Today, I was the speaker at our Unitarian Universalist Community of El Paso. This is what I had to say:
Contrary to other churches and religions, our congregation has no one set of beliefs other than the basic tenets you heard at the beginning of our service. So when anyone gets up here, what you are listening to is a piece of that person and who they are and what they believe. This is not to impose on anyone else’s belief but hopefully, something is sparked and creates a mindplay of questions and answers about this world we live in. I am Kamala Land, and this is a little piece of who I am:
In the past, I always found myself having a knee-jerk reaction when someone asked me or the general population around me, as in Facebook, to pray for him/her. When I was a little girl I lost that part of my brain that believes in ghosts, goblins, angels, or god. I began to think that if there was a god, he was must be a mischievous and sadistic deity. You see, I was brought up in a home with constant turmoil. I had a father who was so overwhelmed with his fate he stayed away from home as long as he could and drank a quart, yes a quart, of whiskey every day. I had a mother who fought internal demons and took her frustration and pain out on the only two people around her. Since my dad wasn't around much, I was the one who took the brunt of her exasperation.
When I was a teenager and while my friends were thinking of proms and other school activities I was reading the bible and philosophy books. I found myself there, imagining that I was trapped in a bottle, kind of like a ship in a bottle, and that I was part of some big experiment. 'Let's do this or that to her to see how she'll react.' I was literally being driven crazy. I ran upon Letters from the Earth by Mark Twain. At one point he is questioning the suffering of children and how could a god, who could save them, just let them suffer? I even considered suicide as an escape plan. One night, I looked up at the stars and prayed for deliverance from this torturous place. But what happened next is that I accepted responsibility for my fate and finally took charge of my life. I became of age and left—for good. I never went back. For those who believe in the god or fantasy would say that my prayers were answered. That may be their interpretation, not mine. For me, I took charge of my life.
I look around. The media and the internet has brought so much more of the world into our foreground. I see tortured children and pets. I see war, shootings, rudeness. I see overcrowding and decay of the human spirit. While looking at all this, I also see love, in my own life as well as all around me. I see wonderful people out there reaching out to those tortured children and pets, reaching out trying to stop war, going into diseased areas, risking their own health to try to put an end to suffering, famine, and hunger. I see people fighting for the rights of other people, for people’s right to choose what’s best for their own life on this blue planet. People putting their safety at risk to enable equality of life and love. The Yin-Yang is truly represented here.
I find myself contemplating good and evil. What is prayer or what do these other religious phrases mean to someone like me? Someone who doesn't believe that some powerful being is out there seeing all and listening to all?
Let’s start with ‘Faith.’
I believe that faith equals confidence, a positive outlook on life. Trusting in one's instincts and abilities assists in going on each day. A confident person emerges from a crowd in a full forward stride. Situations are analyzed, questioned, then decisions are made and there is no second guessing, no looking back. It's like going through a traffic light. If it turns yellow, don't wobble, make a decision. Act on faith.
What is hope to me?
I believe that hope is the happy anticipation of a good outcome. Hope is looking for the positive, that white dot in the middle of the black. Optimism is King here. The glass is half full. Rain brings not weeds but new life.
Are there such things as angels?
Angels are those people who go out and work in the world to ease others' pain: nurses, volunteers, people who rescue animals, people who go to those areas of the world to help those in need, people who work in nursing homes, people who work with other people suffering from severe mental or physical handicaps. The list goes on and on because there are so many angels in this world. There are many angels in this community.
How do I define a miracle?
Miracles are things that come about against the odds. What we feel is normal or average makes those things that are outside that norm—things so very awesome, that we call them miracles. They are simply in a long line of the continuum of possibilities. She will never walk again--then she does. He won't live past age two, he's now 25. It is a miracle, to me, that we exist at all among all these stars, planets, and rocks. It is a miracle that I can see it, feel it, experience it, react to it. It is a miracle that I found this beautiful person among millions and millions of other people and we were able to share 41 years existing together.
And, finally, I'm back to prayer.
But to address this, I think that I have to remind myself how precious my time alive is, and short-lived. I mean, life is short. No matter how long you live, if you are enjoying yourself, it is going to be too short. So to take time out of my life, my time and think about someone else’s welfare, to think and hope about their well-being-- that is prayer, and that is good. It’s good to reach out to others, believe in others, love others, pray for others. Prayer is happy anticipation that someone can beat the odds. I have the confidence that their personal power will overcome whatever odds or pain they may be experiencing. There is something about prayer and the energy it emits. If anything, it's knowing that these people care and think enough about me (or you) that they have set out special time aside which gives me (or you) a boost of confidence that will help us overcome whatever is the problem. Thought has a tremendous power and reach.
Some people would give me the title of 'an atheist because I do not believe in an anthropomorphic supreme being (god). But I can't accept that because I am a very spiritual person. I believe in colorful western sunsets and the warm breath of sunrises, I get thrilled over new life. I love to feel the warmth of the earth, see the blue sky, experience rain, a gentle touch, be amazed at snow, shiver in the cold, to see flowers bloom in the dry, harsh desert. I've been lucky to celebrate lives who have crossed with my life, then moved on. I love this world. All these things I just mentioned are god to me. I am, by first definition, an existentialist. Now, you say, ‘That is a philosophy and not a religion. But religion is only a set of beliefs and when practiced becomes ritual. So, again, I say, I am an existentialist. I am a person, free and responsible, who can determine my own development through acts of my will. It boils down to the fact that I accept responsibility for my own actions and the domino effect that is caused by my actions. Existentialism can be adopted by a person of any religious affiliations. Secondly, I am a Unitarian Universalist, because it seems to fit. We don't care what you believe and we respect you. Everyone is accepted here (or should be).
So, for me, this spiritual existentialist, are there angels? Is there faith, hope, miracles, and prayer AND awe in this vast world of wonders? My answer, while down to earth and tangible, is an overwhelming YES!