Gated Religions


For many years, literal belief in the doctrines of my religion (Christianity) was enough to satisfy my spiritual hunger. But the strain of containing my beliefs in a tightly enclosed, left-brained compartment labeled “Religion” while repeatedly coming up against a Mystery that encompasses the entire universe eventually wore me down. At the age of 37 my ego waved a white flag and surrendered its need to feel safe and in control. In leaving the gated community of my religion, I entered a Dark Night of the Soul that lasted nine years.
I returned from the desert with a new way of seeing and living. My mind had been redirected from needing correct belief to seeking truth; from preparing for an afterlife to living now; from pretending and pleasing to being authentic; from defending a God-image of judgment, exclusivity and stasis to embracing a God-image of inclusiveness, openness and change. When I could no longer go to church without getting a stomach ache, I stopped attending. I was by no means rejecting the Mystery, but only a local and, to my way of thinking, painfully confining way of connecting with it with which I no longer felt at home.
Sometimes I’ve been angry at organized religion but I’ve kept most of my thoughts and feelings to myself; partly because I didn’t want to offend or mislead anyone who finds hope and healing in their faith, and partly because I’m simply more comfortable with affirming than critiquing. But there’s also a deeper reason: I’ve been afraid of the backlash. Ultra conservative elements of all three patriarchal religions have a long history of persecuting “heretics,” and frankly, the rabid religious intimidate me with their polarizing prejudices; their obsessive self-righteous anger; their intolerance and lack of compassion; their willingness to turn on those who question their fear-based practices and beliefs; their ability to fire up masses of devoted followers who support them blindly; their indifference to the pain and injustice their inner Nazis inflict.
Peace-loving Muslims are getting a lot of flak these days for not speaking out against violent Islamic groups but are they any different from me? It would be easy to point fingers at them, but wouldn’t a more effective use of my energy be to address the destructive forces in my own religious community? How can I self-righteously blame members of a religion I know nothing about for failing to speak out against their fanatics when I’ve been afraid to speak out against mine? Isn’t that what Jesus meant when he criticized hypocrites for pointing out the motes in others’ eyes while ignoring the beams in their own? As my six-year-old granddaughter would say in mock exasperation, “Peepuhl! What are we thinking?”
When it comes to religion, many of us are not thinking, at least not with both sides of our brains. We’re reacting instinctively and emotionally. We want the approval of our tribes. We want to stay safe. And so we shut down the inner other who yearns for a freer, more authentic, inclusive and compassionate way to celebrate the sacred miracle of life, and we shut out others who are different. But we should be just as afraid of ourselves and our exclusive communities as of outsiders. The real enemy lives within our gates and the true work begins at home, in the place we know best and where we have the most influence.
The world is in trouble. If there was ever a time to think psychologically and live spiritually, it’s now. If there was ever a place to start, it’s with ourselves.

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0 Responses

  1. If I had a gift for writing and the courage to express my feelings and beliefs, I too would have written these words. Thank you, Jean, for being my voice and helping me to understand what is inside me.

    1. Dear Nancy,
      Self-expression is not everyone’s gift; moreover, it can be used as much for evil as for good. Your comment reveals a generous spirit and a kind and understanding heart. These are gifts that promote true healing and lasting peace. I am grateful that you shared them with me and my readers.

    1. Greetings to a fellow hatchling! It is both sad and beautiful that traditional boundaries which were once so nurturing become prisons for many who keep growing. I believe that trusting the inner urge to peck through the psychological shells that have stunted our growth is humanity’s greatest challenge today. Not only will our release introduce us to the significance of our larger world family, but it is the only way to become the free and soaring eagles we were created to be!

  2. I’m the last one to try and compare experiences, but what you describe in the first few paragraphs has been my journey over the past 6-7 years. I would still consider myself in the Dark Night, knowing what I’m letting go of (inherited God images, etc), but not exactly sure where I’m moving to. Depth psychology and the mystic tradition are helping to paint a picture, but I’m still daily fililng in that picture on the path of individuation. Thanks for your words, helping me see that I’m not alone on this journey!

