How I Know Alternative Faiths Work, Too

06/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Faith matters most when times get tough, and that's true no matter what path you follow. I had a little spiritual trial of my own recently, and while it wasn't any fun at the time (these things never are), it showed me that I'm not just some dreamer with airy-fairy notions. Nope, as odd as my beliefs might be to some, they've got staying power.

You see, I don't follow a traditional religion. In fact, I don't call it a "religion" at all. Some might call it New Age (insert eye-roll here), but if you must label it, then I'm comfortable lumping my practice in with what is often referred to as Neo-Pagan. That's quite a motley group, let me tell you, but for me it boils down to a reverence and respect for the physical, natural world, a celebration of ritual and a belief in the sacred connections among everything in existence. Wow, that's deep, right? I know some of you are already cooking up challenges to all that, but let's save those nuggets for another post.

Back to my spiritual trial. A week ago, my mother ended up in the hospital with another recurrence of a chronic health condition. She was stable, but the reality of my own helplessness and my mother's frailty hit me like a lead weight. Now mix in additional projects at work with tight budgets and long hours. My situation isn't special; we've all been there, sometimes time and time again. What was different for me was my reaction.

I remember collapsing at home from exhaustion, my nerves frayed and wrestling with that feeling of panic that says you just can't take anything more. Then a little voice said, "If any of that newfangled spiritual stuff is worth anything, now's the time to use it!" (Yes, that's verbatim.) Regardless of our particular faith, when we're in a difficult situation, we all reach out for the same things: for hope that things can get better, for comfort and a sense of peace. So I did, and it worked, and that was especially satisfying because I'm relatively new to this spiritual path I'm on.

For most of my life, I've been a Christian. But now I don't have a deity to whom I pray for healing or help. People have even asked me how I cope in difficult situations, with the underlying assumption that I would return to the flock, so to speak, when the going got tough. Their concern is genuine and appreciated, but my little test showed me that I'm doing just fine.

It isn't important to explain what I did specifically to find my inner happy place. What I found most interesting was that it really wasn't all that different from what I used to do as a Christian. The words may be different: "meditate" instead of "pray," for example. But stripped of all the embellishments, people of faith -- any faith -- follow the same essential steps: stop, breathe, take a broader perspective and let go. That's true whether you're on your knees praying in church or casting a magickal circle under the shade of a tree.

I think there's a lesson here for us all but especially for those of us who follow a spiritual path that we often have to defend against ridicule and misunderstanding. To them I say take heart, have faith, and hang in there.