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Author Topic: Learning to Be Religious  (Read 3872 times)
Juni
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« Topic Start: May 12, 2010, 02:13:07 pm »

How do you teach yourself to be religious when it doesn't come naturally? I don't mean faith- I've always had faith- but the actual ritual and pomp and whatever that is the physical expression of that faith? How do you tell the difference between a practice legitimately not working for you, and just not getting into it because you're not used to it?

This is something that's been weighing on my mind a lot lately. I think a lot of my trouble is simply a lack of exposure- I have never, in real life, seen anyone regularly display or practice their faith. I was raised in an a-religious household, surrounded by a-religious family, and now that I'm trying to actually give the gods their due, I am utterly lost. I keep trying, and I keep tweaking, and I can never seem to move past the feeling of "well, that's a half-step in the right direction..."

So, anyone else experience this? Have you gotten through it? How?
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« Reply #1: May 12, 2010, 02:31:03 pm »

How do you teach yourself to be religious when it doesn't come naturally? I don't mean faith- I've always had faith- but the actual ritual and pomp and whatever that is the physical expression of that faith? How do you tell the difference between a practice legitimately not working for you, and just not getting into it because you're not used to it?

Well...  probably I don't have much that's going to be useful to you, because my response is basically "don't give up if you don't get it just right on the first try", but it sounds like you've already got that down.

One thought that did occur to me, though, is...  I know that highly structured ritual and lots of pomp and smells-and-bells and whatever just doesn't work for everyone.  Some people are just better off with a more relaxed, more casual approach.  So my question to you would be, is there a reason why you feel you need the ritual and the pomp in order to "give the gods their due"?

(Which sounds like a question that's meant to imply that you shouldn't feel that way, and I apologize for that because that's not at all what I mean.  You may very well have good reasons for wanting the pomp even though you're having such trouble with it, so I'm trying to find out whether that's the case and if so what those reasons are.)
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« Reply #2: May 12, 2010, 02:42:03 pm »

One thought that did occur to me, though, is...  I know that highly structured ritual and lots of pomp and smells-and-bells and whatever just doesn't work for everyone.  Some people are just better off with a more relaxed, more casual approach.  So my question to you would be, is there a reason why you feel you need the ritual and the pomp in order to "give the gods their due"?

(Which sounds like a question that's meant to imply that you shouldn't feel that way, and I apologize for that because that's not at all what I mean.  You may very well have good reasons for wanting the pomp even though you're having such trouble with it, so I'm trying to find out whether that's the case and if so what those reasons are.)

The main reason I'm leaning towards more structure rather than less is because every time I do something with less structure I feel like, "oh, that's all?" I feel like I'm slacking off, like I'm taking the easy way out. Why, I don't know, but it's there and it bothers me.

Of course, at the same time I'm trying not to go too structured, because that feels like I'm separating my religious practice from the rest of my life- that I'm only acknowledging or honoring the gods for that half hour or hour of structured "god time" and then that's it. This also feels like a cop-out.

So I'm trying to find the middle and failing badly! Sigh.
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« Reply #3: May 12, 2010, 03:02:06 pm »

How do you teach yourself to be religious when it doesn't come naturally? I don't mean faith- I've always had faith- but the actual ritual and pomp and whatever that is the physical expression of that faith? How do you tell the difference between a practice legitimately not working for you, and just not getting into it because you're not used to it?

...

So, anyone else experience this? Have you gotten through it? How?

This is going to sound nerdy, but I learned how to write rituals that "felt right" through a fantasy game. My character was very religious and I wrote a lot of rituals for use in her guild, and I guess I just developed a knack for it over time.

Because of that, however, I equate rituals with all of those bells and whistles to be a little fantastical and over-the-top, so I kind of have the opposite problem: convincing myself that these rituals are okay to do if I tone them down a bit. In order to do so, I've written rituals that are simpler and with less pomp, and then if they still feel wrong, I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite until my gut tells me, "Okay, this is good."
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« Reply #4: May 12, 2010, 04:39:45 pm »



Of course, at the same time I'm trying not to go too structured, because that feels like I'm separating my religious practice from the rest of my life- that I'm only acknowledging or honoring the gods for that half hour or hour of structured "god time" and then that's it. This also feels like a cop-out.

So I'm trying to find the middle and failing badly! Sigh.

I too came from an a-religious background. My aha moment came the first time I was in sacred space with my initiating high priestess. I came to understand that a cast circle is not always ........... complete. I was in lots of circles before that, ones cast by myself and cast by others. Most of the time it just felt like so much fluff, ritual theatre, I called it.

Then one time I was in a circle cast by  the woman who would eventually initiate me. It felt different.

The only way I can think to explain it is in other terms. If you meditate, recall a moment when you achieved perfect quiet mind. Or that moment when you are playing or listening to music and it is ALL you hear, a moment of perfect attention.

Now, I can cast a circle like that, where there is a moment of perfect balance, when the world shifts and we are within sacred space.

That is how I know when I am being religious, and just going through the motions. My attention is sharp and focused. With practice, I have found I can slip in and out of that place with less ritual.

