God had an odd place in my upbringing. Something each of us thought about, but rarely mentioned.
I grew up on Christian fairy tales about the Man who lived in Heaven, who created the World and all the tiny animals, but really didn’t do a good job with humans, so He had to send a lot of Angels and the miracle baby Jesus to fix his mistakes. Even that one didn’t end well so he just gave up.
God was a part of stories of history, of culture, not something for the heart.
Part of it was circumstantial. At my birth, Estonia was going through the last of soviet communism. Most religious practises had been banned for decades and traditions of serving some heavenly forces had became something that our small culture had almost forgotten. My rational father didn’t seem to have a religious cell in his body and my mother…vehemently stated that she does not believe in any of this god nonsense. For her, all kinds of religious practices were fascinating remnants of the Middle Ages.
Mother taught me that people who believe, are…well, not necessarily crazy (she was not one for extreme judgements), but definitely brainwashed and not strong enough for the real world. She vehemently claimed that she was definitely not religious. She was smarter than that.
Our parents absolutely and most definitely not believing in God became one of the key conundrums of my childhood. See, my mother had this itch to visit churches…every possible church on most occasions. She always explained herself. ‘It’s a cultural experience. This is history. Move quietly. Look at the statues and pictures. That’s art.’
My parents loved to travel and we took many trips around Europe as a family. Unlike our heretic homeland, most European countries take their prayers very seriously. For us, it meant going through a lot of churches.
I’m touching a childhood trauma of ‘being forced’ to wander around countless chilled houses of worship as a small girl. Imagine a child, told to be quiet, only allowed to look, not touch, not participate. To explore, not to believe. Belief was for the insane.
We were not insane. We were visiting explorers.
As this little girl, I circled aimlessly through those churches, hiding behind columns, wondering if we can climb the tower this time. Feeling a mixture of boredom and relaxation of safety. The churches were mostly the same and I knew what was expected of me. Look, don’t touch. Stay quiet. Breathe in the art.
Imagine eyes of a child resting on the rows of confession boxes. She tugs at her mothers pants, pointing. ‘What are these for?’
‘People sit in there to tell their stories of the bad things they have done to the priest,’ mom explains.
’What kind of bad things?’
‘Anything they thought was bad…’ mom trails off with her answer.
Even she wasn’t sure. We were not part of this culture, we did not believe in sin.
The walls and crevices were filled with the same sad depictions of the grace of human suffering, lit by rows of candles filled with hopes and prayers. In some churches there were bones of dead people. I remember being exceptionally puzzled about those. What’s so special about used bones? I didn’t ask that question our loud. We were not part of this culture.
I grew up, believing in the expired God of brainwashed people and I never questioned it.
Not until Rome.
On our first day in Rome, we negotiated over breakfast. ‘Five churches max, Mom! No more!’ my brother exclaimed. My sister and I nodded in unison. Five seemed reasonable. We were looking forward to eating all the Italian gelato and taking in the sun. Warm sunshine is precious for us in the northern parts of the globe and our visit to Rome preceded the time of good ice cream being available in Estonia.
After eight churches, we lost count. My brother was the one who broke his own rule. ‘Let’s go check out this one too,’ he said at the stone steps under yet another holy cross. Like puppies, we had been well trained over the years.
On the second day, we visited Vatican City, the eye of the storm. A small country being the center of power for the religious movement that had left me questioning all my childhood.
Why do they all believe a man in the sky will solve their problems?
We walked around the square, taking in the paradox of feeling so open and spacious in such a small ‘country’. Then we climbed the steps to enter St. Peter’s Basilica.
‘God, we get it, you have a big one,’ my brother whispered as we stepped in. You could have parked a Boeing 747 into that church. It was the biggest one I had ever been to. There were art and bones and gold. So much gold. My skin prickled and I could feel the power of this place. Not peace and safety. Power. This God here had a big one and it was shiny, dangerous. Who had such power?
Afterwards we went for gelato and the sunshine brushed off my uneasiness. But after that, I stopped going to churches.
That did not stop my seeking for something greater. Developing my own sense of spirituality, I begun meditating, looking at religions vastly different from Catholicism. There had to be a loving god, a spirit that deeply cares for us, right?
