As someone who wasn’t raised in a religious household, I felt insecure for not belonging to a spiritual family. My friends in high school were all baptized Christians, and I didn’t understand why I wasn’t as well. By the time I reached my mid-twenties, I was introduced to MySpace, which was the social media of the day, and there I frequented the religion board and learned about Christianity. I was uncomfortable with some of the tenets, and a discerning Muslim reached out to me and began teaching me about Islam. It was a very attractive religion to me, it seemed to check off a lot of boxes; so that, along with Gnosticism, satisfied my yearning to be made “righteous”.
On a more worldly scale, I was also pretty serious about my dance practice at this time as well, after having been absent from it for a significant time. I was as flexible as a wooden board. I heard Madonna say how helpful yoga was for her vitality, so I signed up for a community class in order to achieve a full split. This was the beginning of my true spiritual journey. My teacher said to us with a bellowing laugh, “You don’t know what you’ve signed up for!” He wore all white clothing, a turban, and had a long white beard. At the end of the class I asked him if he was Muslim. He informed me that not only was he a (converted) Sikh, but his religion was a direct response to the violence that Muslims waged against Hindus.
At this juncture, I turned away from studying Islam, and put a lot of my efforts into learning about Sikhism, as practiced in the West through the discipline of kundalini yoga, which included learning as much Gurmukhi as I could (and yes, I attained my full splits for dance; thank you Madonna). I also continued to read about Gnosticism, which got on well enough with the Indian tradition, and this all satisfied me for a short while. In fact, I can recall feeling the most whole I had felt since my childhood, which I didn’t realize I had been longing for and still to this day seek out.
Despite a sense of recovery in my life, there were gaping holes in my disciplines. Gnosticism had very dark teachings that corroded any possibility for real peace of mind, and my yoga practice continued to become more and more zealous, waking up long before the sun to be downtown for 4 am prayer and practice at the ashram. I began to long for the Jesus of my forefathers. I wanted to wear a beautiful Italian glass cross necklace that was gifted to me, and I asked my teacher if I could wear it. He said to be the cross. I decided that I could in fact wear it, but not being a baptized Christian still weighed heavily on my heart. I continued to learn about Christianity and doctrines in my online community, and I finally began to read parts of the Bible for myself.
It was in this act that I discovered Jesus said to his cousin John the Baptist, who was reluctant to baptize him, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3.15, NIV). I was convinced through and through that it was my destiny and duty to become a baptized Christian, just as Jesus was. I began my search to find a church. I defaulted to my family’s United denomination, but multiple ministers seemed disinterested in me. I had already been visiting a Lutheran church with a friend who’s family were officials, but they also seems uninterested in my faith journey. Being very new to the Christian community, and generally insecure as a person, I felt quite discouraged.
In my frustration, I asked my Polish friend to take me to a Catholic service. While I didn’t know anything about Catholicism, I nevertheless picked up on certain cultural distaste for it, and I also felt very intimidated by it. Since my friend didn’t attend an English-speaking service, I got to select a church of my choice. We made our way to a beautiful church near my house that I always felt attracted to because of its long and wide front steps and the impressive wedding photos that were taken on it, season after season.
Looking back, I can see now how desperate I was to get out of my yoga practice, but still not able to stand on my own without a spiritual community around me. I felt that this church was truly my last shot, though today I realize there are many other denominations that I could have explored as well. Ultimately, it was a grace that I didn’t have to search for a parish for too long. When the priest talked about Jesus fulfilling the law through his sacrifice on the cross, and how we are saved through faith, I felt I had come home. I approached the priest at the end of the service, and he invited me back. I finally felt welcomed.
As God would have it, this was all around the time that the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program was about to start, which is a prep course for all aspirants who wish to enter into communion with the Catholic Church, culminating in the rites of initiation at Easter. I prepared to become baptized for eight months, and was beautifully welcomed into my new Catholic spiritual family in 2010. I would love to say that it’s been smooth sailing since then, but it hasn’t. It took years to detach from my Gnostic inclinations. Then there were, and continue to be, a handful of problems leading up to present day. The only thing that really changed in this uphill trudge is that I am not concerned by my setbacks anymore. Now that I know the quality of my life is contingent on action, I simply just go to mass, and let God work though me.
As a mystic, I walk a thin line between dogma and heresy. Something lovely about the Catholic tradition, is though it has its history of legalism, it also fosters deep contemplative experiences as well. After surviving this horrible pandemic, and grieving my father’s passing last year, I came to understand that I don’t want to complicate my life or my understanding of this world any longer. I can see that my previous experiences of yoga and Gnosticism only worked to keep me in bondage to a false teaching of perfection which resulted in overthinking, over-exertion, and hyper-intellectualization.
I was led to believe, through no one’s fault, that living in the basic principles of my program of recovery, such as one day at a time, keep it simple, and first things first, were only truly appropriate in times of crisis, and I was beginning to think that I sort of declined into them as my basic principles for living. Now I know that I always want to live in this simplicity, and anytime I come across something complicated, I shut it down immediately. There is no shame in being basic, and for someone who comes from a chaotic past, it’s now my joy to be in the middle, where it’s not up or down, happy or sad, exciting or boring. I believe true health is in the balance.
Today’s mass reading we read in St. Paul’s writing to Timothy that he was being poured out as a libation (2 Timothy 4.6). Bishop Robert Barron taught that people in the ancient world would have right away understood that this meant. After the Jewish meals, it was customary to perform a drink offering. Paul was saying how he was being poured out. Before his spiritual experience, he used to desire grandiosity, but upon his conversion, he realized he needed to be emptied out to be filled up with God’s spirit instead. The basic tenet of Christianity is that true love is to will the good of the other. I have come to realize that the only way I can participate in true love is to release myself from my ego, which is always trying to impress and complicate in order to feel smart and important. Now I know better – to always, always keep it simple. That is where the brilliance of the Spirit can work best, and break down all barriers in order to will the good of all.