The point of this book is to provide word-portraits of unfiltered, un-spun, religious experiences. It’s to help us see how many of us across varying traditions share the same amazing stories and experiences in common.
Even with those snarky scientific types like me.
Such portraits I hope will spread more understanding and compassion for a world still mired in “Us vs. Them.”
With that in mind, I want to share an experience I had about 10 years ago.
At the time, I was still recovering from being an extremely fundamentalistic Christian. I had awakened to a different reality that led me to choose first the path of atheism and then later to agnosticism and then to what I call “functional mythology.”
Right now, I’m kind of a mix of the three.
Like Michael Shermer, the President of the Skeptics Society, I once used to go door to door telling everyone to believe in Jesus and later went back knocking on all those same doors saying, “OOPS ! I’m sorry! I was wrong!”
I was admittedly, obnoxious.
And now for one of my own religious stories AFTER I became an atheist. . .
Believing that I had a brain wired for spirituality, I took up something that would give my brain what it craved and also help me get in shape. So I took up Taiho-Ryu, a fierce, cultish martial art that was known to be extreme in its physicality as well as being particularly nasty in its ju-jitsu applications.
After five years of study in Taiho-Ryu, I found out that my brother had a tragic turn of events regarding his health. He was dying in a hospital in a coma and they didn’t know why. After going to the Hospital and seeing him in such a desperate state, I was unsurprisingly very disturbed and worried for him. I loved my brother and it was agony to see him suffering so deeply.
Soon after that, I went into my backyard for my kata practice. Kata is a type of martial arts dance that contains a series of fighting moves that one practices over and over to develop muscle memory as well as many other things. There are layers to kata practice and one of the first layers one learns is that one is never going to get to ALL the layers within any kata.
I decided to dedicate the practice to my brother.
I had long given up prayer and hadn’t prayed in years, but I knew I needed to dedicate it to my brother for ME, so that I could express in a raw, primal form my heart-felt wish for his recovery.
As I practiced Number 1 Kata (the most basic form), I could feel something build inside me, and when I reached the “Kia” point where you shout and focus all your energy into one point, it felt like I was cracking the universe itself with my punch and in that point I released all my desire for his well being.
That night, my brother turned around and recovered. Although he is permanently disabled, he has a full and rich life.
Did my “power punch” save him? I don’t think so. Perhaps, but I really, really, REALLY doubt it. I’m glad that my “Kata prayer” and his recovery aligned, but for me it was not so much a prayer as it was an expression of my deepest wish. My martial art gave me a platform that I could use to express and unleash my wish in a raw, unfiltered way.
A … (wince) … religious platform.
If he had died in those next few days, it would have meant exactly the same to me. And when I realized that, I knew right away that I was onto something.
I discovered that day that I could actually be religious and enjoy religion without having to require anything OF it. That I didn’t have to rely on “magical thinking” to ask the Universe or God to fulfill my request with phrases like:
“In Jesus name, Amen.”
“Visualize what you want…”
“Declare to the Universe your intention…”
No. It was way cooler than that for me.
It was a tool of expression for my heart and for me THAT is the shared commonality we all share with every other religion. Even if your religion really is “truer” than mine, the reality we share in common is that each of our religions function as an altar to lay bare our hearts to God or whatever is or is not there. We have a holy place where we can raise a banner to the ultimate reality and declare:
“I don’t fucking like this and I want something else!”
“I love you God!”
“The Tao is unknowable!”
“Universe, I release my spirit to you!”
“This present moment is the perfect teacher.”
Or whatever we want to express with a raw, unfiltered heart.
And for such altars, I am grateful.