Finding Meaning in the Journey

A guest post by Jaala Hemingway

After finishing the Atheopagan cleric’s course, we were given an assignment to go to a beautiful and sacred place, preferably in nature. About a week after the course, on the day I took off for May Day/Beltane, I decided to go to Maxwell Falls – a moderate but fairly short hike close to my house. My intention was to keep the hike short to give myself time to figure out my ritual. If you read no further – the hike became my ritual.

Shortly into the hike, I took a wrong turn. This path felt the most straightforward and I didn’t stop to check whether it would be the correct one. I had cursorily looked at the map at the entrance, hoping that would be enough guidance. This path was pleasant, filled with wonderful smells and beautiful sights, but ultimately, it wasn’t the path I had set out for. Upon reflection this began to feel to me like an analogue to my spiritual/religious life. I dived very deeply into Christianity as a young teenager, not least because it felt like the most straightforward path. It gave me some very important things – a path to self-love, for example (which later became contradictory and very damaging), but it also wore me down very intensely.

On my hike, I came to a place where I had reception and hastily skimmed the website where I read about the route I had intended to choose, and thought I understood, and so I started down that path quickly. It was a short time before I had a bad feeling that this was not the right way. Lo & behold, I checked the site again, and sure enough, I was supposed to be going upstream, not downstream. I turned myself around and started again. This felt a bit more akin to my angry atheist phase of my life. A phase where I was especially angry at Christians and sought to discredit a lot of Biblical teachings and writings, if only privately. I had a wake up call during this phase of my life by my partner, where I realized that the dogmatism and exclusionary thinking that ultimately broke my ability to believe in Christianity was not something I wanted to carry into my post-Christian life.

Back to the hike, I thought I had found the right path and started to travel on it with renewed vigor, excited to experience what it had to offer. It took longer for the doubt to set in this time, as I thought the sheer number of paths I had tried must have meant I had now put myself on the right one just through the process of elimination. I’m sure you’re shocked that it was not the right path! By this point, I was getting tired, and had now opened a trail map app on my phone and discovered this wasn’t the right path either. I turned around to follow the right path, with very routine checks of this app to try and be sure that this path was the actual path I wanted along the way. 

This feels somewhat similar to how I’ve come to Atheopaganism. I have been cautious and methodical and reserved about it. I’ve read posts in the Facebook group, observed community behavior, partaken in some group activities, all to try to see what it’s all about. I’ve taken a both skeptical and compassionate approach (I hope!) to the question, “Who is this Mark guy and what’s he about? How does the group relate to him?”. So far, nothing I’ve observed has felt like there are systemic issues – instead, it feels like a lot of kind, smart, caring people intentionally making and inserting and gleaning meaning both together and alone (but often alone together). It feels really nice!

And, I’m writing all of this from the side of the waterfall I came to see in the first place. This is the right path for me, at least for now.

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