    1. Dear Rob,
      Your words warm my heart. I know exactly how you feel. Your image of painting a picture is the equivalent to mine of digging through the muddy ocean floor in search of another piece of the great jigsaw puzzle lying beneath! I may never uncover the entire picture, but I’ve found enough pieces so far to trust the process and see it as the most exhilarating and meaningful adventure of my life. This is what we were born for, Rob: to make a work of art of our lives. Congratulations for being well on your way to creating your magnum opus!

      1. Are there any good books you could recommend around the topic of letting go of literalism and adopting a more symbolic spirituality?

        1. Dear Rob,
          I’m very glad you asked this question! Synchronistically, I’m just finishing a brilliant and healing book about this exact subject. It’s called “The Story of Q” and is written by N.M. Freeman. There are few books I could recommend more wholeheartedly than this one. You should be able to order it on Amazon, but you can also visit the author’s site at to find out more about it. I hope you’ll let me know how you liked it if you do get it!
          My very best to you, brother seeker,

      2. I’ll definitely check that book out, thanks! Have you ever heard of The Guild for Spiritual Guidance? It’s a program designed to train people for Spiritual Guidance, based on three pillars: western mysticism, depth psychology, evolutionary spirituality. Here is the link:
        I’ve been accepted to the apprentice program, and start at the end of the month.

        1. No, I don’t know anything about it but I’ll check it out! It sounds wonderful. Congratulations on your acceptance! I hope you’ll let me know how it goes!
          My best, Jeanie
          Sent from my iPhone

  3. Amen, Sister!
    Thank you, Jean, for reflecting my own story and so many stories I hear of people seeking to find their way through the soul-making wilderness toward embodiment of authentic faith and practice.

    1. Dearest Julie,
      I love the idea of reflecting the stories of so many wilderness seekers. I see you doing the same thing with your work at your wonderful retreat center, Morning Star. I suspect being mirrors and mentors for other souls is exactly what people like us are called to be! Personally, I couldn’t have asked for a more fulfilling profession!

      1. Yes, being a mirror and mentor; psycho spiritual midwife, has been and is a very fulfilling life.
        I”m so grateful to have connected with you and your blog, Jean, and feel companioned, mirrored and mentored through it. I’m re-reading your book , “The Bridge to Wholeness”, and finding ever more of my own truth through it.
        I, too, have felt that, as you stated to Rob, “we were born to make a work of art of our lives”. This for me is in response to being given a human body with heart and brain so inherently, incredibly sensitive and responsive to this marvelously created and interdependent gift of life on planet Earth. Why would I want to do any less than try to honor this purpose of giving the Creator my whole self to sensually, consciously and lovingly experience life on Earth and give expression through my authentic way of embodiment as the highest and most joyful celebration of the GIFT of my human and divine life? Eros and Logos seem to be at work trying to give God a Home in and through me and all of us no matter what religion we call it. That’s no “gated community!

        1. Beautifully said, Julie! Thank you. And thank you for re-reading Bridge to Wholeness! The writing of it over the year 1990 gave me so much joy. I remember wondering then if my life could get any better, and now I can say with the authority of experience that it most definitely can. I expect you could say the same of yourself, as you have also persevered with your inner work. We have no idea how blind we are at any stage of life until we grow beyond it and can look back at ourselves with some objectivity! It’s a never-ending inner journey of, as you say, “sensually, consciously and lovingly experiencing life” that brings you into greater levels of awareness, which, in turn, impacts your life in so many positive ways.
          Loving the process, and loving knowing you, Jeanie

