By Felicia Woodard
Eat. Pray. Love. The 2010 movie starring Julia Roberts adapted from the best-selling book by author Elizabeth Gilbert became a high grossing movie based on the author’s life. She went on a quest to what many would call “find herself.” Or “find God". She went to Italy, Indonesia, & India and each place took her on a different journey. To not spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie, I won’t go into it. But I will say that the movie’s response raises questions for me.
The movie received rave reviews, so the response I speak of is something I have seen socially. For instance I know people who asked, why would someone go to those countries to go on a spiritual journey? Why would anyone seek enlightenment, get away, or try to find themselves? Couldn’t she just do that by (insert your preference here)?
The critique of spiritual experiences.
It happens. We may do it subconsciously or consciously depending on how honest we are with ourselves. Basically we critique other people’s “walks with God”. Whether we are Christian looking at non-Christians, New Agers critiquing traditionalists, or atheist critiquing the religious.
As stated above; it happens. I do it. I’ve found myself wondering why people would need to do certain things to feel close to God, how they “see God” in certain things, or what comforts them, but then I had to be honest and look at the things that I believe or do in my own life that I do not even question.
I am of the belief that people will interpret and are moved by different things. A person in Papau New Guinea will not see the sun, moon and stars the way a person in New York will. A person from one of the un-contacted groups in South America has a different understanding of God than a person in Utah. Even within the same denomination, people are moved by different things. One Catholic is moved by hymns sang at mass while another can go outside and see the beauty of nature causing them to be grateful & having a spiritual experience.
What I’m getting at is the dismissal of individual spiritual experiences. Should some be dismissed? I’m sure Bill Maher can give plenty of reasons why some should, but that’s a different blog post for a different day. Be it with a scoff or a silent laugh, a person into meditation or New Age music may get dismissed by traditionalists. Yet a New Ager may dismiss traditionalists for not evolving or being progressive enough.
I am still learning so much about God, life, myself, and all the in-betweens, and I profess to know nothing more than what I believe which I call faith. As little girl, raised Christian, but also a lover of science, I asked my father when I was younger for a microscope and a telescope even though as I got older I grew to love the social sciences more. That’s right. Forget about Barbie and Ken dolls. I wanted books about Galileo back then.
Some of my spiritual experiences.
- Whereas I can enjoy and reflect on God in a southern church, I can also do the same looking through a telescope in awe wondering about other galaxies.
- Going to the beach and looking at water, knowing they reach depths man cannot travel without high risks. That’s powerful to me.
- Traveling and meeting people unlike myself, keeps me humble and keeps me listening and open.
- Hanging around children and the elderly makes me feel like there is something more to life than what we see.
- Sitting in an “old school” southern church service brings me the comfort of my grandparents and parents who instilled teachings in me that encouraged me to be the woman I am today.
All of these things are valid to me in my life. My love for science doesn’t negate my faith and I think there are others out there as well that may get peace from meditation or being outdoors in nature as AND peace from prayer. Spiritual journeys” and experiences are so vast, as vast as the people on earth that have them. At least that is where I’m at right now.
Felicia Woodard is a professional dancer from Houston, currently pursuing an M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies at University of Houston Clear Lake. The views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Interfaith Houston.