It used to be for me, too.
After all, I spent much of my teenage years at a Catholic all girls school, going back to the Venerable Mary Ward, I.B.V.M (1585-1645). Now the nuns who ran the school in this impressive lady’s legacy, are wonderful women, with so much wisdom and kindness to share. And I remain eternally grateful for all they have taught me. The school also happened to be one of the most rigorous academic institutions in my home state of Bavaria. And it was the school that my mother had attended before me.
And, most important of all to my ten year old self: it was the only school in town that offered a math & science track starting in 8th grade. I loved everything to do with math, and had no intention whatsoever of “wasting my time learning French” - literally! So there were good reasons I had opted to attend that particular school back then. However, you can probably imagine the scornful remarks and jokes from my peers who weren’t attending that same school.
By now you’ve probably understood that I did not grow up a practicing Christian really, but happened to be affiliated with two major strands of Christianity by baptism and association. My parents both weren’t actively practicing, so I wasn’t, either. In fact, I ended up renouncing my church affiliation in my early twenties. That’s what one’s got to do here in Germany if not active in church and not happy with institutionalized religion. Unless, of course, you’re keen to pay a church tax in support of something you do not believe in.
My parents always told me that they wanted me to grow up rooted in the ways of our Western society, so even now it makes sense to me that they had me baptized. Mission accomplished. ;-) They always left the choice to me with regards to how active I wanted to be in the world of institutionalized religion. As it turns out, I didn’t want to be particularly active. It just never felt right to me. My belief system and any type of institution - those two just never came together.
For a while, I thought of myself as an atheist. I refused to believe that there was a God or any other deity. At least in the form that I had been taught. After all, I was a science afficionada, and very matter-of-factly at the time. As I said before, I adored anything to do with math and physics.
At about the same time I got more deeply into Albert Einstein’s works - at a very first glance the epitome of a no-nonsense scientist to me back then - I began to develop an inherent feeling that there was a larger power at work. Albeit one that eluded definition, and one that I wasn’t sure I wanted to acknowledge existed. I guess that would have put me in the agnostic camp then. I was astounded to find out that Einstein as well as other leading natural scientists were far from atheists. At the time, I couldn’t wrap my mind around that fact - little understanding that I had about quantum physics and all.
When my mother - an MD by training - went on to qualify as a psychotherapist in the early 1990s, and began to dive into Sigmund Freud’s works, my teenager self was appalled. The simplicity, apparent finality and lifelessness of Freud’s classification of human states of mind just felt totally wrong from the get go. I’ve always had issues with stereotyping, and that just rubbed me completely the wrong way.
One afternoon in 1997 or 1998, while hunting for a good read at the local bookstore to satisfy my insatiable hunger for the wisdom of the world, I stumbled upon a book by the title of “Anam Ćara - A Book of Celtic Wisdom” by the late John O’Donohue. At first I was doubtful - he was an ordained Catholic priest, after all. But then I couldn’t put the book down anymore, so deeply did it touch my soul. And my personal belief system finally had a name to go by: spirituality!
That term to me was three things:
- pristine, i.e. untainted by the ills of institutionalized religion regardless of denomination,
- devoid of missionary zeal and
- open for personal decisions with regards to how and how deeply I wanted to get involved.
John O’Donohue’s writing allowed me to come home to my innermost beliefs and connect with them in a positive way. Who would have thought... all that through the writings of a Catholic priest! Just goes to show how shallow and misleading stereotyping can be... ;-)
To this day, I love going through his books. And I am deeply saddened that he didn’t live long enough for me to enter into a personal dialogue with him. What a brilliant addition to this website that would have been... Never mind, we’ll have to do with what we’ve got. And there is still his legacy of thoughtful, heart- and soul-touching writings, which will, no doubt, show up time and again here.
True to form, let me close for today with a passage from the prologue of “Anam Ćara” by John O’Donohue (highlights by me). These lines most beautifully describe the foundation of eMateria:
Humans are new here. Above us, the galaxies dance out toward infinity. Under our feet is ancient earth. We are beautifully molded from this clay. Yet the smallest stone is millions of years older than us. In your thoughts, the silent universe seeks echo.
An unknown world aspires toward reflection. Words are the oblique mirrors that hold your thoughts. [...] Words are like the god Janus, they face outward and inward at once.
If we become addicted to the external, our interiority will haunt us. We will become hungry with a hunger no image, person, or deed can still. To be wholesome, we must remain truthful to our vulnerable complexity. In order to keep our balance, we need to hold the interior and exterior, visible and invisible, known and unknown, temporal and eternal, ancient and new, together. No one else can undertake this task for you. You are the one and only threshold of an inner world. This wholesomeness is holiness. To be holy is to be natural, to befriend the worlds that come to balance in you.
Behind the facade of image and distraction, each person is an artist in this primal and inescapable sense. Each one of us is doomed and privileged to be an inner artist who carries and shapes a unique world.
[...] The Celtic mind was neither discursive nor systematic. Yet in their lyrical speculation the Celts brought the sublime unity of life and experience to expression. The Celtic mind was not burdened by dualism. It did not separate what belongs together. The Celtic imagination articulates the inner friendship that embraces Nature, divinity, underworld, and human world as one.
The beauty of these words calls for a bow of my head and a heartfelt “Namasté.”
I look forward to your constructive comments.
Love and light,