Look inside – you’ll be surprised at what you find in the box

I have never considered myself a religious person, but I’ve been feeling quite spiritual lately. You’ve probably noticed it in the theme of the last few blog posts. There’s probably good reason for it. Four of my friends were ordained as ministers earlier this month, and in many ways, I felt like I was right there with them when it happened. Despite my lack of formal religious upbringing (I went to Sunday school for a few weeks the year I was in kindergarten, and I still have no idea why I was there), I have discovered by reflecting on my life that I have been on a spiritual journey all along.

The journey began many years ago, perhaps even when I was a small boy, discovering my own relationship with God. My parents were from different faith backgrounds, and neither was highly active in their religious practice. Rather than imposing one religion or the other on us, we were left to think for ourselves and find our own “truth.” Thank God (literally)! Because I didn’t have the religious structure, my head wasn’t filled with the dogma and rules that I’ve seen so many other people become engrossed by. Some people get so wound up in the dogma, they have nearly forgotten about God, much less what to do with the knowledge they have acquired during the process, except to use it to judge others.

I know that sounds a little judgmental, and perhaps it is, a little carry-over from my pre-spiritual days when the even the word “church” made my skin crawl. I’ve said many times that I never went to church except for weddings and funerals, and occasionally to be polite to family and friends I may have been visiting. It solidified a thought in me that “church=bad,” and “free thinking=good,” as if one were exclusive of the other.

As a teenager, I would look up at the moon and talk to God. For some years, I started writing letters. It was probably more like a diary, but this growing home-grown spirituality got me through some tumultuous times in my coming-of-age years. Some day, when I’m gone from this physical existence, someone may get a good laugh at my laments!

About eight years ago, I stumbled across a church, one that has a less traditional look at religion and which encourages people to think logically about what is true for themselves. Actually, I didn’t exactly stumble across it. It was recommended, and in hindsight, I see that Divine order brought me there when I was ready for it. I went reluctantly, and left feeling pleased (!). In that little church, I discovered dozens of people who think much the way I had all along. After all those years, I found that it wasn’t just something I made up. Though I found it on my own, I was not alone in my thinking. In a few short weeks, I went from despising church to loving it. I was home, and I’ve been going almost every weekend ever since. After decades of running from what I thought I hated, I found that “free thinking” and “church” could easily live in the same sentence without cancelling each other out!

Over the ensuing years, I have taken many classes to continue exploring my own spirituality. I expect this path of learning to continue through my life. These classes include meditation, philosophy, and yes, scriptural study. The good news is that I found a way to incorporate these things in my life by finding a personal meaning in the words, not just what everyone else always told me I should believe.

Over the summer, I was inspired by one of our sister churches, which doesn’t have its own facility to offer an educational program or other activities to their congregation. A group of us worked together to develop an off-site educational program to help people in our community discover their own spirituality, not unlike the process I went through on my own so many years ago. Suddenly, I have a classroom, and I’m a teacher. It is a fulfillment of a prophecy of sorts. Way back in 3rd grade, I was sitting under an easel with a classmate, Dina King. She was struggling with something the teacher had taught us, and I was trying to find a way to explain it to her so she’d understand. She finally got it, and told me I should be a teacher. I always remembered that, and though I have never been a teacher professionally, I think it was always in my blood and in my destiny to help people learn. Not so much to teach them, but to help them learn. There’s a difference.

So after many years of reflection, contemplation, internal struggle and finally, acceptance, the road has brought me to a new oasis on my journey. It is exciting, and sometimes scary, but it feels good. There is satisfaction of not only doing something to enrich my community, but the thrill of building something that can touch people’s lives. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that several other friends have been inspired to start doing the same type of thing in different parts of the country, unaware of each other’s efforts until we got together recently!

So what does this mean? As much as it probably sounds like it, this is not meant to be an infomercial. It’s not meant to be a call to worship. It is simply a story of one man’s journey within and what he found there. And you can do the same. Take some time – a few minutes, a day, a week, or longer if you need it. Sit quietly. Think about your life and what you have accomplished, and what you would like to accomplish. Think about how that accomplishment can be of benefit to others. Then go for it. When you find something you truly have passion for, you will find a way to make it happen. It will be more rewarding than anything you have ever done, even if you never make a penny from the effort. The greatest commandment of all: “Love they neighbor as thyself” takes on new meaning when you actually do it.

Spirituality doesn’t mean the same thing as religion. Or church. It means finding a connection with God – or whatever you want to call the creative life-force that is in everything – and making the best use of it once you find it. When you open a box of Cracker Jack, and you dig down to the bottom, you’ll find a surprise. You know it’s there, it’s just a matter of looking for it. It’s the same way in this life we’ve chosen. Look inside. There’s something special inside of you, waiting. You just have to be willing to dig through the peanuts and popcorn, and any other flotsam and jetsam that has collected over the years, to find it. And when you do, you’ll be glad you took the time to do it.