Questioning your religious and spiritual beliefs can be a painful process, but the rewards are worth the effort.
When I made the decision to drop out of the fast lane of manufacturing engineering and begin homesteading on 27 acres in up state New York in the 1970’s, I had no idea how much the insights learned from that experience would directly affect the rest of my life. It took time for me to understand and unpack the insights and wisdom learned from those homesteading days, but today I deeply value the experience as a time of spiritual birthing for me.
We designed and sold silver and gold jewelry at local craft shows to earn money. When we referred to ourselves as dirt poor financially, it was an understatement. We worked from dawn to dark most days planting and harvesting the food we ate. We cut, split, and stacked upwards of 12 cords of wood each year for the woodstove, built a home and a field stone barn, maintained four hives of honey bees, and a barn yard filled with horses, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, milking goats, and pigs.
It didn’t take us long to realize that the “good old days” of our ancestors were exhausting, never ending days of hard work focused on survival. But they were also days filled with the gifts that come with a life so intimately connected to the land. Thanksgivings were a time of great pride for us knowing that everything on the table, except the cranberries, came from the land and our hard work.
But the greatest insight from the homesteading experience came to me while I was in seminary almost ten years later. I was sitting in the school library one evening struggling to get my head around the theology of the Christian church. Unlike most of my classmates, much of what I was being taught simply didn’t make sense to me.
I loved what I was learning about pastoral counseling, but I struggled with theology and Christian doctrine. As a religious liberal in a religiously conservative community, I felt like a misfit. I was more than a little discouraged struggling with the possibility of dropping out of seminary.
The Difference Between Goats and Sheep
I originally entered seminary because I deeply loved the sense of community created by love and compassion, and my soul wanted to take part in the creation of that kind of community in the world.
As I walked to my car later that evening, convinced that my decision to enter seminary had been a mistake, I got to reminiscing about my homesteading days and the difference between a goat’s personality and the personalities of sheep.
The sheep were always docile—-not unlike my more conservative classmates who seemed intent on doing what was expected of them and following the rules. Compliant and openly accepting of church theology and doctrines, they seemed focused on being perfect Christian’s. Like the sheep from my homesteading days, compliance and obedience seemed to be important values for them. And being right often seemed more important to them than love and compassion.
Goats on the other hand always explored everything for themselves. Wherever you didn’t want a goat to go—– it would spend hours figuring out how best to get there. They were exhaustingly curious, playful, and seemed totally focused on embracing life in the present moment. They were the epitome of freedom and independence.
An Important Insight
The insight I had driving home that evening was how much my soul needed to be a goat; to discover truths for myself, not blindly accept theological “truths” second hand from others. I realized what I was resisting wasn’t seminary, it was the expectation that I would be obedient and willing to accept without question the theological assumptions embedded in the Christian theology that I was being taught.
By the time I arrived home that night I knew my soul was meant to journey on the spiritual paths as a goat —— called to discover the deeper wisdom made possible by discovering truth for myself, not accepting truth sheep-like second hand from others. In that moment of insight I knew I was where I needed to be and the spiritual path I was called to walk—–and I’ve never looked back.