My earliest memory of feeling connected to spirit (or God, as I call that wonderful force in my life), happened far away from any man-made church. It happened when the noise of the world was (literally) drowned out by the noise of my motorcycle, and my feeling of peace and stillness was exaggerated by the confines of the helmet on my head. I felt alone, as if I was the captain of my destiny, setting my course and making my own decisions. And strangely, at the same time, realizing I was not alone. That there would be something, some force, some life-giving force that would travel the road with me. Offering me unconditional love, counsel and encouragement; helping me to understand the paradox of my insignificance and significance, my sameness and my uniqueness. I began to sing and pray and simply commune with God and have not stopped in my twenty-five years, though I would be challenged with guilt, shame and fear for seeking out my own answer to the question you are asking me now, "What do you believe and why do you believe it?"
Growing up in a conservative Christian environment has been both a blessing and a burden. I never felt compelled to question the beliefs laid down by that community's interpretation of the Bible, in part because the main tenet that It was based upon, God and His love for the world, has never been something I've questioned because of my epiphany whilst riding my bike in the woods. But the larger feeling that kept me from questioning the doctrines of the church and whether they were what I really believed was that I had been instilled with the impression that it was basically ludicrous not to believe the way we did. Thus, growing up I was heavily burdened (in addition to my inherent know-it-all-ness) with self-righteousness, harshly and overtly judging others and deeming them not worthy of Heaven (which I equated with the ultimate reward), simply because they did not share my religious views. I believed in God and His love for the world, and yet felt that love was given more readily and freely to us, His chosen people. When I prayed and sang at church or in school, my heart would bubble and just about burst with faith in my beliefs. I was so sure that my beliefs were the RIGHT beliefs (as if there is one right way to believe) that I was smug and insensitive. Sadly, I was the one suffering.
Thank God I have seen the light. The light that makes me feel happy, challenged, inspired and connected. The light and love of God that allows me to happily acknowledge my imperfectness and accept the grace that is mine, and that my heart has known ever since that moment years ago on a backcountry trail.
I do not concern myself with thinking about things such as the reality of Heaven or Hell, what happens when animals or people die or even bother trying to define my beliefs in any standard terms (i.e. Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim etc...). I feel that I would be wasting my time, since I've already dealt with the guilt and fear that accompanied the practically sacrilegious thoughts that it doesn't really matter if I believe in Heaven or Hell, lay claim to Jesus or Buddha. I am trying (and doing) to live fully in the moment, with integrity and in accordance with my moral fiber, which is to say, in truth and love. On my personal journey I've come to the conclusion that what is most important is to be continually open to whatever lessons life has to offer, to respond thoughtfully and compassionately, and to have an open heart. Everything else seems superfluous. Because much of what I did or did not do in my younger years was either for the reward of Heaven or to avoid the consequence of Hell, my actions were for appearances' sake and little else. I feel that I'm now living and striving to live a more actualized, genuine, spiritual life. I treat others well because that is what feels right in my heart. So I guess I've come (in a roundabout way to be sure) to what I believe:
I believe in keeping an open heart and mind, letting things marinate and resonate within my heart (my most trusted friend), letting that be my guide, trusting it will take me where I need to go.
To borrow from the Indigo Girls, "the less I seek my Source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine."
This may seem simple and naive to some, but truth (your truth, my truth and the truth), is never complicated. And to trust in and have faith in something is one of the greatest blessings in the world. Children know how to believe; we adults have just forgotten that we know.