Ezella Kay (known to the list under her former name of Ezella Edwards) has explored many themes of pantheism – human responsibility, forms of meditation and celebration, acceptance of life, existence in time – with a sincerity, clarity and depth that inspired so many of us.
After a traumatic childhood, Ezella sought shelter in the convent and became a Catholic nun for 27 years. Yet she never succeeded in quieting her doubts that a good, all-knowing, all powerful god could allow so much injustice and suffering in the world. She left the convent when she was 48, and abandoned Christianity for pantheism shortly after. “Once I stopped looking for reasons for all that happens,” she writes, “I no longer had to try to reconcile all the difficult things of life with some sort of overriding good guy in the sky. Now my difficulties are just challenges to be faced; they don’t touch my inner being. Joy and peace accompany me at every step.”
All material is copyright Ezella Kay 1998-2000. For permission to reproduce please contact the Information center.
Welcome the Dawn
I knew everyone was staring at my knees! There was nothing particularly wrong with my knees except that they had not been visible to the public for 27 years! And here they were, exposed for all the world to see! I was walking in the park and wearing a pair of shorts for the first time after leaving the convent.
The two biggest challenges I faced? – money and makeup. Money because I had not handled money more than a handful of times in the last 27 years. Banking, check accounts, credit cards – all were pretty much a mystery to me. And don’t even get me started about makeup! What comes so naturally as a teenager is a major threat to sanity when you’re 48 years old.
There were also times when my naivete got me into embarrassing situations. To this day I don’t know what was so funny about some of the jokes that were told in my presence. Then there was the time I was in a car with friends and we passed a sign announcing a “Garage Sale.” I was completely puzzled and showed my ignorance by asking in all simplicity, “Why would anyone want to sell their garage?” After a stunned silence and an outburst of laughter when everyone realized I was quite serious, I was told the meaning of the sign. I have since, of course, had my own garage sale and yard sale and even participated in a neighborhood sale. I can buy and sell junk with the best of them now!
There was an upside to all this. Just imagine the blessing of not having to watch any reruns on television. After only watching the news on television for 27 years, every program was brand new to me! First-run movies, serials and sitcoms moved across the TV screen in an endless number of premieres.
I have been asked many times to write what people call “my life.” As I go over it in my mind, I realize that I am about to write a mystery, a mystery as deep and mysterious as the human mind and spirit. It has been an extraordinary life, but then again, isn’t every life extraordinary?
One major consideration has been my motivation for choices, my strength in difficult times, and my stumbling block. This one thing is religion, or put more broadly, my belief system.
My parents weren’t religious, but my 2 sisters and I were sent to the nearest Baptist church to Sunday School almost every Sunday. I still remember how proud I was the day I finally completely memorized the first Psalm, and not long after, the 23rd Psalm that is the traditional comfort Psalm for Christians. This Christian fundamental belief system satisfied my religious yearnings and fed my developing mind and spirit while I was young. In a sense, it was a much-needed life-preserver.
I needed a life-preserver to keep from drowning in the ocean of evil surrounding me. My father began using my as a sex-toy before I was five. His abuse continued until I was fourteen. His sadistic games were quickly relegated to the realms of my unconscious mind, and as unbelievable as it sounds to some people, by the time I was fifteen, I no longer had a memory of all that had happened during those years.
By the summer of my fifteenth year I had lost a year of high school from a mysterious undiagnosed illness, was under the care of a psychiatrist, was depressed and suicidal. I was then subjected to electric shock treatments, and when these did not seem to “cure” me, I was put in a mental institution for 3 weeks for “observation.” This was in the fifties when there were state-run “hospitals” for “crazy” people, and I had just turned 16.
Even though much of my childhood remains beyond the reach of my memory, the shock treatments and those weeks in the state hospital have fuelled many a nightmare. What no one knew or perhaps even suspected in that day and age, was that the cause of my problems was my own father and his brother.
As I went through my own personal hell, I clung to religion as the one thing that would enable me to survive. But, though I hung on with all my might to the only religion I had ever known, it did not give me any answers that made sense out of my chaotic world. So … I began searching.
My search led me to the Catholic religion, which seemed more logical to my inquiring mind than the emotionalism of Protestantism. The arguments and philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and Ignatius of Loyola who founded the Jesuits, gave me food for thought. The structure introduced stability into my confused world. And finally, the convent offered a world of safety and security that I craved, though I no longer remembered why.
At the age of 21 I entered a Catholic religious community and became a perfect nun. I was outgoing, compassionate, studious, a leader in every respect. I spent at least 3 hours a day in prayer. I wrote treatises on religion, was the assistant editor of a magazine for nuns, a contributing author to a magazine for families and one for children. I taught English and history, science and religion in the convent high school. I travelled all across the United States giving religious education seminars for teachers, and recruiting speeches at high schools. I conducted retreats for teachers and high school students. I was indeed a busy and apparently very happy nun.
