It’s a new moon today. For those of us who tend toward the more “woo” end of the spiritual spectrum, new moons are often seen as a good time to set intentions for the next month (until the next new moon).

Now, I’ll be honest: while I’ve been aware of this practice for a while, I haven’t really participated. I think I’ve generally felt about new moon intentions like I feel about New Year’s resolutions, which is to say they seem like a lovely idea, but I don’t like setting myself up for failure. However, about a month ago, when the last new moon happened, I was invited to join some folks for tea and intention-setting, and I decided to go. I’d been feeling rather fragmented, and while I wasn’t sure how I felt about my chances of seeing an intention through to fruition, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.

And you know what? It was a lovely evening, and I set my intention (to be fully present in myself), and went home and did a little new moon tarot spread, and I felt a little more at peace. And as the month went on, I found myself coming back to that intention, using it as motivation. And yesterday, as I looked back on the month, I realized that yes, I had made substantial progress in feeling more at home in my skin. And that had more to do with choices I made and actions I took than anything. However, I do think that if I hadn’t taken the time out to think about what I wanted to accomplish, I probably wouldn’t have done as well.

So for now, I think I’m going to keep up this practice of setting myself a bigger-picture goal each month. Because I think that’s really the takeaway here: it’s easy for me to just sit back passively and let life happen. There was a long time when I was dealing with some pretty substantial mental health stuff, and thinking beyond the next week (or day, or hour) was more than I could handle. I got out of the habit of planning long-term. A lunar cycle might not be particularly long-term, but it’s a bigger chunk of time than I’ve been working with in a long time, so it seems like a good place to start.

Old Words, New Thoughts

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Four years ago, I went to an Ash Wednesday service at the church I was attending in Minnesota, and it sparked some interesting thoughts, which I wrote about at my old blog, here. Looking back, I think that service and the thoughts that followed marked a pretty major turning point in my spiritual journey. It was the moment when I realized that I no longer needed to believe in a higher power for my life to feel like it had meaning, that I was far more concerned with living my life well and leaving the world a little better for my presence than I was about any sort of afterlife.

Remember that dust you are, and to dust you will return. I sort of feel, as I ponder these words while finding myself called to a more earth-centered spiritual path, like I’m coming full-circle, returning to familiar words and rituals with new eyes. We are born of the earth, we return to the earth…we should treat the earth well during the time in between. And beyond that, the idea that we’re all made of the same stuff. Yesterday, I registered for the correspondence course from The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids in an effort to lend more structure to my exploration of earth-centered spirituality. I have found lately that while I have no interest in returning to organized religion, I’ve been missing spiritual practice. I’ve slowly been trying to integrate some spiritual practice back into my life, but I tend to do better with things like that when I have some sort of externally-imposed structure. This course feels like it strikes the right balance: structure, but no dogma.

I’m excited to see where this year takes me. It’s a fight, sometimes, to remain present in the present moment and not to obsess over the future, but I think if I can do it, there will be a lot to learn along the way.

On Hurt and Helplessness and Something That Maybe Resembles Faith

I’ve been struggling to come up with something to write about for this week’s blog. The truth is that it hasn’t been the easiest week. Sad things have been happening at our church back in Minnesota, and a lot of people we really care about are hurting. And I wish there was something I could do or say to make it better, but there’s not. I feel helpless. And helplessness is not a feeling I deal with well.

The last time I attended a service at the church I grew up in, it was toward the end of my senior year of high school. I walked out just a handful of minutes into the sermon, after I listened to the pastor take a passage of scripture out of context, remove a piece of the middle of passage that further changed the meaning, and twist what remained to fit his message. Despite the fact that I went off to a small, conservative Bible college that fall, I could probably count the number of times I went to church while I was in college without using all of my fingers.

A few months after my partner and I started dating, something (I’m not really sure what it was, looking back) prompted us to look for a church together. I suggested we try the UCC near my apartment. I’d gone on my own a couple of times in college, and was impressed by how welcoming they were; I hadn’t gone back since because I just wasn’t ready to give church a try again at that point. We ended up finding a wonderful community at that church. Our experiences there slowly rebuilt my faith in the idea that church could be a nurturing place…a place of safety and acceptance. It was everything that church, in an ideal world, was supposed to be.

I guess that was ultimately the problem: this isn’t an ideal world. I’m not going to go into details because I don’t know or understand everything that has happened in recent months, but suffice it to say that things that have happened in the past week have gone a long way in destroying that rebuilt faith in church as a safe space. I’ve been rather abruptly brought back to the reality that there are people who claim the same religion I can’t quite let go of who think that not only is there not currently a place for me in their places of worship, but that there shouldn’t be space for me there. Those people probably exist in every denomination of every major faith…even in the ones that are normally seen as progressive. And that hurts.

Even though I have more-or-less been functionally agnostic for several years now, I have always been at least nominally Christian, and there are large pieces of the Christian faith that I want to be able to hang onto. But even though it goes against everything I personally believe about God or Christ, it’s hard for me to kick the notion that Christianity doesn’t want me around. It makes me wonder whether all the time and effort I’ve put into wrestling with what and why and how I believe has been worth it, really.

Because, see, I want to believe in a God who creates people in the image of the Divine, and that this means that all people have value simply because they are human, and humanity reflects the boundless possibility of the Universe. I want to believe in a God who is love incarnate. I want to believe in a God who is bigger than I can comprehend.

But the God I see in religious settings looks an awful lot like a bigger, meaner, more condemning version of the people who think my existence is a mistake, that my “lifestyle choices” mean that I’m bound for eternal damnation. And I just can’t believe that the power behind the universe is a bully. I won’t believe that.

If someone’s faith is reassuring them that they’re right and everyone else is wrong, that they have a place at the party when it’s all said and done and the people they don’t like will burn forever…I want to say I feel sorry for them. Because that would be the decent thing to feel.

But mostly, they make me angry.