As a former lover of Christ and ex-Pentecostalist, I had countless visions and dreams that one day I would be a spiritual leader. While growing up in the charismatic church, it was even prophesied that one day I would become one.
Nearly ten years after leaving the church, I carried a distrust in religion’s relationship with women and its barrier to free thought. My work as a freelance journalist led me to discover a spiritual women’s retreat held in North Bend, Washington. Inspired to experience a non-religious, spiritual gathering, I registered for the retreat held by Center for Spiritual Living (CSL) in Seattle.
CSL is described as a:
“Trans-denominational, inter-generational, not-your-usual church, that was started in 1921. A safe place for ‘the rest of us’ who are looking to connect with God/Higher Power/Universal Presence, but don’t really fit in with any one religion.”
The spiritual center’s core teaching philosophy derives from “Science of Mind” or Religious Science, a New Thought spiritual, philosophical, and metaphysical movement founded by practical mystic Ernest Holmes. The spiritual principles rely on the laws of physical science in establishing its core beliefs.
The center upholds the idea that intentions and creativity flows through a collective consciousness, and that consciousness is interconnected with the world around us. CSL looks to ideologies and models within quantum physics which show that “the universe is made up of energy that cannot be destroyed and is infinitely intelligent.” The only attribution I had to religious science was Scientology and Christian Science which is in no way related to the tenets of the Science of Mind.
During my Pentecostal days, I had attended innumerable retreats. Most of these retreats involved, if not, evoked speaking in tongues (glossolalia), healing through fervent prayer, and being slain in the Holy Spirit (trances and intense mediation).
The spiritual retreat in early May attracted nearly 30 women. It was held at the Rainbow Lodge, a retreat center encircled by a myriad of trails at the base of colossal Mount Si. The theme was “Spread your Wings and Soar” focused on the Butterfly Maiden, the Hopi Kachina (Nature Spirit), who governs the spring season.
The first night we were asked to bring an item that honors the Divine Feminine to add to the community altar. In addition, we were asked to consider our intention for attending the retreat – what we hoped to achieve or actualize. Following introductions, we participated in a releasing prayer, along with a releasing fire ceremony to work towards renewal and transformation.
My intention was to release the pain and betrayal I still felt from my former faith. With our written release statements in hand, each one of us took turns discarding our statements into the igniting fire.
One of the two female reverends led us into a prayer thanking the natural elements that supported us in our ceremonial release, along with celebrating our commitment to welcoming the next phase of transformation. As the reverend burned sage, blessing the circle of women, a woman let out an impromptu howl. Within moments, I was filled with an energized anticipation for the events to come.
I had partaken in many rituals within my former faith and I thought I had seen it all, until I participated in the retreat’s “Sacred Theatre.” The ceremony requires that the participant share a desire, goal, or aspiration. Mine was to be a spiritual leader. The group is arranged in tunnel-like fashion for the participant to pass through. One volunteer representing the respective goal stands at the other end. The participant then chooses two angels to stand by her side offering words of encouragement and strength as she makes her way towards the un-actualized goal.
Two additional volunteers stand as blockages or hindrances. Mine was the betrayal of my former faith and religious community, along with the shaming of a spiritual identity. Along the way, two volunteers stand as “positives” providing me the courage to trust and accept my evolving spiritual identity. All other participants stand on the sidelines with hands stretched out in the form of prayer.
Walking down a tunnel-like path slaying the two blockages, welcoming community, and accepting my desired goal was both mentally and emotionally revelatory for me. With tears cascading down my face, I felt a freedom and an elusive form of assurance I hadn’t encountered in a very long time.
God had dwelt within me like the unconscious space between heartbeats.
My life pursuits, achievements, and relationships refused to fill the void. For a long time, I thought this gaping hole within me only belonged to a particular construct of God. In reality, I longed for a complementary spiritual community, shared ideologies and values, and intellectual exploration.
Science of Mind
At the end of the retreat I spoke with Reverend Barbara Novak about CSL’s beliefs, values and organizational goals.
She explains that in the Science of Mind text, the “Universal Mind” is what most people regard as “God.” God is subjectively constructed; once there is an understanding that we’re discussing the same thing, but possess a different understanding of “it”, we can form a shared objective understanding, while retaining our subjective meaning of the Divine.
Rev. Novak states: “…what we believe at our core, whether we’re buying into raised consciousness or collective unconscious…we’re creating the greater collective by what we’re collectively believing, as well as, what we individually believe.”