While all this was happening on the outside, I struggled daily with my doubts about what I professed. So much of what I taught others I did not believe myself. I tried with all my might to overcome my “lack of faith.” I thought of myself as a bad person and a bad nun because I was really a hypocrite. Not a single person knew of these inner conflicts. I went to confession on a regular basis, but since I never really believed in the “sacrament of confession,” I never truly confided in the priest. I could debate theological questions with the best of them, but mostly because I needed to convince myself. Through college and graduate work I consistently made A’s in every subject. In my wounded mind and personality, perfection in all I did was my ticket to salvation.
All during these many years, which eventually added up to 27, I hated my life and myself. I sincerely wished I had never been born. I said my rosary every day and prayed with fervor, all the while despising myself because I could only pretend that I believed. I wanted so desperately to believe that sometimes I was able to convince myself that I was not really a hypocrite because I would believe if I could. And to make it all worse, I had no memories of the abuse from my childhood, and had no idea why I was “so weird.” I faced each day with dread and could probably have won an Oscar for my performance as a happy, model nun.
In my forties, after being raped at knife point, memories began to surface and plunged me into the darkest period of my life. For awhile I walked in darkness, blackness within and without, terrifying shadows of things past. I could not see any light, only the evidence of shadows proved there was light somewhere, for there are no shadows where there is no light. There is no need to share details here, but through the months that turned into several years, I gradually made my way toward the full light of the sun. Immersed in memories and flashbacks of unspeakable acts, steeped in fear and confusion, I muddled on.
By hindsight, I know that dark time was like the hour before dawn when the earth seems to be without life, and holds its breath in anticipation of what is yet to come; when the moon has passed over and the sun has yet to rise. I recall something an old Italian tour guide once said as we nuns waited for an Easter sunrise service in Rome, “Never fear, my friends, this night will end, you cannot hold back the dawn!”
As I gradually struggled toward wholeness, I became aware that if I remained in the repressive atmosphere of the convent, the dawn would arrive, but I would never see it. As long as I believed whatever I was told to believe, and did whatever I was told to do, in exactly the way I was told to do it, as long as I refused to take responsibility for my own choices, and refused to live my life the way I knew it should be lived, I would stay in a world devoid of light.
At the age of 48, with one small suitcase filled with all I owned, I boarded a plane to go back to the California where I was born and raised.
But the California I returned to was not the same California I had left 27 years earlier! Everything became a challenge in a world I had only lived in from the outside, as it were, because I was inside a system that said, “You must be in the world, but not of it.” I remained outwardly Catholic as I began my search for a job. I accepted a position with the children’s ministry of a interdenominational religious organization. Once more I was training teachers, writing and editing children’s stories and educational materials. I bought my first car, opened my first bank account, rented my first apartment, bought my first furniture – all when most people are enjoying their grandchildren. The first piece of jewelry I purchased was a string of fake pearls for $3.50, an extravagance I felt guilty about for days!
After getting settled, I returned to the Protestantism of my youth, hoping that at long last I could understand and accept what I couldn’t when I was young. Unfortunately, nothing had changed and it was still as illogical to me as it had been before. So once more I became a hypocrite, not by choice, but by circumstance.
I had clarified my beliefs in the depths of my being and had written it all down in a journal. I knew of no other belief system that came close to what I believed. Here are some excerpts from my journal from July 31, 1997, written on the top of Palomar Mountain on a weekend camping trip:
I can no longer believe in the god of traditional Christianity, or the Judaic god of the Old Testament. When I pray, who am I praying to? Myself? If god is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, then something doesn’t make sense. All three cannot be true and be consistent with all the suffering in the world.
Science is clear on the truth that everything in the universe is made up of the same stuff, the same elements. Both animate and inanimate things are all made of the same building blocks. Whatever principle or force guides all this also begets life in some things, and various degrees of intelligence and finally consciousness. There is definitely a principle at work here. Whether or not that principle or force itself has consciousness is the question.
I think only we ourselves can assign meaning to life, death, and suffering. It don’t think there is any extrinsic meaning and purpose, other than the universal tendency toward order as seen in crystals and flowers, toward life, which is found in the depths of the oceans and under the polar caps, and change, which seems to be the very nature of being. If we want life to have a meaning, then we must give it one.
After writing these thoughts, I concluded with, “I wonder if anyone else believes as I do?” Then I closed my journal and put it away, and went back to working for a Christian organization because I knew of nothing else to do. I still waited for the dawn.
When the dawn did come, it was so splendid, so full of promise and joy, that I was at first afraid to embrace it for fear it was fantasy. And just as shadows disappear when you stand under the noonday sun, all doubts left.
