I hope everyone enjoyed their New Year’s festivities and that those of you who indulged (perhaps a little heavily) recover quickly.
Here we are on the first day of a new year and I have no new religion to immerse in. Indeed, at the beginning of each month of 2011, I felt like I had married into a new world. This morning, as I tossed and turned until I finally rose at 4:45, I found no new spouse. I was alone in my spiritual bed.
Perhaps some of you supposed I might “pick” a faith, as if it’s something you go shopping for or a movie you pick out on a Friday night. That was never the purpose of this journey. No, my purpose was to fully integrate myself into the humanity I once shunned and judged, to become those I once hated, to walk that mile in the shoes of another.
So where am I now? Who am I…what am I?
That’s what the next stage of this journey is all about. In most of our world faiths, a central figure comes to a climax in their life where they must confront their destiny. Once they overcome this trial, they usually begin their ministry or mission. In Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” this might be the stage of the “supreme ordeal.” This is where one (any of us) faces their most difficult test–their darkest moment.
For me, it’s returning to the River Temple.
Once a place of meditation and refuge, it gradually became a place of immense pressure and discomfort. By September, I could no longer bear the experiences, or the invitation to join my fate. So I ran, abandoning the Temple knowing full-well I’d have to face it in the future. I wasn’t ready then…
But I’m preparing now.
Here is a video I made which contains many images from the Project Conversion year and gives some indication of what the future holds:
In preparation for this trial, I am fasting for three full days. On the third day (Jan. 3rd), I will go to the River Temple and face whatever may come. I can take nothing with me, only myself and a clear heart and mind. Only in complete surrender will I discover what I wasn’t ready to accept those months ago.
After my visit to the Temple, I will spend the next four days in contemplation and with my family. This means that there will be no posts until January 9th. I will make a status update on the Congregation page announcing my arrival at the Temple. I appreciate your patience during this time.
Now, as requested, a brief summary of what I’ve gleaned from each month and what I’ll take with me:
This large and manifold faith system opened the door for all spiritual expression. I will always use Sanatana Dharma as a reminder that the divine can manifest itself in many ways.
My first glimpse at progressive revelation. I gained a new vantage of how spiritual truths might transmit from one “Source” and shine through different “Manifestations” throughout the ages depending on cultural/spiritual context. Also, my introduction to interfaith work.
The first month of difficulty. I understood the nature of a faith withering by its own cultural walls. In many ways, this faith contributed to the theology of the three Abrahamic faiths which dominate much of the spiritual landscape today. I pray the flames of this religion burn bright for generations to come.
Here, I learned just how interconnected faith and culture really are. Jews bond with one another via faith and tradition in very intimate ways. Jews introduce us to a pious way to struggle with God, to know the divine more deeply. Jews are also fantastic cooks.
I’ll never forget my weekend with the Thai monks at their monastery in Bolivia, North Carolina. There, I learned the art of being present in the moment, of the inevitability of change, and that hammering a random piece of crooked metal can change one’s life. If you are walking, you are only walking. That’s meditation.
A strange month for all of us, I unexpectedly came to rely on the structure and routine of religion and so not having one during this month disoriented me. Here, we challenged the notion of faith and religion. What does it mean? Is it useful? I learned the art of doubt and reason and how to use them to either hone one’s faith or dismiss it all together.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
The only month in which members actively tried to convert me, but I love ‘em anyway. The LDS challenged my notions of who or what a Christian might be and how Christ could reach other peoples. The welcome and involvement of my local Mormon branch was hard to top.
A month of healing. I once hated Muslims to the core, and now…I consider them brothers and sisters. As I fasted during Ramadan, I was trained in the art of discipline and reflection. The five daily prayers (salat) kept me focused and tuned spiritually in ways nearly unrivaled anywhere else.
The most visible faith, my appearance literally changed as I wore a full beard and turban (dastar). I received a small taste of what it’s like to stand out as a minority, to feel the stares and assumptions of those around me. I fell in love with the “saint-soldier” philosophy and will certainly take this mentality with me through life.
Perhaps our most bitter-sweet month. We began with a week-long battle to earn the trust of the Pagan community as I thrust myself into the Wiccan tradition. Through perseverance and faith, we came out in the end with a fuller understanding of this faith tradition which honors nature, the Goddess and the God. This was my first intimate connection with the divine feminine.
Another rocky start. Few were fans of my decision to observe the entire month as a monastic (especially my wife), however despite the disagreements and struggles, this faith offered a glimpse into what it means to be truly non-violent and to honor and care for the life around us. The Jain way also reinforced my lessons in wants vs. needs from my time with Islam.
The capstone of Project Conversion. In many ways, this faith experience brought all the positive elements sought after each month. For me, Catholicism was strange yet familiar, as it helped me see my former Protestant faith in a whole new and exciting way.
I would like to thank, from depths of my soul, the Mentors who gave up so much of their precious time, effort, and resources in helping me this year. You are the unsung heroes of Project Conversion. Without you, I would have been lost. I am in your debt for the rest of my life. Thank you.
And for you, Congregation. You are that glorious accident I never saw coming. Without your support, insight, and encouragement, Project Conversion would just be one man’s journey. Together, we set up a blueprint for humanity, and with your help we’ll only continue.
To my family. In many ways, you three were the stars of this journey. It was incredible how a simple comment or action from a little girl could excite so many. And Heather, yes, you are my Shakti…my gravity. I may have made this journey, I may have led this Congregation, but you three made it worth following. Thanks and I love you.
So, what was your favorite moment from the last year? Did you have a personal “Ah-ha!”? What did this project mean for you?