Ishna's Comings And Goings Part 1


This is a series of 3 self-indulgent blog posts about my spiritual journey thus far. Perhaps other weathered travellers along God's path may relate with it. I wrote it in the 3rd person to get myself some cognitive detachment from the story. Have a lovely day :)

Part 1
Ishna has had many comings and goings. She’s nearly 35 and has seen a number of religious paths. And the word ‘seen’ is used here quite deliberately, because her participation in those paths has been mostly limited to reading, watching, talking and contemplating.

Raised in a western country with an overculture that is nominally Christian, naturally her religious enquiries started there, in her early teens. Had that seed found properly tended soil in which to be nurtured and grow, the search for religious flourishing may have ended there. But for reasons fate (or perhaps Providence) only know, the ground was hard and bare and could not admit a Christian faith at that time.

In childhood, Ishna had not been raised with religion beyond the radiant glow of it from the surrounding culture. Her immediate family was atheist, or very nominally Christian. More was said about Mother Nature than about God. The only Bible in the house was old and in an archaic language Ishna couldn’t really understand. On the occasions when Ishna did visit church for a distant relative’s wedding, or a neighbourhood child’s baptism, she felt the kind of reverence and awe such an imposing and unfamiliar environment and spectacle can impress upon a person. But it was images and experiences without greater context, and the feeling quickly passed.

The first religious path Ishna consciously explored was neo-Paganism. In the late 1990’s, Wicca was fashionable with bookstores stocking shelves devoted to the subject, and new websites blossoming across the world. The imagery of gods and goddesses, fairies, the vague idea of an ancestral connection, the power of womanhood and autonomy of ministry were all very attractive to her. It resonated with what little spirituality she had been raised with, with Mother Nature taking centre stand.

However, once again the ground was not prepared to receive a seed of faith. In fact, this time it was even salted by ominous warnings from immediate family who were suddenly concerned that this very un-Christian spirituality would bring about evil and destruction upon the house. With this unpleasant feeling as the paper, Ishna’s Wiccan story written carefully for a number of years would remain largely as words on the page with benign study and contemplation taking the place of any real worship or practice for fear of proving the family’s warnings correct.

Even after leaving the family home in her late teens and finding some courage to be more spiritually active, the vague feeling of danger would not subside. Further, when socialising with the Wiccan community, hypocrisy presented itself (as it does within every community) and easily crushed the tender stem of the spiritual plant that had some some small purchase in the hardened ground of Ishna’s spirit.

From wholesale Wicca, with its vague notions of deity, Ishna thought to get more specific. Perhaps a more defined religious path would help. For a while she explored the reconstruction of a mediterranean paganism, devoting herself to one specific goddess. But still, this wasn’t reaching her soul, however the devotion to one particular presentation of the divine did resonate deeply with her.

Finally, Ishna recognised that Paganism’s lack of structure and scripture undermined her ability to trust it as anything other than impulsively-created fancy and guesswork. How could she safely practice something that was not tested, that people had not spent decades or centuries contemplating and refining? What was there to learn if nothing was written down and built upon? How could someone get to calculus-level religion if they didn’t even have a primary school maths book to learn from?

In frustration, she returned to the religious drawing board. Cultivating a relationship with one deity had been a rewarding experience, and Ishna’s personal ideas about the universe were clear - she was some kind of monotheist or panentheist. She also valued equality and wouldn’t be degraded as a woman. As she read lists of religions, Sikhi in particular caught her eye.

Sikhi promoted itself as egalitarian in nature. Its god had no gender and women were not (in theory) given lower status than men. It had history, modestly, and a scripture. And it was the English translation of that scripture that captured Ishna’s heart just before she turned 20. She still recalls one passage in particular, from page 679 of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji:

ਧਨਾਸਰੀ ਮਹਲਾ ੫ ਘਰੁ ੮ ਦੁਪਦੇ
Ḏẖanāsrī mėhlā 5 gẖar 8 ḏupḏe
Dhanaasaree, Fifth Mehl, Eighth House, Du-Padas:

ੴ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥
Ik▫oaʼnkār saṯgur parsāḏ.
One Universal Creator God. By The Grace Of The True Guru:

ਸਿਮਰਉ ਸਿਮਰਿ ਸਿਮਰਿ ਸੁਖ ਪਾਵਉ ਸਾਸਿ ਸਾਸਿ ਸਮਾਲੇ ॥
Simra▫o simar simar sukẖ pāva▫o sās sās samāle.
Remembering, remembering, remembering Him in meditation, I find peace; with each and every breath, I dwell upon Him.

ਇਹ ਲੋਕਿ ਪਰਲੋਕਿ ਸੰਗਿ ਸਹਾਈ ਜਤ ਕਤ ਮੋਹਿ ਰਖਵਾਲੇ ॥੧॥
Ih lok parlok sang sahā▫ī jaṯ kaṯ mohi rakẖvāle. ||1||
In this world, and in the world beyond, He is with me, as my help and support; wherever I go, He protects me. ||1||

ਗੁਰ ਕਾ ਬਚਨੁ ਬਸੈ ਜੀਅ ਨਾਲੇ ॥
Gur kā bacẖan basai jī▫a nāle.
The Guru's Word abides with my soul.

ਜਲਿ ਨਹੀ ਡੂਬੈ ਤਸਕਰੁ ਨਹੀ ਲੇਵੈ ਭਾਹਿ ਨ ਸਾਕੈ ਜਾਲੇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
Jal nahī dūbai ṯaskar nahī levai bẖāhi na sākai jāle. ||1|| rahā▫o.
It does not sink in water; thieves cannot steal it, and fire cannot burn it. ||1||Pause||

ਨਿਰਧਨ ਕਉ ਧਨੁ ਅੰਧੁਲੇ ਕਉ ਟਿਕ ਮਾਤ ਦੂਧੁ ਜੈਸੇ ਬਾਲੇ ॥
Nirḏẖan ka▫o ḏẖan anḏẖule ka▫o tik māṯ ḏūḏẖ jaise bāle.
It is like wealth to the poor, a cane for the blind, and mother's milk for the infant.

ਸਾਗਰ ਮਹਿ ਬੋਹਿਥੁ ਪਾਇਓ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਕਰੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਪਾ ਕਿਰਪਾਲੇ ॥੨॥੧॥੩੨॥
Sāgar mėh bohith pā▫i▫o har Nānak karī kirpā kirpāle. ||2||1||32||
In the ocean of the world, I have found the boat of the Lord; the Merciful Lord has bestowed His Mercy upon Nanak. ||2||1||32||​

For the next 10 years Ishna would stay with Sikhi. Sometimes it would fade into the background, as happened when her relationship ended and she met another man, who was to become her husband. She wasn’t long exploring Sikhi when her practical life interfered and the small plant of faith had to weather the storm of turmoil and lust. But it did, and it came back stronger, and by 25 Ishna was regularly attending a Gurdwara and even spent a week at a Sikh camp.

But things started to get complicated. Continued in Part 2
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I have great respect for the Old Religion of the ancient Celts and Druids; some of my distant ancestors were of such and it seemed to serve them well. Those days, though, are long gone. To be truthful, while I believe neo-pagans are well-intentioned, I find their {censored}ization of this ancient way to be shallow and disrespectful.