I have always been a person of faith, and I mean literally faith. I have never seen a ghost or heavenly being. I have never seen a bright light or heard an unfamiliar voice in my head. I consider myself an intelligent person, with as many unanswered questions as I have reasonable explanations for my faith. I am not afraid to give up an idea if it doesn’t seem right and I am not afraid to think for myself. But I have always felt something. So I choose to hope and to exercise faith in my life. I live a spiritually disciplined life which includes living my chosen religion and exercising prayer and meditation as daily rituals. It feels right to me and it feels good and I have had some amazing experiences that whisper to my soul that I am on the right track.
The greatest values of my life I learned as a child as part of a religious community and a spiritually invested family. My father earned his Doctorate Degree from U.C.L.A. in History with disciplines in Roman and Greek history as well as comparative theologies.
I grew up in an intellectually stimulating environment with a dad well versed in world religion and history. My mother taught music and piano and also worked at the community college. My father eventually taught religion classes at U.S.C. (we never knew who to root for when they played against each other in college football – these universities are arch rivals!) I was allowed to attend different churches and ask questions. My father’s wisdom and insight into philosophy and religion was and still is amazing. I have turned to him many times for insight. I am so glad he is still here and as chipper as ever even though he is eighty years old (and looks 65!).
My religious experiences as a child were positive. Going to church was nurturing and the people were caring and I learned about charity and forgiveness and the merits of working hard and living honestly. I learned about being kind to others and tolerant of diversity. I learned to value marriage and family and to love others. I participated in many community activities that gave charitable assistance and aided those less fortunate that I. In our home we were not allowed racial slurs or jokes. We lived in Venice, California in an integrated and diverse neighborhood. Many of our friends and neighbors were of ethnic backgrounds different than our own. My parents never made it an issue.
I am not down on religion. In a world where our communities are continually breaking down and we are less connected than ever to our neighbors and their needs, I find any organization that provides a sense of strong community support and bonding is a good thing for society in general. Religious institutions can offer spiritual training and ideals for positive and purposeful living. They often respond to community and world needs by offering generous financial assistance and many resources beyond the scope of government and state regulated systems.
What I am down on is toxic religion. Religions that spout love and light out of one side of their mouth and teach bigotry, prejudice and self righteousness from the other side. I am opposed to religions that create deep enmeshments with their practitioners; that stifle individuality and promote blind followers – and to any religion that would encourage a person to give up personal agency and accountability.
I believe I am engaged in a creative partnership with God; that I am free to act for myself to create the life I choose. I believe I am free to make my own decisions which can be for good or for bad. I don’t know where the traditional character of Satan falls into place in all of this, but I do know there is plenty of evil in the world. And there is plenty of good. I have witnessed evil acts of war, terrorism and personal injury upon innocent people. I have seen hunger and disease and loss and in the midst of it all people working feverishly to make the world a better place. Life seems to be a rich smorgasbord of contrast and opposition. Anyway, I know what goodness is and I know what is evil. Call it a gift, but I have always been able to discern the difference between the two. Even as a child I stayed away from those things that I thought would harm me. My faith feels good to me and that’s the best I can do.
I believe in a benevolent, loving and generous God who is manifest throughout the universe. It is easy for me to appreciate all truth and beauty. I see it all as the handiwork of God at work in the universe. So call it what you like and don’t be offended if I refer to God. It lacks personal integrity for me to use any other title.
I have worked hard to open the windows of my mind to personal growth and change; windows closed by childhood trauma ( we all have some!) or rule bound thinking and perceptions (had a few of those too). I often sought insight from books, teachers, and
spiritual practitioners. I have done so in the hopes of experiencing my own true self and in understanding my place in this universe.
I am sharing this so you will understand why, when my family learned of the seriousness of my illness they gathered in the tradition of our religion to bless me. They spent the day fasting and in the late afternoon descended on our home (dozens of them!) caring and filled with concern. And of course Gayle was there. My husband, father, and sons stood shoulder to shoulder and laid their hands on my head, preparing to administer a healing blessing. The rest of my family gathered in a larger circle around them. My husband placed a drop of olive oil on my head, symbolic of biblical healings when oils were administered for the healing of the sick. Then he said a short prayer consecrating the oil for the “healing of the sick in the household of faith” Then my father took a turn and pronounced the main blessing. I know he must have been thinking about this for days because every word was filled with love and supplication for his girl. He was daring and asked for pretty great things for me. It was beautiful being surrounded by my family and everyone focused on ushering a healing into my life. I felt a warm comfort come over me which has never left.
I began to embrace my purpose and destiny even more deeply. I felt even stronger that I should focus on living and would have to get over all my fears and realize that my life was in God’s hands and always had been. The terms of my life had not changed in this way. I truly believe God wants me to be well, to continue to love others and to contribute and to see my grandchildren grow up. I just have to figure out the formula…
My new mantra is
“I am transcending cancer”
© 2007 Julia Andrus