Moving from Religious Trauma into Soul Healing, Part III: Beauty

Never lose an opportunity of seeing something beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.     

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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Photo by DAVID ILIFF

Beauty is the basis of my spiritual discovery process.

I found the Anglican church on a trip to England, back in ’07, a time of big transition. My then six-year-old and I visited St. Martin in the Field and read the names of long-ago ancestors on placards in the narthex. We toured medieval graveyards. We toured Ely Cathedral, with origins around AD 672, home to St. Catherine’s Chapel, a stained glass museum, and towers reaching some 215 feet. We stared up at the ceilings, decorated in ancient paintings of the ancestry of Jesus, and felt our simultaneous smallness and our connection to all that has ever been.

Back in the states, I wandered into a small Episcopal church and heard Bach and a homily delivered in Latin and German. The smell of incense wafted by as people knelt on prayer benches. Ministers, dressed in robes, gave communion at a carved altar while someone played Mendelssohn on a massive pipe organ.

For a girl coming out of the cult of fundamentalism, with its stripped-out, prefabricated buildings and its scorn for arches and sculptures, and organs, the beauty of this new place called to me.

I was that girl in the Church of Christ, but my parents were strings players. Nobody could fool me into thinking that marble statues or Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus were evil. I already knew that truth lived at the symphony – just as truth lives in the inherent beauty of the universe. I knew better.

Beauty saved my life. It gave me a reason to keep moving forward when I was surrounded by people who taught suppression and denial of the self. When I felt trapped in that cultural prison, believing I was worthless if not married by the age of 23, I could always plug into music as a meditation, and reconnect to universal love.

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https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Century_Tree.jpg

Beauty = Truth = Innate Knowing

We all know beauty makes life worth living. The wonder we have watching the sun rise: this is truth. The goosebumps we get listening to a choir of children’s voices: this is truth. Sometimes I see intricate floral masterpieces rendered in tattoo ink and realize: this is truth. Not just formal works of art, but the arrangement of grasses in my neighbor’s xeriscape. We all seek this kind of truth, and we can trust it.

What causes me to experience beauty is an innate knowing of the right direction for me at a given moment . . . which may differ from the right direction of my friends or family. The beauty experience whispers the next right thing.  More like this . . . More of this . . . Keep reaching for this . . .

If I listen to the voice of beauty and follow it, I always find something I needed. I’m learning to trust this inner wisdom. When I do this, I reach for the divine.

Here are some things to consider in your own search for beauty.

  1. Your immediate environment: How pleasing is it to the eye?
  2. The sounds in your space: Do they bring you joy?
  3. How often do you let yourself absorb art of any kind?
  4. How lovely are the words you read or hear or write?
  5. How often do you absorb the natural environment (sights, sounds, smells, textures)?
  6. What do you do to create beauty?
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Still Recovering from Toxic Religion: Pass That Buick in Love

It’s OK to keep evolving.

Here’s a story about being inspired and suppressing it.

This morning I got behind a slow-moving Buick on a major thoroughfare. I encountered the same dark green Buick, ten minutes before, when I was crossing a downtown street. On foot, I got up close and looked inside at three senior women – all probably in their eighties, peering out the car windows as if thoroughly lost and overwhelmed by the traffic. Now, as I now rode behind them, they slowed and stopped at every side street.

I felt bad for them – they seemed lost and confused and I’ve been there myself many times. But I also chomped at the bit – just because the sun was shining and I wanted to sail down the street, unfettered, toward Mama Jean’s Famous Tuna Salad. I thought about passing, but then got a stab of guilt. Why? What’s wrong with blowing by the Buick with a smile and a wave?

This felt familiar: feeling inspired to race ahead into a sunny adventure whilst holding back, tucked behind someone who isn’t ready to race ahead. Then I thought . . .

Why do I still do this? Hold back, feeling guilt for wanting to pass someone or say ‘no-thank-you’ to an unwanted offer or avoid a conversation I know will drag me down . . . ?

I was raised to think other people’s feelings were more important than mine . . .

 . . . that I was selfish and arrogant if I needed to be my age or to just get the hell out of someplace that didn’t feel good.

I learned in my family, my church, my Church of Christ school, that if someone is upset by your behavior, that must mean you’re doing something wrong . . . and if someone feels inferior in relation to you, you should always modify yourself, so as not to offend.

While I’d love it if everyone felt warm and fuzzy, I just can’t make that happen and stay sane.

(Yes, I used to try.) Sometimes, we just want to drive a little faster. We get inspired and seek to create or take care of ourselves instead of prioritize someone else’s perceived needs. Be a selfish ten-year-old or a teenager with her own opinions. Grow into an actor or poet when our original life script says, “blend in and be quiet.”

Being inspired doesn’t make us arrogant.

It’s creativity . . . the Divine spark . . . at work in our lives, pressing us forward into growth.

It amazes me how lifelong is this process of getting free from toxic religion. I need a special 12-step group for this. But the Buick represents yet another layer to shed. A very co-dependent layer. My stifling won’t help anybody live better . . . or help them be inspired.

Pema Chodron says when she sees someone on TV who is suffering, she takes a breath, gives a nod of respect and love in their direction . . . a kind of brief meditation for their well-being. And then she resumes her day. If I apply this to my friends in the Buick, I can pass them with love.

Move far away to follow your dreams. Love someone  your parents don’t want you to love. End a relationship that drains your life force. Start a business, take a risk, or make a mistake. Surging forward into sunshine makes us evolve.

It’s okay to shed the guilt and go.

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