A bumper sticker I spotted on the freeway the other day gave me a laugh. “Episcopalians — worship like Catholics, think like hippies.”
The quip caricatures my fellow Episcopalians and me surprisingly well. We are moved by beautiful liturgy and hymns as a channel to feeling God’s presence. Christmas and Easter services can be rich with ornate vestments, beautiful flowers, and even incense. The only cathedral more beautiful is nature itself.
Hippy-thinking is a little harder to peg, but for me it means love as the basis for action. Love one another as Christ first loved us, according to John’s Gospel in the New Testament. Hippies in the ideal were seekers of a better way, such as peaceful resolution to conflict.
At our best, religious people are all seekers. Jews, Christians and Muslims (“People of the Book”) seek the Creator in their interpretations of the Bible.
Ancient Jews authored the Hebrew Bible with an emphasis on justice still practiced by many modern Jewish people. Christian Bibles include the Hebrew scriptures plus the New Testament, which interprets the text toward love. Islam’s Koran, also rooted in the Hebrew Bible, underscores obedience as the means of seeking God.
The People of the Book are seekers of God; other religious or spiritual people seek the Creator, truth, or even the self. Some Eastern religions, including 4,000-year-old Hinduism, are seekers of dharma. This can be loosely interpreted as ways to govern individual conduct that encourage righteous, meritorious, or moral behavior.
Older still are Native American religions. Diverse among themselves, they tend to envision the agents of creation not in the form of a human but as a natural force like wind or as wildlife, such as coyote and raven. The natural world — land and the environment —permeates all aspects of American indigenous life.
Traditional African religions are also a way of life. Like Native American religions, spiritual beliefs are primarily oral traditions, resulting in their resiliency over time. They have proved dynamic, inclusive, and adaptive to the dominant Christian and Muslim traditions imposed later.
Religion informs everything from politics to diet and dress to death. “Seeking” rituals honor transitions from childhood to adulthood and then senior status.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports 48.5 percent of Santa Barbarans as being religious. A search on “What percent of Santa Barbarans are spiritual?” lists the same Census sources. My hunch is that more Santa Barbarans consider themselves spiritual (a superset including religious).
Santa Barbarans are seekers as well. The South Coast’s natural beauty gives rise to many kinds of spiritual seekers.
Until the Tea Fire and Jesusita Fire, Santa Barbara was home to several religious centers including Mt. Calvary Monastery, St. Mary’s Retreat House, Casa de Maria Retreat Center, and St. Mary’s Seminary. Their absence is still felt keenly by locals as well as seekers who came from away.
There are also seekers of different kinds. They scale mountains and worship in the waves, like paddle boarders, surfers, kite surfers, sailors, rock-climbers, and hang-gliders. What do they think about as they glide, climb, and surf? I know I do my best thinking when I am walking, hiking, or biking the mountain roads. Nature is my best teacher.
This holy season and new year beginning, many Santa Barbarans will examine their lives from the pew, the mountains, and the sea. This holy-day season, consider yourself a seeker. As Socrates advised, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at email@example.com. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.