The Heretic Religion
In my recent viewing of the film Vision, which is an adaptation of the life story of the great female Christian mystic, Hildegard Von Bingen, I am remindedyet again of the importance of heretics in Christianity. Indeed, Christianity was founded by one of history's greatest heretics, and began as a spiritual revolution by a visionary. Throughout Christianity's history, there have been special visionaries who have continued the original flame of Christianity's founding, mystics who sought direct communion with Spirit, with God rather thanblind obedience to hierarchical religious structures of dogma -- and Hildegard Von Bingen was but one of them.
The Anabaptist wing of Christianity began as a heretic religion, and growing up inOhio in the Church of the Brethren, I was constantly reminded of the left-wing,conscientious-objector, progressive source of our founding. It's funny how progressive, visionary heretic sects evolve and begin to embody the very same qualities of hierarchy and structured dogmatic control that they originally rebelled against. I guess it's the metaphor of a young teenage boy rebelling against the controlling father, only to mature into manhood and becoming the same authoritarian father that he rebelled against.
But it isthis essence of rebelliousness and spiritual inquiry, of seeking directcommunion with God, that excited me and spurred me to be a heretic against myfamily and Church, to find out for myself what is spiritual truth from directexperience rather than from what is handed to me in religious propaganda. WhenI was 17, a friend at a Youth Conference at Manchester College triggered me tobegin asking questions like 'What is God?', and 'What's wrong with drugs andsex and nudity?' rather than just accepting what I was told. Thus I left myhome and my Church as I entered college and began my spiritual quest ofmysticism and seeking God in the many paths to enlightenment.
Aftermany years of exploring Quaker meeting houses, Zen Buddhist temples, Yogaclasses, Tai Chi, Rumi poetry, the Tao Te Ching, New Age Psychic Channeling,Reiki, Sufism and Islamic Mosques, I found myself on the West Coast living outof my backpack. I wandered around homeless with but pennies to my name and theuniverse providing daily miracles to support and prove to me that reality isimbued with consciousness.
My questto find God, to find Enlightenment and to be guided by synchronicity, inspiredlargely by the Mayan shaman author, Martin Prechtel, found me one day in Juneof 2003 in Salt Lake City, Utah, having my first great mystical breakthroughexperience. Earlier that week, I'd been in Seattle and had discovered my newbest friend, Mira, on the sidewalks bumming for change. She'd just arrived inSeattle days before and had been sleeping underneath bushes, on a journey toheal herself of bulimia, seeking Ayahuasca as a means to heal herself of herbulimic curse. I'd never heard of Ayahuasca and had no idea what that was, butI told Mira that I would help her find Ayahuasca because I had faith in magicand miracles.
Dayslater, we were hitch-hiking through rural Idaho on our way to a RainbowGathering in Utah, and had been blessed with a string of really sweet ridesoffered by lovely and kind drivers, but had suddenly found ourselves on the sideof a highway for 50 minutes unable to lure anyone to stop for us. As I carriedthe gigantic pack on my back, weighed down by the exhausting weight and theheat from the sun, I began praying for help. I cried out for God to open theheart of some kind person on the highway. Moments later a driver pulled ontothe side of the highway, with Mira jumping up and down, her arms wavingexcitedly. We had found a ride!
Ourdriver explained his story. He was an ex-military man who had found a lucrativejob doing what he'd been trained to do in the military; working on helicopters.He would drive to some station on the west coast, work a week-long shift, andthen drive home to Salt Lake City, arrive in his furniture-less bachelor padhouse and take every psychedelic known to mankind for several days beforedriving back to work for another week-long shift. Right as we entered Utah, heasked Mira and I if we'd like to join him and do Ayahuasca that evening! Ourjaws dropped and hit the floor at the same time as we stared at each other inwide eyed disbelief! At that time, I was completely oblivious to the traditionof Amazonian Ayahuasca ceremonies and had never seen it, smelled it or tastedit before -- so I was totally wide eyed, innocent and said Yes. Mira wanted tojoin us but was terrified of finally having an opportunity to partake of theAyahuasca, plus she wanted to make it to a PsyTrance party out in the woods anhour away from Salt Lake City, so we dropped her off in the middle of nowhere,the contents of her backpack splayed out on the ground, with an enormous stormsystem approaching from the west and only a tiny bit of raw veggies to sustainher.
