We are all on our own paths to spiritual truth: sometimes our paths are straight and
direct with clear markings and guiderails to keep us from leaving the path. Other paths wind here and there and sometimes they're out in the open— easy to see where we're going— and sometimes the path seems to disappear
altogether. Whatever your path, it is yours and I do respect it, whatever other
impression you may come to reading the rest of my site. And while I would like
that same respect back (not in the sense that you think my path is right or
correct— simply that I have the right to choose my own as you have the right to
choose your own) I thought you might like to know a bit about how my philosophy
of life developed. If not, thanks for stopping by anyway! I wish you happiness
and peace in all you do!
For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to know the why's of everything, especially in matters of spirituality. I was always asking my mother to let me go to church services at different churches, although the only ones I attended were with the Girl Scouts. This was just one manifestation of the feeling of being an outsider that took me many years to come to grips with.
I was baptized into the Roman Catholic faith, and as young as four, I was questioning that faith. I found out my best friend from kindergarten couldn't come to the same school as I would attend for first grade because she wasn't Catholic and I didn't think that made much sense. This continued throughout my education in Catholic schools. When we made our first confession— now called reconciliation— in the second grade, I wondered what sins a 6-year-old could have committed to be sent to hell if they died unexpectedly. I remember the fear I felt entering that confessional the first time and thinking "Will God be mad at me if I don't get it right?" I feel a deep sadness now for those who still live with that fear.
The masses were still in Latin then, with the priest facing away from the congregation. I wondered how much my prayers meant when I didn't even know what I was saying in Latin. When we made our first communion (in the Catholic church, the bread and wine are held to become the actual body and blood of Christ during the consecration), I thought it was all a bit cannibalistic (although at that time I'm sure I used a different word since I probably didn't know what "cannibalistic" meant when I was six). At the time, laymen were not permitted to touch the consecrated host (the wafer of bread) and when I put my finger in my mouth one day after communion, hoping my mom and dad couldn't see me, I waited for a bolt of lightning to come through the church roof and strike me dead. Needless to say it didn't happen. My confirmation was a blur— the biggest thrill for me was being able to add another name to the three I already had. By the sixth grade, when I was confirmed, I was considered an adult member of the Catholic Church.
We moved in the middle of seventh grade for me, and the culture shock of attending a public school was very painful. I went from a place where I could leave $20 for tickets to the school picnic on top of my desk to a place where I couldn't even forget my purse while changing classes without my used lip gloss being stolen from it. The dress code in the public schools was non-existent and I stuck out like a sore thumb in my hand-me-down skirts and dresses ten years out of date. It took more than a year to convince my parents to allow me to wear pantsuits. I was never allowed to wear jeans. (Not complaining, just attempting to show the breadth of the culture shock from the eyes of a twelve year old.)
The feeling of being an outsider started to grow stronger about this time....I chalked it up to being the new kid on the block. But it didn't go away once I got into high school— and in fact grew much stronger. I tried to fit in to many groups, but never felt completely a part of any of them. It was frustrating and painful and I ended up keeping a lot of it buried deep inside.
I hoped that feeling would disappear when I went to college. Although I picked a Jesuit (Catholic) university, it was not because of the religious affiliation, but rather because it was 750 miles from home. I knew my parents couldn't drop in unexpectedly to see their oldest child at school, but at the same time, being a Jesuit school, they would feel safer letting me go that far from home. I was determined to belong and did a lot of really foolish and downright stupid things at college in an attempt to fit in. But it was not to be...
Meanwhile, my spirituality was left to fend for itself. For the first semester or so, I attended mass at the dorm regularly— afraid not to go. But in my first act of real rebellion, I stopped one day. The guilt plagued me for weeks until I became immune to it. I told myself that I didn't need a church to worship God— all I had to do was look outside at a simple blade of grass to see the wonder and majesty of God's creation. I never lost faith that there was a God, but I did not know how to relate to God on a personal basis. Looking back now, I know that this was the time for my spiritual fields to lie fallow. For the "nutrients" to build up so that when the seeds of a new faith were planted, they would grow rapidly.
