We waste so much time looking for what is right under our noses! Look for reasons for our existence, justification for our lives. We need to accept what is, and be thankful for what is given to us every day. We need to learn to appreciate just what is!
At 23 years of age, I went searching for God, and didn’t find him.
I am still looking.
What did I find instead? Well, you can’t hide forever in a monastery, to start with!
I always insisted I had a vocation. Most Catholics do at some stage of their lives. Heavily influenced as I was by Marist Brothers, Discalced Carmelite Fathers and Franciscan Friars, by retreats run by Redemptorist Fathers were such a thrill…not! it is little wonder that I started a drift toward the religious life in my early teens. There has always been this feeling that, as a heathenish Protestant wandering the lowland of faith, once I became a Catholic I was suddenly floating through the rarified air of Catholic piety. I must confess to being humbled at the sanctity that was suddenly available to me through the contemplative monastic life.
Some decisions in life require more emotional input than others. The decision to join the Community of St Thomas Moore was one of those with an emotional base. I am, by my very nature, a contemplative. If I had not been Christian, I probably would have run away and joined a Buddhist Zen community. The decision to enter the tough life of a contemplative monk was one that suited me well. It fulfilled a spiritual side of my nature that I had otherwise found empty. In silence, chant, work and prayer, a huge spiritual chasm was, supposedly, filled.
In the monastery, I found the “Powerhouse of Prayer” that is the essence of the monastic life, and is no better evidenced than in the community life of contemplative monks and nuns. This total overturning of ones self, of emptying out all that was unnecessary in ones life and replacing it with a concept of God I found to be a truly freeing experience. In the community religious life, I found in miniature a model of what the wider community could be, if they embraced ideals outside of themselves. With the rest of the community, I practiced selfless acts of community work, of communal prayer and life, which opened me up to a greater concept of what existence, God, spirituality and religion (both the latter as separate identities) were about.
But they are also good places to hide, to shut out the real world and convince yourself that you are something other than what you really are. I found this out the hard way.
Just short of my first vows, I had a crisis of faith. Why was I really here? What was I hiding from? Was I using spirituality as a scapegoat to shirk responsibilities in the outside world? Was I deceiving myself? This last question was the one that tipped the balance. The decision to leave the community was not made over a long period of time. In fact, the situation surrounding it is as clear to me today as it was on the day that I made it. In retrospect it is almost romantic. The monastery (an old convent given over to the Benedictine monks to found a new branch of the order) was situated at Leura set right at the top end of a valley. I went for a wander around the grounds on a very cold, winters morning. I stopped at the end of the monastery grounds and looked down into the valley. Mists were crawling in along the valley floor and had just started climbing the valley walls. It was there, at that instant, that I realised I was hiding here, trying to make a life that I may have desired, but which wasn’t really ever going to be mine.
I left the community a week later. Life then proceeded to unfold the way it should. I went to Melbourne, and ‘came out of the closet.’ This is what I had always been hiding from, and when I eventually made the decision to take up my place in the gay community, I found it a fulfilling one, though more in a carnal, materialistic sense than a spiritual one. I have no complaints about that.
I miss the monastery still. I probably always will. But I now realise that no amount of devout prayer, no endless chanting of mass and the divine hours, no pious clacking of rosary beads can hide the person you really are. It is not good to hide your light away.
Questioning the existence of God, of the relevance of religion itself comes over time. When you sit down and evaluate what faith and religion are all about, you will find them wanting. When you read, research and assess what religion really is, it fails to come up to expectation. One could blame human nature itself, but when we as people allow what religion dishes out, how religion itself allows hypocrisy, hate, disdain, discrimination, stigmatisation , alienation and false hope to be its credo, then it really has a lot to answer for! As for it being a matter of personal faith, then there are real problems that people are having their vulnerability exploited! Religion has become a conduit for hate. Just look at it’s history!
It is far too easy to say that good people exist within the framework of religion. The reality is that, without religion, these people would still exist. Faith is not the harbinger of goodness and charity! Those traits exist within people themselves! You don’t need God to make that happen, nor for it to exist. And as for being an Atheist? They seem to spend way too much time defending why they don’t believe in anything, instead of just not making an issue of it. There is a standing joke that you can always pick a vegan because the will make sure you know! Atheists are the same!
So, does one really need faith, really nerd religion to fill in a spiritual yearning, a need to find something greater than ones self? I don’t believe so. I truly feel sorry for the religious fanatics who believe that this life should be an absolute misery, a bleak, desolate preparation for the life to come after death! Really! That is our sole reason for being here? A dark, cold crawling toward something that, in all probability, doesn’t exist? What a sad state some have come to. Like those who see life as a burden, or as something to be lived with no joy or light, they never take the time to stop and look. Our true spirituality can be found by doing nothing more than being ourselves, living our lives to the fullest, drawing from experience, causing no one harm, letting people get on with their lives as they allow you to get on with yours.. Look for the beauty and goodness around you. Live your life for the now, not for the unknowable! Spirituality lies within the simplest things – the unconditional love of a dog; the beauty of a flower; the caress of a lover; a feeling of fulfillment for a job well done, or a small act of charity towards another. It lies in bird song, butterflies wings, sunlight, and in just being! You need look no further than yourself! To quote Neil Diamond – I am, I said!
I never did find God. I did find myself!
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