I couldn’t practice my family’s religion even if I wanted to.
I’m not alone here – this is the reality for many members of the LGBTQ+ community. Yet it’s rarely talked about, at least from the perspective of the ostracized. I can’t go a single day without seeing a “religious freedom” post on social media, but it’s always about how some sect of Christianity is working through some politician to make sure they can further isolate us. It’s not enough for them to tell us we don’t belong in their sacred halls, they also must refuse to bake us cakes or allow us the decency of equity in marriage. And let’s be real here – this is about equity, because my love is not any less real than theirs, yet if it were up to them, I would not be allowed to file a joint tax return because I love a woman and not a man.
I digress. I’m not here to discuss legalities, I’m here to discuss faith. It’s hard to have faith when you grew up in a religion that shaped your whole life, that felt and still feels like an identity, and you no longer have “permission” to practice that faith. For the sake of full disclosure, I haven’t felt much of a yearning to practice said faith in many years, long before I made the decision to stop trying to live a lie. That’s not the point. I have many friends who fell away from our childhood religion, and felt pulled to return when they started families of their own. They were welcomed back with open arms, as if they had never left. I would be allowed no such decency or forgiveness – unless, of course, I went back to living that lie. As I have no intention of doing so, it’s up to me to find faith somewhere else.
I’m fortunate to have access to people who practice spirituality without religion. These people taught me that I can have faith in whatever I want – a god or gods of my understanding, the universe, whatever makes sense to me. Finding faith beyond the religion of my upbringing has been a life-changing experience. I’m not boxed in by someone else’s idea of god, and am therefore free to allow my concept of a higher power to grow and expand. That’s why you’ll find meditation books mingled with prayer cards next to a singing bowl in my apartment. That’s why I devoured Cosmos on Netflix in two days. God used to mean a man in the sky with a white beard. Now, it’s a term I use to describe whatever force of the universe is out there pulling the strings.
Having such a broad concept of a higher power has led to a more intense spiritual connection than I’ve ever had. The creed I live by now is to be the best version of myself I can be. I aim to contribute meaningfully to society, to help take care of those who need it, to do small acts of kindness and consideration. I aim to appreciate the beauty all around me – in the clouds, the sunset, in watching people around me also be the best version of themselves. It’s there, if I keep an open mind and observe life as it happens, rather than get caught up in the daily grind with blinders on.
I don’t wake up in tune with the universe though. Quite the opposite – I wake up, most of the time, with an anxious mind ready to swirl and churn ceaselessly as it ponders the potential problems of the day. I have to set my intentions for the day in order to be the best version of myself. For me this looks like prayer, because that is what is comfortable for me. That is where the religion of my upbringing still feels like part of my identity, and that’s ok. It works for me. It doesn’t matter what I’m praying to, it just matters that I’m seeking a spiritual connection with the universe, in hopes that I will be the best version of myself that day.
I still hold out hope that someday, my newsfeed will not be full of “religious freedom” bill proposals. Even if that turns out to be case, it won’t make much of a difference beyond feeling the victory of discrimination being defeated. I have found spirituality without religion, and this connection means more to me than anyone else’s idea of god ever did. I’ll keep it.