Into the Valley, Facing the Shadow.
I have a confession to make: I haven’t connected with the Zarathushti faith…at all.
January1st of 2011 was the first time I’ve prayed since I left Christianity 10 years ago. I went into Project Conversion thinking that, by the end of the year, I would have a better understanding of other religions…not God. But the unexpected has happened–over and over–and little did I know that from Day 1, I’ve reached for the divine.
This is why I connected instantly with Hinduism and the Baha’i faiths. Hinduism blew the door of my understanding of the divine off its hinges so that when I left, I was prepared to see God in whatever form presented itself. The Baha’is taught me the importance of community and the oneness of all faiths. Going into the Zarathushti month, I expected to get in touch with roots of monotheism and touch the divine in the ways of the ancients.
But that hasn’t happened.
As with the faiths preceding March, I feel in love with the tenets and practices: the symbology of fire, the call to ethical action via Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds, the partnership with God to vanquish the pain and sorrow of this world…so why haven’t I connected? Where is the chemistry? The first week of every month is like the first date, but the Zarathushti faith never called for another.
Here is the reason: In the beginning, Zarathushtra worked for 12 years to spread his “Good Religion” far and wide, but no one would listen until one day a king embraced the faith. For centuries thereafter the religion flourished in the Persian Empires until the Greeks and finally the Muslim armies drove it to near extinction. Some Zarathushtis fled to India and became the Parsis. Countless generations of persecution led these people to build an ethnic hedge around themselves and their faith. No one from the outside was let in.
And now, millenia later, neither am I.
Before Project Conversion started, I was okay with the idea of each faith being a guided tour, but now they are so much more. And I want so much more. Each one is another lens in which to see the divine. I embrace–no–give myself to each religion and use its rituals and prayers to reach God, but when I discovered this closed aspect of the Zarathushti faith, I fell apart. It was “look but don’t touch.” Project Conversion is like a walk down a dark street. Every few feet I get a street lamp that bathes me in warmth and light. These are the individual faiths, and their light and warmth carry me through the dark spaces between each month. But now, there is no light, because I cannot connect with the Zarathushti way. My ethnicity prevents me.
I am in darkness. No matter how long I meditate on the flame, no matter how many prayers I recite, my fingers cannot reach the hem of God. Understand, I can’t just reach back to previous faiths and use their prayers or rituals as a lifeline. I am bound by the Project to do so with the tools and methods of the current month. But every time I try, it feels forced, inauthentic. I cannot find God here. It’s so dark here that I can’t see my hands in front of me when I pray.
I asked my Mentor about this matter. She kindly advised me not to get involved in these controversial matters. If I or someone else was interested in becoming a Zarathushti, their only recourse was to contact one of the “neo-Zarathushti” fringe elements that main-liners don’t even consider part of their faith…their family.
I cannot describe the fear…the anxiety. It’s no coincidence that I find myself in a month that focuses so much on the struggle between light and darkness–a battlefield spread out upon the souls of all men. My anger has returned. Frustration clouds my judgment. Impatience shuns my love. My discipline is lost. New faith is so fragile. So I slip, from time to time, to that place where I have two roads before me: fight for faith…or against it. I had picked a side. Why do I have to do it again? Oh God, where is your fire?
Now it comes to it. I have a choice to make and if you think about it, so do you. What’s more important: your religion, or God? Either way I go this month, I will lose something. If I abdicate, if I surrender to the ethnic wall around the Zarathushti faith, then I spend the rest of the month in spiritual darkness because I will have accepted the idea that I–by birth–do not have the right to reach God by that path. If I go the reformist route, I risk losing my Mentor and therefore my direction. What’s worse, who am I to argue with millenia of tradition?
What if we left the nuances of our religions–the traditions, the rituals, even the people–dug beneath the walls and the crust of time and discovered the foundation of God himself? Is religion–it’s prophets, priests, and traditions– what’s holding the world back? Afterall, whenever there’s been a religious war, it wasn’t over whether or not God exists, but their understanding of God. What if we just…believed, and left the rest to the wind?