CSL believes that the nature of God operates through us, in us, around us, and as us. That it [Universal Mind/Presence] experiences itself in life. The Universal Mind is infinite but humanity is not. Yet, we can channel its presence as created beings.
My quest to find a supportive, empowering community; one that genuinely promotes love and open communication; one that draws on a variety of ideologies, theories, scientific reasoning, and rituals; a community that works to uplift one another through spiritual exploration and free thought was one I had nearly lost hope in. During the retreat, I realized these communities do indeed exist.
No longer a captive to spiritual shame, I know I can define my spiritual calling, while being part of a community.
I acknowledge that CSL is not for everyone, and I understand everyone’s spiritual path is different. For me, a community that honors all paths to God, the Divine, the collective consciousness through the integration of science, psychology, and mysticism is an indelible find.
Andreea Nica is a freelance writer, media strategist, and egalitarian. She writes for Sociologists for Women in Society, Apartments.com,Huffington Post, AlterNet, amongst other top-profile online platforms. She is a featured expert on SheSource, Women’s Media Center, and the Founder of OrganiCommunications, a consultancy that empowers organizations and enterprises in content development and media strategy ventures. Currently, she is writing a narrative nonfiction on her transition from the Pentecostal sect. She holds a M.S. from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a B.A. in Psychology from Northern Arizona University. You can find Andreea hiking throughout the Pacific Northwest with her better half and kitty. Follow her @integratedcom and connect on LinkedIn.
20 thoughts on “Redefining Spirituality, One Church for All by Andreea Nica”
Thank you for sharing such a personal experience and congratulations on finding a community and the enormous hope, optimism, and energy such a journey involves.
Normally I can’t stomach too much mystical talk for very long, but your post was actually palatable.
Thank you for your honest feedback and words of encouragement!
Cool! I’ve been to a few similar retreats and weekends. It was fun spending a weekend, for example, with a bunch of Unitarians. I’m glad your time was so good and that you were successful. Have you read anything Holmes wrote?
Thanks, Barbara! Yes, I have read some of his collaborative work. I actually just signed up for a weekly class through CSL to discuss and read the Science of Mind text, so I’m looking forward to discovering how I feel about it. Have you read his work?
I recently signed up for a class at CSL to discuss and read Science of Mind, so I’m looking forward to my feelings and thoughts about it. Perhaps another blog post? ;) Have you read much of his work?
I read Science of Mind, but that was many years ago. Back in the late 80s, when I was working as a technical editor in an aerospace company, I sat next to a man who had been a student of Holmes. He had some interesting stories. This same man also said he’d been Tchaikovsky in an earlier life. I was extremely naive at the time and believed him. All those old New Thought authors and preachers were interesting. Read the early Unity books, too, and Quimby. You’ll learn a lot about the roots of modern mainstream metaphysics. I hope you’ll post another blog or two about your class and the texts.
SNAGS — or what Sonia Johnson called “the toxic age” groups, SNAG stands for sensitive new age guys… new age old age patriarchy kind and gentler…. but hey women still long to belong…
Thanks, Andreea. Your mention of the Kachina nature spirit, and the beautiful photo of the pond nearby in your article, got me thinking about “one for all” in that context. And I realized for the first time (and why hasn’t this occurred to me before!!!) that we are all indeed united, quite effortlessly, because we share the same “lodge” that is, we coexist or live together, within that singular aura, that magnificent, celestial presence, of planet Earth itself.
YES! I love your comment Sarah and this was precisely the revelation I experienced during my time at the retreat. Experiencing this oneness is certainly powerful.
Bravo! And good luck on your path to becoming a spiritual leader. I know that, for me, a spiritual leader would need to use alternatives for the word “God” in order to avoid perpetuating its deeply ingrained male connotations. If we use the word “Divine” or “Source” or “Oneness” or “Universal Consciousness” in place of “God,” I believe we can more easily free ourselves from the old paradigm that exalts the “male” and exploits and negates everything that is considered to be relatively “female,” i.e. women and girls, nature/the Earth, nurturing kindness, etc. Language is so important as a creative tool, and that includes creating a new religion!
I can certainly relate, Kim. It’s difficult, even for me, to pray or meditate on “god” because of what it used to represent to me. And I am definitely a proponent of creating a new platform (if you’ve read my other posts ;)) However, I realized that there needs to first be healing in order to move into a genuine space of choice. In other words, I came to the realization that my repudiation of the word “god” limited me in my spiritual journey and the evolution of my identity. I’m certainly not in a place where I am comfortable or even feel the need to use the word “god” but I know, for me, that I must get to a place where I use these referential words/meanings interchangeably without feeling hurt, or resorting to a place of a religious past I no longer associate with. I do agree that Divine, Source, or Universal Consciousness are incredibly powerful and formidable terms. Thanks again for your comments!
