On The Path by Bob Czimbal
"I have replaced the priestly vows of poverty, chastity and obedience with abundance and my vow to be of service to the Earth."
One of my very first childhood memories is being in church one Sunday morning. I started LAUGHING uncontrollably, (I can't remember what possessed me). Then, all at once, I noticed that everybody was staring . . . at me. The priest and altar boys glared. I got frightened and it occurred to me that something I was doing was very wrong. In my innocence, I didn't know what, but I hushed up. The priest turned back and mumbled in Latin to the nearly naked man nailed to a cross wearing a crown of thorns. I noticed his side was pierced by a spear and his head was slumped over like he was dead. Then and there I decided that I'd better stay on the good side of these people who worshiped this tortured person, or I might end up like him.
I grew up going to that same neighborhood church, but that was the last time I ever laughed in it.
The very last time I set foot in the church was when I was a high-school senior. I stepped into the cool dark of the chamber to confess. "Bless me father for I have sinned-" I whispered. "My last confession was a month ago. I touched myself impurely three times." The priest didn't take it well. He started yelling, telling me I would burn in hell for eternity if I committed such sins. I was shocked. He was treating me like I'd murdered someone! I stood up and walked out. I vowed, then and there, that I would never again expose myself to such religious abuse.
In the 30 years since then, I've undergone a complete religious conversion. For me, it has been a great healing. These days, on Sunday mornings, I attend "Sweat Your Prayers" at Body Moves Studio to dance my spiritual practice. Now, instead of kneeling with a congregation in sober silence, I join my community as we laugh and cry and work together. Church doctrine taught that sex was dirty and sinful. Today I live a life in which sex is sacred.
Being self-employed most of my adult life has allowed me the freedom to follow my path full time. Spiritual expression isn't limited to church on weekends. Every time I look around my home office, what I see and experience is a temple. My office is adorned with sacred objects honoring the diversity of paths I respect. My altar there has a statue of Buddha, Kwan Yin (the goddess of compassion), Mickey Mouse as Sorcerer's Apprentice, and a meditation bell. In the window hangs a beautiful hand-painted silk banner of the goddess; definitely not a virgin. Native American artistry includes a drum, a dream catcher and a northwest Indian carving. Even my iMac I see as a part of my electronic spiritual window to the world.
My home is graced with images from the natural world. I see photographs of eagles, dolphins and wolves as I brush my teeth. An image of giant sequoias is a reminder to honor the oldest living beings on the planet. All of the Earth is sacred ground. The refrigerator displays photos of my Kindred Spirits-living saints who are inspiring reminders of all the love in my life.
I have replaced the priestly vows of poverty, chastity and obedience with abundance and my vow to be of service to the Earth. I was taught young that praying was talking to God. Now I meditate which I would characterize more as listening to God. As a child entering church, I blessed myself with holy water. As an adult, I treat all water with reverence in its many forms-a soak in a hot springs, my morning shower, a swim in a mountain lake, kayaking down a stream, snorkeling in warm tropical waters, walking in the rain, even drinking a glass of water.
Since 1980, I've enjoyed transforming the Seven Sacraments of the Church into the basis of an alternative ministry. Baptism has become naming ceremonies. When I hear confession in my role as a counselor, I generally recommend pleasure, rather than penance. I've always enjoyed communion so I organize events for people to share communal food and drink as celebration. When I was confirmed in the church, I became a "Soldier of Christ." Now I am a dedicated peacekeeper. I especially love to help couples create and experience uniquely personal marriage ceremonies. I've also been asked to perform divorce/parting ceremonies. And instead of administering last rites, I have assisted in creating memorials and funerals to honor the life and mourn the death of loved ones in our community.
I believe we are called to be of service, to create heaven on Earth in our lifetimes. We can shape our own forms of ministry.