When Iarrived at my driver's house, we entered the kitchen and he opened up thecabinet, exposing shelves containing nearly every psychedelic drug known toman. He prepared the chacruna leaves and the Syrian rue pills and I prepared analtar of all my sacred items in the empty living room. When the bowls ofChacruna tea were ready, we downed it, and he sat down to watch movies and playvideo games - meanwhile I sat in the living room and began meditating andpraying to God. I had no idea what this would possibly do to me; I was apsychedelic baby.
It beganwith gorgeous fractal mandalas opening in the sky above me; a sensation movedthrough my body that felt like I was an empty vessel and God was being pouredinto me. I was reminded of my favorite Christian hymn, "Have Thine OwnWay, Lord", the lyrics of "Thou art the potter, I am the clay, mold me andmake me after thy will, as I am waiting, yielded and still." I felt thatstillness and yielding within me, opening to the heavens, experiencing my firsttrue mystic awakening of God pouring into me like a waterfall.
I beganweeping in bliss. I looked into a mirror and began watching all the faces fromall my past lives and past incarnations wash over me and I wept, and then arealization swept over me in its awe-inspiring totality -- that everything thatexists is the flesh of God. We are literally standing on God; this street isGod, this front porch is God, this sky is God, this lawn is God; everything isGod. The ecstasy of this realization prompted me to leave the house and beginwandering barefoot through the streets in pure awe of the divinity ofeverything surrounding me. I wandered for several blocks and found a manwaiting at a bus stop for a bus. As I approached him, his face was one ofcomplete and utter fear and revulsion -- his first words to me were "Areyou an Angel?" I explained that I wasn't an angel, I was just awakened bythe Light of God. I asked him why he was waiting for a bus, when he issurrounded by God, and that God is waiting for him. I sat with him for almostan hour as he poured his heart out and listened to him gush about hischallenges with his wife, their child, his job, everything. I sat there withhim and reminded him that God is everywhere and everything, and that God iswaiting for him to open his heart and receive. As I left, I felt as though I'djust experienced the most important experience of my entire life up to thatmoment.
I believethat every one of us needs to personally experience the transcendent presenceof God, of the Divine, in some way in one's life in order to truly know thatthere is a Divine hand at work in reality and in our lives, in order tocultivate a faith based on a real connection, rather than a blind faithenforced by some external belief system. And truly, every single one of usdeeply deserves to experience this relationship with what we could call "God"so that we may know in the depths of our Soul, our connection to the universalmystery that is much larger than any one religion.
It isthis concept that birthed initiations and vision quests in Native American andindigenous cultures, where the youth were put into situations where they had toopen up to the wider girth of awareness that reality can envelope when one isprayerfully in connection to this "holy spirit" wisdom emergent inreality. It is these kinds of direct experiences of the Divine, of God, thatinspired the Christian mystic, Hildegard Von Bingen. As a Benedictine nun, shesought to express her uncontrived and unconventional visionary experiences ofGod with others through song, through writings, through art, and through herbalmedicine. Despite her unconventional spiritual expressions, and especially asan empowered woman expressing an almost pagan facet of Christianity, she isstill revered for her spiritual wisdom as one of the greatest Christian mysticsin history.
I willnever understand why Christianity evolved in such a way as to make narrowlydefined belief systems and structures more important than the kind ofheart-centered, community-centric, Love and Forgiveness is the way to theKingdom of Heaven concepts that Jesus taught. It has always seemed to me to behistory's greatest irony that the most liberated, visionary mystic man whowalked the planet spurred the creation of the most dogmatic religion historyhas ever seen, due to the fact that it was co-opted by the Roman powers fortheir own selfish purposes of elitist control over their empire. The veryempire that Jesus spoke against took his cross and turned it into the mostauthoritarian, controlling religious empire in history. And it is this veryRoman Catholic empire that the Anabaptists were spurning a heretic religionagainst.
So I askyou, my fellow Brothers and Sisters of the Church of the Brethren, the GermanBaptists, the Mennonites, the Dunkards, the Amish; where is your inner heretic?Have you had a direct experience of God? Have you sought your own personalredemption, have you awakened your soul to your own divinity? Have you doneyour own deep work of transforming yourself from a programmed slave of ahierarchical system of oppression, have you found your liberation? If youhaven't, have you read the history of your own church? Do you know that theAnabaptists were started by rebels, in revolt against both the Roman CatholicChurch and Lutheranism? There is something I've always treasured and valuedabout the Anabaptist concept of choosing one's own baptism when one actuallyhas cultivated true faith and belief, coming to the faith from oneself ratherthan being baptized at birth because that's what everyone did.
