If I ever let the Muse go to sleep
–-Ludwig van Beethoven
It is only that she may wake refreshed.
My clients and friends sometimes ask, “When and why did you decide
to become a spiritual psychologist?” I explain that my choice of profession
goes back to my childhood and young adult experiences. As I have mentioned,
the psychological aspect has a lot to do with what happened to my mother
as well as with my interest in the psychology of animals. My focus on spirituality
stems from my lifelong relationship with God as well as my exposure to a
number of different churches and religions in my childhood and adult life.
My parents were of different faiths, my
mother being Catholic and my father Northern Baptist. In contrast to Southern
Baptists, who tended to be strict in their traditional interpretation of
the Bible, the Northern Baptists believed that individuals had a right to
interpret the Bible according to their own conscience. That made sense to
me as a young person because I had my own thoughts about God and religion.
I knew in my heart that Baptists and Catholics worshipped the same God, no matter
how they prayed or by what name they knew Him. I also knew in my heart that God
I especially enjoyed the King James Version
of the Bible because it had an elegance that appealed to me. And I liked reading
and interpreting the Bible for myself—I
was sure that God would help me understand what the passages meant. I liked to
open my Bible randomly and read the verses on the pages that fell open. I loved
thinking about what I read and asking God and myself, “What does this verse
mean to me?”
As a child I had also discovered that while I enjoyed the
freedom of interpretation of the Bible that the Baptist Church allowed, I was
more uplifted by the sanctity of the Catholic processionals and rituals. For
me they created an atmosphere of holiness and an attunement to the Presence of
God and the angels, which was what I experienced when I gave my bedtime prayers.
Studying the History of Religion
When I studied the history of religion
in our country, I learned that it was differences in liturgy and biblical
interpretation that led to the forming of diverse faiths as well as splits
within the Baptist Church. I realized that this was the main reason that
there were so many different Baptist churches in America.
The founders of the various churches and the
ministers who served in them had their own ideas about the interpretation of
the Bible and the way people were meant to worship God. People who wanted to
worship in a different way from the church they belonged to would separate out
and form their own churches. I remember thinking that there wasn’t anything
wrong with that. After all, America was formed on the basis of freedom of religion.
knew that when I read the Bible for myself, it benefited me in a more personal
way than when a minister read and interpreted the verses. I liked thinking
about how I could apply a particular passage in the Bible to my own life. I
would come up with amazing ideas that made perfect sense to me. I would feel
inspired and uplifted—and I liked that!
During my childhood and teenage years, I faithfully attended a Northern
Baptist church. However, I continued to be curious about the beliefs of other
churches and why it was that people in my own neighborhood had different
understandings about God.
I began to study the religious traditions of early America and how the English
Puritans who were persecuted in their own country, left England and came to America
by ship. I loved the historical story about how they landed at Plymouth Rock
in what we now call Massachusetts and how, with William Bradford and Miles Standish,
as their leaders, they established the Plymouth Colony.
I was surprised to discover that the Mayflower Compact was the first written
constitution in America. I learned that it was an agreement reached by the Pilgrims
just before they landed at Plymouth Rock, and it bound them to live in a civil
society according to the laws they established. It remained the fundamental law
of Plymouth until it was absorbed into Massachusetts in the late seventeenth
The Pilgrims were obviously courageous and they understood the importance of
freedom of religion. As I read about the trials they faced on the voyage over
and after they arrived, I realized that only people who took freedom of religion
very seriously would have made that hazardous journey.
When I read about their amazing journey, I realized that we Americans owe a debt
of gratitude to our Pilgrim forefathers, who established our right to freedom
of religion. This might never have come to be had it not been for the Pilgrims’ fervent
desire to worship God according to the belief in their own heart.
Exploring Culture and Religions
As I moved into my teenage years, I began to explore the religions of various
cultures. I was particularly interested in how people in ancient times worshiped
God, and I remember wondering if the ancients were as curious about the true
nature of God as I was.
I was fortunate to have been exposed to different
viewpoints about religion while I was growing up. Our family had a Christian
Science housekeeper and a Pentecostal gardener. My closest girlfriend was Catholic
and one of the neighborhood families was Jewish. I was also acquainted with a
Chinese family who revered Confucius, and I knew a Japanese
truck farmer family who embraced Shinto.
As a teenager I remember thinking how inspiring it was that people all over America
had come to know God the same way I did, by personal experience, and what a gift
it was that each of us could choose the religion that matched our understanding
of God. I am truly grateful to our Pilgrim forefathers, who had the courage to
set sail for a distant country and set the tone for freedom of religion in America.
I was always fascinated by the customs and beliefs of the Native Americans.
After all, they were the first people to inhabit America, and they also helped
the Lewis and Clark expedition complete the mission of mapping the West.
Yet over the years that followed, as it’s commonly known, they were
mistreated by the white man.
There were a number of different Indian tribes in Arizona as well as in New Mexico,
where I was born. And one of my schoolmates, Ramona, was a Hopi princess. She
was a beautiful girl and I was fascinated with what she told me about Hopi traditions.
My friendship with Ramona ignited my interest in the beliefs and rituals of the
Hopis and other tribes as well.
The Native Americans worshiped the Great Spirit, which, as far as I could tell,
was simply another name for God. Consequently, although I was raised and baptized
in the Baptist Church, I remember saying to myself as a teenager, “Why
do people argue about religion? It seems to me that religion is all about loving
God, and God loves everybody! The Indians have a perfect right to worship God
as the Great Spirit because that’s their understanding of him.” That
belief has stayed with me and is an integral aspect of my adult spirituality.
I also realized that since people came from different cultures and spoke different
languages, God would obviously have different ways of talking to them—and
that was why there were many diverse religions all over the world. However, I
never talked to my family about it, because religion was such a sensitive subject
for them. I had my conversations about religion in my own mind.
I remember deciding
with certainty that there was one God, the Creator, who created heaven and earth,
even though people knew him by various names. To this day, this is my truth—one
God, one Creator, known by different names according to the history and the culture
of the people.