I remember the day I walked out, I remember it precisely and accurately, I remember the light in the church, I remember the words spoken, I remember getting in trouble for leaving mid-service. I remember it, because that moment was the culmination of a lot of years feeling like I didn’t quite fit into the religion that I was raised being a part of. I grew up Presbyterian, handed down from my father, who was handed it from his father before him. I had to go to Sunday School as a kid, and I know it sounds dramatic and hyperbolic to say this, but that hour and change felt like months each weekend. From a very early age I didn’t quite understand or connect with the lessons being taught at that Sunday School, I didn’t quite relate to the people doing the teaching. I counted the minutes until each Sunday morning came to an end, and rejoiced the moment I walked back out those doors into the mid-morning light. It all came to a triumphant end one day, when during the sermon, the pastor was telling the congregation that God spoke to him the night before, in a real God voice, and told him that he wanted his congregation to give, and give more than they have before, so that a new basketball court could be built. This declaration was followed up with some dramatic speaking in what appeared to be tongues, and even some shaking on the floor. In one immediate “Nope,” I rose, walked out of the sanctuary, and told my parents I would never be going back. I believe I was 11.
Now, this post, this story above, is not in any way a finger point, or a look down on, Presbyterianism or any organized religion at all. I want to reiterate that so everyone reading this, everywhere, understands, that I am supportive of and happy for anyone who believes anything, as long as those beliefs do not reduce anyone else based on their gender, age, race, or set of beliefs. If your God is kind, accepting, and open, I’m all for it. I hope you understand, that as always, this little Signal Fire is just me, shouting into the void, hoping to answer some questions, and hoping to get anyone reading it asking some in return. I have long believed, long long believed, when it comes to religion, or spirituality for those like me that do not follow what they believe to be a religion, we’re all saying the same things, always have been, we just don’t say them the same. We just don’t sound the same. This particular Signal Fire is explaining where I find god, where I feel most connected to the great big everything. If you find it in a church, I am so happy for you, if you find it in a temple, mosque, or brand new building, it’s all the same, if you find joy, I find it for you. Onward.
It’s storms for me, it’s the sea. It’s the tip top of mountains I drug my tired ass to the top of, it’s a deep breath below the whitewash and the waves of some ocean after I’ve fallen from some surfboard. It’s the lightning, the thunder, the dark shadow of grey that creeps across the surface of the ocean and promises tempest and shake. It’s the rainfall, it’s the soft snow in December, it’s the green of Ireland, the russet of Scotland, the turquoise of the Caribbean. Nature, is where I feel the beating, pulsing heart of ‘god,’ and it’s in the places of the most rugged and isolated beauty that I feel like I’m in the church I was born to be in. The tenets of what I believe, echo what one of my greatest heroes once said when asked about his religion, the Dalai Lama simply whispered: “My religion is kindness. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Your own brain, your own heart is your temple. Your philosophy is simple kindness.”
I’ve long thought that god can mean 1000 things to 1000 different people, and I’ve always believed that it doesn’t matter, it truly doesn’t matter, as long as we’re all kind. I began following Buddhism after my Dad happened to bring me home a book when he was on a baseball trip to Saudi Arabia, a last minute grab out of his hotel room, and it changed my life. I associate as a Buddhist, as it is without doubt the philosophy I have followed longer than any other, and it’s what sings the truest songs in my own heart and soul. Am I a perfect Buddhist? No, my goodness no, far from it. I stray from just about every single aspect from time to time, forgetting to be as compassionate as I should be, forgetting the patience, the understanding, and the intentional distancing from anger, I do this because I am human. I call myself Buddhist because I keep trying, I keep pushing, I keep returning myself to those foundations as much as I possibly can, as often as I possibly can. I meditate in a million ways, focusing on the breathing, on the gentle washing of thoughts as I try not to empty my mind, but to find stillness in the thoughts that will inevitably come. What I’ve noticed, what brings me back to not only the haiku that ends this post but also inspired it, is that when I feel the most spiritually connected, when I feel like the best Buddhist, the best version of myself, is when I am in that rainfall, when I am watching a storm form over some distant sea, when I am surrounded by green on green on green that spreads over all things, and eventually will overtake everything we’ve built here.
God for me, is in that rainfall, and it’s this earth and all of you who live upon it that I will worship. This is what I know, this is what I felt that morning I walked out of the Presbyterian church in my hometown, this is what I feel to this day. It’s you, it’s this magical place, it’s kindness. It’s always been kindness.
God in the rainfall,
in storms building over sea,
in the green that spreads.