As a former lover of Christ and ex-Pentecostalist, I had countless visions and dreams that one day I would be a spiritual leader. While growing up in the charismatic church, it was even prophesied that one day I would become one.
Nearly 10 years after leaving the church, I carried a distrust in religion's relationship with women and its barrier to free thought. My work as a freelance journalist led me to discover a spiritual women's retreat held in North Bend, Washington. Inspired to experience a non-religious, spiritual gathering, I registered for the retreat held by Center for Spiritual Living (CSL) in Seattle.
CSL is described as a:
"Trans-denominational, inter-generational, not-your-usual church, that was started in 1921. A safe place for 'the rest of us' who are looking to connect with God/Higher Power/Universal Presence, but don't really fit in with any one religion."
The spiritual center's core teaching philosophy derives from "Science of Mind" or Religious Science, a New Thought spiritual, philosophical, and metaphysical movement founded by practical mystic Ernest Holmes. The spiritual principles rely on the laws of physical science in establishing its core beliefs.
The center upholds the idea that intentions and creativity flows through a collective consciousness, and that consciousness is interconnected with the world around us. CSL looks to ideologies and models within quantum physics which show that "the universe is made up of energy that cannot be destroyed and is infinitely intelligent." The only attribution I had to religious science was Scientology and Christian Science which is in no way related to the tenets of the Science of Mind.
During my Pentecostal days, I had attended innumerable retreats. Most of these retreats involved, if not, evoked speaking in tongues (glossolalia), healing through fervent prayer, and being slain in the Holy Spirit (trances and intense mediation).
Spiritual Women's Retreat, Rainbow Lodge, North Bend, WA.
The spiritual retreat in early May attracted nearly 30 women. It was held at the Rainbow Lodge, a retreat center encircled by a myriad of trails at the base of colossal Mount Si. The theme was "Spread your Wings and Soar" focused on the Butterfly Maiden, the Hopi Kachina (Nature Spirit), who governs the spring season.
The first night we were asked to bring an item that honors the Divine Feminine to add to the community altar. In addition, we were asked to consider our intention for attending the retreat -- what we hoped to achieve or actualize. Following introductions, we participated in a releasing prayer, along with a releasing fire ceremony to work towards renewal and transformation.
My intention was to release the pain and betrayal I still felt from my former faith. With our written release statements in hand, each one of us took turns discarding our statements into the igniting fire.
One of the two female reverends led us into a prayer thanking the natural elements that supported us in our ceremonial release, along with celebrating our commitment to welcoming the next phase of transformation. As the reverend burned sage, blessing the circle of women, a woman let out an impromptu howl. Within moments, I was filled with an energized anticipation for the events to come.
I had partaken in many rituals within my former faith and I thought I had seen it all, until I participated in the retreat's "Sacred Theatre." The ceremony requires that the participant share a desire, goal, or aspiration. Mine was to be a spiritual leader. The group is arranged in tunnel-like fashion for the participant to pass through. One volunteer representing the respective goal stands at the other end. The participant then chooses two angels to stand by her side offering words of encouragement and strength as she makes her way towards the un-actualized goal.
Two additional volunteers stand as blockages or hindrances. Mine was the betrayal of my former faith and religious community, along with the shaming of a spiritual identity. Along the way, two volunteers stand as "positives" providing me the courage to trust and accept my evolving spiritual identity. All other participants stand on the sidelines with hands stretched out in the form of prayer.
Walking down a tunnel-like path slaying the two blockages, welcoming community, and accepting my desired goal was both mentally and emotionally revelatory for me. With tears cascading down my face, I felt a freedom and an elusive form of assurance I hadn't encountered in a very long time.
God had dwelt within me like the unconscious space between heartbeats.
My life pursuits, achievements, and relationships refused to fill the void. For a long time, I thought this gaping hole within me only belonged to a particular construct of God. In reality, I longed for a complementary spiritual community, shared ideologies and values, and intellectual exploration.
Science of Mind
At the end of the retreat I spoke with Reverend Barbara Novak about CSL's beliefs, values and organizational goals.
She explains that in the Science of Mind text, the "Universal Mind" is what most people regard as "God." God is subjectively constructed; once there is an understanding that we're discussing the same thing, but possess a different understanding of "it", we can form a shared objective understanding, while retaining our subjective meaning of the Divine.
Rev. Novak states: "...what we believe at our core, whether we're buying into raised consciousness or collective unconscious...we're creating the greater collective by what we're collectively believing, as well as, what we individually believe."
CSL believes that the nature of God operates through us, in us, around us, and as us. That it [Universal Mind/Presence] experiences itself in life. The Universal Mind is infinite but humanity is not. Yet, we can channel its presence as created beings.
My quest to find a supportive, empowering community; one that genuinely promotes love and open communication; one that draws on a variety of ideologies, theories, scientific reasoning, and rituals; a community that works to uplift one another through spiritual exploration and free thought was one I had nearly lost hope in. During the retreat, I realized these communities do indeed exist.
No longer a captive to spiritual shame, I know I can define my spiritual calling, while being part of a community.
I acknowledge that CSL is not for everyone, and I understand everyone's spiritual path is different. For me, a community that honors all paths to God, the Divine, the collective consciousness through the integration of science, psychology, and mysticism is an indelible find.
The article was originally posted on Feminism and Religion.