One day while searching the Internet, I came upon a web site called Scientific Pantheism. Out of curiosity, and because I was in a continual search for what I could accept as truth, I began to read. I became aware of an actual ache in my chest, tears sprang to my eyes, and with an audible cry of joy, I topped any discovery by anyone from the past or present – I discovered the Universe!
At long last I didn’t have to try to reconcile the idea of an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful god who would allow fathers to rape their daughters, and earthquakes and disease to destroy the lives of millions who have hardly even had a change to live.
The Scientific Pantheism Credo was a little less defined then, but was basically the same as it is today. In one brilliant flash I knew what I believed, I had a name for it, and I knew I was only one out of many who believed the same. I was a member of a community, yet unknown, but real. All the years of searching, all the agonies of feeling like a hypocrite, all the doubts fell away like icicles melted in the intense heat of the sun.
This was not my journey’s end. I am now 58, and more than 9 years have passed since I left the convent to “make my way in the world.” These 9 years have been a lifetime in themselves. Now I daily embrace life in all its wondrous beauty. I laugh and the Universe responds with rainbows and roses. I cry and the tears of every suffering child are mine. I hope and the hope of all who have ever longed for an end to hatred and racism is mine. I am my brother’s keeper. I am my brother. I am the Universe that thinks and loves and hopes and suffers and laughs and walks and grows and changes and dies.
The world is full of Scientific Pantheists. It’s a belief system that does not require education or economic security, it requires no special language or culture, has no limits as to age or nationality. It is based on the ability of the human mind to seek and grasp the reality of truth. It is experienced by a child who watches a helium balloon rise into the sky, or who sees a butterfly break out of a cocoon, or learns about the intricate patterns of snowflakes and fingerprints. In the face of the Universe we are all children, children filled with hopes and dreams of a future devoid of poverty, hatred and suffering. These dreams seem unrealistic and unfulfilled in a world torn with man-made and natural disasters, but let us keep hope and remember, no one can hold back the dawn![October 7, 2000]
My connection center
I have set up a sort of “connection” center in my living room, as a reminder of who I am and my place in the universe. Since I cannot yet live my beliefs openly, at least in my own home I can confirm and strengthen them.When I sit before the center it increases my sense of oneness with all else that is, ever has been, or ever will be. I can’t help but wonder if any of my atoms/molecules were ever a part of a seashell or an orca whale, or maybe of one of the Ancient Ones from the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, or perhaps of a meteor that fell from the sky a million years ago, or a dinosaur that roamed the earth. What a tremendous thought! In a sense, I have always been here, and I always will be. Whoever said we are not immortal!? In my book, being an “eternal” part of something as grand as the Universe and as sacred as this Earth, IS immortality.
In my meditation center I have put objects that represent various aspects of nature. I have 2 rock crystal oil lamps, sea shells, rocks, a piece of drift wood, a couple of feathers, and some dried flowers. I also have some fossils and a pottery shard from an archaeology dig. I will continue to add to my motley collection, and change and adapt it as the fancy moves me. And I will continue to wonder how many places and how many times have been “visited” by one or more of the same atoms/molecules that now make up Ezella.[5/4/1998]
It’s down to us
Sara wrote: “The timeless question of Christians – if god is all good and all powerful, how can there be evil in the world?’ – makes more sense if you remove the “all good” from god and equate god with nature, the universe, the world, etc.” I completely agree. I always had such a difficult time reconciling a loving, all-powerful god with so much suffering in the world. As a nun all those years many people looked to me for answers. I was never able to supply answers that satisfied. To say it was god’s will seemed ludicrous. To say we don’t understand god’s ways, but he knows what he’s doing, was equally ridiculous. If he knows what he’s doing, then he would be some kind of monster. A child dies; we must accept god’s will! A tornado strikes; we must accept god’s will.
But now, I have never felt so much at peace. I don’t expect a “just” Universe, it simply is as it is. I have freely called upon all my own inner resources and have found strength, assurance, and harmony in abundance. There was no need or desire to look outside myself to an imagined higher power.
I think many people are afraid of the idea of no god distinct from the universe. It would mean too many changes in their thinking and acting. If you can no longer say, “God, help me!” you have to turn to yourself and other people for that help, and that takes a combination of self-reliance and humility. If you can no longer say, “God has his reasons,” then you have to accept that some things happen for no reason at all. It is far too easy for people to say, “It just wasn’t god’s will,” when something goes wrong. That takes all the responsibility and places it squarely on the shoulders of this all-powerful being who supposedly can bear all the burden.
Removing god from your religion, philosophy, vocabulary, and thinking processes means leaving your comfort zone and adventuring out into the great unknown where humankind must bear the responsibility, individually and collectively, and must work with nature and science to achieve any good. It’s a frightening aspect.