Hi Andreea Nica,
I briefly read your experience with that retreat you spoke about in your article.
As for me, I feel that we should be careful of spiritual issues that are outside of Jesus Christ.
There will always be new thoughts and idea about God however.
The true and only one Church is the Church that speeches Jesus Christ.
I’m sure you are well meaning in sharing this, but I feel this post is being disingenuous by not referring Hinduism. Everything you are talking about is described in the Vedanta Philosophy which are the universal spiritual underpinnings of Hinduism. You’d be best to read Swami Vivekanada rather trying to reinvent the wheel.
Thanks for your comments. Center for Spiritual Living draws on many rituals and traditions from all global religions and philosophies – tenets of Judaism, Christianity, Mysticism, Hinduism, etc. This post focused on my specific experiences at the women’s retreat with a brief overview of the foundational aspects of CSL and Science of Mind.
This is really interesting! Sam Harris, a vocal atheist, actually spends some time on the word “spiritual” and what it can mean for those without a belief in any gods. Sam Harris redefines the term as being (I’m paraphrasing), “that which is transformative.” This *can* include a belief in god(s), but does not depend on it. I find this really resonates with me, as I articulate my atheistic perspective, while still acknowledging wonderful moments of awe in life. I also really like that a man has spent time on this topic, as it seems like “spirituality” is often unnecessarily confined to the feminine realm. http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/a-plea-for-spirituality
What an interesting point Bridget – that spirituality can often be defined and constructed within the feminine space. I had never really thought about it that way. I completely agree that spirituality should not be limited to a belief in a faith system or god/s. I would consider myself in that category in many ways. I wonder, though, can one believe in an Infinite Source or a Divine Source and still be a spiritual atheist? Is there such a thing? Thanks again for your provoking comments, Bridget!
In terms of an “infinite source” or “divine source,” I’d say defining those would be important to connecting it with a belief. Do we mean something that would be deemed “wholly other?” I would say, for me, I’m very drawn to pantheism – that everything is divine. But then, if everything is divine, than what *is* divine/what make something divine (lack of any Wholly Other)? In terms of any active belief in any “wholly other,” that is a belief I no longer possess (though neither would I argue no “wholly other” exists because that would be quite intellectually dishonest of me). I’m an agnostic in terms of existence, an atheist with regard to my lack of belief.
I have become moved and teary eyed at thinking about Carl Sagan’s monologue on the Pale Blue Dot, or when he made the point that we’re all “star stuff.” For me, pondering on my (our) connectedness to each other, other members of our ecosystem, this planet, this solar system, our galaxy, our cosmos is something that is not based on any belief, but on having an understanding of various scientific discoveries. I think many atheists share this view, feeling a sense of awe (and what I would comfortably call a spiritual experience) in thinking about aspects of scientific reality.
Keeep in mind, there are many atheist religions. That is, religions that lack any gods. Most Buddhists are Atheists, and not one sect has a creator nor is there one sect with monotheism. Some are polytheist, but I am confident the gods in Buddhism are allegorical for the sake of the theist audience. :Likewise, some sects of Hinduism are atheist. Jainism is atheist, Confucianism is atheist, Taoism is debatable, but some say atheist.
Realize chrsitianity is what told you all other religions are wrong-upon discarding chrsitiainity one should consider double checking all the assumptions from narcissism. And on a side note, it’s very disappointing to hear a woman in a feminist discussion pimping jesus. The bible defiles woman on page 2, so get a clue-you know who you are. There is actually no more immoral philosophy in history than chrsitianity which seeks to avoid all responsiblity for THIS world (the real one) and worse-it tries to get everyone else to sit down pass the buck, and start bullying whoever doesn’t brainlessly nod.
I would also mention-while Theravada Buddhism is very sexist, It was the first religious order that ‘allowed’women, but who knows if that’s true. What I do know is that some sects of Buddhism have always said not just girls and boys but all life is equal, since before Jesus-since that’s such an impressivve benchmark to so many lol. Jesus???? what did he do-try to run? the chrsitains should thank Judas, it is because of a person, not a god, and not an apocalyptic rabbi they are saved. And who waits for a ride that is over 1900 years late?????? Most of us give up after an hour or two. This is the pure land-as there is no purity in any land. There is only purity in the mind, if it is pure-that’s what the land will reflect. Just as whenever people share a space-they do NOT feel the same-proof that environments don’t dictate one’s life condition.
