Many paths, one destination. . .
“Sometimes I attach ourselves to things, and step outside of who we really am.”
With Eliade under my arm and Remo drum in hand, I walk across the floor of the yoga studio and take my place in the circle seated there. I practice what is sometimes derogatorily referred to as “Neoshamanism” by some who seem to have forgotten that at one point, everything in the Universe was “Neo…”
When I was a child and a practicing Roman Catholic, I was sitting with my mother in the Pentecostal church where my Grandmother and Grandfather attended services. They were devout church goers, and never missed a Sunday. This was equally due to a strong sense of faith-based fear on their part, and to the fact that as caretaker for the church, my Grandfather received compensation in the form of a small apartment connected to the church where he and my Grandmother lived rent-free.
On many occasions during this time, I attended Mass on Saturday nights and Pentecostal Services on Sunday morning. My mother had converted to Catholicism decades before, sending ripples of biblical proportion through my Grandparents’ household. Eventually, the tidal waves receded, and an uneasy truce remained.
One Sunday morning, my mother and I were sitting at a service in Gramma’s church. I had just received my First Communion, so I felt I was the expert on the block. I was sure I knew more about the Eucharist than even the Pope or Jesus Christ, Himself. On the back of the pew in front of me was a small block of wood with four holes drilled into it.
“What’s that?” I asked my mother, who immediately leaned over and answered me.
“That’s a holder for the wine for when Gramma’s church takes Communion. They put little test-tubes in there filled with grape juice. The people in Gramma’s church don’t drink wine. “
“Are we going to receive Communion today?” I asked, anxious to see what it was like for other people.
“No, Honey,” she replied, “they only take Communion once a month.”
By then my attention had shifted to the windows. Saint Mary’s Visitation in Dickson City was an old school Polish Roman Catholic parish. Not only were the windows crammed full of brightly colored, yet miserable saints, the roof above the altar consisted of a gigantic stained glass dome rife with angels and images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. While here in the Pentecostal church the windows were decorated with a few small splashes of color and a handful of names.
Next I noticed the cross above the altar. The crucifix at the back of Saint Mary’s would put Mel Gibson to shame. Jesus’ face was a wrenching mask of agony, empty-eyed and blood-soaked. Gore dripped from the wounds in his hands, and his legs were bent behind him with his feet nailed firmly to the vertical pole of the cross. In Gramma’s church however, the cross was empty.
“How come there’s no Saints in the windows or Jesus on the Cross?” I asked.
My mother quickly bent to answer again. “Honey, life is like a journey, and Religion is how you get to where you’re going. Everyone’s going to the same place. Some people are taking the bus. Some are walking. And some are driving their cars. It doesn’t matter how you get there. What’s important is that you get there.”
These words have remained with me for almost 40 years. And it is these same words that have led me to pick up the drum and rattle, to dance The Sun Moon Dance, and to find myself sitting prayerfully in sweatlodges. These practices, admittedly, are not for everyone. That being said, I offer no disrespect to other disciplines or their practitioners. Everyone has their own path to follow. It is my sincerest hope that should ours cross, we would bid each other well – and be open for a lesson or two – and come away as wiser beings for it. . .