In this present experience with suffering, there is a religious sentiment in me that naturally comes to the surface. When I say and believe “the Universe is divine,” it somehow expresses that religious sentiment, without crossing over the boundary of actually creating a god who created the universe. I believe Pantheism does go one step beyond atheism, and is in a very real sense a “natural” religion. A religion that frees people to reach their own full potential.[20/4/1998]
I’ve been following all the posts about faith being a bulwark in time of trouble. I think what would give me the most comfort if something really horrible happens again (I’ve been mugged, raped, and burglarized at one time or another) would be to no longer believe that “everything has a reason,” and that “God has his reasons even if we don’t know them.” These are the beliefs that made trauma so extremely difficult for me in the past.
My sister took her own life 2 years ago. I had at that time already acknowledged to myself that everything did not necessarily have a reason; and god had nothing to do with anything. I weathered that time of suffering far better than I did the rape, when I tried to reconcile my belief in a good god with something to horrible to accept. I know nothing that has happened to me can compare with losing a child. But I know a woman who lost her daughter at the age of 11. She has struggled for years trying to make sense of it and still keep her belief in a loving God. She is suffering from the conflict with her faith as well as the loss of her child. I have seen this time and again.
I can’t help but believe that suffering would be less if we could accept that the Universe randomly generates both what we perceive as good and bad. It’s not reasonable or sentient. It’s not out to get us, nor does it aim to give us joy when a gorgeous sunset occurs or when we fall in love, or give birth. It’s all random. Only WE can give it all meaning and purpose. It is we, as individuals and as a society, who give meaning to history, both our personal history and communal history. It is we who assign goodness or badness to any given event.
We can retain a great peace and harmony through some very difficult times by accepting the wonderful power we have to give meaning to our life. The responsibility is ours, the reward of a secure place in the Universe is ours. We and our loved ones are here to stay, as a part of the Universe for as long as the Universe exists. Happy Unbirthday to all![29/4/1998]
The subject of meditation has been close to my heart. As a nun for 27 years, meditation was an integral part of every day. About 3 hours a day was spent in prayer, about half of which could be dedicated to one’s own personal preference. The other half was daily Mass, rosary, and rote prayers which seldom had any real meaning for me, though outwardly I was quite a good hypocrite! Now, as a believer in Scientific Pantheism, meditation still has a vital place in my life. For me there are two forms of meditation. One looks inward and the other looks outward.
INWARD MEDITATION: I quiet my mind, my thoughts and worries and preoccupations. I surround myself with what brings me quiet pleasure and peace – candles, music, my purring cat. I sit comfortably and begin to look within. I take a look at all that is good and positive and beautiful in myself. My ability to laugh and love and care. My love of nature, my concern for other people, especially children. I affirm myself for all that I perceive as good. Then I take an equal look at all that I perceive as negative or destructive in myself. My tendency to selfishness, my occasional crankiness and impatience, my overindulgence in some things that I know are not good for my health, and so on. I freely acknowledge these things to myself. I don’t berate myself or lay a lot of guilt on myself. I just look at it all, and remind myself that I still have a long way to go before I become the person I want me to be. Then I will often spend time in gratitude toward the Universe for so many wonders in my life. For the flowers in my back yard, and the tropical fish in my aquarium. For the joy and peace I experience, for good friends and good food, for my dear pets, and the cactus that’s just begun to bloom out front. I set no time limit for this meditation. It may last only five minutes, and it has lasted up to two hours. Right before I decide to finish my meditating, I stop to see if there is anything I want to choose to do. Is there a character weakness I want to work on? Is there something I want to strengthen?
FOR OUTWARD MEDITATION: I begin much the same way, except I try to do this outside. I choose a place of beauty, even if only my back yard. I surround myself with nature instead of candles. Natural sounds become music for me. Then I take a look at all that is good, positive and lovely in the Universe and on this earth. This includes other human beings, plants and animals, the sun, moon, and stars. I just sit and bask in the thought of so much loveliness. I don’t judge it or think how it could be better or worse, I just take it for what it is. Then I take a look at what is negative. That is usually in relation to what some human beings have done to the planet. But it might also be to gain a greater understanding or acceptance of natural disasters that can be destructive in one sense, and re-creating in another. I examine if there is something I am doing or not doing that might have a negative effect on the earth, and what I can do about it. Sometimes I just stop all thought and indulge in FEELING the wind, or the dirt at my feet, or the lizard on the rock, or the clouds floating overhead. I have even sat in the rain for no other purpose than feeling the rain.
