Here is one way of describing my spiritual journey — in 750 words:
I was born into a very typical white, suburban, middle class, late twentieth-century American family. We were protestants and attended our local Lutheran Church. When I was sixteen I had an amazing spiritual experience that transformed my relationship with Christianity from conventional to charismatic. I began to participate in the highly experiential and emotionally hyper-charged world of neopentecostalism. Initially I felt blessed by God, but eventually I experienced charismatic religion as controlling, dualistic, and even abusive. Disillusioned, I gave up on organized religion and became a spiritual and intellectual seeker. In the heady climate of progressive politics in the early 1980s, I embraced feminism, environmentalism, and multi-culturalism. I began to think of Christianity as patriarchal and controlling, but meanwhile I couldn’t shake my spiritual way of looking at things, which often put me at odds with my secular leftist friends. As a sort of compromise, I became an Episcopalian, thinking that particular church would be a safe haven for people with my values. It was, and I began to explore contemplative spirituality more deeply.
But I was also drawn to the new spirituality of the Goddess, as an ecofeminist alternative to mainstream religion, and so I began to explore neopaganism — Wicca and Druidism — at first just by reading about it, but eventually feeling a desire to actually practice Pagan ritual. Soon I was trying to juggle being an Episcopalian with a growing attraction to neopaganism and its related new religious movements. As liberal as the Episcopal Church was, I just felt angrier and angrier at what I saw as its many flaws, including its “country club” atmosphere and noblesse oblige ethics. So I became a full-time Pagan, and as this was also when my writing career was beginning to blossom, I wrote several books about Paganism, always from the beginner’s perspective. But I soon realized that whatever it was I couldn’t find in Episcopalianism, I wasn’t going to find in Wicca or Druidism either. As I saw it, the church’s oppressive social structure was mirrored by Paganism’s antinomianism and chaotic social structure. Christian clergy privilege was mirrored by self-aggrandizement and competition among Pagan leaders.
My sense of religious disillusionment and disorientation spiraled — not out of control, but enough to the point that I felt spiritually parched, while emotionally I just kept getting angrier and angrier — at myself, at religion, at God (or the gods). In the midst of all that, an impulse that seemed utterly irrational kept presenting itself: for me to abandon Paganism and enter Catholicism — yes, Catholicism, the most sexist, patriarchal, oppressive, dogmatic and authoritarian religious structure I knew of. The absurdity of it all! I fought it for months, and yet the impulse wouldn’t go away. Becoming a Catholic would mean abandoning my rising star as a Pagan writer, and yet I felt that this was something I had to do, even if it meant trainwrecking my career. Finally, and with the support of several trusted friends and two gifted counselors, I came to see that, despite all my intellectual angst, on an emotional level I just simply wanted to do this: I wanted to explore the devotional mysticism of Catholicism, and that everything I “hated” about Catholicism on a mental level was actually necessary for me to face as part of my continued spiritual growth. Just as Luke Skywalker had to face Darth Vader in order to become a Jedi Knight, so I had to face down my anger and hatred at the institutional church — by immersing myself into the biggest and baddest church of them all.
So I did. Six months after entering the Catholic Church, I was offered a job at a monastery bookstore: a vocational ram in the thicket to replace the writing career I had tied up and was prepared to sacrifice. My job has given me access to monks who are teaching me in both big and little ways about the contemplative life and the mystical tradition. Now, thirty months after becoming Catholic, I’ve made some wonderful friends, fallen in love with Christ all over again, embraced a daily practice of contemplative prayer, and struggle mightily against what I see as the limitations of the church. I knew it would be hot in here, and I must admit that it’s hotter than I thought it would be. But I’m not getting out of this kitchen — at least not until I’m convinced my work here is done. For now, it feels like it’s barely begun.
Like I said, this is “one way” of describing my journey. There are others.