When reading through blogs and social media these days, I see a lot of posts in which people ask how they should go about choosing their faith. Particularly, folks seem to struggle with the choice of converting from one faith to another. Or some are not completely convinced that their last choice was the correct one, and contemplate reverting back to an earlier one.
I empathize with that struggle. Even though the answer for me is crystal clear now, I completely understand that this is a question that people have, contemplate, even wrestle with. Because it for sure is one thing: what spiritual path you walk is one of the big defining elements of your “Who am I?”. It’s part of your core identity.
Don’t let a label define you
That said, however, there is no need to stick a label on your back from the get-go, and to desperately strive to fit into the framework that label indicates. Insofar, I will not advise you what religion you should or shouldn’t choose in this article, but I will, if I may, offer some thoughts how you could go about choosing it.
Let me rewind the clock by about 50 years, when I entered grad school in Austria. There, like in many European country, Religion was a school subject much as math, German, and physical exercise. And at some point in religion class, I learned that, in the Catholic world, you may not eat meat on Fridays. I also learned that in this very same faith, fish is not meat. Made absolutely no sense to me. I guess it was my first conscious encounter with people making up rules that serve only them, in this case Church dignitaries. So that they can gorge on in what really is meat on Fridays, by just declaring it’s not.
It’s a struggle for everyone
Did I change my religion back then? Hell no. I was six! Didn’t even cross my mind as something that one can choose to do. For at least 20 more years. On the other hand, was I a faithful Christian, ever? Hell no. Church was a social event and I can’t even count the times I was sent out of Religion class for this or the other snotty remark. Religion played no role in my life other than at Christmas, when church was a way to get us kids out of the house so my parents could do last preparations for the Christmas dinner. Which was when my Grandparents came over and my father’s mom would run her finger over the piano top to check if it was dusted well enough. My mom loved that! But I digress.
So how did I become a pagan? Well, rather than asking someone else what to do — especially since social media didn’t even exist — I changed somehow. Slowly. And not by actively choosing, but rather by easing into it.
Today, for folks who are inquiring what and how to choose, I have this advice:
Don’t ask yourself “What faith should I have, what path should I follow?” in the beginning. You will find the answer at some point, but not by brooding over this big, big question. Remember, your spirituality is a significant component of your Self. Too significant, in my opinion, to expect an easy answer like to the question what shoes should I wear today. Or even what house or apartment should I buy or rent.
Think from the top down, then work from the bottom up
What you could do is use a process called “Theory of Change.” In it, you would put your top goal on — well — the top (of a sheet of paper, for example). But instead of having the top goal as “I want to be X”, it would be “My goal is to fine out/decide on what faith I should follow”. In other words, work towards it, but keep the result of the work wide open.
And then, below that top goal, you put steps that you believe will bring you to the point of realization, to an answer to your question. So the second level would be something like “What is it that informs my decision?” This could be knowledge, how practicing your faith should make you feel, and what’s the practice like. The latter, for me, is the key element. I like to be intellectually stimulated, for instance, but the practice must fit my needs as well. I guess that’s why I’ve never clicked with Buddhism, even though it tickles my mind. I need earthy, hands on, practical things to do rather than sit in meditation. I need Magic.
So once you have mapped out what the steps are, for you personally, that will bring you to a decision, you start at the bottom, with the easy, low hanging fruit so to speak. But I would advise against reading up on what faith does what, and then practice it a while to see what it means to you. That’s too mechanical, too shopping mall-like.
Instead you could do different things and see how they feel. For example, take a walk in a forest. Does that inspire you? Do you run on and off the trail, attracted by a mushroom here and a bird feather there? Or are you more the type who walks briskly along, head down, contemplating the latest encounter at the coffee shop, or the differences of economic theories.
Learn how you would like to connect with your spirituality most. Do you enjoy creating beautiful altars? Do you change them with the seasons, or based on other time markers? What do you like to put on them?
Or do you fancy sitting in a chair, breathing, and clearing your mind to see what comes up for your spiritual practice? Do you enjoy sitting in majestic, ornate buildings, listening to liturgy and stories revealing a slice of truth?
Later on, you could try to find out where you see the divine and how you perceive it. Is it one distinct entity dwelling in a distinct place, even though that is not in the apparent world? Is there a group of deities you are drawn to? Do you experience being called by one or more? Or do you see anything and everything containing a divine spark, an animus, a soul?
The important factor here is not to be guided by instructions (e.g. a Christian does this, a pagan does that, and a Jew the other), but rather do, act, practice the way it feels best for you.
Study myth. Books, talks, the Internet all keep a treasure chest of mythology. About a Jewish preacher riding on a donkey; about a Magician who appeases the dragons under a tower; a poet sucking searing hot drops of potion from his thumb; a sage hanging on the world tree for nine days to find a system of letters. See what captures your attention. What can you retain with ease, and where do you struggle remembering what you just read a paragraph above.?
Find other things that can help you answer your top question.
It is in the very end of that process, once you are settled in your practice, in your understanding of the divine, after you have fallen in love with stories of old, when you finally are in the position to match up your personal practice with the framework of a faith. Any faith.
You may just realize that by now, after all that time of practice and studying, the big question is not so immensely important anymore. You may even realize that you can’t even answer this question one way or another. That your path is a hybrid of some sort. But now you no longer mind. Knowing what label is attached to your faith, to your practice, may just not be so essential for the definition of your Self, of who your are, any more.
And that’s absolutely ok.