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Ethical Interfaith

Elsa of Ethical Interfaith

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Spirituality, Faith and Me

Re spirituality. I've had minor experiences. Nothing big. And it's almost surprising that I've had any, as I've rather left that side of life alone. I tended to say, for a long time, that I had nothing against it. I've wondered about it. But it's other things that have drawn me more.

Most comfortable, for me, is a kind of loose sense of connection to what I term "the universal flow."

I've had a few stronger experiences, of diminishing down to the tiniest speck in relation to the increasing enormity of the universe I'm connected with, being such an infinitesmally small part of this huge thing - and then coming back to feeling my regular size and the universe more "out there".


I've had a few more experiences I can mention - and I will mention them - but they're not what matter most in terms of connecting to the universal flow, or so it feels to me.

What matters most? Inner flow. Several times in my life - each time with grief, with loss - I've come to another part of myself. Had it been frozen? Definitely it had been buried or somehow locked away. Each time it had to do with loving, sometimes with coming to feel a love that had been there, sometimes from losing a person or animal I loved and the grief bringing me to a flow.

It's my sense that the many current inner explorations for self knowledge and inner freeing are as important as any "out there" spiritual explorations and experiences. Otherwise we're a lump in this flowing universe.

I think of a friend who, in a deeply religious time of her life, qualified to be a Christian minister - but stayed in a marriage to a seriously physically abusive man. It took her years to heal from the physical injuries. Yet she stayed. Years later she still had no sense that she had the right to keep any money she earned. She did the work of 3 people - and gave a lot of financial support to 2 other healthy adults. They asked. She wasn't happy about it - but she gave.

My sense is that things were not flowing well in her. Blocks about feeling for herself, caring for herself.

And my knowledge about myself is that I've had inner freedom in some areas - like thinking - but far less in others - like love and grief. And that to move into more "inner sync" has also meant more true connection in all kinds of directions.

I came to grief - and poetry and songs started flowing. Day after day I was waking up with songs in my head.

The importance of inner freedom, inner flow - this may or may not become a core part of the ethical interfaith group, but I know that coming to greater inner flow has been vital in my own journey, still is.

I remember reading someone who was writing about people coming to meditation when so much was not right within them. Meditation could do much - could be a spiritual path for many. But it was not the way to heal the inner damage these people were living with - in fact, it made them especially vulnerable to so-called gurus.

I think too of the many people attracted to New Age spiritualities, where it's commonly believed that you've chosen everything that happens to you, that you have even chosen your parents. So if you've been horrifically abused as a child, you chose that. And if millions of people are massacred in the Holocaust, they have chosen to experience this.

The best explanations I can come to for such beliefs are that:

first, it sounds like a group trance, something holding people frozen;

and second, it seems the consequence of major inner damage. Children often believe, if their parents divorce, that it's their fault. We teach them, no, it isn't. And now, not only is the divorce their fault, but the choice of parents is all due to them.

But back to ... that my own path has had at least as much to do with inner freeing as anything to do with experiencing the non-5-sense universe. Yes. I strongly experience how crucial inner freeing has been for me, still is for me.

So in my 20's, with much more inner rigidity, I denied I had any interest in anything that could be called spiritual. It was a secret interest, almost something shameful - this wondering, was there anything more? And if so, what was it? How did I, and how did others, connect to it?


And with that, back to god / the universal flow. I have the sense of being with this flow from time to time. And I have the sense that I've lived much of my life cut off from feeling it, that it was there for me to feel but I just wasn't attuned to feeling it.

I have the sense of there being very wide choices that are "right" for feeling connected to the universal flow. Like when I recently did an interview series on understanding Islam, understanding the West, I felt "in tune with the universal flow." Nothing to do with specifics. A general feel of being "with the flow" in relation to it.

It's nothing like: do or don't use birth control. Even, do or don't have an abortion.

For me, there's stuff that feels wrong - when it's destructive of others and also myself, but these are "full others" - people fully formed. I'm certainly outside the flow when I say something intentionally hurtful.

Other things outside or against the flow: rigidity, lack of feeling for others and also for oneself.

My guess, but I have much less experience re this, is that not all is a good flow. It makes sense to me, given the many writings on evil forces, and given the mess in the small part of the universe I'm familiar with, that there are negative forces as well as positive ones. As for myself, I've felt a couple of spaces to be "not good," but had no idea if this was my imagination. Anyway, I left quickly.

Other experiences. My father's presence, for a couple of years after his death - a very strong sense of his presence - no words. And his presence was only in one specific place, but there it was ongoing. So I could go and sit beside him. I still sometimes have a light feeling of his presence. (He died almost 10 years ago now.)

I also felt a dog's presence after her death, and a cat's. The cat's only for a night, strong, and the next night much lighter, but so clear and strong the first night. I remember the cat coming and sleeping on my chest, and telling me he didn't blame me, something like that. I wasn't there, the night of his death - and it wouldn't have happened, had I been there. He was such a quiet and caring cat.

