I have never found much peace or solace by going to a church service. It doesn't matter what denomination. Yet, when I have been alone in a church or sanctuary, alone to meditate or pray, I have often felt a deep sense of love and communion with my Creator. There is a powerful energy that dwells in many of these halls of prayer, if one is able to quiet the mind and listen. My quandary with being a faithful church-goer has been in not being able to find communion with the congregation at large, nor very often with the pastor or priest leading the service. When I used to go, it would be to seek the holy presence within my own body, with a whole bunch of other bodies. I needed to listen when I wished to commune with my Maker; in church, someone was always talking or the congregation would have to sing these solemn dirges in a key my voice couldn't reach. It was all too distracting from my higher purpose.
There is no judgment of those who fill the pews on holy days; it is just that their approach to celebrating a relationship with God is foreign to me. When I look around (while I am supposed to have my eyes closed in prayer) I can spot others who are both faithful to the ritual service and still personally attuned to the larger picture. There have been a few priests and preachers along the way that have held me spellbound with their heartfelt messages and metaphoric anecdotes, but they were exceptions. You can tell when someone lives from the heart, and when someone lives from their ego. Perhaps my discomfort at church stems from my perception that most church-goers and a large number of church leaders are lost in their own righteous ritual and dogma.
I believe most people appear as helpless, fearful sheep because that is what they have been taught to be. They are well-intentioned, but lost in fear and ignorance. We are not taught to listen to our hearts. And we are not taught to trust what we are hearing from within. No one in church or at school or at home has shown us how to look deeply within, to turn inward and hear the voice of God speaking to us at any time we need providence.
The presence within us is a gift, but we forget that something eternal lives within for as long as we draw breath. We forget that we are both male and female, light and dark, conscious and unconscious, human and angel, divine and animal. We forget that that which has created us is always a part of us, and that all we ever need do is to listen deeply to communicate directly with our Source.
History has been unkind to those who have trusted the voice within and heeded its call. These are my brothers and sisters; these are the ones across time that I find communion with. Joan of Arc began to hear the voices of Saints Michael, Catherine, and Margaret speaking to her within at age 13. She was but a little peasant girl in rural France in the early 15th century, probably never intending to do anything more than spin wool, marry, and raise children. By 17, those voices urged her to become involved in the struggle for the contested French throne in the Hundred Years War. She convinced Charles the Dauphin to allow her to command an army, which she led to spectacular victory in Orleans, paving the way for Charles to be crowned king. Joan was later wounded in battle and captured, sold to the English, and put on trial by the Inquisition. Tried as a witch and a heretic, convicted of the serious charge of cross-dressing, she was burned at the stake at age 19.
Joan is a personal hero of mine, and I hold her example high as something to aspire to. At her trial she said, “I die for speaking the language of the angels.” She wasn't on trial because of treason or war crimes charged against her. She was on trial because she had listened to a voice inside her, a voice that transcended the role she was supposed to follow. She listened closely and believed it enough to let it guide her. Twenty-five years later, her mother demanded a re-trial in which her daughter was declared innocent. Pope Benedict thereafter canonized her as a saint in 1920.
One can only guess what the language of the angels sounded like to Saint Joan, but it is a certainty that what she heard coming from her heart was to be not afraid. She demonstrated remarkable courage in her time to stand up with unbending conviction for what she knew to be true in her heart. The voice she heard freed her from any expectation projected onto her in the world she was born into. That voice connected her to her own inner world.
I was created in the image of the Creator, therefore I am of sacred essence. The Divine Mind flows through my being. I am within God, and God is within me, experiencing Itself through me. The voice that speaks to me can be nothing other than divinely inspired. Each of us has an inspiring voice within that is there to offer support, love, and guidance. It is the responsibility of each of us to listen to this voice, to validate it, and to act appropriately. This is the source of our true worth. It is our highest truth. Many in authority attempt to deny the validity of the God within that speaks to our every need if we listen. I am worthy enough to hear the words of God directly. I do not need a holy manuscript or any religious authority to intermediate or interpret my communication with my Creator within. I shall be God's champion and always follow the direction of my heart.