I think it all started when I was a little girl. My birthday is December 24, and I remember being very little and sticking my tongue out towards the ceiling at Jesus because I was mad that I had to share my birthday with Him (its normal for 4-5 year olds to be egocentric!). Maybe this was also influenced by how much I dreaded going to Sunday School at the local Catholic Church. Regardless, I didn't like God but honestly I can't remember why.
Throughout my whole life, I've a very interesting relationship with God and religion. As life moved and flowed forwards, or what sometimes felt backwards, my fluctuation of almost every emotion towards God was profound. Divorce, neglect, abuse, trauma, my first "heartbreak" in middle school, deaths, and all the other colorless aspects that many people experience led me to change and twist and turn in so many different directions in my relationship with God.
During middle school, like many of us, I was cynical and utterly miserable. I was experiencing new things at home, I didn't have any friends for awhile (shout to to the "I Hate Maren Club"), and was angry that my body was going through changes that I did not understand or enjoy. 13 year old Maren hated her life and hated God for preventing the happiness and freedom that she desired from landing in her lap. Eventually, I became interested in Buddhism, because there was no god, only calmness and kindness. I began to reject my Catholic upbringing, and eventually God all together. In the midst of this time of anger and questioning, my Nana told me something that has always resonated with me: God is like a tree.
He is the roots, and every religion, every belief, and every domination of believing and loving God were the branches. Christianity is a branch, Hinduism is a branch, Buddhism, Sikhism, Catholicism, etc were all branches from the same root (God). And the leaves were the people who followed it.
This idea really resonated with me. I felt comfort in knowing that there wasn't any pressure to be apart of any organized religion. My Nana made it feel like I didn't have to choose the "right" way because every way was the right way.
"God is like a tree"
Moving forward, I decided that it did not matter what I believed, as long as I was good to people. Towards the end of 8th grade, my close friend invited me to church with him. I had been telling him no for years, because I didn't believe in God, I hated God, I didn't want to go, and I lived a sinful life so I wouldn't be welcome anyways. He asked me to give it a chance and just go, just once. So I did. I fell in love with the group leader Brittany. She was exactly who I wanted to be in my head. She wore all black, with black boots with laces, had naturally curly blonde hair like me. Her coffee tumbler had stickers with all of her favorite bands, who were also my favorite bands. She was headstrong, funny, and honest. The cherry on top was the fact that we both had very very similar experiences with our home life. It was what one might call a "blessing in disguise."
After a few weeks of attending church, during worship at the end I had an ~experience~
I was standing, and watching the band perform a song, and honestly I cannot remember what song it was, but I remember it was deep and powerful and slowly crescendoed. I was standing with my eyes closed, and as I inhaled I felt my chest swell. I felt the pieces of my shattered heart, bruised and broken from the aches of life, become whole again. It was a physical sensation and my closed eyes saw gold. My non believing mind heard the voice of another inside me, "I love you, you don't have to hurt." I began to cry uncontrollable. This experience was unlike any other I've had. It was physical and touched me deeply. This gold ran through my chest, my veins, my fingertips, and out my mouth begging to be loved. And I felt Love.
My freshman and sophomore years of high school I was a very serious church goer. I loved every minute of worship, and feeling like I was apart of a new family. I learned how to play guitar, I sang and played the keys for the worship band, and was a second/third grade teacher for the children's Bible study. I went every week, twice maybe three times a week and loved every minute of it. I learned about the world and hurts and the whys and hows of people's choices. As I grew older, and advanced groups and met new girls, had crushes, and bonded with new group leaders, the music we sang and worshipped with changed. "Sinking Deep" by Hillsong Young and Free was one of my favorites, but one morning, the lyrics hurt me.
"You are my one desire
Lord hear my only cry
To know You all my life"
In that moment, I knew that I was eventually going to the leave the church. I knew intuitively that I was going to leave, but I did not know when or why. I began to cry while singing, because I believed that I was living how I was supposed to and I had no desire to leave the church. But within the next year or so, I did.
I left and jumped right into the party scene. It was great because I was making new friends, meeting cute guys, and drinking again. I learned all of the backroads in my city and fell in love with the blinking street lights from all the different mountain tops I found myself upon. And I never stopped believing, but I stopped participating and actively praying. In the process of beginning to party and go out, I found that there were a lot of active church goers there. I was hurt because kids who were praised for their dedication and commitment to living a holy life were drinking and having sex behind the scenes. The inauthenticity cut, and I cut communication with many people that I used to speak to at church.
There was no significant changes or experiences after graduating high school and moving out that are relevant to this blog post, although I continued to believe in God and found myself praying more, whether that was for money to pay rent or jobs I've applied to to hire me. I never felt guilty for not living a very Christian lifestyle, and I was committed to the idea that a relationship with God is more important and significant than following the religion. I knew at my core that I had a relationship with God, and going to church or strictly following the religious aspects of Christianity would not make my relationship with Him stronger.
Last year, I decided that I was going to travel to Nepal. I found my interest in eastern religions sparked again, and was also learning about the ins and outs of astrology. I combined these new interests and knowledge with what my Nana had told me. "They're all branches of the same root." I thought, "well if that's the case they can be combined too." I was an odd point in my life. I had just been dumped, was depressed, and dealing with PTSD and suicidal ideation. I was practicing gratefulness, manifestation, praying, and yoga. These experiences influenced my decision to take an Eastern Religions course. We discussed Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Shinto, and Ancient Chinese Religions. I learned an abundance on both an educational level and a personal level. The most interesting pattern I found was that the foundation of all these religions were very similar, if not the same. Some of them were also similar to Christianity. This course validated my belief in the metaphor of God being a tree. My Nana was right, and my college courses and professor just proved it for me, without trying to.
On a personal level currently in my life, I am in consistent communication with the Universe, or God. I read and research as much as I can, and combine all of my knowledge and curiosity to create my own spirituality, which is rooted in the belief of God. I see these communications in divine numbers, synchronicities, and manifestations of thoughts and prayers. It's quite odd to people who know little about it, and I (we) can always learn more, but for now I know that it's true for me. My religions professor called these things "new age spirituality." Basically, pseudo science in technical terms. But, for me and many others in the world, "other worldly things" are precious. Religion has been immersed into our societies since the moment that they were established. The Native Americans believed in their gods, Hindus in Krishna and others, Catholics and Christians alike in Jesus, and Muslims in Allah. There have been intense revolutions over religion (sales of indulgences anyone?) and many religions stemming off of these more prominent ones (Sikhism, every sect of Christianity, Mormonism, etc). In the same respect, more personal or spiritual beliefs emerged into humanity as well. Astrology, numerology, synchronicity, the tree of life, reiki, chakras, and more. There is almost too much to dissect. There is such an overwhelming amount of beliefs, truths, paths, and leaders, that it seems all too much fully understand, respect, or decide as "real" or not. There is so much, and in no way am I an expert on anything. I am merely a believer.
Today, when I speak of religion and God and spirituality, I preach that everything that everyone believes is all the same. We are all worshipping the same God, or speaking to the Universe, and it is consistently interchangeable. The hatred and fear towards those who may believe differently than us is in vain, and counterproductive towards our agenda of loving others, however that may manifest in our lives.
Maren Hoflund MT HHP, is a massage therapist and holistic health practitioner based in San Diego. This her self created space where she explores topics such as mental and physical (holistic) health, self care, spirituality, and child development; in addition to her poetry and prose.