Do I believe my father was really there? And what about the cat? I don't know. And I don't care to try to prove or disprove it.

Joan of Arc heard voices. Did they come from some source outside herself? Again, that's a question for someone else.

My least comfortable experience with religion
- that was with the Jehovah's Witnesses, who came to the door when I was 12, whom my parents let me talk with, whom I felt trapped by because I could not articulate what felt wrong to me. I had no way of justifying why I felt their stuff was all wrong. They felt like very nice people - but as if somewhat flattened, except for one person, who seemed more born into being a Jehovah's Witness than actually one.

Despite feeling trapped, I also felt the inner grip of the stuff they taught: you will die forever unless you follow us; we are the one and only way.

On the one hand, it made no sense to me. On the other, I was afraid that somehow they were right. It took years before the fear was completely dispelled. I was saved by dating (this felt so much more right to me than their stuff - and I had no interest in any Jehovah's Witnesses) and by a a comparative religion course the year I started university (facts about the development of different religions - facts that went totally against what they taught. What an enormous relief. I have had a lifelong love of information, data, facts).

Quite a learning experience, that contact with the Jehovah's Witnesses. There's so much I wouldn't know - or believe - about the hold of some traditional religions without that contact. I understand much more what makes it hard for people to leave, like Nonie Darwish, whom it took 17 years of living outside an Islamic country before she left Islam.

A comfortable contact with religion - that would be with what I might call Christmas tree Christianity. I loved, as a child, the sense of magic and wonder of Christmas Eve. The sense of glow. I still love that. Right now I have a Christmas wreath in the living room, and another in the bedroom. I can see a wreath now - and if I touched it, could smell the fragrance of fresh pine.

I didn't hear anything about god at home in my early childhood. There were Christmas and Easter - holidays. Easter was never magic (thinking back, I could say it felt more similar to Halloween than to Christmas), but Christmas Eve always was. I was so disappointed when, just one year, my parents tried the Canadian thing of having Christmas morning instead of Christmas eve. Horrible. Ugh. We never did that again.

Silent Night - magic. We Three Kings - no magic at all.

More on childhood. I didn't hear of god. I did hear of religion. I knew my parents had left Catholicism because it didn't protect my father's mother, no matter how badly his father beat her. Instead she was to be rewarded in heaven. And the church didn't speak up for the Jews. So my father learned after the war that everyone in the only Jewish family from his village had been killed (instead of being kept in safe keeping, as he had been told would happen). No one from the church had spoken up. The pope had not spoken out. What did the villagers know. But the pope - he must have known. Why didn't he speak out?

So I did hear of religion as a child - and knew that my parents would never let me go to a Catholic school. Instead I went to a Protestant school where almost all the students were Jewish. And no one talked of god there either, though we learned to recite the Lord's prayer. But what it was about - no one went into that (as far as I remember anyway). But we did sing Christmas carols every December.

Such a strange combination, when I think of it, of silent areas and non-silent areas.

Anyway, these are the things that come to me when I go back to childhood experiences of god and religion.


Something else comes to mind. Knowing something is wrong though it was presented as right.

Friends of my parents gave me a child's version of the Bible for Christmas when I was seven. What an amazing book. It told me how people got made, that people were bad and got punished, that they had 2 sons who kept fighting. It all made sense to me. But then one of the brothers killed animals for god, and the other burned grain.

I knew, through and through, that it was wrong to kill the animals. And I could not believe it when god preferred that brother.

It's an experience that has stayed with me - sitting there, reading the sentences over and over, trying to get the words to mean something other than what they said. I was sure I had to be reading wrong. After all, I was only seven. But no matter how often I read, the words had the same meaning. God preferred the brother who killed the animals.

I could understand the next thing: the other brother got very mad and killed the brother who had killed the animals. I would have been totally mad too.

But that's not what stayed with me. It's being sure, deep inside, about what was right and what was wrong. No voice of god could have spoken more clearly than that inside sureness.

My sense is that I was very connected to myself.

A Canadian author, Timothy Findley, seems to have had a similar response to a slightly later Bible story - that of Noah's ark, where loads of animals are sacrificed before the rains come. Findley ended up writing a novel, Not Wanted on the Voyage - a very different take on the Noah's ark story.

But back to ...

Why, as I see it, did the god in the Bible approve of the sacrifice of animals?

My inner understanding is that people hear the voice of god (cosmic flow, whatever) largely through the filter of their own perceptions. So an angry harsh person is likely to hear an angry harsh god. In this case, someone who could only imagine showing his devotion to god by killing something he values, created a god who appreciates this.

How might that story have gone, had I been the writer, instead of the stunned reader?

Let's start by imagining that I believed the universal flow wanted acknowledgement and appreciation. Then maybe this cosmic force would have appreciated having the animals ceremonially given as a gift, then taken care of, continuing to live for the flow's enjoyment.

