This December I learned that I am part of the largest growing religious group in the United States. No, I'm not an Evangelical Christian (that segment is also a growing group), but that is where my interest in spirituality started.
I was 10 years old when I asked Jesus into my heart. It was my first summer at Camp Deer Run in Alton, NH. I did it silently sitting on a rock outside. I closed my eyes and prayed that Jesus would enter my heart. And then I prayed that he would open my mom's heart so that she could go to Heaven too.
I didn't feel rapture or receive mystical guidance, but I felt safer in the world. I knew I had a god on my side who could part rivers, move mountains with mustard seeds, could raise the dead and heal the sick. He was also promised to take me under his wing so that I would never have to feel my skin burn in Hell.
That guy, Jesus, would have been a big help the previous school year, which had been a rough one. At various times I was called Brain, Leech, and Loser. On the playground kick ball players migrated into a tight radius when I was up. And when arrived home after school the house was empty except for a Brazilian housekeeper/nanny who was gray faced and sad, and, and spoke no English at all.
Jesus sounded pretty good.
Twenty-seven years later. I've got a few friends. I'm rarely called names. And even though I'm probably still no good at kickball, at 37 it matters a lot less.
I still close my eyes to pray.
I continue to think highly of Jesus--I'm reminded of my husband's friend Kevin who says, "yeah, I'm into the Jeez."
But even though the idea of Jesus still means something to me, I don't consider myself Christian in a formal sense. Jesus has been demoted. He is no longer my spiritual sun, but one star in my Milky Way, one prick of light in a large somewhat ordered collection.
And oddly enough, in my undefined spiritual identity, I may have found my tribe.
A December 2008 poll (you'll need to scroll to read the general report) reported that the largest growing religious affiliation in America is not having one. That number has grown from 8% to 15% since 1999. In 2008 an additional 11% of respondents refused to answer the question at all. And, more telling than either of those, I think, is that 27% of Americans believe that their funeral will not be religious.
In my adult life, I happen to know a lot of people who have no religious affiliation. The authors of the ARIS poll call them "nones.". And, in my experience, these folks, like me, are not entirely un-spiritual. Many of them have a strong set of beliefs and moral values. They live meaningful lives and are looking for ways to articulate that meaning. Many of them, like me, even pray.
One of my friends in this group is an atheist, but I believe he is one of the most spiritual people I know. And as a therapist, my mom, who is also a "none," regularly offers spiritual advice and sees people through periods of spiritual growth, but she never did ask Jesus to be her savior like I hoped she would that summer (and for many years after).
These people--this group--you are my tribe--I dedicate my blog to you.
To anyone who has ever wondered why we're here, who has wondered what it means to have a meaningful life, and who has found their religion's official answer wanting--I offer my best effort to you.
That we may all be able to recognize goodness when we see it in ourselves and others, that we may leave our kids a world that is better than the one we found, and that we may all seek and know peace.
This is my prayer. Amen.