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How I Came to the Practice: Part 1 – My Christian Roots May 16, 2012

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I would like to take a few posts to fully explain the story of how I came to Buddhist spiritual practice, starting at the very beginning! This post is part 1.

I have met many people in many different meditation groups across the country, and many of these people share that they grew up in strict Christian traditions, either Catholic or strict Protestant traditions such as Presbyterian, before coming to meditation. An experience I share with these people is that I, too, grew up in a Christian family.

At an early age, I took part in saying prayers nightly with my other sibling and one of my parents. My extended family that I was very involved in also said grace regularly before meals.

I don’t remember going to church until I was about 10 or 12. Unfortunately, the church I attended was the remnants of a once active French-speaking Metis community, so it wasn’t the same community I attended school, and the services were sparsely attended. The priest was French, so he had a thick accent, and I had a difficult time understanding him, as most other children did. The language barrier did little to help my already waning attention. Additionally, very few children attended the church, and there wasn’t a youth group or Sunday school set up.

I don’t remember people taking the time to really explain to me many of the Christian teachings. I remember hearing Bible stories, but not really understanding the messages they were supposed to mean.

As I grew older, I started to become more insistent that I didn’t want to attend church. I don’t remember ever really wanted to attend for religious or spiritual reasons from the beginning. One of my parents made me go even though I didn’t want to, saying I would be punished otherwise. I went anyway, partly to avoid punishment, but I think partly to make my parents and family happy. Well, let’s just say that that is not exactly the best way to motivate a stubborn child to have faith in their religion!

It only got worse later when I was made to attend catechism classes in preparation for confirmation, one of the passing-of-age rituals in the Catholic church. The classes weren’t offered at the church I had been attending, so I had to travel to yet another community, different from the one I attended school, to take courses with a large group of students I mostly didn’t know. I also recall an arrangement with one of my parents that I could only play on the school volleyball if I attended the classes (although my parents don’t remember this!).

One Christian experience I do remember positively was attending bible camp as a young teenager. I only attended the camp to take part in all of the fun activities not available to me in my small town (kayaking, wall-climbing). The “bible” part was just an extra detail. I passed as much as I could, pretended to fit in like everyone else, despite my Gideon’s bible that contrasted with many other kids’ special edition children’s bibles.

I was swept up along with the crowd when I attended bible camp, inspired by the strong faith of the counsellors and fellow campers around me. I really wished I could be like them, that I could have such strong beliefs. My aspirations never lasted, though, past a week or two once I returned home.

I was also a feminist at an early age, so it never sat right with me that women couldn’t be leaders in the Catholic church, or that god was the father and referred to as “he”. I read historical fiction avidly, so I was critical of the historical Catholic church an institution that persecuted women during the Inquisition, and indigenous peoples as part of colonization.

By the time I was a teenager, I became more insistent in my independence from my family’s religion. If I didn’t want to go, I was old enough to make that choice and not go. If church helped them, then so be it, but it had nothing to offer me. By now I was getting absolutely nothing out of the masses, I just sat through the empty rituals bored stiff, the meanings of the sermons completely missing their mark for me.

My separation from Christianity was complete by the time I was in high school. I had given up on it, I had decided that it had nothing to offer me. I see now, though, that I was never really given the opportunity to learn about the teachings the religion had to offer. I also never had social support available, where I could share my spiritual traditions with other kids my age.

By now, I’m able to appreciate my Christian background and what the religion has to offer. Now that I’ve learned much more about the Buddhist religion, I’m able to see endless similarities between the two religions, not to mention between Buddhism and other world religions. I see now that many different religions exist to serve many of the same basic purposes, meeting the same human needs for belief, optimism, community, and explanations for an unexplainable and incomprehensible universe.

I’ve also learned some lessons about sexism and other instances of structural violence present in religious institutions (thanks in part to a feminist religious studies university class), so I’m quite quick to jump on the sexism I see and know is present to this day in Buddhist traditions.

Now I don’t believe in Jesus the god, but I do believe in Jesus the historical person (man? woman?) (and am surprised to meet Christians who agree with me!). What little I know about Jesus, I can see that Jesus tried to teach people about living in the present moment, as well as about radical notions of the time of  interconnectedness, interbeing, and equality. I also appreciate that Jesus appeared to value practice before belief, or making sure that actions spoke louder than words.

Finally, I’m tremendously grateful to parents and family for their efforts to give me a religious upbringing and background, and for supporting my early spiritual development!

Read on to part 2 in the series: Why Meditation Came Naturally To Me.

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