This is how I meditate. It works for me, but I think each person has to discover what works best for them and decide their own definition of meditation. There are many perfectly good definitions. For me it is contemplation, reflection, introspection, musing… . and it keeps me in touch with who I am, who I want to become, and in touch with the Universe. In the words from a couple of lines from one of my poems: “I dance the dawn and sing the day, and let myself come out to play.” I leave refreshed and energized.[23/5/1998
A Ripple in History
This week I have been rather immersed in death and disease. My elderly aunt is dying from cancer, and my mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, has taken a sudden turn for the worse. It has made me aware of a strong sense of history. Each of us comes into our families after generations before us. And there will be generations after us. We are born into a nation somewhere in the middle of ongoing history. But each of us is so oriented toward our own good and our own survival, that it is hard to truly believe that the world, our family, the World Pantheist Movement, anything at all existed before we did. Each of us is the center of the universe in our own way of thinking. It’s not deliberate; it’s just the way we’re made. We can and do make acts of self sacrifice. We can see the larger picture and understand our own insignificance. We can intellectually know that the world will go on without us someday. But life has a way of occupying all of our being at once. The day-to-day acts of living, loving, working, playing, eating, sleeping, caring for children, teaching, etc., are so all-encompassing that they lull us into acting as though it will never be different and has always been just so.
We are each a part of a beautiful cycle of life. The Universe is most persistent in creating life. Go to the depths of the ocean’s volcanic vents and you will find life. Go into the darkest caves where the sun never shines and you will find life. At the tops of the highest mountains, and in the deepest valleys, there is life. It might be microscopic or elephantine, but it is life. And I suppose if we could go into the far reaches of space, the Universe would not have changed in that creativity. I have no doubt we would find life.
I do not exist in a vacuum. I am somewhere in this fantastic cycle of life. It was there before me. It made room for me. It will go on after me. What a marvellous sense of continuity this gives me. I cannot harm this cycle even by my egoism, selfishness, or sense of self. It allows me to be the center of my universe without judgement. It allows me to go on living and loving, growing and thinking, until the cycle, and history, go on without me. It allows me to be unique amid all its variety. It even allows me to make a difference in this history of which I am now a part.
The wonder of it all is beyond belief! We slip in and out of history with barely a ripple, yet something is changed by our existing. History is changed, however slightly. And a million years from now, I will still be part of history, both it’s past and its then present. Past history a million years from now, is what I am now creating. Present history a million years from now, of which I will then be a part, may be as atoms in some other person, in another time or place, or in some living plant or animal. It doesn’t matter. I have always been and will always somehow be, a part of history. Thanks for letting me have a venue to air these thoughts![5/6/1998]
Who will forgive God?
I had an interesting conversation a couple of weeks ago. I suffered a slight stroke and had to go to the emergency room, where I proceeded to wait for an eternity before being cared for. A young woman struck up a conversation with me. I think she was some sort of evangelistic missionary. Anyway, at one point she informed me (not knowing my long history with Christianity) that god would forgive any sin that I ever could have committed. I think that was supposed to comfort me.
I had time on my hands, so I decided to have some fun. I said to her, what if I blew up a dam and caused an entire village to be flooded and all the people to drown? What if I released a deadly virus that infected millions of people, including children, and they died long, painful lingering deaths? What if I was somehow able to cause a massive earthquake that killed thousands, or a hurricane? Would god still forgive me?
“I know you haven’t done those things, no one could be that evil, except maybe Hitler. I don’t know if god would forgive such great evil. I guess he would if you were sorry and stopped doing evil.”
But what if I intended to continue? No, she said, god would not forgive if you were going to keep doing evil.
Then I said, you tell me god will forgive me, BUT WHO WILL FORGIVE GOD? All the things I mentioned, occur throughout the world daily. Earthquakes, floods, famine, disease, mud slides, hurricanes, tornadoes are not caused by a person. You say your god is all-knowing, all-good and loving, all-powerful. This would imply that he knows the suffering, has the power to stop it or change it, and yet does nothing, and as far as we know, will continue doing nothing so that this suffering will continue.
I suggest to you that it is illogical that a being can exist that is all- loving and all-powerful, and allows terrible evil. Either the god is not all- knowing, and does not know what is happening. Or not all-powerful, and therefore can’t change any of it. Or is not all-loving, and simply doesn’t care that it’s happening. Of course the easiest and most reasonable answer is that this kind of god does not exist at all. If such a god did exist, it would be far too horrible to contemplate. A being that knows all the suffering is happening, is able to change it, and refuses to do so!
The young woman had been still for some time, trying to absorb what I was saying. She finally said, “You just don’t understand,” and she got up and moved to the other side of the room.
It was an interesting idea to me that if this god of the Christians existed, he would be more “sinful” than those who worship him, and those whom he is supposedly able to forgive. Odd, isn’t it, that the young woman could only respond, “You don’t understand.” I wonder if later it occurred to her that she “did not understand.” Maybe I planted some seeds of critical thinking, but I probably only succeeded in making her cling to her beliefs even more tightly, and insisting to herself that she must take things “on faith.”
