Recently I was asked, What set you on the path of spiritual development? A little to my surprise, I found myself answering:
My parents, each of whom exuded a unique, and in my mother’s case, fairly eccentric, spirituality, planted the seeds– my dad the seed of quiet compassion, my mother the seed of intense curiosity. From very early on, before age two (I know this because it was before my brother was born) I was fully aware of the presence of my “guardian angel.”
My parents gave me a typical 1950s American Catholic upbringing, which deeply inculcated an absolute recognition of the mystical and metaphysical as reality. Catholic teaching also instills spiritual yearning; it opens up a well of grace that constantly needs to be lived and refilled. I have no use for the Church now, and haven’t for over thirty years, but those two gifts are priceless.
Books, given me by my parents and occasionally by teachers, were the lynchpin of my early spiritual development. I loved spending time alone thinking and visualizing what I read. Through this process I found ideas and moments in history that ignited a spark in my mind and in some other, indefinable part of my Self. At four years old I was reading Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, and my favorite was “The Little Match Girl.” I thought it was wonderful when she left her body and went away with an angel.
When I was about six or seven years old, my dad brought home a big, over-sized book, The World’s Great Religions, published by Time-Life. Richly illustrated with Life Magazine pictures, the book was a treasure trove that I pored over for hours at a time. I never tired of seeing the pictures and reading about the rituals of all the religions.
My mother hesitated for a moment, then said, “You’re old enough, and you have to know about this history.” She handed me Leon Uris’s Exodus. I was eleven years old. Her hesitation, I think, was about the explicit, gruesome details of the Holocaust in the book. But it was primarily a novelization of the birth of the State of Israel, and it made me a Zionist for many years.
In high school, I read The Peaceable Revolution, by Betty Schechter, which is about Quaker thought and the history of non-violent resistance; and James A. Michener’s The Source, which sparked my interest in archaeology. I read voraciously growing up, but these are the books that stayed with me most vividly.
I left the Catholic Church in my early twenties, because of its blatant misogyny and its perpetual inflexibility; but as a child I loved going to catechism classes every Saturday morning; and I learned the catechism lessons by heart. One Saturday, I asked Sister Mary Theresa why there were only altar boys, no altar girls. She replied that she wasn’t sure why, but that was the way it had always been. This presaged later events. . .
. . . in which I left the Church, began my Vedic meditation practice, started channeling spirit guides, worked a whole career in non profit organizations, and ultimately became a convinced Friend (Quaker). My spirituality and spiritual practices moved away from church buildings and external rituals to living in a constant state of awareness of and listening to the Spirit.
Quakers have an expression, “Speak to [or answer] that of God in everyone.” The Sanskrit greeting that transliterates, “Namaste,” says roughly, “I greet that of the Divine in you.” I have found that if I truly try do this, and it’s a challenge, it’s impossible to quibble with the externals of religion.