So in my imagining, to show his love of his god, the brother gives his favorite animal to god - alive and not dead. He lets this animal live and not become food. He takes care of it well so his god can take pleasure in the animal's happy life. His god appreciates the animal for a long time - and appreciates the man for showing his devotion in this way.


A good thing I never went to Bible school, traditional Christians may be muttering - I would have been a bad influence. Or maybe some are thinking, too bad I didn't go - I might have learned to accept the old story.

Of course unconventional Christians, like Unitarians, may be cheering.


By the way, in many ways I can relate to the old story - especially in the fighting between the brothers. Anger. Conflict. It's easier for me to imagine a loving connection to the universal flow, than an ongoing deeply loving flow between people.


Here's my sense of things, from my inner ethical voice. Our next stage, if we humans reach it, is to make a true garden of this planet. A garden - a safe place for people to flourish, and animals, and plants. All living things. A huge challenge. It's much harder to garden well, than to destroy things.

I think of how much work it can be, to save even one life, whether it's an animal's or a person's. Much easier to let whoever it is die.

It's also harder work to get an animal or person to unlearn destructive habits, than it is to kill whoever it is. Harder to repair inner damage, in general, than to give up.

To make a garden of this planet - a huge undertaking. So much to take into consideration - like birth control for masses of the animals - or we need to let the prey-predator cycles continue.

This brings me to a brief aside on homosexuality (something I keep getting negative comments about). Homosexuality - perhaps the world's best birth control method. At this time in world history, with massive population expansion, a terrific way to help keep the population in check (for those who are homosexual). It's one of those cases of "having one's cake" (no pregnancy) and "eating it too, as often as one likes" (having sexual pleasure, as often as one likes). Any pregnancies that happen are definitely chosen: people have to go out of their way to do things that don't come naturally to them for pregnancy to occur.

But that's not a big thing here.

Here, my personal spirituality - in this case, listening to my inner sense of right and wrong.


Anything else to say? I think I've said the main thing. I feel very much "in the flow" with what I call "the universal flow" these days.


With spiritual truths, different people have had different inner experiences. My own sense is that who we are leads to differing experiences of what I call "the universal flow", some call "higher power", some call "god."

I know many people who have left Christianity for Buddhism - because this went more with their spiritual side. I also know Christians who have very different experiences of the spiritual. Some have left more traditional branches for the more human-rights oriented. Many consider themselves spiritual not religious. And others feel they have THE TRUTH, that their understanding of Christianity is the one and only true religion.


Recently I started a petition to nominate Umar Mulinde for the Nobel Peace Prize. He converted from Islam to Christianity despite living in a country with a large Muslim population. I didn't nominate him because he had found THE truth, but because he had the courage to live HIS truth.

I think of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Nazi Germany who had the courage to live their spiritual truth - very different from the mainstream Christian truth. I can't remember the exact number - 10,000 or maybe 40,000 - Jehovah's Witness men were executed by the Nazis.

One thing I appreciate about living in a society with considerable freedom is the freedom to explore our spirituality as well as spirituality in general - and also not to explore it.


Why this focus on ethical interfaith, you may ask, at this point in my life.

Ethics have always been a focus - totally core from childhood on.

And then it matters to me to be able to talk about spiritual things in a space where people are looking at things. Instead I've bumped, over and over, into the "every faith is basically the same" wall. But they're not. The evidence screams that they're not.

People burned Joan of Arc at the stake for hearing voices. Surely that religion was not the same as her personal faith.

I want a place where there is actually honest, caring, respectful exploration.

And currently most interfaith groups block rather than encourage that. Perhaps most of all, given my lifelong concern with ethics, they tend to shy away from any discussion of the ethics of the different religions, especially if Muslims are part of the group.

Once again, it's "we're all the same." I want a better place than that.

And more on ethics. One could say that ethics was my family religion - a central part of my father's religion, anyway, as I experienced it in my childhood. Good ethics - the foundation to being a good human being.

My hope: that a group like Ethical Interfaith could give powerful tools to people of various faiths feeling as trapped by the interfaith groups they're a part of - as I felt with the Jehovah's Witnesses.

"And the truth shall set you free."

Well, I see that the truth is always something I don't fully get to. But ethical interfaith is, for me, another way of approaching more of the truth.


December 24, 2012

To go from this exploration of my personal spirituality,
to more on ethical interfaith, click here.

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My personal spirituality.
A journey through personal development,
into the meaning of
an emotionally healthy spirituality.
Experiences and explorations.

personal spirituality, everyday spirituality,
personal ethics, meaning of spirituality,
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Elsa of Ethical Interfaith

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Ethical Interfaith
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exploration of:

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My personal spirituality.
A journey through personal development,
into the meaning of
an emotionally healthy spirituality.
Experiences and explorations.

To go from this exploration of
an emotionally healthy spirituality,
to more on ethical interfaith, click here.


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