I guess all I can finish with is look for the moments of sharp awareness, focus, mindfulness....whatever. Practice the ritual steps that take you to that place, then keep practicing until you can be in that place without a lot of ritual. Then, then simple lighting of a candle can become a deeply religious moment.

Wow. Sorry, this is a little more out there than I usually write.... this is a had subject to enlighten......
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« Reply #5: May 12, 2010, 06:40:33 pm »

I think a lot of my trouble is simply a lack of exposure- I have never, in real life, seen anyone regularly display or practice their faith. I was raised in an a-religious household, surrounded by a-religious family, and now that I'm trying to actually give the gods their due, I am utterly lost.

I think I understand what you're getting at -- I am not fond of what Rowanfox called "ritual theater" and I have a particularly hard time with that when I'm alone, which is most of the time.

You mention that one problem is a lack of exposure.  Maybe it would help you to visit some worship services of other religions to get a better feel for how they do it, maybe even feel a little bit of that sacred space?  I'm thinking visit a couple of different churches, temples, etc., just to experience various kinds of religions rituals.

FWIW...
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« Reply #6: May 12, 2010, 09:30:04 pm »

How do you teach yourself to be religious when it doesn't come naturally? I don't mean faith- I've always had faith- but the actual ritual and pomp and whatever that is the physical expression of that faith? How do you tell the difference between a practice legitimately not working for you, and just not getting into it because you're not used to it?

I have/had this same problem. I come from a very christian household so it's a little different though.

I agree with what Rowanfox said about it feeling different when it's right. I do not agree with Moon Ivy however about going to worship services for other religions, I attended Christian services for the first 15 years of my life and I still have/had the same problem.

Sorry if i seem like I'm just agreeing/disagreeing with other people thoughts but that's what i think.
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Monica M.
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« Reply #7: May 12, 2010, 10:18:31 pm »

How do you teach yourself to be religious when it doesn't come naturally? I don't mean faith- I've always had faith- but the actual ritual and pomp and whatever that is the physical expression of that faith? How do you tell the difference between a practice legitimately not working for you, and just not getting into it because you're not used to it?

So, anyone else experience this? Have you gotten through it? How?

I'm just trying to set up more formal worship now and am finding it really hard. Sometimes I manage to do a nice simple ritual or prayer but sometimes I get all flustered halfway through and finish it with a "cheers" instead of an appropriate ending. I am hoping that if I continue it will get more natural at which point I may consider more elaborate rituals. At the moment if I tried anything fancy I would feel like a little girl playing games. Maybe if you take enough of your halfsteps eventually you get to where you want to be. Practice makes perfect as they say.  Smiley
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« Reply #8: May 12, 2010, 11:14:26 pm »

I do not agree with Moon Ivy however about going to worship services for other religions, I attended Christian services for the first 15 years of my life and I still have/had the same problem.

Just to clarify, I was suggesting the Juni might consider trying a variety of religions services -- a variety of religions, from Christian to Buddhism to Wicca -- as a way of learning about religious ritual and getting ideas for things that might work for her.  I think the key to that would be in the variety.  Going to one church for a period of time would only give her one perspective.

That wouldn't work for everyone, of course.  But I suggested it because, unlike you (you grew up with religion, so you already have a sense of how Christian ritual works), Juni seemed to be saying she has not experienced much in the way of formalized religion.

I'm not saying you have to agree with this idea.  Your comments just made me think maybe I hadn't been as clear as I should have been.
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« Reply #9: May 13, 2010, 11:44:23 am »

You mention that one problem is a lack of exposure.  Maybe it would help you to visit some worship services of other religions to get a better feel for how they do it, maybe even feel a little bit of that sacred space?  I'm thinking visit a couple of different churches, temples, etc., just to experience various kinds of religions rituals.

Ritual itself, writing it and putting it together, I don't have much trouble with. I think my exposure problems are more that I don't know anyone in real life that integrates their faith into their life naturally; either they lack faith entirely, or they just go to church on Christmas Eve and they're done for another year. I don't have anyone around me who I can look to in real life and say "this is how a religious-filled life looks." Does that make sense?
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« Reply #10: May 13, 2010, 01:04:13 pm »

I don't have anyone around me who I can look to in real life and say "this is how a religious-filled life looks." Does that make sense?

The thing is that it's really hard to tell from the outside, in a lot of cases, because most people don't go around explicitly noting which bits of what they do are endowed with religious meaning.

I mean: I have some bits of liturgy I run through mostly in my head when I brush my teeth.  You're not gonna hear me doing it even if you're peeking in my bathroom because I can't talk around a toothbrush.  So there's this bit of religious near-ritual that you can't see.
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« Reply #11: May 13, 2010, 05:18:39 pm »

Ritual itself, writing it and putting it together, I don't have much trouble with. I think my exposure problems are more that I don't know anyone in real life that integrates their faith into their life naturally; either they lack faith entirely, or they just go to church on Christmas Eve and they're done for another year. I don't have anyone around me who I can look to in real life and say "this is how a religious-filled life looks." Does that make sense?

