For many years I church-hopped while my friends bar-hopped. As they were altering their states of mind with libations and other substances, I was searching for the perfect spiritual high. I shopped for the "right" denomination, the "right" pastor/priest, the "right" kind of service, the "right" congregation, the "right" message, and it didn't occur to me until later that I was wrong in trying to squeeze God into my idea of what God should be. What an ego. I had a lot to learn.
Attending church had been a very meaningful path for me; however, when the rituals became rote, dry, and increasingly meaningless, I knew it was time to leave to find another church. My spirit felt stagnated; it wasn't growing. I began to think that something was wrong with me, that I was such a "sinner" that God didn't want to have anything to do with me. I felt like a spiritual orphan.
Dejected and disappointed, I left the church and its religious practices altogether. I wandered in my own personal desert for years, searching for something. I had always been drawn to Eastern philosophy and traditions and the kind of thinking that would be deemed heretical by the Church. I had also been attracted to Native American Spirituality, Wicca, and Earth-based traditions. But I had grown up thinking that the study or practice of any other kind of religion or tradition other than Christianity is blasphemous. I could go to Hell. The fear ingrained in me about burning in damnation if I veered off the path shook me to the core. But why? What was there to fear? If God is a God of love, why would He use fear? And in a moment of clarity, I realized, "God doesn't use fear. Man does -- to control." Boom. The doors blew wide open and I was flooded with an intense knowing. All the fear I had known fizzled. I was free.
That one question of "why?" opened the door to many more. I had been brought up not to question the authority of the church. "You just don't question God," I was told. Well, Why not? Moses did. The prophets did. Jesus did. After being fed up with getting nowhere, I couldn't help but begin to question what was happening. Questioning became my path to enlightenment. Those questions became doors through which I walked, and I found myself on my own unique path of spirituality, one that broke the confines of a building with a steeple, one that transcended religious laws and dogma, and one where God-Spirit is alive, dynamic, and leading me to answers.
I realized that there are as many paths to God/dess, Enlightenment, Spirit, etc. as there are individuals. The path for one will not be the path for another because each person has different lessons to learn and different blessings to receive. Paths may be similar, but they are never the same. Following the same path as others has the trappings of religion...following your own path is spirituality.
What matters is that your spiritual path is uniquely yours. No one else will travel the same exact path as you. There’s a certain comfort and freedom that comes in knowing this. As Paulo Coelho said, “Having faith in [your] own path, [you do] not need to prove someone else’s path is wrong.” I have no need to prove anyone's path as wrong; in fact, I celebrate it, as I hope you will celebrate mine in knowing that Our Highest works in mysterious ways to bring all things together. We can learn from all of God’s Avatars (Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, etc.); their messages are the same. These Avatars came to teach, to preach, to warn, to give hope, to heal, to comfort, and to show us the way to our Highest Self, no matter which faith we follow. . .all paths lead to the One Same God. God is a diverse God; S/He transcends all religion, and no one religion can define God. God manifests in and through my life every day, and God manifests in yours -- through others, through animals, through places, through things, through art, through your work, and through you. May we all come away from this with a little more enlightenment on our respective paths.