Faith is a personal issue. But I too don’t see the logic, among other things in recreating Hinduism to fit a worldview-are you sure there isn’t already a doctrine that fits you (general)? I’m personally anti-feminist as I am pro-equality and feminism lost its way long, long ago and long since devoured its own tail. If it was about equality, feminism would have a fair, equal solution for the surname dilemma…. but they don’t, instead they have compromise that they call ‘choice’ -FOR SHAME, what about your daughters???? and they at best defer the problem to their children…. what’s impressive about that? What’s next gonna start belching and scratching themselves? Just saying-it shouldn’t be that hard to show up the men-quit using them as a benchmark feminists. Equality is true, it needs no laws, only believers-and those that do, know that the home is where gender roles are learned and thus they don’t whine to get more legislation, nor does putting baracades around weeds get them pulled. Don’t worry, nobody likes me, so if you don’t like my thoughts, you’re in a large group. Equality is created by each of us-not by pointing the finger-for example, saying the solution to rape is ‘keep it in your pants men!’ lol i love the fact that no matter how much it affects one, we all tend to assume some disconnection from these problems – even though we live in a CLOSED SYSTEM. Look at the woman above, perpetuating the most misogynist hateful, insane, and backward and immoral philosophy in history-one that has an alarming fear of women, their power, their sexuality, and …… their ability to give birth. Boys get their ideas from their famiies-and families have girls too-and at this point in time, it’s everyone’s burden. So if you’re fixing things in your life-excellent. If you’re scapegoating various boys and girls-you are the problem. And that is a truth way beyond feminism, it applies to everything. But feminists, if they wish to allgn with this antithesis wave, should at least examine some of the ideas held and then check that meaning of feminism, and perhaps equality, etc…. And fix your surname!!!!!! What does it say about you to have a man’s brand (or two or three) on your butt? How is that feminism or equality??????? Deny all you like-but realize there’s that pesky problem that feminism can’t solve the surname riddle-proof it is not looking for equality for the solution has been obvious all along. You cannot duplicate a false right (not for equality’s sake that’s for sure-which proves todays feminist’s want role reversal, not equality. And sorry-again, it’s an objective statement based on decades of failure with the surname, not ONE solution that is true. It’s funny one day I was arguing about this, and a woman made the mistake of bringing up Iceland, one of the very very very few cultures that has an equal naming system….. guess what, it’s NOT A SURNAME. And guess what else-this one culture without the surname dilemma-yes, the surname is the ROOT of gender inequality, and why wouldn’t it be-so cleverly guarded by something good and true-daddy’s love. The rest is nonsense-try me, there is no positive argument to retain it-ask yourself why you practice a false version of a false tradition that is simply in the name of adult male ownership. If feminists looked at the children….. not just themselves, they’d have seen this truth long ago. It’s hilaroius that men are used as a benchmark in feminism….. for so many things. How silly, using a failure, the nemesis (former male privilege culture) as the benchmark for the movement intended to make women equal to men….. Not until the roles are EQUAL in the home, and they will never beso long as superior titles exist-and women shouldn’t want to own children like property either-SHAME!!!
Sorry, I’m very blunt but mean well. Hopefully at least one gets it – the surname issue. Quit relying on LAWS, figure out what’s wrong in YOUR world, and fix it. My eight year old daughter invented the word
“peoplekind” the other day and didn’t ask permission to scribble out ‘mankind’-she knew. That’s the type of stuff that tells you what you’re doing is working. Laws? They are for the uncivilized-a civilized society wouldn’t have them, nor need them-no cops, and certainly no lawyers or judges. So next time you sign a referendum or perhaps collect a 1000 signatures for one-ask yourself how the hell that’s going to change culture and without changing culture-what exactly is it going to do-is this about revenge or equality???????
Anyway, sorry, I’m a ranter.
Thanks for that, I’m always pleased to hear about people finding their way back to a spiritual path after having had issues with what they were brought up with. I grew in a Quaker household but rejected what I saw,as it’s ‘woolly mindedness’, however via westernized Buddhism I’ve come back to a spiritual perspective, and now I see the benefit of not trying to nailed down,what by definition cannot be nailed. Instead if you open to a connection, then see the rest as symbolic it works better in my view. As such universalism comes naturally. Christ then can be seen as a symbol of supreme spiritual love that inspires the same in you. However if that doesn’t work for you find a different symbol that does, perhaps one that is female or gender neutral. Spirituality is surely always about transcending our narrow sense of self to find a more universal connected sense of self that dissolves otherness.