It’s Sunday morning, do you know where your nearest Center for Spiritual Living is? (you can find it here: http://www.unitedcentersforspiritualliving.org/Find_A_Community/index.php). I know where mine are, but I’m here, writing, instead of getting ready to go to Celebration. I’ve got a good excuse, actually a bunch of them: term papers are due tomorrow and I’ve got laundry and I have to work later on today. So I won’t be attending Celebration today.
Excuse me, but…Celebration? What’s up with that? What are we celebrating? Why can’t we just call it a church service? Well, that’s the thing: most of us, well…many of us, um…well….me at least, don’t believe in church. And we are celebrating LIFE! in all its forms: the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s all good, all the time. Gawd is all good, all the time, so how can anything be bad? Its all worthy of Celebration! So we gather at church…oops…The Center on Sunday mornings and celebrate life with a ritual.
Yep, we’ve got rituals, oodles of ’em. The first one is the hug. It’s a gauntlet of hugs! You can’t get 5 feet past the front door without hugging! I don’t know of a way around this, short of crossing your arms in front your chest and not stopping as you run through the gauntlet. I happen to like hugs, up to a point. But we’ve got this hostage hug thing going. A hostage hug is where they don’t let go. They stand there, in a full body press, eyes closed, a look of rapture on their faces. The energy around them is so thick you can cut it with a butter knife. Do not interrupt a hostage hug. It’s like walking in on two people having sex…very awkward. What does one do with oneself when one has interrupted such a sacred moment? I digress…. Anyway, they will stand there for five minutes in their own little world, oblivious to the flurry of activity around them as the folks who see an opportunity to escape the hostage hug scurry by, and the ones who actually want to be taken hostage stand in line, irreverently talking and laughing out loud and warming up by giving each other smaller versions of the grand poobah of hostage hugs. Sometimes I wonder about cooties, but that’s just me. I actually like those hostage hugs when they are happening, because I can dash on by and pass the hostage hugger without fear of being subjected to it. Here’s some tricks to dealing with a hostage hugger: Position yourself about a foot away from them and bend forward at the waist to receive the hug. Hopefully this will prevent them from going full body and make it uncomfortable to for them to hang on. Failing that: squirm. Squirm as if your life depended on it. Sooner or later the hostage hugger will get a clue and let go of you.
So we don’t call ourselves a church, but we are Centers. We don’t consider ourselves an organized religion, but we enjoy the benefits of being considered an organized religion, with full tax exempt status. Complete with passing the plate around at church..ooops…Celebration service, on Sunday mornings. I know, it gets confusing, but stick with me here, I think it’s gonna get more confusing.
One reason I don’t like church is the rules. These rules seem pretty arbitrary to me, a bunch of stuff contrived up based on ancient writings which were never meant to be taken literally and were mistranslated anyway. You can’t do this, you can’t say that, you must do this, or you will burn forever in hell, which is not a good place, according to some guy who has never been there, because he’s still alive, and you can only get to hell when you’re dead, and unless he’s been resurrected…but wait, only one guy did that, and he’s not really a guy, but the one and only true son of God and…..oh my. Talk about annoying. So I come to a Center, where we don’t believe in sin (really, look it up. There is no such thing as sin in our book. Just a mistake, for which we can be eternally grateful, because it got us where we are today, which is a really good place, because it’s all good, all the time.) and I figure I can just be myself, without shame. And I toss out a swear word because it seemed to fit and some refugee from a church somewhere is all up in arms about it. What’s up with that? Talk about annoying.
So we have this dichotomy going on here, this paradox of sorts: church but not church, no rules but still some folks seem to like rules, especially if they can throw in some judgement and shame along with them and make a really nice melting pot of negativity. We meet on Sundays because that’s what we do in western culture, yet the Sunday thing is a Christian thing, and we don’t consider ourselves Christians, but wait…some of us do, just not in the sense that we need to be saved…..oh dear…more annoyance and now we’ve thrown confusion into the mix.
Lest you get the idea I think it’s so annoying that I’m never going to go, let me tell you about some of the gifts, and why I go anyway, in spite of the hostage hugs and the church dichotomy thing and the naysayers. I go because what I have learned at my Center has taught me to live a happier life. I’ve been able to release (just how does one release anyway? It’s another of those annoying words, but I’m supposed to be talking about the good things about being a member of the Center for Spiritual Living here, so I’m going to go into spiritual bypass and ignore it) stuff like low self esteem. I’ve been able to love and embrace (but no hostage hugging!) myself for who and what I am, swear words and all, because we don’t believe in shame nor sin. I’ve learned to like hugs (except the hostage ones). In fact, I find myself being a regular dispenser of hugs these days. Sometimes I look at myself giving a hug and wonder, “who IS that woman?”
Yes, I stand outside myself sometimes and observe, and see the woman I am today, and compare it with the woman I used to be, and I know that things are truly good in my world and getting better. And I got to this place because I went to a Center, took a bunch of classes and continue to go, even on Sundays…..when I’m not working and when I don’t have term papers to write. The teachings that I have received at Centers for Spiritual Living have allowed me to be at peace with myself and the rest of the world most of the time. And when I am not at peace the tools I have received at Centers for Spiritual Living give me the means to get back to a place of peace and joy. They have allowed me to have fun, to enjoy life, to know who and what I am. They have allowed me to have a relationship with a GAWD of my understanding (if you think that’s irreverent, keep coming back till you learn that God doesn’t care what we call it) and that is perhaps the greatest gift of all.
So if you don’t like church, why not come check us out? If you don’t like all the hugging, you’ve got choices. You can come in late, after everyone has all sat down, and leave a few minutes early. Or you can sign up to bring some food, so your arms will be full when you walk in and there will be no room for hugs, until some well meaning soul helps you with your burden so they can then hug you. I just don’t think there is anyway around the hugs, but if you do keep coming back, soon you too will enjoy the hugs. Just don’t become a hostage hugger or you’ll find me avoiding you. If coming on a Sunday hits just a bit too close to home for you, then don’t come on a Sunday. Come on a weeknight, for a class or a midweek Satsang service. Don’t ask me what that is, I don’t know. I think it’s just another word for church service so we don’t have to use the church word. But I guarantee you: if you come, and if you do the things suggested, you too will be happy and at peace. You too will look at the new version of you and wonder with amazement and joy, “who IS that wonderful person?” And you too will know that it is you.