After graduation from college, I returned home, unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. My parents, God bless them, put up with my irresponsible behavior for nine months. I'd go out with friends until four or five in the morning and sleep until noon, only to get up in time to shower and do it all over again. In early September, '82, my father firmly, but politely, told me to get my act together or to move out. Ten days later, I was on a bus to Denver.
Why Denver was something I didn't understand. I knew no one out there, had no job, no interviews lined up, no place to stay. But I had always been drawn to Denver. I had always wanted to see the Colorado Rockies, and as I watched them first pop over the horizon as the bus drove down I-70, I felt my eyes fill with tears. I felt like I was coming home after a long time away. I couldn't take my eyes off the horizon as the mountains drew closer and closer. When the bus pulled into the Greyhound station at 7:30 a.m. on September 19, 1982, I was already spellbound by the majesty of the Rockies.
It took me about three hours to find a place to live— in a boarding house next to a topless bar. I had one room and shared a bathroom with four other residents of the basement floor. One of those residents, who lived across the hall from me, was named Michael. (My given name is Michele and I was always told St. Michael was my guardian angel.) My first impression of Michael when I saw him was how much he resembled the classic pictures of Jesus...long, brown hair, deep penetrating eyes and a soft smile. He informed me he was only in town a few months and wanted to get an apartment but no one would rent to him for less than a year. I was looking for an apartment too, but didn't have the security deposit to put down on one. So Michael and I agreed that I'd sign the lease and he'd put down the security deposit. I let him pick the apartment and by the end of October, we had moved into the Capitol Hill area of Denver.
I quit my part-time job as a telephone solicitor and found two jobs at nearby fast food restaurants. At one of these places, I met a lady named Jill. [Personal note: Jill, if perchance you ever read this, please email me!] She and I hit it off pretty fast and were often at each others apartments. She lived with her boyfriend, Bill, in the apartment building just behind mine....As for Michael, he worked nights and I worked days, so we rarely saw each other. One day in early January, '83 he simply did not show up anymore. I had no idea where he was or if he would be back. He left no note, never called to say where he was or why he had gone. (Don't get me wrong, there was no romantic involvement here at all. I was not hurt or shattered, simply mystified.) But I never saw him again. To this day I have no idea what happened to him or where he might be.
Bill was attending a local trade school for automotive mechanics. One night, he brought a friend from school to a party he and Jill were having at their apartment. As soon as this friend walked through the door, I knew my life would never be the same. I was sitting on a chair next to Jill and I turned to her and said, "I'm going to marry that man." She laughed since even she had no idea who he was. Bill eventually introduced him as Jordan (although his first name was really Michael (another Michael!)— and yes, he always got asked if he was the famous basketball player). I was so certain that I was meant to spend the rest of my life with this man, I asked him to move into the apartment that night. He moved in two weeks later because it took him that long to tell his aunt and uncle, with whom he was living at the time, that he was going to live with a woman he'd met only two weeks before. I don't consider that cowardice because I've yet to actually tell my parents we lived together before getting married, although I'm sure they know by now...or at least they do if they read this!
So here's where this whole story ties together. The fields had been lying fallow for many years. And Jordan had a whole new set of seeds to sow. We spent many hours talking about our beliefs. I hate to admit that I laughed at most of his when he first told me about them— not to his face. It was more of an "I'll humor him and listen to this stuff" type of situation. We talked about reincarnation, we talked about meditation, yoga, fate, karma, life, death...for hours on end. I listened mostly...my past beliefs seemed...inadequate. I had professed to believe XYZ because I'd been told to say I believed XYZ. It came as a shock when I realized that the only belief I had was that there was a God. The rest was just habit...I said it because I'd been taught to say it. I said it because I was afraid not to say it. When I realized this, I was filled with an aching emptiness— an emptiness I knew I had to fill. That I wanted to fill. I now wanted a personal one-on-one relationship with the God whose existence I'd never doubted.
