Interfaith Initiative Centre County welcomes as participants people of all faiths — and also humanists who do not identify with a faith group, but simply believe in goodwill toward their neighbors and the concept of Good itself. This month’s essay comes from still another perspective that IICC gladly welcomes.
IICC Convener, Sarah Malone
A year and a half ago I had a treasured reunion with the convener of Interfaith Initiative Centre County.
We hadn’t seen each other for many years and, during that encounter, we reminded each other of gratifying work we had done together 20 years earlier.
My friend told me about IICC’s work and I was immediately interested in learning more. I went to the next scheduled Interfaith coffee hour.
My discomfort rose, however, as I realized that every other person present identified themselves as part of a local faith community. I’d not been a member of a formal faith community for over 40 years.
How could I identify myself? Several meetings later, a kind and thoughtful member of the group pulled out her iPad, did some searching and notified me I was “a spiritual independent.” What a relief! I had an identity.
It must be said that my lack of a specific faith community made only me uncomfortable.
Longtime participants accepted me without reservation based solely on my desire to take part. Their graciousness warmed me and made me feel welcome.
But what has nurtured me all the years since I stepped away from the conservative faith group that raised me?
When I was a young woman, I became very ill with a potentially fatal disease. At that time I had four children between the ages of 6 and 11, a home I loved and a seat on the PTA board. How could I be this sick, I asked myself, when so many other parts of my life looked outwardly positive?
Seeking treatment for my illness, I learned, among other things, that I could have a more satisfying recovery if I developed trust in a spiritual being (often called a higher power). I didn’t know how to do that, but I believed what I was being told and I was desperate to get better.
So I set out to search for my personal spiritual being. Those helping me told me this could be a spiritual being of my own choosing. That left lots of doors open to me.
I worked hard to put resistance aside and modeled first dialogues with my spiritual being after formal prescribed prayers I had grown up with. It wasn’t easy. And it didn’t happen immediately.
But after a time at this I began to realize that by acknowledging a connection with a spiritual being, I was finding life somewhat easier, finding myself feeling that I was marching in step with a supportive being instead of shouldering through difficult places alone.
Now, when I work with people newly recognizing that they have my same illness, I see myself in their resistance to believing a spiritual being will help them. I encourage them to give this a try. I know it has made my life immeasurably more satisfying.
I thank members of IICC for renewing my awareness of the support I feel from the spiritual being of my choice and look forward to future stimulating experiences among my new friends from Interfaith Initiative Centre County.
Mary Watson is the founder of the Arms for Peace Memorial in Pleasant Gap and a volunteer for the New Leaf Initiative.