Like Alchemy

shelbyBy Shelby Smith (right), in Solveig Nilsen-Goodin’s book What is the Way of the Wilderness?  An Introduction to the Wilderness Way Community (2016):

I don’t believe that one should belong to a certain religion or set of beliefs`. I do believe, from years of trial and error, that for me, a life based on seeking God and It’s will for me is a richer, fuller life, that at times feels downright magical and that without it, life is pretty shitty. I am writing my story in hopes that it can help someone.

I came to Wilderness Way in the Late Winter of 2014. I was in a relationship with a great person, in a great apartment, and studying in a field where I got to combine my greatest passions: natural medicine, public health, social justice, eco justice, nerdy science and woo woo earth magic. And yet, I was empty, scared I wouldn’t ever be able to get my self together to actually help anyone and knew I needed help. I believed in a higher power and I had mentors who were very spiritual and even went to church. Their lives were a lot more simple and fulfilling and they were helping lots of people. I had had a rough start to life including a lot of drinking and drugs and had done a lot of clean it up. So when everything externally was going well and I still felt empty, bitter, scared, and miserable, it seemed like, “a lack of faith” was my problem. So despite deep misgivings about going to a thing where people talked about Jesus, I went. I first made sure that I wouldn’t have to wear a dress, that it was ok that I was a dyke, and not actually a Christian and no one was going to try to “save me”. I was wary for sure.

I was told right away that the folks at Wilderness Way aren’t set out to convert, that one can be rooted in a tradition while still honoring and respecting other traditions and faiths. People gave me their time and attention when I asked them about their journeys on this path. They were patient with the questions and objections I had that I bet  many who have been hurt by the institutional church have. I cried a lot and felt super raw. People were loving and supportive while at the same time giving me space. It was amazing, we had super silly, don’t-give-a-crap-how-ridiculous-I-look dance parties on Saturday nights and I laughed, and actually felt joy.

I loved the singing and oddly enough for me, the liberation bible study. I loved learning stories in the bible that actually backed up my fringy ecofeminist ideas. Issues in the Bible were being related to present day concerns like climate change, deportations, and recovery from consumerism. I met people who really drew deep inspiration and strength from Nature and Jesus and were grounded in what’s going on in the world.  People who were calling people in instead of calling people out, standing up to corruption, state violence, and pollution by saying, “I love you and I can’t allow you to do that to us.” I heard talk of symbiosis and solidarity instead of charity, how there really is enough in god’s economy and in this world if only we trust God and share, and other stuff I only heard about in activist circles, not in the church I went to as a kid. And yet, the activists and organizers here were stoked about life, happy, getting shit done, and acting from a place of love and trust rather than fear and ego.

Fast forward two years and half later, I am still walking this path. I don’t yet understand why I feel called to learn about Jesus, let alone create a relationship with this fellow, but I do. Lately, when I pray to this entity, who was said to have said and done great things, I  feel a stirring inside and a kind of quiet happiness and excitement, like something grand is about to happen-just-you-wait. I was a big doubter, I guess I was scared that the moment I bought into this whole thing, someone would jump out and say, “Aaha! We fooled you! None of us actually believe in this. We just wanted to see if you were gullible, stupid and weak.” Eventually I grew tired of having my walls up and thought, “Why not? Why not just try to believe that maybe accepting help from Jesus can actually change things for me. If the worst that happens is people make fun of me, well, I think I’ll be ok.” I still had so many qualms with some of the content in the Bible but through Wilderness Way and then Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, I met so many people who were living amazing lives based on the teachings of Jesus, people who were creating change like I yearned to do but couldn’t quite grasp.

I met all sorts of folks who believed all sorts of things while walking a path they said Christ showed them. So I started praying to this fellow, who in my estimation, may not have even existed. I talked to the pastor about this, about why pray to someone who died. She said, that we are all made of whirling energetic masses of atoms vibrating along correct? And that energy is never destroyed? Well, perhaps, that energy, those wavelengths that he was made of are still moving and perhaps they can still be tapped into, and by tapping into those wavelengths, things within us can rearrange. I thought, “Ok, I can work with that. I can believe that maybe that is true, so maybe I will try this. I will pray to these wavelengths that suppossedly did great things.”

I was taught years ago, that if I wanted to have a life worth living, I had to to start living it on a spiritual basis. And that if one wants to develop a relationship with some sort of spiritual power greater then themselves, one has to “act as if” for awhile. Just go through the motions. So about ten years ago, I spent a long time just saying prayers to the air and feeling nothing but frustration that this was supposed to help me and yet it didn’t seem to be working. Eventually, things started changing, I was able to stay sober, be more patient, more kind, able to get out of unhealthy relationships, and face fears and other horribly uncomfortable feelings. I developed a working relationship with a force that I felt constituted and connected us all and and moved in silent secret ways changing us in ways we couldn’t do all on our own. I found that by tapping into this energetic flow, I could experience a greater peace and integrity. So I brought this practice to considering a relationship with Jesus, who provided power to so many seeking liberation. I considered Qi, which in the acupuncture world is considered the most basic material of existence. In this way of viewing the world, where everything is made of Qi, in varying states of density, I can see how this force, could have solidified itself into a state like that of a human body to move energy in very dense and material ways. And that it took very dense, material things to catch the eye of humans used to very dense material things. I still struggle with a concept of a loving God who directs things. I still struggle with the fact that there is a God that allows horrific things to occur but I am finding that spending time giving thanks alleviates some of that hurt, frustration, and confusion.

I love so much that there is room for questioning at Wilderness Way. I hope you are able to find a community that encourages you to question and seek. I feel like this process is like alchemy, it’s changing iron to gold inside of me and as I keep seeking, keep reaching out-to God and to my fellows, I am further enabled to draw together my inner resources and tap into the powers that be. And with that extra strength I am slowly being transformed into a person working for systemic change that can be humble and outspoken, firm about convictions and flexible about how things unfold, persistent and loving, which I think is pretty cool.

Shelby lives in Portland, OR where she worships dirt and reads the Bible, tends to her rabbit Sammy and chicken Emily Chickenson and studies community acupuncture at the only social justice driven acupuncture school in the US, POCATech.

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