The seeds Jordan sowed were stong, healthy ones and they soon sprouted and took root. The first major beliefs I came to accept were that of karma and reincarnation. (As a note, I do not believe that I will come back as a slug if I screw up this life. I will always return as a conscious, thinking, emotional being.) The unfairness of the world made no sense to me. I was often angered at the seemingly senseless pain and suffering others had to undergo, while some never faced any tests of strength. I did not understand how a God who was so loving could allow such suffering to continue. And to say that bad things only happened to bad people was simply not true. But I could accept that someone had done something in the past that would merit such misfortune later. I look at karma like a credit card. Every time we do something out of selfishness, we are charging something to our Karmacard. Every time we do something out of love or compassion, we are making a payment. Our goal is to get our outstanding balance to zero. Unfortunately, in today's society, many of us are overcharging on our Karmacard as well as our Mastercard!
But karma without reincarnation couldn't explain things like childhood cancer or babies dying of SIDS or at the hands of abusive parents. The old feelings I had when making my first confession returned. What could those children have done to merit such treatment? It took me a while to realize that they'd done nothing...in this life. That's not to say that everyone who suffers abuse in this life was an abuser in some past life. Perhaps they have agreed (on a higher, spiritual level) to undergo the abuse in order to stop the cycle of abuse. Jordan did just that— he broke that cycle and didn't put our children through the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father. Those who break the cycle deserve a lot of credit. The reasons behind the suffering in the world no longer seemed unfair when reincarnation was put in the picture.
Reincarnation also explained things like child prodigies. I came up with an analogy that may be helpful to explain what I mean. Picture your spiritual life as an Etch-a-Sketch. When you take on your first physical form, you write your name on that Etch-a- Sketch. Every time you take on a physical form, you write your name again. Sooner or later, you will begin to write over previously written names. When you do, these are the things that come easily to you in this lifetime. If you write over the same spot enough times, you become an expert in whatever area that represents in your life. After many, many lifetimes, you begin to see wide areas where all the silver is off the screen and you can begin to see the inner workings of your Etch-a-Sketch (ie, the universe). When you completely erase the screen, you will see exactly how everything works. There will be nothing further to learn and you will have completed your journey back to God.
Once I accepted reincarnation, the question now arose as to who decided what my life would be like? Because of the principle behind karma— what goes around, comes around; you reap what you sow— I could only conclude that the life I have now is the direct result of the lives I have lived before. I came to see life as analogous to planning a long trip. If I go from Pittsburgh to Denver, I can hop on I-70 and be in Denver in 24 hours if I don't sleep. Or I can head south to Miami, then maybe stop in New Orleans, head up to Tulsa, then...the options are unlimited! My starting point on the trip is when I was born, the destination, my crossing from this life to the spirit world. My choice of roads was also unlimited. At each intersection, I had the choice of direction, including turning back. The setbacks in my life were like detours on my trip. I could even plan who I wanted to stop and visit on my trip! I realized that my instant attraction to Jordan was simply my soul recognizing someone I'd planned to meet. (Several months after meeting Jordan, I found out he had arrived in Denver on the exact same day I had, 12 hours later. The circumstances behind his being there were as unusual as mine.) Sometimes, we find roads that weren't indicated on our maps— these are often unexpected opportunities that we can choose to take advantage of or ignore.
Reincarnation also forced me to reexamine my beliefs regarding an afterlife. I remembered watching a film strip on heaven and hell in religious education class in eighth grade (the kind that you flipped by hand every time the record dinged). The teacher asked "Why is there a hell?" Such a simple question and I knew the answer I was taught to give. But as I raised my hand, I heard a voice say that hell existed because man chose to spend time away from God's Love. I knew the answer was the truth as sure as I knew the sun would rise in the east the next morning. I hadn't realized it's implications until I began attempting to redefine my beliefs. If someone CHOSE to spend time away from God's life, then God condemned no one! It was their choice, just as everything else in our life was our choice. The predictions of heaven on earth no longer appeared to be some pipe dream. Every time we do something for selfless reasons, we're creating a little bit of heaven. Whenever we act for selfish reasons, we're creating a little bit of hell.