It sounds like your question is more about what a religious life looks like than figuring out the ritual bit. I think that one thing to remember is that for a very religious/spiritual person, there is no compartmentalizing. It's more like a gradient: sometimes you are 100% "there" (like in ritual), and the rest of the time you are 50-80% "there" (like when you contemplate your spirituality/Divinity or recycle reverently or bless your food). It is about complete integration, and reflecting your spiritual beliefs into all that you do-big or small-and doing it with awareness of your intention. You live your "ritual" every minute of every day (or as close to that as you can!), and supplement that with the occasional full-out ritual. 

The important thing to remember about being sincerely religious/spiritual is that 1) there is no wrong way to do it and 2) you are a child of Divinity, and the Divine understands all of your attempts and good intentions, big and small.   
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« Reply #12: May 13, 2010, 09:39:25 pm »

Ritual itself, writing it and putting it together, I don't have much trouble with. I think my exposure problems are more that I don't know anyone in real life that integrates their faith into their life naturally; either they lack faith entirely, or they just go to church on Christmas Eve and they're done for another year. I don't have anyone around me who I can look to in real life and say "this is how a religious-filled life looks." Does that make sense?


Your question makes perfect sense, but its the real life application that gets fuzzy. Logically there would be a logical answer, but... If it's any consolation, I spent 8 years of my childhood and young adulthood in a church environment where most the people were dedicated to their faith.

In my experience, the best example of religious persons that constantly strived to uphold their religious commitments were also the ones that were less showy about it. They weren't outspoken, were often easy going, and tried to look for rational answers to all problems, and would do their prayers or what not in private.

That's only one version of religious practice though. As random as this sounds, what you may want to do is ask yourself how you think a religious person would act, then go do the research posters above recommended. It might sound stupid approaching it with a personal bias, but it'll give you a basis to analyze, compare and critique the religious practices around you.
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« Reply #13: May 14, 2010, 11:09:51 am »



That's only one version of religious practice though. As random as this sounds, what you may want to do is ask yourself how you think a religious person would act, then go do the research posters above recommended. It might sound stupid approaching it with a personal bias, but it'll give you a basis to analyze, compare and critique the religious practices around you.

This makes perfect sense. Form an idea in your mind of what you as a religious person would look like/act like/ be like,  then filter your life accordingly for a while.

That may sound a great task, but it is very doable. When I was in my late teens, I didn't like me very much (wow, how unique!! LOL) I had a picture in my mind of what I would like to be like, who my mentors would be if I had access to them, and how I would act if I was the person I wanted to be. My over simplistic mantra was "What would a GOOD person do" .

It really wasn't long before this was no longer a struggle, and within a few years, I found MY first reaction to a situation was the same as reaction of my imaginary GOOD person. I was becoming the GOOD person I had imagined myself to be.

Now bear in mind, my idea of what constitutes GOOD is deeply personal and unique to me, I'm no ones idea of a goody two shoes, etc. My point was that we CAN remake ourselves in an image we want to, and it takes only a little mindfulness around your actions, and a goal to work toward. So, if you had an idea of what you thought a religious person's life would be like, and you like that vision, you can mold yourself to fit that image over time, IF YOU CHOOSE.
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« Reply #14: May 15, 2010, 11:34:37 am »

How do you teach yourself to be religious when it doesn't come naturally? I don't mean faith- I've always had faith- but the actual ritual and pomp and whatever that is the physical expression of that faith? How do you tell the difference between a practice legitimately not working for you, and just not getting into it because you're not used to it?

This is something that's been weighing on my mind a lot lately. I think a lot of my trouble is simply a lack of exposure- I have never, in real life, seen anyone regularly display or practice their faith. I was raised in an a-religious household, surrounded by a-religious family, and now that I'm trying to actually give the gods their due, I am utterly lost. I keep trying, and I keep tweaking, and I can never seem to move past the feeling of "well, that's a half-step in the right direction..."

So, anyone else experience this? Have you gotten through it? How?

I've been having an experience that's very similar to what you describe; however, in my case it's because my family was very religious. Their particular brand of Protestant Christianity shunned anything approaching liturgical worship or ritual, something that I've always naturally found attractive. At age 17 I left my parent's church and became an Episcopalian after falling in love with the Anglican liturgy.

However, even after 3 or 4 years as an Episcopalian the mass still felt foreign to me on some level. The sense, instilled in me by my parents, that ritual is somehow ultimately unnecessary or a theatrical production that has nothing to do with "real" faith is something that I've had to deal with on some level throughout my life. Despite the fact that ritual has served as a conduit for meaningful spiritual experiences in my life I have to confess that I find myself asking "is all of this necessary?" with some regularity.

And, while I can write a decent ritual, I find that I have much less talent when it comes to enacting them. I would also include the devotionals that I attempt to do in all of this as well. I typically feel awkward and clumsy to some extent when I try to do much of anything along these lines.

So, the way that I'm working through all of this is to acknowledge it as a reality while trying to be honest about what I'm seeking via the outward expressions of my spirituality. I've also been experimenting with some very simple daily devotionals that I attempt to consistently perform. I tend to feel less awkward about this type of thing the more that I consistently repeat it.
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