My time on holiday was really great. There were a few low moments where things went horribly, but the majority of my time was highly enjoyable, and some of the best experiences of my life. That post, however, is for another time. I just wanted to quickly talk about some of the spiritual realisations I’ve come to while I’ve been away. I’d also like to make it clear at this point that I do not support many of the acts people commit in the name of religion, nor do I approve of the institutions of religions that dominate the world through force, wealth or manipulation. It is spirituality, the desire to connect with the divine, that I respect (so long as it is not forced on others, and does not bring about unnecessary suffering to the self, or especially to other people). This post will not be for everybody, so please don’t feel inclined to read let alone agree with what I have to say.
Just before I left I had a sudden urge that I really, really wanted to reconnect with God. To put it simply, there’s only so much I, as a limited human being, can accomplish in my life and in my mind, and sometimes I need a little help to be more. Even simply put, it’s difficult to describe what I mean by this. I don’t mean I want an omnipotent divine force to intervene in the events of my life to make things go well for me. I just feel a need to connect with myself and the world in a deeper, more meaningful way- to go beyond ‘ordinary’ life, based solely on the material world (that, which the Enlightenment has taught us, is all that we truly ‘know’). Some might say that I need to reconnect with the divinity within me- Om Namah Shivaya (a statement I now realise is far deeper than I can currently comprehend). I’ve realised that God, whatever He, She or It is, is an integral part to my identity. And I really want to honour that, rather than lock that away in the closet of my self because I’m scared of what people will think of me. There seems to be a huge amount of fear and discrimination against someone who makes a religious gesture in public (like the sign of the Cross for Catholics, or the five daily prayers in Islamic faith). I feel that people believe Christianity in particular is bigoted, unknown, even a scam for money. Or perhaps I’m just paranoid and seeing what I think others see. It’s difficult for me then to be honest about what I believe, however unknown and crazy it might seem.
I wrote a post a while ago about my religious beliefs. They’ve evolved slightly since then, but they are essentially the same. I just wanted to share some of other things I’ve realised, remembered, or been inspired to believe throughout my holidays. There were many times while I was away that I felt utterly at peace and assured in the knowledge that God exists. I’d like to share some of those experiences now. Please excuse my elaborate descriptions and evocative imagery- it is not my intention to win you over with pretty writing. I am trying to describe the essence of the moment when everything came together and made perfect sense- those epiphanies where my faith was confirmed or those insights about human kind and the nature of reality that struck me like a bolt of truth to my soul.
As I sat in the presence of the ruinous Tintern Abbey, on a bench under an oak tree planted to commemorate King George V, I saw the leaves falling in the autumn wind. Each leaf fell to the ground, following a path through the air. Sometimes they dropped almost directly to the earth, other times they swayed as though they were on a cradle of wind. Others spiralled, some clashed, but each of them had a unique journey. And for some reason that sight struck me deeply. I felt in the very core of my being that God was at work. He (or She or It. I will refer to Him as He, because that is how I have always understood God, most likely due to my Catholic upbringing) knew the path of each leaf before it fell, and He knew the exact moment when each leaf would leave the tree. I cannot say if it was He who plucked the leaf and carried it on His breath, but at the very least He knew everything about that tree, everything that had ever happened to it and would happen to it. I cannot explain why I was so certain of this, but I knew it in my heart of hearts. And if God knew so much about a tree, how much did he know about each and every human being on the planet?
As I was kneeling on the peak of a sand dune in the Sahara Desert, watching the sun set over the endless waves, mounds and ripples of the golden earth, there was a great openness and emptiness in the world which I perceived for perhaps the first time. I was seeing only the smallest fraction of that great desert, yet it was more than my eyes could see, far off into the horizon. I could not hope to perceive or comprehend it all. The entirety of the world is a far greater thing than any one so small as a human being could understand. And it seemed to me, that in that vast emptiness, there was God. He existed in the thermals, He existed in the sky. He existed in the sand, and the wind, and in the rocks. It does not fit with my understanding of God as the energy of life, but somehow, He was present in the landscape of nature. (Just wild conjecture here, perhaps even sand has ‘life’ and ‘will’, and when enough sand gathers, one can feel the presence of God.) For some reason, this made me remember that every human being in the world can be redeemed. There is no one too evil, no one too lost, who cannot be brought back to their inherently good nature with love.