By the way, the stroke was caused by a blood clot from a surgery about a month ago, and there were no ill affects at all. Sometimes the Universe hands us thistles, and sometimes a bouquet of roses. This time I got the roses![17/10/1998]
A couple of days ago, during a routine exam, my doctor informed me that “something is growing inside” and she is “very concerned.” I am scheduled on Sept. 8 for general anaesthesia and a minor surgical procedure so that some tissue may be obtained for a biopsy. In my family, cancer is the number one killer. My father died of cancer, my mother has cancer, her sister just died of cancer, her other sister had cancer, two of my grandparents died of cancer, and one of my sisters had cancer and ended her own life three years ago.
So, why tell you all this and bring my troubles to this wonderful group? Because facing the possibility of cancer in my own life has given me the opportunity to think about many things. For one, am I glad that I left my Christianity behind and embraced Pantheism? Will Pantheism give me the same comfort as my former religion? Now that I can’t pray to a “magician in the sky” and ask for healing, how do I deal with this?
YES! I am more than glad that I embraced Pantheism! I am experiencing a calmness and a sense of peace that surprises me. Life is so precious, and Pantheism affirms the value of life at every turn. Whatever else the Universe may be, it is most certainly a life-giver. Life is found in even the most inhospitable environments. The cycle of life-death-life-death goes on infinitum. We see it in animals and plants, and symbolically in seasons and in the rising and setting of the sun. What do we use in our fields and gardens to make our flowers and crops grow? We use the decay of life! What is fertilizer and compost if not the left-over and the decay of life. And from it life springs up and flourishes.
I may not have cancer, and I am hoping for that outcome. Or I may have cancer and be able to eliminate it through medical means as many have. I may have many years of life ahead of me yet, but stopping to face the specter of death square on is not a morbid pastime, but an enlightening activity that animates me and makes me appreciate this very moment of life.
Whatever else happens from this point on, Ezella has lived and loved and laughed. The elements and atoms that have combined in an entirely unique way to create Ezella, will never again combine in exactly this way again. Out of all the people that have lived or ever will, I am unique. And because I have passed through this Universe, it will somehow never be quite the same as it would have been if I had not passed through.
Adding laughter to the battle
A dear friend of mine cannot accept Scientific Pantheism because she stumbles over the idea that a soul or spirit does not continue to exist when we die. But I don’t need to continue to exist as something apart from what I am right now. Whether a person lives a month or 25 years or 100 years, they touch lives, they change lives, they leave their footprints, not in sand, but granite. I have no desire to exist in any other form than what I am right now.
Then my friend said, “But you’ve touched so many lives because of all those years as a nun. But I haven’t touched any lives. What have I ever done?” And that made me think that most of us must be thinking on some kind of grand scale. When I asked her if, when her husband was alive, if she had ever made him laugh. “Oh, yes,” she replied, “many times.” Isn’t that touching a life? Isn’t that making a difference in this Universe and setting the waves in motion? Even the smallest stone thrown into a pond makes waves. We don’t have to throw a boulder in! In fact, boulders can be destructive to a pond, but small stones just make beautiful ripples that go all the way to the shore. They gently rock a boat, they don’t overturn it!
And for being able to pray for healing, what a sense of power I feel when I realize that if I can be healed, it is up to me to do it, with the help of science and medicine. I am in control of my own life for as much as is possible. I don’t need to beg for health, and then wait breathlessly to find out if some god is going to look upon me with pity and heal me. In fact, I always found that idea rather repulsive. While thousands are dying of disease, starvation, floods, earthquakes, and wars, the idea that the same god who is allowing that would heal me of a sickness just because I somehow asked or deserved it, is neither logical or ethical as far as I can see.
We all have many terrible and many wonderful things to deal with in life, it’s up to us to deal with them in good humor or bad. It’s all in the attitude. Since life deals us all kinds of hands, we might just as well have an attitude of joy, as an attitude of grumbling. We can fight tooth and nail for this precious thing called life, but we can do it with good grace. We can leave life kicking and hollering all the way, but we might as well add some laughter to the battle. After all, as an old nun who was dying of cancer once said to me, “None of us is going to get out of this world alive!”[28 Aug 1998]
This will be the first Christmas I will celebrate in a way consistent with what I believe. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to celebrate, including decorating, Christmas cards, and gift- giving. I love Christmas and the positive aspects that have nothing to do with Christianity. I don’t care about its history or that it was started by a religion for religious motives. Christmas is as much a part of my life as department stores, walks in the park, apple pie and camping. I could no more get along without Christmas than I could get along without my computer or refrigerator. So… my home will be chock full of Santa Claus, bells and bows, gifts and toys, and a wonderful Christmas tree.
