Making Peace with Religion in a Yoga Life
By Julie Dreyer
Thanks to Jeff Martens for suggesting that I read Nine Faces of Christ by Eugene Whitworth. I wanted to share what this book meant to me, starting with where I was coming from before reading it. I was raised strictly Christian in a town called Zion (fitting, I know). A man named Dr. Dowie started this interesting protestant church in Chicago. It borrowed traditions from several different belief systems. It advised against drinking alcohol, smoking, dancing, circumcision, and eating pork. They believed in natural medicine so most babies in my fathers generation were born at home with a mid-wife and many kids including my generation werent immunized until the schools enforced it. The story goes that people of Chicago didnt accept them, so Dr. Dowie moved his religion and anyone who would follow ~45 miles north of Chicago, where he established the town and named it Zion. The church was built in the center and all the streets branched out from there. So the church literally was the center of the town. I grew up on Emmaus Ave.
When I was growing up, I didnt mind going to church every Sunday and performing in the Passion Play, the story of Christs life, as interpreted from the King James version of the bible. I enjoyed the community that I found there. I also loved going to summer church camp, both as camper and as staff. Set in gorgeous northern Wisconsin in a place called Door County, the camp was located on the top of the cliff, overlooking Lake Michigan below. Being out in nature made me feel so alive we slept in wood cabins and took morning baths in the lake. During the day, we would spend time basking in mother natures splendor – hiking, swimming, waterskiing. At night, wed sit around the campfire, singing fun campfire ditties to warm up for the more serious religious songs. People would then be encouraged to share something going on in their life. Many would share the experience that led to asking Jesus Christ into their heart, which meant you professed your belief in Christ as Gods son, who was sent to save us from our sins. Through faith in this idea, your sins were forgiven. Being someone who likes rituals, I really got into this. I also loved the community and closeness that would form with others as a result of being together, sharing this intimacy for 10 days in the woods.
When it all changed for me was not long after these great summer times. I started to become more aware of some of the professed Christians actions. One man used his position as church librarian to molest several children in the congregation including his own children and my cousin. A few of my family members showed me how good Christians could also be racists, when I loved a black man. I guess the song I learned in Sunday school as a child – Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his (Jesus) sight didnt always apply and had exceptions.
As I started to take college history courses, I learned more about how people throughout history have used the bible with their translations to exploit others in support of their moral causes to justify ownership of humans as slaves, to discriminate against homosexuals because that lifestyle is a sin. Whitworth said sins are invented even faster than they can be committed. These attitudes disgust me and I wanted nothing to do with a religion that supported these types of behavior. So I internally denounced Christianity.
Still feeling as though I wanted to know God and be a part of community, I visited several different churches, searching for somewhere to belong. I wanted to find a church that took all the relevant teachings from all religions and applied them to their lives. Unsuccessful in this attempt, I found comfort in studying on my own out in nature and resolved to the fact that I was a religious person who believed in God but didnt feel the need to be in a church to prove it or learn more.
Unfortunately, I continued to hold the horrible feelings that I got from all the bad seeds, resulting in awful feelings towards Christianity and many Christians. When I would see the Jesus fish on peoples cars or bumper stickers saying Jesus is the way, the truth and the light, I would cringe. Through my yoga training, I learned to respect all people and their beliefs, even though I may not always agree. Its been a struggle and something I continually work on. As Whitworth recommends, I try not to argue, condemn, or find fault, and do look for the good and the beauty in everything. Ive certainly come a long way in the past few years. But there are still times when I regress and I feel sorry for folks who, by their actions and words, obviously havent tried to adopt these same concepts. I know this is not the best way as it separates me from them and raises me above them.
Reading the book gave me a very different insight into what might have been Jesus life as its told from a different perspective than what Im familiar with. Whitworth writes the book from the perspective of Jeschua of Nazaar, who was taught by his father from an early age and encouraged to master all 9 world religions. Jeschua immersed himself for many years alongside the masters of each religion until they agreed he knew the secrets of their religion. This wide range of knowledge gave him insight to speak intelligently about and draw conclusions on religion as it should be. The King James version of the bible is just one persons interpretation, this is yet another.
I can buy the idea that sin was not of God, but of the mind of man, and they could create it by their attitude of mind. I always had a hard time believing some of the things that are taught to be sins by various religions (i.e. inter-racial relationships, birth control, homosexuality, pre-marital sex). And its taught, in some cases, that these people would go to hell after life on earth, regardless of the goodness in these people.
I always felt like religions have the same underlying moral concepts and ideas, they each just call it something different. So why one religion feels the need to be better than another is something I have a hard time understanding. This book assisted with answering that question for me by saying There is not now, nor ever will be a religion greater than truth. And ALL men, not just the high priests/preachers of each religion have access to knowing this great truth – God, because it is found within a just, upright heart. Jesus purpose was to be the symbol to show ALL men that it is possible to become consciously God.
Whitworth has helped me find a new respect for the teachings of Jesus Christ. I can agree to abide by the commandment, as he says: Love you well those whom you do not understand even as you love your Radiant Self. I agree that this alone would bring harmony in the world and peace among nations. Even though I am tempted to share what Ive gained from reading this book with people who have a very narrow belief system (my way is the only way), I will instead take the advice in Whitworths writing and not give aid on religion until asked. I will, however, integrate these beautiful ideas into my being so that I can find an even deeper peace within myself and in the world around me.
Julie Dreyer has nealry completed her Master Studies at Inner Vision Yga as of January 2007 and teaches and subs classes regularly at the studio.