The idea of planning a lifetime felt, at first, too much like predestination. It seemed to take away free will— did Jordan and I meet because it was predestined? If so, where is my choice in the matter? If I have no free will, how can I be held responsible for anything I do? It took me a while to realize that there is a very big difference between planned and predestined. I might plan to go straight to Denver in 24 hours, but I can, at any point on journey, change my mind about how I will get there or even where it is that I'm going.
Another of the concepts I came to accept was the divinity of man. By this, I mean that we are all divine children of God, in the same way that Jesus is the divine son of God. We are, after all, children of God, and a kitten doesn't grow up to be a dog! I began to read the Bible, starting at Genesis and going through Revelations. I found many passages that could be interpreted as references to man's divinity. In Genesis, we are told that we were created in God's image. But the most important passages I found in support of this belief were in the New Testament, in statements made by Jesus. To paraphrase, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me." "All that I do, this too, and more, you can do." There are many others, but those two struck me deeply, touching something deep inside me that resonated with the sound of truth.
This belief that every soul was a divine child of God forced me to rethink a lot of other beliefs. It's truth to me meant that someone who committed a heinous crime was as much a child of God as I was. As loved by that same God as I was. We both had the same "power" but chose to use it differently— one constructively, one destructively. I came to see each part of God's creation as a physical manifestation of God much like each thought is a manifestation of the mind that thinks it. While I personally didn't see any need for mosqitoes, somewhere in the grand scheme of things,they were needed. There really is a time for every purpose under heaven. We just can't— or sometimes won't— see what that is all the time.
Perhaps the most important thing I came to understand is that God is Love. Unconditional Love. God does not love us IF, God loves us DESPITE. We can screw up a million times, in the worst possible way, and God's Love for us will not lessen a single iota! One of my most favorite prayers is "I see me as God sees me: whole, perfect and complete." God sees our souls, the souls that were made in that Divine Image, which is whole, perfect and complete. That is the kind of Love we must all strive to achieve— unconditional Love. It is not an easy task, yet that very Love is at the core of our entire being— our soul. When we all learn to love as God loves, we will indeed create heaven on earth.
As time went on, I learned about many wonderful new (to me, at least) practices. Yoga, meditation, channeling, empathic abilities (of which I seem to have a good share), talking to my angels (I have three that I speak with regularly— Yamata, who gives me general assistance, Evika, who helps me interpret my dreams and Carolyn, who helps me with my writing) and manifestation, to name a few. I have learned how to tap into the guidance that is constantly at our disposal. I use runes, tarot cards, astrology, crystals, angel cards and pendulums when my mind is too cluttered to sort through all the static to get answers to questions. I soon realized that believing was not the same as integrating those beliefs into my daily life. It was not enough to simply believe that everyone was a divine child of God...I had to treat them as such. I had to get involved and help those I could whenever I could. This led to my involvement with the women's shelter, brailling and prisoner correspondence. Offering others a chance to learn about different beliefs and different ways of looking at things led me to writing...at times almost obsessively. I became involved with groups such as Common Cause,People for the American Way,Sojourners, theAmerican Civil Liberties Union,The Interfaith Alliance,N.O.W., The Southern Poverty Law Center,The Other Side (an alternative Christian magazine), Camp Sister Spirit, Habitat for Humanity and Father Flannagan's Boys Home.
My beliefs are continually evolving, which is as it should be. Only when we stop trying to learn do we really lose sight of the end of that walk up the mountain. I hope to always remain a student of life and a teacher of love. It's my hope that my story might encourage others to seek their own path to God. I wish you luck on your journey and if there's anything I can do to help you on your way, please let me know. You already have my prayers.
With Love and Light,
"We think that our loves are like islands in the river of our life. But it's actually our lives that are the islands in the river of our love. A river that has no beginning and no end. Our love won't cease to exist simply because you're resting on another island. It's all the same river and someday, your waters will flow past my shores again."
© 1995 Shelly Strauss Rollison/Rainbow's End Press