On Christmas Day I will celebrate the end of darkness and the beginning of light. I will light candles everywhere. My Christmas story will not be from the Bible, but from life. It will be about the meaning of light – light shining into every corner and dispelling darkness; eliminating secrets; revealing truth; allowing the eye to see and the heart to rejoice; dissipating fear; revealing beauty. I will celebrate the ending of one year and the beginning of another. I have been graced with another year of wonderful challenges and memories, of hopes fulfilled, of failures and triumphs and laughter and tears and I will celebrate life!
My Christmas tree will be a symbol of light and life and laughter. I will cover it with lights and color and miniature toys. Beneath it will be placed gifts for those I love. I will give gifts in order to say, “You are loved! For me you are a light in the darkness. You are a gift to me and I give you a gift in return.”
I will design my own simple Christmas card that will reflect what I believe. I will not seek to convert or convince, only to share my joy of living in a Universe so full of wonders and marvels.
I will also celebrate Christmas by recalling my solidarity with all life on the planet. And because some are not as fortunate as I am, I will find a way to make a difference in someone’s life. I do not have to look far. My sister told me yesterday of a family of five children, aged 1 year to 10 years, who have just lost both parents in a car crash. An uncle has taken in the children and added them to his own three children in their 2 bedroom home. They have very little, but are determined to keep the family together. It won’t take much to help in some small way.
Christmas will be a reminder to me to work a little harder to bring peace and love to my small world. And as the winter solstice comes and goes, I will welcome the victory of light over darkness, and recall that the shadows in my life simply prove there is also light, for there are no shadows where there is no light, and there is no morning unless there is night.
The Merriest of Christmases to ALL! [15 Nov 1998]
I woke up this morning feeling rather depressed. Anyone following U.S. politics, both domestic and foreign, won’t have to ask why! My little dog, Pepper, woke up at the same time. As I sat on the edge of the bed deciding whether or not to face the day, she bounded out of her bed and ran over to me as if she hadn’t seen me for a week and I was the most important thing in the world. She clearly anticipated a day full of wonderful things, maybe even a one pound T-bone steak, though she has never even seen one. Then she literally danced from room to room and joyously greeted the two cats, never even noticing that they could care less. Never mind that the day before she had been scolded for running into the street, or that on occasion I have left her out in the rain, or forgotten to freshen her water, or been late with her supper. She greets each new day with absolutely nothing left over from the day before!
So, I am going to work harder at having the same attitude as my dog. It’s a rather sad commentary on human nature when we feel the need to imitate the dog, but that’s the case in this instance. After all, each new day is a brand new experience. No one has ever before seen this morning’s sunrise. After this day is over, it will never come again. I can’t do a whole lot to change the world in general, or undo the consequences of a lot of bad choices on the part of people in power, but I can change, at least to some degree, my small part of the world. I can bring a voice of reason to an unreasonable argument. I can bring an attitude of joy to an otherwise heavy atmosphere. I can encourage a sense of wonder in the children I know, and a sense of justice in their parents.
And to think, my little miniature Schnauzer started all this philosophizing! She is at this very moment expectantly waiting at my feet because she knows that eventually something good will come from my hands (her breakfast). So today I will wait expectantly and the Universe will eventually hand me something good. When that happens, I intend to pass it on and on and on. Solstice greetings to all![21 Dec 1998]
A Rainbow in my Heart
I started a new job. I work 4, 10-hour days. I have a second job on Fridays, and some Saturdays I teach a couple of computer classes. I intend to cut back on some of this real soon! In the meantime, my energy level is pretty low by the time I get home. I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed by it all, including all I need to learn for my new job. I usually have a positive attitude and a good sense of humor, and that helps me get through most anything.
The other day I felt like I really couldn’t handle another day. Then driving home, I saw a rainbow. It was the biggest rainbow I’ve ever seen. Each color of the spectrum was sharp and clear. It stretched from the earth far up into the sky, arching and disappearing into some storm clouds. I watched it for more than five minutes, and it seemed always to be in front of me. When it began to fade, I took it and put it in my heart, where I can pull it out whenever I need it.
Once again the Universe managed to renew my strength, my confidence, my love of life and beauty. When I got home I was met by my dog, Pepper, who treated me like the most special person in all the world. Then my two cats got into the act and said in their own cat language how happy they were to have me home. Then a friend called to see if I was surviving, and wanted to know if she could do anything for me. With so much love and beauty in the Universe, how can we be anything but vibrantly alive and inwardly at peace.[29 Jan 1999]
I have a difficulty with using words that are commonly used by theist religions. The words “prayer,” and “worship,” are among these. It is true that the etymology of certain words would certainly justify their use in a non-theist context, but in day-to-day conversation, few people pay much attention to etymology. Language is living and constantly changing because is express the thoughts of living changing human beings. Take the word “gay” in the English language. For all practical purposes, the etymology doesn’t really matter. The meaning of the word has changed and now indicates a lifestyle. It is still a perfectly wonderful word, it still carries a definitive meaning, but that meaning is quite different than it was 100 or even 50 years ago.
