Do or Do Not.

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When the Universe Speaks, I Listen.

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The rational part of my brain by far dwarves that part of my brain which is open to things-not-easily-explained. I’m far more Scully than Mulder: my first reaction to hearing stories about phenomena which fall outside of the realm of the basic laws of the universe as laid down in high-school science textbooks is to scoff dismissvely at whatever out-there bit of New Age hooey is under discussion. I reailze that this isn’t the most open-minded attitude I could have (I attribute said attitude to my apparently very sheltered upbringing), and I’m working on being more open to that which isn’t considered part of “normal” science, especially since so many of my friends — incredibly intelligent people I admire and respect quite a bit — believe so strongly in some of this stuff. If these folks believe in $x, I say to myself, then there’s got to be something to it.

I’m saying all of that as a way into this: I’m not sure how much I believe in coincidence, and I’m trying to notice when it feels like the universe is attempting to tell me something… even if I can’t immediately suss out just what.

Case in point:

Friday night, Terry and I were watching a program on the Travel Channel about (coincidentally enough) places which are supposedly hotspots for mystical or paranormal energy. One of the mystically intense locales featured on the show was Sedona, Arizona, and there among the footage of Sedona was a very interesting-looking church, one that I believe had been built into the rocks in the mountains. (It was only mentioned and shown in passing, so I didn’t get the full story.) That church itself isn’t important to my story except in that it sparked some neurons in my brain: “Hmmm,” the thought generated by the firing of those neurons said, “your dad told you a story about some church out in the Southwest that had a spiral staircase that had some funky properties to it. I wonder if that’s it?”

And that was all I thought of the matter.

Until a few mintues ago, when I was listening to an Internet radio station I’d never listened to before.

Instead of listening to my usual MP3s while writing, I decided to listen to the radio instead, and pulled a station at random out of iTunes: iChannel, which plays all indie and unsigned bands, so I knew I’d hear some new stuff. Well, after the third song I heard, a DJ (female voice, cute and just slightly less-than-professional-sounding) came on to introduce the next song, which had been specially requested by Sarah from Santa Fe.

“Have you ever been to Santa Fe?” asks the DJ. “They’ve got this church there, and it’s got this spiral staircase in it that’s made without any nails at all. It’s just boards. Pretty cool… you should check it out if you’re ever in Santa Fe. Anyway, here’s the request for Sarah…”

That was the church and the staircase my dad had told me about.

Coinicdence that I should see a TV show about mystical energies and unexplainable pheomena that makes me think about something I hadn’t thought of in years, something about which I couldn’t quite remember the details, and then have those details filled in 48 hours later by a DJ on a radio station I’d never even heard of before? Most likely, yeah… but it also feeds into something else which had been on my mind since Thursday: opening my mind to these sorts of connections and letting either the universe or my subconcious, take your pick, send me messages or information it thinks I need.

(What message am I supposed to be taking from the story of the Loretto Chapel? I’m honestly not sure. Since I’m not a religious person, I’m going to ignore the “miraculous” apsects of the staircase’s construction. I’m thinking I should be getting a message about design or building, or perhaps about seeing a project through to completion. Possibly that I should become a nun, though that seems unlikely.)

These sorts of coincidences have happened to me many times in my life. I have no idea if they’re a more or less common occurrence for me than for other people, or even if I’m more of less aware of them. I know that as impressive as this most recent coincidence feels, it’s far from the biggest that’s ever popped up; sometime soon I’ll tell you about my friend Steve and how I knew he was supposed to be part of my life.

So what about all of you? I’d love to hear about any similar experiences you might have had and what, if any, meaning you ascribed to them.

Written by Allen

May 7th, 2006 at 10:05 pm

Posted in Personal

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Feels like home

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I’ve never been much of a religious person. Honestly, I can’t even say I’ve ever been much of a spiritual person.

I grew up Methodist and I attended church pretty regularly for the first few years of my life. I distinctly remember our church being a big part of our lives when I was litte–everyone that I can remember our family spending time with during those years were members of the same church. I have as many memories of events and people from our church as I do of anything else from those years.

But when we moved out of Birmingham when I was five, my parents never found a church that seemed to click for them in quite the same way as our old one had. We moved to Louisiana, and then finally to Florida. We tried several other churches, but eventually my parents just gave up. My religious education stopped when I was about nine.

I grew up Methodist, but even now I couldn’t tell you a single damn thing about the Methodist faith.

The part of the country where I did most of my growing up was heavily evangelical Christian–Southern Baptist, Assembly of God and the like. Very, very conservative and, at least in my hometown, very vocal and strident about their faith. One church there has had a “revival” that’s been going on for a decade, since Father’s Day 1995 (and which, coincidentally, has earned massive, massive sums of money for the church–the revival’s an enormous full-time business).

And while I didn’t actively examine my own beliefs, I knew that I didn’t like most of what was so loudly and proudly proclaimed in my town. It always seemed to be that these people who claimed to feel so much love for and from God were simply preaching hate, intolerance and exclusion. I believed in a loving and forgiving God (still do), not a spiteful, vengeful God (or whatever name you want to give to your higher power…”God” works for me, even if it’s not necessarily “God” in a strictly Judeo-Christian sense).

What turned me off was less the religion than the religious.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more and more searching for some kind of spiritual guidance and connection. I tried studying some of the big-name Eastern religions, and while I found aspects of Taoism and Buddhism that I really appreciated, I just couldn’t quite “get it” enough ever to consider myself Buddhist or Taoist.

After my kids were born, I realized I had to start considering more than just my own ongoing religious quandaries. I want my children to grow up with a strong moral and ethical framework, and while the wife and I feel it’s predominantly our responsibility to give them that framework, some institutional backing wouldn’t hurt, a community or organization that will help instill in my girls the values I hope they carry with them.

All of that’s a five-hundred word preface for saying this: my family went to church yesterday, the first time I’d attended a regular weekly service in more than twenty years. We went to a Unitarian Universalist service at the First Unitarian Church of Providence.

And so help me God-or-whatever-you-want-to-call-it, I actually enjoyed it.

I don’t want to turn this into anything resembling preaching, especially since I’ve been to exactly one service. But I feel like I’ve finally found a liberal religious tradition that’s inclusive rather than exclusive, that highly values tolerance and diversity, that respects the personal beliefs of all people, that really and truly does seem centered on love for everyone instead of love for people who believe the same things I do. I’ve found a place that made me feel like it’s okay to believe the things I do, and it’s also okay for me not to know exactly what I believe just yet–the journey is what’s important, not the destination.

It seems like very, very few of my friends have any sort of active religion or spirituality in their lives (with some notable exceptions–hey, Newberry, I’d love to hear your thoughts!). If they do, they certainly don’t talk much about it. Not coincidentally, most of my friends lean toward the political left. I think that those of us whose political and social beliefs tend to be more liberal have found ourselves more and more alienated from the increasingly conservative world of modern religion. It’s nice to know that there are compassionate alternatives out there to The Gospel According To Dubya.

I still have some long-standing kinks in my think to work through regarding this whole church-going thing. Twenty-plus years of distaste for organized religion can’t get washed away in one Sunday morning gargle of UU goodness. But I’m glad that I’ve finally found something that seems good to me, something beautiful–something that fits.

Written by Allen

June 13th, 2005 at 10:46 pm

Posted in General

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