Soaring on the upstream current

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As I get older, I find that I question many of my beliefs. I have been Catholic all my life with varying degrees of fervor. When I was young, I attended mass regularly and looked forward to traditional rituals and prayers. After the service, I felt good.

However, I don’t feel so good after worship as I used to.

Now when I say prayers I feel empty and the words seem meaningless. Often during Mass my mind wanders, and when Mass is over I remember very little. My body was there while we worshiped, but my mind and heart were not.

When I tell my friends about my concerns, some tell me that they have resolved doubts about their own faith by saying that they are not strictly religious, but rather spiritual. I’m not at all sure what they mean by saying they’re spiritual. They seem to equate being a religious person to someone who follows the rules and teaching of the organized church. Do they mean that being spiritual is a belief without rules? Somehow I doubt it. Questions haunt me. I ask myself, “What do I believe? and “How do I know what my faith is?”

I decided that instead of just looking for the answer to my religious doubts with my friends, I would look back on my own life. I have certainly changed over the past 20 years. I am still a Catholic and a member of the Church, yet the realities of life have changed me. Over the years I have experienced success and faced failure and disappointment. I have seen my body age and my limits increase. The death of old friends hurts me more every year. When I face the realities of life, I understand that I am not the same person I was 20 years ago, and that my experiences have also led me to broaden the way I think about my faith.

Recently I have found solace in nature. Sometimes I sit on the porch of our house and watch the trees and grass in my yard. They don’t change much, although they do grow and flourish over time. If I sit on the porch long enough and let my mind rest for the moment, I sense something else. I see nature. I see the trees, the grass and I feel the wind. I see life go on. I see a subtle and vibrant life among the small changes happening around me.

As I sit there I see that I am made of these same physical elements as trees and grass. I remember that there are also small but dynamic changes in my life. My body is aging and will return to the ground. The thought makes me cringe. When I go to a vigil, what shocks me is the stillness of the deceased body. I only knew this person full of life and dynamism, and it is now gone. Their life and dynamism are what I remember and miss.

That’s when I believe there is spirit in life. I feel this spirit in me most strongly in emotions like love. I feel drawn to someone or something. It starts with feeling good. However, this feeling can be good or frustration. There are times when I wish I had no emotions because that means I have to deal with them and choose how to deal with them.

It is this emotional pull of love and feeling that draws me to develop my spiritual self. I am drawn to a life of prayer and have been faithful to this prayer for many years. It has changed over time. In the beginning, the emphasis was on mass and devotions. Now there are fewer words in my prayer life, but I feel more attentive.

The other day I was in my car waiting for a long traffic light. I looked up and saw a bird hovering in a constant stream of air. She showed no effort. Her wings were stable and she seemed to have no particular direction or purpose. She just seemed to enjoy the calm of the slide. I have noticed that we have fewer birds around my home. I like to watch them and their behavior. Watching this bird was a particularly gracious moment for me.

The memory of this bird catching and floating with a constant current of air gave me a picture of my own spiritual life. In the beginning there was a lot to learn, rituals and practices that are part of organized prayer with others.

There is also another path that has developed over time for me. I think it’s about finding my own “spiritual upline” where I can glide in peace with a permanent presence of God. It is a part of my spiritual life that I cherish and nurture. I don’t work there. Instead, I allow it to happen and try to stay with the experience. There are times when I’m in a hurry and I miss the moment.

Looking at my garden and my life, I feel a dynamism. I call it the “upstream” of love that is active in life and in all of nature. I want this spirituality to be active and alive in my daily consciousness so that I can experience the “upstream” of life around me.

This “upstream flow” that I am experiencing may be what some call spiritual. It is for me a vital force that carries us beyond what we see, touch and feel.


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