RELIGION

Religion is a huge and important issue for anyone thinking about the meaning of their lives. We all have different answers to the question of why we are here and what happens after we die. Our answers are embedded in the religious beliefs we hold, doubt or deny. And our religious beliefs or disbeliefs are embedded in our answers to these questions. At least that's what I think.

EXISTENTIAL QUESTIONS

"Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Are we connected? What is my place in the cosmos? What should I do?" We often call these "existential questions" because they question our very existence and purpose. Sometimes these seem to be the most important questions we can ask. Other times we laugh at the absurdity of thinking we will get answers or we think these questions are just a symptom of a mental disorder.

The great religions, meditation, various schools of philosophy, cosmology, ecology, art, music, history, quantum physics and many other human ideas and practices provide some answers to these existential questions. As lifelong learners, we can study these subjects and find out what others think. However, an intellectual understanding of others' ideas is not enough. The answers need to resonate for us personally. If nothing seems meaningful, we may try to escape our "existential moments" by keeping busy with practical things.

MY EARLY RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE

Mike and I were both raised in Catholic families. We did all the things that Catholics are supposed to do. We both practiced our religion for 63 years despite not believing the stories and knowing terrible things had been done in the name of our church. I think we kept going to church for decades because we wanted to be part of a great historical tradition and we liked the way the litergy celebrated the seasons of the year and the changes in people's lives.

The details are not important - but one day we knew we were done. We disagreed so strongly with the church's teachings about homosexuality and gender equality that we decided we could no longer continue. Goodbye religion. We were on our own.

Everything was fine until Mike's mom and my dad died within two weeks of each other. This raised the big question. Where have they gone? Have they gone anywhere? Physicists tell us that chemically based electicity causes most of the things that happen in our bodies. Did the lights just go out? They were both very old so we should have been ready. But we weren't.

EARTH LITERACIES

Our search for a priest to celebrate my dad's burial service led us to a Jesuit priest with many unconventional ideas. Father Bill told us that we are made of stardust. When we die, we are reunited with the universe. It's scientifically accurate and a lovely thought - better than heaven. We later attended some discussions held by Earth Literacies . We learned that Bill's views were based in the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin - a Jesuit paleantholist and Thomas Berry a Passionist ecotheologist.

SPIRITUALITY

One of the results of going to Earth Literacies workshops was that we finally had to confront the idea of spirituality. Now, you might think that people who were religious enough to go to church for 63 years would be a bit spiritual - but that was not the case with us. I think this might have been because we were so busy trying to ignore the craziness in our religion that we didn't have a chance to think a single spiritual thought. Once we were done, we could try to start thinking about what being spiritual meant. Mike says he still doesn't get it. I think spirituality means feeling that I'm connected to everything else.

Is laughing a spiritual activity? I understand that the Dalai Lama thinks so. When we laugh our minds are open to new thoughts. A really good laugh - even in a time of sorrow - can bring us back in touch with joy.

EPIPHANY

In early 2015, we attended a 4 day livestream presentation of Epiphany Explorations, an eye-opening series of presentations about the state of Christianity. It's held annually by First Metropolitan United Church in Victoria. The talks were mind-boggling.

The talk most relevant to this page was a presentation made by Siobhan Chandler (pronounced Shevon) on a growing societal phenomenon known as being "spiritual but not reigious (SBNR)" SBNR refers to a phenomenon in Western society where people who do not belong to an organized religion seek or cultivate a personal sense of connection to the rest of the universe - a sense of spirituality. It turns out that many people now describe themselves this way. Siobhan suggested that people who are done with religion (Dones) and people who have never had religion (Nones) may both describe themselves as SBNR. She thinks that SBNR may be a new religion.

Other mind-blowing presentations were made by Peter Rollins and David Felton . We came away knowing that we were not alone on our existential pilgrimage.

Young people, like my grandsons, who are being raised without formal religious education seem to find the whole issue of religion very puzzling and worrying. How can charming, thoughtful people display the homophobia and racism that some Christian groups preach? Why are young people drawn to such new fundamentalist Christian movements as "History Makers" or extreme Islamic movements such as ISIS? I think it is because most of us want to be connected. We want our lives to be meaningful. How can we do it on our own? How can we do it in a messy, power driven, human organization?

I am very happy that Pope Francis is presenting so many new ideas that we can agree with. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Catholic Church really did begin to incorporate spirituality and moral integrity into its teachings! Jesus's message of "love your neighbour in the same way that you love yourself" is still a good guide for connected living.

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