Most people carry on a conversation without explaining or defining their terms, unless they are in some situation in which clarity is of the utmost importance. Sometimes in conflict resolution, I have had to stop the two conflicting parties and ask them to define their terms. Conflict and misunderstanding sometimes occurs when people use the same word in completely different ways.
So many wonderful words have been used (and consequently ruined) by theist religions for so long, that in many cultures the definition of those words is not even questioned. The original meaning of the words has become hopelessly obscure and lost in a history most people simply aren’t interested in knowing. I believe the words “prayer” and “worship” are among these. I do “pray,” and I do “worship” in the truest sense of those words, but I do not pray or worship in the sense that is commonly accepted, at least in western culture. Therefore I personally would never use those words to describe what I do. If I did, I would either have to accept being misunderstood, or I would have to make a serious effort to educate my listeners on the true meanings of the words. Most of the time neither I nor they have the time, energy or inclination to do the latter.
This can make conversation more difficult for me, because it forces me to find new ways and means of describing my beliefs and practices. I do not always succeed. I sometimes have to use five words where one should suffice. But I would far rather be correctly understood. At this point of my life, I don’t want anyone mistaking me for some kind of “New Age Christian” or a theist of any kind. I would rather completely distance myself from anything that smacks of theism, and for me, that means not using words with definitions culturally accepted as connected with “god.”[27 Mar 1999]
I found the idea interesting about the benefits and comfort in having a “god to forgive your wrongdoings.” Of course, when you don’t believe in a god apart from the Universe, it rather puts you in a bind regarding someone above and outside yourself to forgive your “sins.”
I don’t suppose there’s a person among us who has not fallen short of their own expectations of their own behavior, and done or said things they consider wrong and hurtful. In fact, we all seem to have a knack at hurting the very people we love the most. Then there are always the “greater wrongs” like theft, murder, rape, and various other crimes. And lest we forget, what about the wrongs of omission? Those times when we know in our heart of hearts that we should or could do something to alleviate some suffering, and we choose not to. So, who will forgive those of us who do not answer to a god?
As far as I’m concerned, the only real forgiveness is when I forgive myself. Sometimes we are fortunate that a person we have wronged forgives us and puts the past behind them. Other times that forgiveness is never forthcoming. But we have no control over another person’s choices. We may be fully aware of the wrong we did, and be really sorry that it caused harm and suffering, but the only control we have is over our self. I can choose to forgive myself. I can choose to take responsibility for the action. I can choose to do whatever I can to set things right again. But I have no control over what the other person chooses.
However, I don’t believe my happiness depends on another person’s choice to forgive or not. Their happiness may depend on that choice, but not mine. Once I have chosen to forgive myself, I can be at peace, even while taking on the consequences of my wrongdoing. One of these consequences is trying to set things right. I can say, “I’m sorry,” but whether or not the other person accepts my apology is entirely up to them. My forgiveness does not in any way depend on their response. Just as my happiness or unhappiness does not depend on any other person. Other people may be catalysts, but they are not the cause. I am the cause of my own joy or sorrow, anger or serenity, enthusiasm or complacency. And I am the cause of my own forgiveness.
Forgiving myself does not make what I did okay. If I should drink and drive and kill a family of four, forgiving myself does not bring those people back to life. It won’t prevent a lengthy jail sentence or protect me against the anger of the victims’ family. But it will help me retain my sanity while I face the consequences of my actions. It will give me the same peace of mind that a Christian might experience when they believe their god has forgiven them. Even Christians who believe god has forgiven them, experience the feeling of guilt. Forgiveness does not take away feelings of guilt, it takes away the anguish of guilt, and allows a person to move past the guilt.
I propose that we don’t need anyone or anything outside of our self to experience forgiveness and peace of mind. The working definition I use for myself is: Forgiveness is when we choose to excuse a wrong thought, word, or action, rather than foster anger, resentment or hatred for our self or another because of that wrongdoing.
I’m sure this definition is far from comprehensive, but it works for me. When the wrongdoing has been done against me (as when I was raped at knife point more than a decade ago), I may or may not choose to forgive that action. I have never forgiven the rapist. I have forgiven myself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have forgiven myself for not somehow preventing it. So I experience peace and harmony, and am able to share my experience as a survivor with other rape victims. I have never felt obliged to forgive the rapist. He will have to deal with that himself. He can choose to forgive himself or not. His choice really has nothing to do with me.[19 Oct 1998]