Credo by Jean Krogh
Many writers and thinkers have spoken of each of us having a purpose, a gift to contribute to the whole interconnected web of life; they say that each person’s unique contribution is essential for the web to hold together.
For years, I’ve been wondering what my contribution is to this great web of existence; what is my own unique gift, that will be lost if I don’t express it. What meaning can I make of this life and what will be my legacy?
Trying to discern meaning and purpose is one constant, one ongoing thread, in my life journey. Trying to find expression for my essential spiritual self is another constant. Trying to find comfortable connection and community is yet another thread. All these threads come from the same place: a place of trying to free or reach or express my own truest self, finding where I fit most comfortably in this world.
My spiritual/religious odyssey has been part of my search for my truest expression of self and for a comfortable community. Over the decades of that spiritual odyssey, my understanding of That Which is Greater than me, has evolved. At this moment in time, I believe that there is a loving, creative life force, a life energy, a power, which flows within, around, and through us, which animates everything. Some of the names I’ve used over the years for this creative life energy have been God, Higher Power, Universe, Spirit, Chi, Love. I feel spiritual connection in many ways, including through music, nature, and connection to the Earth. I believe there are many ways we can partner with this divine life energy.
In my spiritual journey, there have been times of involvement with organized religion and times where I did not belong to any organized religion.
As a child and teenager, I attended a Methodist Church in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Going to church and Sunday School was an important part of my growing up years, an involvement I just accepted as the way it was in my family.
Through most of my 20s in the late 1960s into the ‘70s, organized religion was not part of my life. Those years were filled with a lot of international folk dancing and a lot of learning about myself; a little Buddhist chanting; various jobs; a relationship; feminism; war tax resisting; anti-smoking campaigns, and more.
In my 30s, I stopped identifying as Christian, and throughout that decade and into my 40s, my spiritual journey was my own. I had a spiritual/psychic reading, read New Age books, did a lot of contra dancing, took workshops at Interface in Cambridge and at Kripalu, continued psychotherapy, and felt firmly in a process of trying to connect with my Self and with That Which was Greater than me.
When I was 42, I met Bob. We married in 1992, outdoors at my parents’ home in Deerfield. Victoria Safford officiated (my parents were members here). Bob is Jewish, and we had some Jewish elements in our ceremony.
Over the next years Bob and I became more involved with Temple Shir Tikvah, a Reform congregation in Winchester MA, outside of Boston.
But Judaism didn’t yet feel like my religion, so when I was 50 and feeling a need to ground my spiritual seeking in some sort of religious community, I joined the Reading Unitarian Universalist Church. But I could never call it a “church” because that felt too Christian, so I said I was going to the UU “place.” I was an active member there for three years but was, at the same time, slowly feeling more connection and resonance with the practices and people of Shir Tikvah.
So I chose a Jewish path as a way to worship, express gratitude, find meaning, and be in community. In 2003, after several years of reading and studying, I became Jewish, a process that included immersing in the warm, living waters of a mikvah. Three years later I was part of an adult bat mitzvah class. Becoming Jewish and the bat mitzvah were significant experiences, despite my ambivalence about both these steps. Both experiences came about because of my personal connections with Shir Tikvah’s rabbi, Rim, and cantor, Beth.
But my relationship to my Jewish identity began to change over the years as my formal studying with Beth and Rim ended and those relationships changed.
Bob and I moved to this Valley in 2009. The many losses I went through at that time and my changing Jewish identity contributed to my struggle to find a Jewish home here. Now we are members of the JCA, the Jewish Community of Amherst, and though it is a good place and I feel some connection there, it doesn’t engage me in a way that feels true to who I am.
So, longing for community and meaning and feeling more acutely my own mortality, I have made my way to this UU place and, with intention, chosen this congregation for the connection, support, and inspiration that are important to me. As Rabbi Rim said to me in a recent phone call, what I call myself isn’t so important. I can have Jewish experiences. I can have UU experiences. Unitarian Universalism becomes part of my Jewish story, and my Jewish identity becomes part of my UU story.
Whether UU, Jewish, New Age, or not thinking much about spirituality at all, my understanding of That Which is Greater than me has remained fairly constant even as it has evolved. Whatever I have named this holy energy over the years, I feel very grateful for it and sustained by it.
My wish to make meaning and find purpose and joy, my wish to be comfortable in a religious community and in this life, and my struggle to free my truest Jean-self, are all connected, all part of my search for my own unique contribution to the interconnected web of all life.
Credo by Stephanie Toggerson
When I was twelve, I told my mother that I wanted to be a priest. My mother, a daily mass going Catholic, believed in me even when a priest laughed in her face when she told him of my dream.
I was old enough to understand that the tradition that I loved so deeply didn’t want me because I was female. But I tried holding on. I became an altar server. I became a youth minister. Slowly and incompletely, I let go of the religion of my childhood. So slowly and incompletely that I was married in the Catholic Church. So slowly and incompletely, that this is the first year that I made a conscious choice not to participate in Ash Wednesday.
Slowly and incompletely I let go as I continue to grieve the loss of my childhood home.
In letting go, I encountered fundamentalist Christianity briefly. I could not accept that the bible was the word of god because the bible said it was the word of god. Nor, when it got down to it,could I accept that there is only one path to the divine. I was politely kicked out.
In letting go, I spent time with a group that included wiccans, druids, and people who followed other pagan or occult paths.
In letting go, I studied philosophy and world religions. This is where I found something that seemed the most akin to a home. The solution to the dilemma of letting go, I thought, was to aspire to the podium, rather than the pulpit. So I applied to graduate school. Not to put a too fine of a point on it, but in my experience, graduate school is a not the place to go on spiritual quests. But it was during this time that I encountered some of the thinkers that fundamentally reshaped my path.
Here I am now, finding a home in W.C. Smith’s words. He writes, “. . . No text is scripture in itself and as such. People—a given community—make a text into scripture, or keep it scripture, by treating it a certain way . . . scripture is a human activity.” It is our communal living of a text that makes it sacred. Texts that are no longer lived become ‘classics’ or historical documents.
Scripture is lived: studied, ruminated, it becomes, moment by moment, a touchstone, a foundation that is created by and is supported by community. I can create scriptures for my personal use, and become part of the scripture making body of a community. Scripture, something I thought was outside of ourselves, is inside of ourselves—we are scripture. Here I am now, finding a home in some of the great mystical traditions, where I have discovered that I am not alone as a believer of the in between. A believer in my own smallness, a believer in my own bigness, a believer in the tension between meaning and words, the gap that is beyond the scope of my mind, the tension between transcendence, what is beyond, and immanence, what is within.
Meister Eckhart wrote this in the fourteenth century: “Were it the case that a fly had reason and could rationally seek out the eternal abyss of divine being, from which it came forth, we say that God, insofar that he is God, could not fulfill or satisfy the fly. Therefore pray God that we may be free of God.” In letting go, however slowly and incompletely, I am finding a home, here, now.
Do I have to let go of god to find god? Do I have to find god to let go of god? Yes. Here I am now, in a community that dedicates itself, among other things, to acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth as a community, and a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. I do not know where my journey will take me tomorrow, but I know that I am now in a community that supports my journey wholly, and without reservation.
Here I am now, knowing that my mother, who so staunchly believed in my childhood dreams, still believes in me.