A few days after I had arrived in the West African nation of Ghana, there was a huge tropical downpour. I, being the romantic that I am, thought that standing outside in that downpour would be a meaningful way to commemorate the start of my new life.
Boy, was I wrong.
By the time I came in, I was cold, wet, and I didn’t have anything to change into after I dried off. I ended up in the dress I’d worn on my 23-hour plane ride.
That day was the start of an unlikely yet important lesson, that doing something because it seems like the right thing to do and doing something out of sincere passion are two different things. You can check out a movie because your friends said it was cool, and because it grossed huge numbers at the box office. But going to see a movie because it tells a story you’ve been waiting your entire life to hear? That’s a different experience altogether.
This is a part of the reason why I’m not such a huge fan of organized religion. I know it’s different for everyone, but when you’re religious, you run the risk of falling into a spiritual rut (which is the absolute worst place to be). You end up doing things by rote, or believing things because you’re told to. You act and speak because you’re expected to; because you see other people doing it. That sort of mindset doesn’t serve you in times of deep need or despair. It crackles and breaks beneath the pressures of the world like brittle wallpaper.
Pure spirituality, however, is something deeply personal. I love the way Neale Donald Walsch puts it:
“Religion asks you to learn from the experience of others. Spirituality urges you to seek your own.”
I was a devout evangelical Christian for the first two decades of my life. All of that fell apart when my life as I knew it started to unravel. My parents got divorced, I got kicked out of university, and I found myself jumping from the metaphorical frying pan into the fire by entering into a marriage I wasn’t ready for. It wasn’t until I I allowed myself to seek God in my own way that I found a paradigm that could actually hold up to my new reality. Now every moment of my life has the potential to become a word from God. I can find messages and lessons on a walk through the forest just as easily as I could while sitting at a traffic light. I don’t feel the need to validate an idea or feeling with a scripture or sermon. The scripture is written on my heart, and evolves even as I do.
It’s been a joy to rediscover God this way. I feel no pressure from outside forces to behave in a way that contradicts who I feel I really am. God has been speaking to me in ways that only God can, through synchronicity, through nature, through the words of friends, family, and strangers both nearby and far away. It’s been so amazing to see God expand beyond the limited notions I had of him when I was younger.
I must admit, doing it this way is also hard. It means I don’t have as much support as I would in a congregation where everyone pretty much thinks the same (or, at least, they act like they think the same to avoid conflict). I still harbor the feeling that if I say some of the things I now believe out loud, I’d be labeled crazy or a blasphemer. Especially in a very traditional, very dogmatic society like Ghana. Most people here are devout Christians, and openly discussing spirituality and religion runs the risk of setting off a theological landmine. But I’m pursuing God on my own path anyhow. I’m drawn to the path because I’ve never felt more alive in my life. For the first time ever, I’m defining a belief system for myself that actually feels good to my soul. I wouldn’t give that up for anything. It’s why I’m filled with such a deep sense of joy and gratitude as I’ve never felt before.
It’s why I could message my boyfriend this afternoon and ask him to please pray and trust God that we’ll soon experience the financial breakthrough I’ve been manifesting. He and I are in a long distance relationship, our finances are sketchy, and we’re both anxious to begin life a new life together. “Something big is coming,” I wrote to him on Facebook. “I can feel it in my spirit. Please just trust me. Please pray.” I knew that initially he wouldn’t be happy with my optimism, but he knows just as well as I do that we wouldn’t be a couple if divine providence hadn’t intervened to put us both in the right place at the right time. “Okay,” “He wrote back. I trust you. I love you.”
And I meant what I told him. I believe that God is about to infuse my life with a undeniable financial blessing. I can feel it, even with my apartment totally void of furniture, and my bank account carrying less than a dollar. I know in my heart that my renewed sense of purpose and joy are only a prelude to what is to come. I can feel it like a tide swelling in the sea, ready to crest over and emerge as the most glorious of waves.
So it rained again tonight, which is unusual for this time of year. And I felt so much gratitude for the rain, as I have been feeling for lots of small things these days. I went outside to stand in the downpour again, and this time it felt so right. It was a symbol of a new beginning, my own personal baptism. My confirmation that I’m free to seek divinity in my life in whatever way most resonates with me. It’s my wish that everyone on earth would feel such freedom. That we could all stand in the rain with our arms outstretched, not because we saw it in a movie, heard it in a song, or saw it in a stock image. But because we’re truly grateful for all that is, and grateful for the gift of life we’ve been given. I can think of no better way to connect to the Almighty than that.