  4. Hi Jean,
    Thank you for your beautiful post. And thank you for not minding really long comments. Here’s another one your wise and much-needed words inspired. Thank you, and again, thank you.
    The “you” in the following piece is every “you.”
    The Mystery moved just ahead ducking behind a tree. As I slowly approached, it took wing, shape-shifting into smoke, and scattered into the trees. I have been following the Mystery for years. Every now and again I catch a glimpse of it in unexpected places: the bark of a fallen tree, the patterns of roots spreading through the ground, the swirl of milk in a cup of coffee. Of course I discern the Mystery in the places one would figure it resided: your eyes, for example, reflect the luminous aspects of the Mystery, the face of the flower nods as I pass, revealing the reverence the Mystery feels for all things, and the voices of children singing ring out the Mystery clearer perhaps than anything else—for me, that is.
    There have been however, exquisitely surprising and terrible moments when the Mystery snuck up on me when I least expected it and blanketed me with wonder. Exquisite because the warmth of being held in the Mystery is like being surrounded by the softest glow of the kindest hands; terrible because the light it brings exposes my frailties and my hypocrisies and I am forced to rethink, relive, and once again, allow myself to be reborn.
    The Mystery also swathes me in darkness, especially when I stop looking for it. Other forces try to infiltrate the Mystery, filling the darkness with fear and dread, but when I am open and trusting, the Mystery descends (or rises depending on where it is traveling from) and surrounds me like a moon-lit night, where the darkness is deep, yet tinged silver with the light of the moon and the encouraging faces of the stars. It is then, when I am able to sink into the mystery and let it enfold me with silken wings, that I needn’t worry about the opinions of others and I can just be myself. Some would say this vision stems from a mother-hunger, to be returned to the womb, and I wouldn’t argue. The Mystery is the Divine Mother—Mother Nature, Mother Moon, Mother of God, Mother Lakshmi, Mother Ocean, Mother of All Flowers. And so the Mystery seeks to enshroud me with soul-nurturing darkness, not to smother and possess me, but to set me free—to allow me to be born into the true freedom that the eyes of the night animals enjoy, that the wings of the owls enjoy, that the skin of the koi and the manta rays enjoy, that the song of the crickets enjoys, that the feet of the frogs enjoy—the Mystery wants me drenched with bliss, like morning grass kissed with dew. It wants me cleansed of all fear and rage and predjudices. It wants me free to explore the dark waters that it so graciously pours unceasingly into my being—for many gifts and provisions are gathered in the folds of these night waters.
    And yes, the Mystery is the Father of Light. It radiates the dawn when I am most lost and unsure of myself. It ignites fires in my mind and heart and stories flood across the page. The Father-hunger that rumbles through my insides is also filled by the Mystery. For the Mystery is Father Sky, Father Sun, Father God, Father Mountain, Father Buffalo, and Father Whale. It is the ability to turn and face the thing I fear the most and run towards it like a lion.
    And the Mystery is the Holy Child roaming through the fields of my soul hiding treasures for me to discover, healing each bud and leaf with the touch of His hand.
    And so I seek the Mystery…I seek it because it gives me joy—this adventure of spirit and of bones, fossils and of flowers. It awakens things within me that yearn to be born, to blossom, to be ignited and to shine.
    The way to contact the Mystery best in my experience is in letting it find me. Let it sidle up beside me unannounced and slip its hand into mine; let it appear in my dreams, like an angel, and tell me secrets; let it burrow into my doubts and upturn them like soil needing to be tilled; let it thread through your voice and the Voice behind your voice—and the messages between the lines, in your eyes, in the touch of your hand.
    When I try to contain the Mystery in elaborate picture frames it disappears. Sure it likes to play with the rituals, and shine through these words, to give hints of its depth in the liturgies of the flowers, in the hymns of the valleys and the doxologies of the waves and the epiphanies of the leaping gazelle. Mostly however, the Mystery loves wonder. It loves the “ahh” of recognition, and the hush of the finger pressed to the lips of the infant who knows it all but hasn’t the words to tell. It loves when we are simply being kind to one another and wrapping one another with the silken cloak of compassion. It wants celebration and dancing, and it also wants quiet moments alone with you when you both can be together, silent, thrumming with the grace of each other’s presence.
    So when you read your holy books and when you walk out of the doors of your places of worship, know you do not have the answer for everyone. You have it for yourself in that moment to live as the essence of your faith decrees. You do not come out of your services with the right to tell others they are wrong or misguided in their search and revelations of the Mystery. You walk out with your hands cupping the tiniest flame, the littlest mustard seed…and it is yours, and it is real. Share it only when you can handle the awesome responsibility of being truly loving, truly kind, and truly compassionate not for the sake of their eternal welfare, for which you know nothing about, but share it for that moment, for that person—indeed, share it when you can look yourself in the mirror and say with all truth, “I love you.” Then turn to your neighbor and offer the fruits of the Mystery that you hold, the ones given to you, the ones you’ve discovered after years of searching. Offer them and be patient, patient like the night, patient like the horizon, patient like the lighthouse guiding you to shore. For one thing is certain about the Mystery: it is never rushed in its discovery of you, or in its opening up of its dark chambers for you to enter. And since the eyes are little mirrors, when you share your gifts, look for yourself in the eyes of the other, look for how you would like to be treated—look for the dignity and the gentleness; the unyielding, fierce wisdom. Moreover look not just for your own reflection and for the reflection of the Mystery, see–truly see the other person, see their suffering and their pain, see their little (and grand) victories so when you offer your cup of revelations, it may be welcomed and nourishing, sweet, and refreshing. Let the Mystery speak through you so that all beings may live freely and securely, nestled in the wings of Love.