I havelong admired the Anabaptists for living on the fringes of society, for theAmish living simply and traditionally, for the 'Salt of the Earth' people thatI grew up surrounded by -- the rural farming communities that I grew up aroundin Ohio. But, largely prompted by my mom, I also admired the women's liberationmovement and the history of women's empowerment in the church, such as thesuffragette movement that grew out of Quaker meeting houses in Philadelphia,and the empowerment of early German Baptist Brethren women like Sarah RighterMajor. Growing up in a congregation with two pastors -- a married couplesharing the reigns -- I grew up believing that progressive values were morallyright and questioned the accepted standards of society, and had to push theenvelope beyond what is traditionally accepted as true, by aligning more andmore with what morally feels right in my spirit, such as empowering women eventhough it broke conventions of traditional patriarchal religious institutions.
In fact,when I went to a German Baptist church with my family near Covington Ohio, itfelt more oppressively male-centric and utterly patriarchal than any otherexperience in my entire life, even more so than my dabbling experiences withIslamic Mosques. This one experience helped give me a clearer understanding ofthe karmic lineage of my family than any other before or since; since that timeI have sought to completely extract all aspects of this harsh hard woodfloored, patriarchal, hierarchical, anti-dancing, anti-freedom, anti-sensualityreligion from my soul. And thus I have been a heretic ever since, essentiallyshunned in not so many words from my family and religion of birth.
I havehad to find a whole new family, a whole new community, a whole new spiritualityout here on the West Coast. We are a spiritual community of misfits, freaks,artists, hippies, musicians, mystics, massage therapists, tantrikas,psychonauts, devoid of the structured hierarchy and control that is endemic tospiritual communities that are structured around strict belief systems andchurches. We may all be self-obsessed fanatical new age weirdos, but we've allcome together based on common energetic patternings, lifestyles of freedom andcreativity, and have tried to find ways to be mutually supportive of each otherwhile living on the fringes of the mainstream society, outside of any dogma.
Ourspirituality seems to be self-created through our own process of awakening andliberation, and is something each of us has had to discover on our own viaparties, ceremonies, drugs, sexuality, our journey away from our Church ofbirth, and life. Sometimes it doesn't make any sense to me, sometimes I missthe support of a blood family, but most of the time I am just in awe of thestunningly gorgeous earth-centered community of freaks that I am surroundedby.
Butdespite this, I keep discovering new layers to the Anabaptist in my skin -- Ikeep finding new layers to peel away that reveal more and more an inherentquality of the heretic Christian mystic within myself. It is only just now thatI've realized that I was born in a counter-culture fringe religion, that I wasborn to never fit into mainstream society. I was born programmed to give amiddle finger to war, military, law enforcement and the global elite. I've longwondered why down deep in the root of my soul I just can't accept the socialconventions of this American society -- like buying cars, paying taxes, usingcredit cards, working a regular "job," shopping in malls, supportingthe endless wars, and I cannot seem to fit into it in any way, no matter howmuch I have tried and struggled.
It's beenan absolutely maddening and infinitely confusing schism within myself; to tryto fit into the mainstream and follow its program or give it a big middlefinger and follow my heart and live as a mystic rebel. But it's what myancestors have been doing for hundreds of years, living outside of themainstream society, struggling as conscientious objectors against every singlewar, refusing to wear anything but modest clothes, driving horses and buggies,living simply within their means, gardening and absolutely refusing to getintoxicated.
Afterseveral years as a total stoner, It has shown up as a need for sobriety andmental clarity, for a need for living simply, for a need to live in a spiritualcommunity of kindred spirits, for a need to participate in spiritual communityevents that bring us together to sing on a consistent basis, for a need to livein small towns connected to the Earth surrounded by gardens. The containerlooks very different than the gardens, churches, tractors, hymns, services andPassover bread of my ancestors, but in its actual day to day actualization, itoften feels like the next level of the same paradigm, simply a more modernfree-spirited version of a similar lifestyle. And I am grateful for the safecontainer I grew up in, but I will be forever dedicated to stripping away allthe layers of repression of joy, creativity and sensuality that were instilledin me as a child.
Thus I amalways seeking communion with my brothers and sisters, those kindred spirits ofthe heretic religion of the heart.
Image by <a href="http://aloriaweaver.com/">Aloria Weaver</a> and <a href="http://www.davidheskin.com/">David Heskin</a>.Tweet