I visited temples, shrines and holy places. I interviewed monks and believers. Eventually I put together an answer –
The world is made up of make-believe stories and each has their own. Everyone is believing some nonsense, but if it helps them and doesn’t harm anyone…fine, whatever.
This answer didn’t fully satisfy me.
I still didn’t know what my story was, what I believed in.
Then I decided to read the Bible. Not an easy decisions as my church-saturated upbringing carried a central theme – people who believed were stupid sheep. Why would I read a book meant for sheep?
Still, I realised that might never understand these people, their culture, if I didn’t read their literature. Also, I had just begun reading about the left hand of darkness, a grimoire about satanism, sex and shadow magic. Taking on the Bible around the same time felt as it it would somehow balance that influence. As if I was getting both sides of the story while trying to find the truth.
Ironically, I did find my truth in the Bible.
For the reading experience, the heretic sex book was incredibly more entertaining and also sensible. Sex magic practitioners preach attaining their earthly goals through intricate immersion in pleasure, while the Bible recommended stoning women, fighting wars and bringing massive gifts of gold to the priests in exchange for healing.
There is an evocative passage of a man being suggested to take a gold cast of his haemorrhoids and bring it to the church to get rid of the ailment. Entertaining and horrifying.
This book can’t possibly be about the God I’m looking for.
There were passages about how to kill and control women. How to wage war, efficiently, ruthlessly. How to serve the priesthood. What not to forgive, ever. No, this book couldn’t be about the God I was looking for.
As I read The Book, I lived in Tokyo. One day I stood on a train for 45 minutes, travelling to a Reiki session. I was reading the Bible to pass the train time, but I could hardly believe what passed by my eyes. All these childhood churches praising this vicious, vengeful, angry God? Unfathomable! I felt enraged, betrayed. I wanted to lash out at the sheep of believers. What the fuck is wrong with you people?
Everything that seemed wrong in the world, seemed to stem from this book. The sins and atrocities committed in the name of the God in this book seemed far outweigh any sin of the common man.
This was not my God. It had never been.
As I laid down on the table for the Reiki session, I was still seething with rage against the words that in my mind had destroyed the world. I realised that I needed to find God more than ever now. I had to tell it/him/her what I felt. What a fuckup he was!
The hands of the reiki master touched my shoulders and I left my body. In my consciousness, I travelled upward, seeking the God that had created the world. Not the man-made-monster of God that had been depicted in the Old Testament. I wanted nothing to do with that creep. I wanted to talk to the Source, the one that had inspired the writings in the first place.
I moved upwards, feeling the layers of densities and vibrations as I passed through them. At one point I stopped, feeling arrived. My consciousness hovered in absolute vastness. Voicelessly, I screamed my long-held anguish to the whatever was surrounding me.
You are not the God I can believe in! Everything in this book disgusts me!
I can never say that I believe in God, this word has been tainted and ruined!
All this glorified suffering for the name of GOD?!
I will never say I believe in you. Never!
I remember these words as clear as day. I remember feeling complete once I said them. I wasn’t expecting an answer, I wasn’t expecting anything anymore. Having said what I came to say, I turned back.
Going back towards my body, I almost reached the density boundary when something stopped me. A voice entered my consciousness.
‘It is not important for you believe in me.
I want you to know that I believe in you.’
The words were followed by an image of a blank white page. A stick figure was drawn on that page. A house was drawn for that stick figure. A tree, an apple. A dog. Another stick figure. Then there were words again.
‘Do you need that stick figure to believe in you?’
‘Do you expect anything from her?’
‘What do you want for her?’
‘Only to be happy.’ I replied as my awareness expanded through my body again. For a brief moment, could feel four pairs of hands on my backside, holding and pouring in light from eight spots across my body.
There was only one reiki practitioner in the room.
I didn’t finish the Bible and remember nothing more of the sex magic book. I started going to churches again. And temples, shrines, holy places, sacred places, power places.
The design of such, natural or man-made, is made to have better reception for conversations with that presence who just wants us to choose to be happy with what has been created.
It asks for no gold nor suffering in return.
It cares deeply and at the same time, does not care at all.
Today, I believe in a loving God.