakers - they're always nice and welcoming and make a good cup of tea.(Very important)
Have a look at http://www.quaker.org.uk/

Also come and join in on the meditation thread that runs on this page - there's lots of chat about buddhism and meditation with the occasional bit of nonsense thrown in for entertainment. One book that many of us have found useful / entertaining is Buddhism for Mothers - a calm approach by Sarah Napthali. (Available on Amazon) Its v interesting and also funny. She's trying to be a buddhist whilst raising 2 kids. You don't have to be a Buddhist to find it useful.

Hope this helps...
PFS

copycat Fri 22-May-09 23:18:35

Hello Dilettante. Don't know if I can add anything useful but will try. I was not raised in a religious home although my Mum had a Catholic upbringing but I was never taken to church or anything. I became a Christian when I was 18. I'll try and answer your question "how did you come to believe in and accept Christ" as briefly as I can.

Between the ages of 16 and 18 I had a boyfriend whose parents were Christians (Mum CofE and Dad Methodist) and he was one of 4 siblings - 2 went to church with Mum and 2 with Dad! In order to be with him I started going to church (CofE) but it held no appeal and even after 2 years of going to lots of services, nothing really touched me. However the CofE church had close links with the local Baptist church and we had quite a few friends who went there. My bf and I attended a few Baptist services and this was where my interest in spirtual matters started to stir and (like you) I began to search my heart and question what I believed. In the end it was quite simple; I was aware somewhere deep inside that my friends at the Baptist church and members of the congregation there had 'something' in their lives that I didn't have and although I didn't understand what 'it' was exactly, I identified in them a spiritual peace that I hungered for.

Over a matter of months I 'learnt' more about Christianity with my mind but I struggled to accept parts of the Bible and general Christian teaching. My natural/academic understanding fought against issues of faith for some time ... how can I accept this part of the Bible ... God's not fair ... I don't believe this scripture ... how can I 'live' a Christian life ... how can Jesus be God ...

The turning point came, however, when I decided to speak to God and tell him what was going on in my head. I would have internal conversations on the bus or in my bedroom "God there's turmoil in my heart, I believe there is a spiritual dimension to this life, to me, and I want to know you if you are there but ...." and then I'd list all my objections and the problems I had with actually trying to believe the Bible etc. I knew that the Bible said that if we truly seek God we will find him and if we knock at the door he will open it etc so I prayed (well I suppose it was a prayer but really it felt more of an internal acquiesence - like a decision to 'give in' to God) and kind of put aside my struggles and stopped arguing within myself.

Cutting to the chase I was at the baptismal service of a friend a few weeks later and responded to the invitation at the end of the service to put my life in God's hands/become a Christian. It was very much a spiritual experience not an academic choice or decision. Inside I felt something change in my heart. I knew the overwhelming power of God envelope me like a wave of peace/joy/love/forgiveness/acceptance. I understand now that what I experienced was the presence and power of God's Holy Spirit. Faith is absolutely a spiritual inner change. For me it took a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit to draw me into a relationship with God. No one could have 'persuaded' me with words to become a Christian or 'convinced' me of the truth of the Bible - that only came after I became a Christian. It was a gradual revelation as I read the Bible myself and listened to teaching at church or read books about Christianity.

I just want to add that I do now believe in the trinity but, like you, I didn't before I made that step of faith to put my life in God's hands. In fact as I have said, there was A LOT I didn't believe before I became a Christian and accepted the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross so that I could be reconciled to God in my spirit. It was in every sense a step of faith that I made when I was 18 and it was scary. It was the start of a journey for me and like the start of any new friendship it has taken time for me to get to know God and to get to know 'about' God. Does any of this make any sense. Faith is so hard to explain with words!

Sorry that this has been long. Keep searching for God and I pray that he will reveal himself an you will find peace and truth.

katiek123 Sat 23-May-09 07:22:06

dilettante, you sound v much like me, i have been on a similar quest for the last few years. i came to my current practice through meditation, which i have been doing for 3 years or so. soon it became insufficient in itself without a framework of belief (though i know many practice meditation without the need to deepen their religious leanings, or might not have any of the latter - that wasn't the case for me, i did, and knew i had to do something with them!) - my way of expanding the spiritual side of my life has been to find a local 'faith' community i feel comfortable with, welcomed by and under no pressure from - for me, living in a very rural area, with not a lot of choice therefore, it's been my local quaker group. a total revelation! i cycle there every sunday as often as i can and have through this group also set up a local meditation group which i feel very lucky to have become involved in. i recently started to deepen my natural buddhist leanings by attending the nearest group (an hour away by car) as often as possible, while continuing to attend my quaker meetings - there is no conflict, in fact the two approaches have much in common and there is a lot of overlap. i have found so much peace and comfort on this path, and i hope that you too will find the right way forward for you! as pinkfluffy says there is much to be said for joining us now and again on the meditation thread - hope to see you there sometime smile

katiek123 Sat 23-May-09 07:24:59

ps copycat - fascinating. like you pre-your-'enlightenment' i really struggle with the trinity and with certain sections of the bible. i have not had that 'utter certainty' experience of christianity being the right way, i think that sounds like an amazing experience. thanks for your long post i am sure it was interesting to many as well as to the OP!

Dilettante Sat 23-May-09 17:00:22

Thanks for your honest and comprehensive posts copycat and katiek123. I really do appreciate it.

I think the thing that puzzles me about Christianity is that people have said to me something along the lines of "You have to ask Jesus to come into your life, it all starts from there". I can totally get it if was asking God, but somehow I can't get my head around the idea of Jesus.

I wonder whether different types of Christian sects have different POVs on this, for eg evangelical Christians seem very much into Jesus as a current thing in their lives, whereas I remember at my church/C of E secondary school it was more to with God and Jesus as the son of God in a historical sense if that makes sense...

