“What does being spiritually alternative mean to you, and how do you represent it?”
If you’d have asked the Matt I was ten years ago, fifteen, two; you’d have different answers.
I grew up Catholic. Good old Roman Catholic. Went to a Catholic school for twelve years. No meat on Fridays, mass at 9 am on the first Friday of each month, prayers before the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. Ashes on the forehead to kick off Lent, throat blessings in the name of St. Blaise, post Vatican II OG crew. None of this Mass in-the-round and adding on that splitter Protestant post-script to the Our Father nonsense.
The problem with growing up within a religion is that you learn the warts especially well. You learn things by rote, and lose the mystery and the message.
I’ve always been a fan of other religions, learning about how other people in other places make sense of the world. Luckily, my senior year of high school, our religion teacher taught us Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism, Transcendental Meditation, and Islam.
Over the years, I’ve spent time as a Catholic, a Taoist, a Muslim, a Tengriist, and a Buddhist.
One thing that kept me from dropping my anchor fully into any of those harbors was that, with the exception of Taoism, and Tengri, there was a propensity for clubbishness. Like, you wore your faith on your sleeve and acted all cool and “Oh, THIS? Oh I forgot I even was wearing that. Yeah, it’s a thing that means…” whatever. Fill in the blank. Look at me be all up in my own religion. People lived the garb of their faith, but rarely their faith.
Thing is, I was never a joiner.
These days, I find myself leaning towards some pagan flavors. Nothing with a name attached, really. If I were to write the list of who I pray to, it would read:
Allah, the Merciful and the Compassionate.
Buddha, and his aspects of Quan Yin and Kannon, protectors of Animals.
St. Francis, protector of Animals.
All that is good under The Eternal Blue Sky.
Elen of the Ways.
That’s the background to give some light on what my answer to the question is.
What does it mean to me?
It means to be a secret. I keep my practices to myself. I don’t share, because they are special to me, and my prayers are mine. My animal totem is an agreement between it and myself, so I never mention it. I get caught doing things which would fall under “practice” or “ceremony” but when asked, I’m just feeding the birds, or sweeping off the patio. To me, my alternative spirituality is very personal and whittled into a shape I can use and understand.
How do I represent it?
Well, the lesson I’ve learned through all of the flavors of faith I’ve tasted over the years, is that there is a beautiful commonality between everything I’ve studied so far. It has allowed me to joke knowingly with Jewish friends, offer guidance to Buddhists, share the concerns of Muslims, offer peace and solidarity with Sikhs, talk flirtatiously with witches, and give comfort to Christians in moments of crisis of faith.
And when it comes to animals, I am the first person people will contact when they come into contact with nature. I’ve been called on to save snakes, squirrels, mice, bats, rabbits, cats, raccoons, opossums, frogs, toads, etc. Sometimes, I’ve even gotten calls while at my office job, “I’m a friend of [mutual friend on the internet] and she said I should find you.”
I represent it by reflecting the good of a person’s own spiritualism, or the best in their nature, back to them, to remind them that they are never alone.
By Matthew Peters