“Breaking Up” with Organized Religion? Don’t “Dump” God!sam
by Cynthia MacGregor
I was born and raised Jewish, and from seventh grade on I was very observant, never missing a Saturday morning service. At age 14 I developed what would much later be diagnosed as Tourette Syndrome, although at the onset it was mis-diagnosed as “nerves” or “psychosomatic.” I twitched, and I made uncontrollable noises in my throat.
My preferred seat in the temple had been in the front row until the onset of the Tourette’s, at which time I took to sitting in the rear, where I would be less conspicuous. But one morning I once again took my place in the front row. The twitching and noises grew worse.
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Just before the sermon, the cantor leaned over the pulpit (under orders from the rabbi—although I didn’t know that at the time) and asked me, in front of the entire congregation, if I would mind moving to the rear. Thoroughly humiliated, I walked to the back of the temple with my head down, too embarrassed to face any of my fellow congregants. After the service was over, I stayed in my seat, my face still lowered, until there were no more feet walking past in the center aisle.
The cantor was waiting for me. “I’m sorry!” he apologized. “The rabbi made me do it.” I broke down sobbing, and he held me and comforted me for at least 10 minutes until I regained my composure.
When the rabbi appeared, for some reason I apologized to him. It should have been the other way around. “I’m sorry if I disturbed your service,” I said.
“You certainly did!” was his reply. I once again began sobbing uncontrollably, and it took another 10 minutes for the cantor to console me and comfort me.
I had always thought that if I wasn’t welcome anywhere else with my “condition,” at least I was welcome in God’s house. That day I learned differently, and that was the beginning of a period of agnosticism for me. I never became a full-blown atheist; I just wasn’t sure there was a God. If there was, how could he let such a thing happen?
Tourette Syndrome wasn’t my only problem. I also suffered from severe anxiety attacks. I didn’t know what they were or that they had a name, and I thought I was the only person who suffered from these terrible bouts of panic. At age 18, I moved from the suburbs into New York City. In those days there was no dearth of reasonably priced apartments to choose from. I decided on a second-floor walk-up, and eventually introduced myself to my next-door neighbor.
Of all things, she turned out to be an editor, a departmental editor at a major magazine—who more than that could an aspiring writer be impressed by?—and it turned out she had anxiety attacks too. She told me they had a name. She told me other people besides her and me had them. I could have chosen any other apartment. Maybe there really was a God after all.
My faith in God was renewed, and strengthened as time went on, but I still had no use for organized religion, not after the way the rabbi had made the cantor humiliate me. I prayed to God whenever and wherever I felt the desire to communicate with Him. I tried to remember to say, “Thank you,” at least as often as I said, “Please.” I thanked our Creator and Source for everything from the wonders of Nature to days when I felt better than usual. I thanked Him when, in my early thirties, my Tourette Syndrome was finally properly diagnosed. I thanked Him profusely when a doctor, taking a psychopharmacological approach, relieved me of my anxiety attacks and agoraphobia.
I didn’t return to the faith of my youth or any other. Classifying myself as a Deist—a believer in God with no affiliation with any organized religion—I talked to my Creator and Source whenever and wherever I felt impelled to do so. I prayed in my car and in my bathtub, in my kitchen and in my bed, in the park (lots of inspiration for prayer there), and in any other location when I felt a need to say, “Please,” “Thank you,” or convey any other message to the One who I now was sure existed, despite my earlier doubts.
Eventually I moved to Florida. My new friends knew my backstory, including my feelings about organized religion. A business venture, which involved two of these friends, required good recording equipment. One of the friends said we could use the equipment in a church at which he played piano on Sundays. I was reluctant. “You’d like this church,” both friends said. “You’d be comfortable here.” They urged me to come to services one Sunday. And finally I did.
The denomination was Unity, a branch of New Thought. To cut a long story short, not only did I become a fully involved member of the church, but I went on to study and become ordained as a New Thought minister. Later, for reasons irrelevant to this story, I switched affiliations and joined another New Thought church, this one Metaphysical, where I am a board member, a volunteer coordinator of a monthly psychic fair, and where I substitute in the pulpit whenever the minister is out of town or ill.
The take-away from all this? I am glad that during the decades of estrangement from organized religion, I did not estrange myself from God. I am glad that I maintained belief in Him, once I found myself living next to that editor, and I am glad I stayed in prayerful contact with Him. Although I am very happy now in my relationship with my church, I aver that we don’t need to attend a house of worship, of any faith, or to belong to any organized religion, in order to be in touch with our Creator and Source, who is everywhere. We just need to reach out to Him and align ourselves with Him, and to see His handiwork in every glorious sunrise or sunset, in every small miracle that transpires in our lives, and in all the good things that happen to us.
God is great. God is ours. God is there to communicate with.
You may shun organized religion, but don’t give up on God.
About the author:
Cynthia MacGregor is a freelance writer/editor, the author of over 100 published books including Everybody’s Little Book of Everyday Prayers (http://msipress.com/book_titles/everybodys-little-book-of-everyday-prayers/ ), and an ordained New Thought minister. She lives in South Florida and officiates at weddings, funerals, baby blessings, house blessings, pet memorials, and other occasions. She avers, “There’s no one in the world I’d want to trade lives with.” Visit her website at www.cynthiamacgregor.com.