On the mountain of Sinai, where it is believed Moses first met God in the form of the burning bush, and the locus where he later received the ten commandments, I sat on the cliff of the mountain and contemplated God’s work. It had been hard work to climb the 3750 Steps of Repentance, but the difficulty of the journey just made the rewards more beautiful. Many times I stopped the climb to look at the mountains and just stand in awe. The mountains surrounding Sinai had all been climbed by the Christian monks who lived there and white crucifixes had been made and planted at the peak of each one. From the top of Sinai, I could see so much and yet know so little. It was emptiness up there. There were people, for sure, but once you were away from the bustle of the tourists and the men selling food and drink, there was a great sense of nothingness. But it wasn’t awful, the kind of empty vacuum that demands it needs to be filled. It simply was.
In Scotland, as I sat at the rings of stones (mysterious in element and placement) akin to Stone Henge, I watched as the leaves fell from the trees. There had been green leaves which turned to gold. Over time that gold turned to red. And finally, that red turned to brown as it covered the earth. I was struck by the certainty that all life would one day end, and that this was the most natural thing in the world. All living creatures had an expiry date- a time to die. And struggling against this is futile, wasted effort and energy. I believe to my heart that there are greater things in the world than my life. I am certain that if I could save a trainload of people by throwing myself into peril, it would be a very worthwhile gesture. My existence is but the smallest of blips on this enormous organism we call mother Earth, and though life is the most precious of gifts, my individual life is almost worthless in comparison. It is wrong to cling selfishly to one’s own life at all costs. Nor should one just lay down and die. Life is meant to be lived, but when death comes in earnest (as it must for each of us), it cannot (and should not) be resisted.
The Chapel of the Virgin Saint Mary had long since fallen into disrepair. Once (and possibly still) used for black magic and sacrifice, humankind had stopped tending to the building and it had become overgrown with plants that crept up its walls and occupied its floors. Sunlight streamed in directly from the ceilingless roof to nourish the flora, and I couldn’t help but think “so this is what it looks like when God reclaims the Church”.
In the great cathedral of Saint Paul’s, I was slightly sickened that so much effort had gone into constructing monuments of war and killing. The sculptures and the paintings that adorned every wall and surface were exquisite, but I felt very strongly that the artists were just showing their skill for the sake of their employers or for the love of creation/education, using the Glory of God as an excuse to make incredible artwork. The whole building seemed to be a testimony to human skill and greatness. The private chapel to the side where one could pray was temporarily closed, and I didn’t see a Sacramental Lamp anywhere in the building- the red light of the lamp is supposed to indicate the presence of God/Christ in the House/Tabernacle. Plus, it was open to tourists to walk around and admire with audioguides and maps for only £17. There was a pastor nearby who was waiting for the evening chorale performance, and I spoke to her about my discontent. She told me, essentially, that the cathedral was still a house of God because it was a community who gathered regularly to do works of goodness in His name. It reflected the real world: Christians gathered every day to pray, and people from all walks of life and different belief systems were among and around them. Furthermore, no one was ever charged for coming in to pray or partake in the daily ceremonies. I found it hard to feel God’s presence there, despite the majesty of His house. A saying popped into my head as I walked away, a little disgusted and confused: “God needs no nobility. He needs not red cloaks or golden scepters or gargantuan monuments. These are what people need.”
This led me to realise that the most spiritual places in the world are the places that humankind has not yet touched or overly influenced. Those artificial places where people gather as special because of the people, not the buildings and the ornaments within. We try and prove we’re more than animals, that we’re “civilised”, but the authors of Genesis made a fundamental mistake by declaring us the wards and superiors of the other inhabitants of the earth. They did not understand who we are in the world and what our purpose is. I myself can’t say the full extent of either, but I knew very deeply that all life is connected, and that not only are we connected but what we do to others we do to ourselves. It is no worse to shoot someone in the foot as it is to shoot yourself. If more people understood this, and remembered it, I think the world would be a very different place.
I’m afraid my memory fails me after this. I have only notes I scribbled down. I can’t imagine why I presumed I would remember the context in which I wrote them. But I remember being so still, and seeing such beauty, that they just made sense to me. They were the most natural things in the world to realise. I realised, one day, that the world is beautiful. And that it was always beautiful, and it will always be beautiful. And that I didn’t make a very sizable mark on this big ol’ planet we live on, but it is always worth adding to the beauty. And the best way I can do that is be beautiful. Not in a physical, vain way, but in a spiritual way: to be that shining beacon of love and hope and peace in times of anger and despair and stupidity. And that is a very worthwhile pursuit. My happiness and my kindness are a gift to the world which negativity and ignorance pollute.
It’s taken me far too long to write this post, and I’m far too tired to put it off any longer. It’s a big topic, which I just wanted to share in lieu of an explanation, and for the sake of sharing openly. I’ll get around to posting about my actual holiday soon enough. Peace, all <3