Look for your own. Do not do what someone else could do as well as you. Do not say or write what someone else could say or write as well as you. Care for nothing in yourself but what you feel exists nowhere else, and out of yourself create impatiently, or patiently the most irreplacable of beings.*Andre Gide
A number of years ago my daughter gave me a framed copy of this quote for my birthday. It hangs on the wall next to the closet in my bedroom where I can see it every day when I am dressing, at least when I am paying attention. It speaks to something very deep in me. I long to become that irreplaceable of beings, or at least to be able to see myself growing in that direction. I ponder that sometimes, especially when I write. Recently as I was reading Thomas Moore’s A Religion of One’s Own,** I realized that the Gide quote should apply to my religion as well. To “create impatiently or patiently the most irreplaceable of beings”, required that my religion should be just as personal and should exist “nowhere else”. Just following traditional beliefs and practices is not enough. The truth is that I cannot follow that traditional approach authentically anyway. This calling to become an “irreplaceable of beings” and to develop a religion of one’s own ultimately applies to each one of us, and it applies to each of our approach to our religion.
My relationship with organized religion has been a classic approach avoidance conflict. On one hand I have always had a very strong sense of calling to religion and to spirituality. I somehow believed this calling could only be answered through traditional religion–in my case through traditional Christianity–and specifically through a church. Yet what I found in the many churches I attended never really connected with that calling or the way I experienced and lived my life. It never seemed to relate to my personal spiritual journey in any meaningful way. I know that it works for some people, but try as I might I could not accept the current version of Christianity as I found it in the churches I attended. It simply was never near enough, It always left me cold and feeling like an outsider, so eventually I would leave. I could not see any other option, and yet the calling kept me searching.***
The spiritual journey is often a very deliberate and a very slow process. Sometimes real spiritual growth can only be seen in retrospect, by looking back, sometimes over many years. But, sometimes that seemingly plodding journey is interrupted by what some have called “waking up”. Some event in our life causes us to see our life radically differently and to “turn around” and head in a new direction. For me, reading Thomas Moore’s book was just such a life changing event. This book will definitely go on my short list of the most important books I have read on this journey. Other books have been important, and I know that they helped bring me to where I am. Like the few other books on my list of favorites this book is changing my whole approach to my spiritual journey in general and to my relationship to organized religion in specific. As Moore put it: “I was born with the themes of this book buried like seeds in my heart.” ****
Maybe the greatest insight is the realization that I am not somehow required by that Mysterious Other I call God to accept what I have found in any of the churches I attended, or in any particular tradition for the matter. I think I knew that in a deep place inside of me, but I simply could not let myself live it or even acknowledge it. This book gave me permission to let go of the demand that I conform to the beliefs and practices of contemporary Christianity and actually develop “A Religion of My Own”. It allowed me to “wake up” and head in a new direction.
I cannot tell you how important this realization is for me. In many ways I already had a religion of my own, but admitting this to others—being open about it—is a kind of “coming out” for me. It requires me to rethink just about everything I know and believe. It will require me to be clear about what I really do know and believe, and about a spiritual practice of my own, without the baggage of trying to conform to some religious tradition, or maybe even more importantly, without always just reacting negatively to the more traditional approach. There is a freedom in that which goes deeper than I have ever experienced before. I can really listen to that still small voice inside of me and move toward becoming the person I am called to be.
There needs to be a caution here. Two of my best friends, one a Baptist minister and one a Catholic priest, have separately cautioned me about going it alone. Moore speaks to that in his book as well. I understand their concerns. The examples of people who have gone it alone on the spiritual journey and gone astray are legion. Staying grounded is even more critical when developing “a religion of one’s own”. Yet it is also crucial not to just follow the herd. I plan to take that balance very seriously as I follow this call. More about this in future posts.
I want to emphasize here that it is not necessary for us to leave or reject our current tradition in order to develop a religion of one’s own. It is too much a part of us to do that. The critical thing is for us to reflect seriously on our religious beliefs and practices and be clear in ourselves what we believe personally and what practices actually work for us. We need to be true to that still small voice within where God speaks to us and gives us guidance and strength and courage. More about this in future posts.
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection,***** Brené Brown makes an important distinction between being yourself and fitting in. She points out that our efforts to fit in—to be accepted by others—all too often prevents us from really living an authentic life—from really being the person we are called to be, and in the end, from really connecting with others. I know without a doubt that this has been a major issue in my relationship with the churches I have attended and the people in those churches.
Maybe the hardest part of this journey will be owning up to this new “Religion of My Own”. It begins right here with this blog post. The real test will be whether I can own up to it without being defensive the next time I show up at church gathering. All of that said, developing this “religion of my own” is also exciting and challenging. I look forward to this new stage in my journey.
Question for Reflection
Join the conversation. Share your thoughts and experiences
- Are you consciously making your own choices about your religion or are you accepting blindly the beliefs and practices of your religious tradition?
- Are you rejecting those beliefs and practices just as blindly?
- Have you developed “a religion of one’s own” within or outside of your religious tradition?
- Do you feel called to develop a religion of your own?
*** For a more detailed account of my journey see the Introduction to my book, Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not Enough. For more information about the book visit my website at http://www.choosingauthenticity.com
**** Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World, (New York: Penguin Group, 2014), Preface, Line 1.
***** Brown, Brené, Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, (Hazelden Publishing, 2010), Title