    1. And Amen to you and your earnest, searching soul, Sally. The world is a better place because of you and your work.
      Warmest wishes for the new year,

  5. Wow, Jeanie…you’ve done it again…expressed what is in the hearts of many with eloquent words and clear thinking. I gave up on church at the age of 11 when my Sunday school teacher couldn’t explain why– if God was love, and Jesus loved all the children of the world–my Jewish friends where not going to Heaven. He had no response and from then on I just had to stay with my heart. As our voices grown louder on this issue, perhaps there will be a renewal of meaningful “religion” in the world!

    1. Thank you, Beth. As to your 11-year old self, I’m not the least surprised to hear that you had so much boldness and integrity at such a young age. You were a courageous trailblazer then and your compassionate and adventursome spirit has followed that calling ever since! You are a gift to me and all who know you, and I repeat what I said to Sally in the previous comment: The world is a better place because of you and your work.
      Blessings always, dear friend,

  6. Do you remember the movement that went by the name “Liberation Theology?”* When that was a viable, nay, vital, subculture within Roman Catholicism, I could deal with some other doctrinal “disconnects.”
    When it was suppressed, I was out the door.
    * I’ll bet you do, Jean. Our avatars suggest we’re in the same cohort.

    1. Hi Mark,
      I do remember hearing about it. It had a fine sound, but I didn’t know much about it as I was an Episcopalean and it didn’t show up at our church. By 1990 I was out the door too and began immersing myself in Jung and Joseph Campbell and progressive theologians like Bishop Spong, Marcus Borg, Stephen Hoeller and Elaine Pagels, so that could also account for this particulary vacant spot in my mental library shelf! But your instincts about me are right on. I do believe we share many similar interests!
      Thanks very much for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  7. I must say I feel like I am looking in a mirror, keeping my feelings regarding Christianity to myself. I do believe that religion helps many and I do not want to trample on that, but as you said there are extremists in the religions and I am afraid to confront that. I don’t think I am a warrior in that sense. However, I have not judged the peace loving Muslims for not speaking out. I understand from my own feelings how complicated it can get. For my part rather than confront I am being vocal about practicing peace, love and acceptance. I went to far as to put a co-exist bumper sticker on our car. If I am confronted by someone is feels strongly about their “God-image of judgement..” I don’t get into a debate. I listen, I nod, I smile. I practice understanding, they are where they are, they are where they need to be. I don’t know if I am helping or hurting.