Dilettante Sat 23-May-09 17:01:21

Pinkfluffyslippers, thanks for the link. It looks interesting! So does the meditation thread. Thanks smile

katiek123 Sat 23-May-09 21:18:12

dilettante - i am a bit confused about that too. i guess it's the same confusion i feel over the trinity. i'm basically a girl who likes simplicity - why not get in touch with God/the chink of inner divinity we all harbour (i feel) directly?! i await other people's answers with interest smile

cockneydadtobe Sat 23-May-09 21:33:28

Hi all - interesting thread, as I am in a similar place as Dilettante I think. I started with an interest in buddhism about 8 years ago and have practiced meditation on and off since and found some of the teachings very useful.

I also went through a phase of reading a lot of advaita (Hindu) spirituality and some modern teachings (e.g. Eckhart Tolle). However, I still feel like I haven't quite found a 'home' yet. I recently had some meditation instruction from a wonderful meditiation/yoga teacher who has studied most of the major world traditions via yoga, sufism, buddhism and eventually christianity. I was really interested in the christian meditation/contemplation methods he took me through as I had never come across them having been brought up in an agnostic/secular household.

In short, I'm struggling to find somewhere I feel that I sort of belong sprituality-wise. I have thought about going to a Quaker meeting and have considered going to more traditional christian services, although which denomination ? My wife is a lapsed catholic who had a rough time at catholic school and is pretty agnostic and most of my friends are agnostic/atheist. It's tricky !

Any further advice/reflections welcomed

katiek123 Sun 24-May-09 09:51:37

hi cockney - i just finished 'the power of now' and really enjoyed it. you sound like you might like the christian mystics like st john of the cross and julian of norwich? must go (to quaker meeting!) but back shortly!

Dilettante Sun 24-May-09 14:14:29

I haven't read any Eckhart Tolle but have read St John of the Cross (Long Dark Night of the Soul) and Julian of Norwich (Revelation of Divine Love) as well as the Interior Castle of St Theresa of Avila.

At the moment I am reading some of Idries Shah's work, since he seemed to promote a new kind of nondenominational Sufism, which he claimed predates Islam and is the golden thread that runs through all "religions". I am really interested in the fact that there is a mystic tradition and that the Christian mystics have so much common ground with the mystics of Judaism and Islam (and more). It would appear that beyond a certain superficial difference, everything is very much linked.

In a similar vein, I would recommend Doris Lessing's Shikasta for the first half of it if nothing else, which is an amazing reworking of religion, myth and history which really makes you think about god and humanity in a new way.

cockneydadtobe Sun 24-May-09 14:33:13

Hi Dilettante - Eckhart Tolle's material is quite interesting, once you get past some of the new-agey sounding bits. I've yet to read any Christian mystic material, but I know that ET is influenced by it and other stuff.

I have just started to read some parts of the new testament though, having never looked at any bible material before. Having had some instruction from a teacher who has been involved in many disciplines over many decades (yoga, buddhism, sufism and christian meditation,) there seem to be many similarities threaded through the different traditions. I just wish I had found one 'main' tradition I felt 'at home' with and somwhere I could go to practice with like minded people.

Dilettante Sun 24-May-09 14:40:12

Hi cockneydadtobe, have you read "The Sufis" by Idries Shah? It certainly brought things into focus for me.

cockneydadtobe Sun 24-May-09 14:58:14

Hi Dilettante, I haven't yet, this was recommended to me by my meditation teacher a while ago. He actually took me through some sufi techniques, they were very good. Maybe I'll take a look - although it might just complicate matters further

snoozywashday145 Tue 02-Jun-09 13:54:41

Just wanted to suggest to Dilettante and Cockneydadtobe that an Alpha course might be the thing you are looking for. It explains the Christian faith in a clear way and you get to meet other people who also have questions about faith in God. These are run on an informal basis with a meal included (you won't go hungry)and have an open forum for discussion. Maybe you could see if your local church is running one or something similiar. My church runs an course called More to Life and it has helped many people who were searching for answers to faith but didn't know where to go with it. Hope you find this helpful.

cockneydadtobe Tue 02-Jun-09 19:29:54

Thanks Snoozy, I was thinking about looking for an Alpha course, think I will give it look.

zazizoma Fri 05-Jun-09 19:13:04

sorry, just found the thread . . .

I'm not sure what you are looking for. If it's community, you've had plenty of good suggestions above. If you are looking for something a bit more intellectual, how about reading some theology? C.S. Lewis, Valentin Tomberg, or looking into some of the Rosicrucian texts would be three very different places to start. Tolle and Peck are also good. I recommend sampling a variety of writers, seeing what fits, and then mediating on what you like.

I think questions are great, and where things ultimately start. Very brave!

positiveattitudeonly Sun 07-Jun-09 09:41:08

Just stumbled over this thread and read with interest. Big hugs to you all who are searching for that "SOMETHING". Just want to encourage anyone to go along to an alpha course.
Don't get trapped into thinking you have to know all the answers and believe everything before you can take steps in faith. If we understood everything then there would be no need for God. You only need to have the tiniest bit of belief. We have the whole of eternity to learn and mature! .....Thank GOD, I have so much learn! smile

From my DHs experience I would have to caution against intellectualising God. Keep it simple. God loves you and wants to you to know more about Him. Don't get caught up in the traditions of church, either. These can be so divisive and cause confusion. hmm
Love to you all on here. grin

cockneydadtobe Sun 07-Jun-09 11:49:51

thanks positive for being so.. well.. positive ! I actually went to an RC mass the other day and didn't 'get' it all (apart from one or two prayers which I knew of old).... I will continue to seek....

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