Shawna is the first blogger I ever Skyped. She and I met in 2014 through the writing course Find Your Writing Voice and one of our tasks was to connect with another member of the group to talk about our progress, or lack thereof, on the exercises. A month prior to signing up for the course, I had attended my first writing conference and was feeling brave about making my online connections become more than just digital relationships. Shawna and I were naturally drawn to each other because we were also part of another Facebook group which eludes me now.
I'm pretty sure we Skyped until the battery on my laptop was dying. We've shared some similar experiences and have kept in touch - as well as you can when you live in different states - as what we believed then, two years ago, shifted into separate but parallel journeys of discovery.
Sometimes you meet people and feel like you've always known them, and they seem to just get you. Shawna is one of those people, and I'm excited to be able to share her words with you.
Responses by Shawna Anderson
What do you believe, and why?
My beliefs are eclectic, informed by many different traditions and belief systems, yet don't seem to fit entirely in any one box. What I'd say is the one unshakeable truth I believe is that God is love and requires no qualifiers to be in relationship. I believe God is incapable of any other form of being besides relationship - that we cannot be separated from our creator, but instead are divine in our nature - and I believe that God is neither just masculine or just feminine, but rather encompasses both the yin and yang, everything in between, and everything beyond.
I believe that within each of us is an innate ability to understand and relate to our creator, and that innate wisdom exists in all creations, all beings. For that reason, I believe that we can receive divine insight into God and into aspects of all of creation through any medium, and that all creation is an expression, and therefore an example, of our creator and the innate and divine creativity within each of us. I believe all of creation is made up of energy; that energy can never cease to exist and will only ever shift and change the form in which it manifests. I also believe that we each have within us a divine ability to effect others, either positively or negatively, intentionally or unintentionally, but that our intent holds a power and distinct energy as well.
I don't subscribe to any single belief system, but instead choose to lean into my intuition, which I believe is grounded in our relationship with our creator. I hold the intent of keeping an open mind, to actively avoid judgment, labels, and an idea that we can never fully know or understand anything... and that in our surrender to the 'not knowing' we can finally start to accept our true nature and purpose.
How did you discover your beliefs?
My spiritual foundation consists of a childhood in a contemporary Southern Baptist church where my sister and I were encouraged to attend regularly with our parents, but weren't held to a legalistic or extreme standard in our beliefs. In my pre-teen years, and following my parent's divorce, like many an 80s born child my curiosity for the rather limited "Craft-ian" representation of Wicca was a brief dalliance into non-Christian spirituality, but was ultimately short lived.
What I'd say was the most powerful influence over my beliefs growing up, and later into my 20s, was two rather formative and intense chapters where I attended a non-denominational church of the Pentecostal persuasion with my best friend and almost all of her family. It was in those chapters that I fell hard into 'follower-ship', becoming fervent and evangelical in my beliefs, towards my family most of all.
In the 2nd chapter of my time at this church, I dove in head first from the get-go once I'd been welcomed back into the fold and quickly began volunteering in multiple departments, spending hours upon hours each week in devoted attendance. Even as I struggled in my beliefs and what I was being taught, a deep seated fear of losing the community I'd become a part of, or more importantly, my closest friend, kept me from discussing even the littlest question within. In the final months, I found myself weary from the constant mask-wearing, and the never-ending fear of being 'found out' in my crisis of faith, but bull-headedly I leaned in until I felt there was no other choice but to leave. It was in meeting my now husband that I found the courage to accept my truth, and completely walked away from the church. My closest friend accepted my notice to the church as a notice to her as well, and cut all ties.
It's with the support and acceptance of my husband that I've slowly processed and reflected on my formative years in the church. For some time we tried to find a new church home, a non-denominational church where we could be a part of a community of open minded and open hearted believers, and though we did find that for a time, that church later dissolved with the pastor and his family relocating out of the area. Our attempts to find a new church ultimately ended up fruitless.
As time - hours upon hours - of deep reflection and conversation with my husband continued, I found myself at a critical junction in my beliefs. One question in particular: Can I accept a God that limits the opportunity for relationship to one book and one question, and that anyone who doesn't receive and accept both (or even have the access to) will be eternally outside of that relationship? The answer for me unequivocally, is no. More importantly still, did I believe that to be my understanding of God? Also a resounding no. When I stepped back to consider my own intuition of who God is, uninformed by a singular and deeply manipulated and misunderstood book, or any other singular source, I landed on the beliefs I shared above. As a woman still clinging to the possibility of having children some day, I cannot fathom a creator God who would accept the out casting of even a single creation.
And so, I've come to a place where in order for me to accept God - which I believe intuitively to be a real, sentient, loving creator - I must lean fully into my own intuition and divine knowing. I feel that God is grieved at the idea that humankind would manufacture such a complex system of requirements as to say that we must believe certain things, say and do certain things, etc. in order to be "in the family" and in relationship. I believe that God loves us without qualifiers, without us even believing in return. And though I do believe we can choose any number of traditions, paths, belief systems to personally and spiritually develop, they are in no way required, and maybe not even suggested.
How do you interact with your beliefs?
At times I've attempted to integrate ceremony and practice in my spirituality, but have consistently stepped back as I've fallen too quickly into legalism when I have. My beliefs inform my perspective, my intentions, and how I interact with others, undoubtedly. Though I've reached a place in my belief discovery and journey that I've stepped away from any traditional classification of being Christian, I don't often share this outside of my closest family and friends as I don't want to in any way give others the impression that I judge them in their own beliefs. The path I've taken has led me to this place and respectfully, I believe that is true for others so I'm not interested in judging, in questioning them in their faith, nor am I of the mindset that there is only one way to be in relationship with our creator. I feel that we each have an intimately unique and individual journey of discovery to walk through to understand this world we live in, as well as our place and purpose within it. For now, I'm content in this place of unknowing, and I require no outward expression of that to feel grounded in my beliefs.
What do you do when you doubt your beliefs?
I lean into the doubt, I explore the questions open-heartedly and open-mindedly. I let go of judgment for myself and others, let go of fear in the unknown, and trust fully in my innate divinity and inseparable relationship with our creator. Also, when struggling with doubt and questions and overwhelm along this journey, I remind myself what a world of good a little break from all the noodling can do, and get back to living life. Time spent vegging out watching TV or a good movie, reading a great book, writing, curled up in a pile of pillows and blankets coloring the day away, or spending time with friends or family does wonders for the soul.
To read more My Discovery Process submissions, you can find them here.