    1. Dear Jazzminey,
      I believe your openness and uncertainty are your special gifts. In my experience, those who are certain of “knowing” tend to do the most damage. Living in the tension of uncertainty has got to be one of the hardest places of all, but it’s also the most healing, because then you’re respectful of every point of view. As far as I’m concerned, not having pat answers, being open to what each situation brings, and approaching everyone you meet with flexibility, kindness, compassion, and understanding is the way of mature spirituality. I suspect you don’t see that in yourself quite yet, but I want you to know that I do, and I’m pretty sure that if you keep going in this direction you will someday! I really like your style. 🙂

  8. Hi Jeanie,
    I am new to your blog and have really connected with your thoughts and ideas. This post in particular resonated with me as I had a similar “unraveling” of my orthodox experience of religion. The dark night of my soul was agonizing at first because it felt as if the foundation of my life and worldview collapsed completely. I was terrified and had never felt so utterly alone. But, I began to find books and stories of others who found themselves on the outside of their religious communities and orthodoxies. I cannot tell you how thankful I was/am that people, like yourself, had the courage to speak of their personal journeys into uncharted territory. I began to rebuild my inner life and found a new inner authority and authentic way of being that astounds me to this moment. Thank you for sharing your journey. I am pleased to find another like-minded sojourner.

    1. Tina, I’m delighted you found my blog and took the time to connect with me. I’m so glad this one spoke to you. I’ve learned through writing this blog that there are far more people “out there” who feel as you and I do than I ever imagined! This is giving me the courage to keep writing my truths because I know it’s helpful to those who have not yet found their voices.
      Your story is very similar to mine and I would suggest you might want to check out a book that treats the same theme with brilliance and is enormously reassuring. It’s called The Story of Q, is written by N.M. Freeman, and can be ordered on Amazon. Also, I have a new book coming out in June from Larson Publications that you might find very helpful, and my earlier books can still be found on Amazon too.
      My very best to you on your exciting journey to enlightenment and wholeness.
      Thank you for writing,

      1. Hi Jeanie,
        I have added both your books to my goodreads queue and will check out The Story of Q as well. I seem to gravitate to authors like yourself whose writing is infused with Jungian psychology. Do you know of James Hollis’ books? He is Jungian analyst here in Houston. Two other books that have nourished me are Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd and Karen Armstrong’sThe Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness. Peace be with you, Jeanie and I look forward to reading your books!

        1. Thanks for adding my books to your list. Yes, of course I have a few of James Hollis’s books, have met Sue Monk Kidd and read her books, and adore Karen Armstrong’s work. We are definitely on the same wavelength, Tina, and in my experience it is a truly excellent one to ride! Best, Jeanie

  9. Jean when I first started this journey I read Bishop Spong’s book, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism and just laid on my couch and let the tears of joy, fear and anger flow. It was a turning point for me. Thanks for your work. I noticed you and my daughter Tina have had an exchange. She is the greatest! I admire her courage and capacity to explore and to love others! Kay

  10. Dear Kay,
    You’re welcome! Thank goodness for Bishop Spong! HIs work was a turning point for me too. So many people in the late 80’s and 90’s thought he was a heretic and couldn’t see how affirming, accepting, loving and freeing his message was. I admire him enormously for being a courageous pioneer who, by simply speaking the truth, opened the eyes of so many of us to our hypocrisy. I’ve been trying to catch up with him in the courage and truth-telling departments ever since! It sounds like you and Tina are doing the same! It’s a pleasure to know both of you, and thank you for stopping by and taking the time to write.
    My very best,

  11. Bravo ! But what I am realizing while I am experiencing this similar intimidation, is that …. we have to speak up.. to UNLOCK thousands of others who are afraid to be the FIRST ONE to say it. The DOGMA of Christianity must be wiped away, to reveal to beauty of it’s true teaching. Christ must be resurrected from the confines of man made Christian doctrines.
    Bravo… the torment of persecution is SWEET, when you become aware of those that you’ve SET free, and knowing any ARMY of heavenly hosts travel with you.

    1. Yes, Jesus’ true message became distorted by the 4th century AD and has been so ever since. The way to change that is to change ourselves, and that’s extremely difficult to do. Wishing you luck with your efforts to live with more understanding and compassion. Jeanie

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