The Seeker’s Quest Project is my journey toward a deeper understanding of the great spiritual traditions of the world. This is the story of how the journey began:
If a date needed to be assigned to mark the inception of The Seeker’s Quest Project, it would be Sunday, April 24th, 2011 — Easter Sunday in most Christian traditions. My grandmother asked me to accompany her to the small Baptist church she attends for Easter service. Organized religion had long left a bitter taste in my mouth, the result of having grown up in a toxic environment where Christianity had been frequently used to justify intolerance, injustice, and abuse. I can still vividly remember the terror I felt as a child as my grandmother would grab me by my shoulders and violently shake me as she commanded, “in the name of Jesus, make the demons leave this child!” This was either followed by or following several strikes to my body with a metal coat hanger. This event and many other bad memories and religious wounds all came to my mind on that fateful Sunday morning two decades later, but I reluctantly agreed to go anyway, because I knew it would mean a lot to my aging grandmother.
While sitting in the pews listening to the church band perform songs which I had absolutely no emotional or spiritual connection to, something dawned on me. I realized that there are billions of people on this planet who identify themselves as Christian, and a large number of those people were sitting in their churches celebrating this day so sacred to their faith in their own unique ways. I began to wonder what differences I might find if I found myself instead sitting in the Easter service at a Catholic church, or a Lutheran church, or a Pentecostal church, or any of the other roughly 38,000 denominations found under the banner of Christianity. This was followed by an immediate sense of awe at the infinite ways that people come to seek communion with Deity.
The thoughts of Easter began to drift from my mind. As I sat there, my body remained in the church, but my mind had left to ponder the depths of spirituality present throughout the world. I began to wonder not only what the other Christians were doing on Easter, but what variety could be found within the services from week to week and tradition to tradition. And what about the ways that others connected to Divinity? The world is full of spiritual people seeking ways to come closer to the powerful presence I had come to call “God,” be they Christian, Jew, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Seikh, or followers of some other faith. It was this sense of wonder mixed with my own desire to understand mystical experiences I had undergone in the past outside of the confines of a religious tradition, which gave birth to the first phases of The Seeker’s Quest Project.
I came home from that Easter service filled with a sense of purpose and a goal. My original intent was to make a list of every church, temple, synagogue, and mosque in the area and begin to visit at least one different service every week and to keep notes about what I experienced in a private journal. I had mentioned the idea on my Facebook page and received some very supportive feedback and it was suggested that instead of keeping a personal journal, I should blog about it. I considered the blogging option seriously, but decided it was better kept to myself instead of being shared with the world. And so I set out putting together my extensive list of places of worship I was to check out in the coming months.
It wasn’t long after my first visitation when I realized that my plans were deeply flawed. I had sent emails to a handful of random houses of worship explaining what I was doing, and the first to respond was the imam of Bilal Masjid in Beaverton, OR. He graciously invited me to visit on the coming Sunday (an experience I ended up blogging about), an experience I will never forget, even though I never actually set foot inside the prayer hall. The second response I received to my inquiries came from the Sufi Circle of Portland inviting me to come visit the day following my visit to Bilal Masjid. I again attended (and blogged about it, although I was still so unfamiliar with what was happening around me that the blog post was rather short and non-informative) and was struck with the realization on my way home that my project — after only 8 days since inception and only 2 days in practice — needed to change or die.
After a couple other visitations to local mosques that week (The Islamic Center of Portland and Masjid As-Saber respectively), I began to understand that visiting a religious service is interesting, but without understanding the history, the traditions, the teachings, the sacred texts, the rituals, and the practices, the services become stripped of both their context and their deeper spiritual essence. Since my journey had began with Islam, it was only fitting that I take the leap off the cliff of comfort and embrace this faith which I knew nearly nothing about (I had spent a very short amount of time learning about some of the basics in a World Religions course I had taken a year earlier, but that hardly qualified me as knowledgeable on the topic). As I said back then:
In my quest for understanding spiritual traditions, I have quickly come to realize that visiting a few places of worship is far from enough to get any sort of even basic understanding of a tradition itself. Since my ‘Seeker’s Quest’ has started with Islam (not for any particular reason, but only because it was the imam of a local Mosque who responded to me the fastest when I was sending out emails requesting visitation information at various places of worship), this first phase of the project will remain focused on Islam.
In my quest for understanding spiritual traditions, I have quickly come to realize that visiting a few places of worship is far from enough to get any sort of even basic understanding of a tradition itself. Since my ‘Seeker’s Quest’ has started with Islam (not for any particular reason, but only because it was the imam of a local Mosque who responded to me the fastest when I was sending out emails requesting visitation information at various places of worship), this first phase of the project will remain focused on Islam (View 114 Days of Islam: Day 0 for more).
After the initial 114 Days of Islam came to a close, I moved the focus of my attention to Judaism. Judaism felt like the natural pick for the next phase for several reasons: Judaism plays the undeniable role as the foundation upon which both the Christian and Muslim faiths were built; Judaism serves as the source of information about King Solomon and the Temple he built — a topic which has long inexplicably been of deep meaning to me and which played a key role in my decision to join the Masonic fraternity a couple of years back; for some time I have found Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, to be an inescapable subject which has long found it’s way into my life, but which I haven’t had the understanding of the larger Jewish tradition necessary to understand; because Judaism is a tradition with an intense commitment to wisdom and study, values which I also hold very close to my heart; and more importanly, because Judaism is the direction my heart is pulling me in right now.
That is where I am today — 22 weeks into my exploration into Jewish spirituality. I was asked earlier this evening how I could walk in the light of HaShem (a Jewish term for God) and then move on to something else? The question was a good one, and one which I wasn’t able to answer. Perhaps the answer can be found by understanding that I ultimately believe that religion is humankind’s way of attempting to connect to and show respect for the Divine, and that it is my goal to always live my life in accordance with what I feel that Divine element is calling me to do. When I prostrated myself on the ground in prayer during my time exploring Islam, I was doing so with every ounce of my soul focused on my love for the Creator. When I pray or give blessings within a Jewish framework, I do not utter empty words but rather direct powerful words with deep meaning toward the Creator. In a PBS documentary called Beyond Our Differences, Rabbi David Rosen says, ”If God relates to us and has created us in all our diversity, then obviously there are unlimited ways of relating to God.” The Seeker’s Quest Project is, if nothing else, my own personal need to discover some of those ways. Pondering the question also gave birth to this post. It is my hope that by better understanding the events that led to the birth of The Seeker’s Quest Project, it may be a little bit easier to understand the place where the project is coming from.
For more information on my spiritual exploration, visit The Seeker’s Quest Project.