By Clare Stern, Better Together @ UNF President, UNF Interfaith Center Student Assistant
Time and time again I attend the interfaith center events not only as a friend and ally to those speaking, but to learn more about the “story of us” and ‘story of self.” Erika Lee’s story washed over the room as she unwrapped her story of self into the story of us.
At a recent Coffee and Conversation where Erika was the speaker, she said, “Our stories fill our cup of energy and the connections you make. You impact the world through the good energy and stories.”
Isn’t that intriguing? In a world where we have become more connected yet more polarized;the power of an individual’s thoughts and emotions having the potential to drastically change a life or start a movement? Erika self-identifies as a Non-theistic Pagan. She has molded into this identity through personal adversity and a deep sense of compassion for others and their well-being.
Raised in the Baptist church, Erika recalled that the connection to God for her was not in the traditional sense that her family or community identified with. She connected to God through the breeze and nature. After a long struggle (18 years to be exact) with her spiritual self, she came to the conclusion that she didn’t need to subscribe to a “higher power,” or a deity. She simply needed to listen to what made her feel most content and most truthful to herself. While listening and fiercely scribbling down notes, when Erika made the statement of feeling out of place, I stopped everything and just inhaled the organic words that she spoke out into the world. I realized in that moment what she said is very much how I engage and act out my own story with a slight twist.
I self-identify as a Spiritual-Episcopalian most days and others a Spiritual-Humanist. The way I see beauty in life is by feeling the sunlight and breeze on my face and having Christ-like interaction with other humans through service and conversation. By Christ-like interactions I mean a shared kindness, compassion, and love for my neighbor. From my view I think that could also be perceived as positive energy shared with others.
We both exercise a meditation of sorts. While Erika’s involves “black candles, items from the ocean, and herbs” mine does not, but the art of meditation for both of us is used for centering. We regain our spiritual selves when we surrender our stressors. Although I do not use some of the physical articles she does, I recognize there is a great deal of similarity. For both of us there is an important recognition of the individual “being tiny in the grand scheme of things (as Erika put it).” Just as the small movements of waves are hitting the shoreline, the outgoing tides that carry new things to other places do not know what is happening elsewhere. The sharing of one connection (or in my case one body and blood) is something that everyone can relate to; we are human. Erika’s narrative is not just her story of self. It’s the story of us.
When asked about what her worldview says about giving to others in the world, Erika’s response was to “help each other in the ways we can when we can. We are responsible for each other.” Despite having different views on how we practice our spirituality I recognize that we do agree on one thing- the connectivity we share with each other, and to each other, and the ever-lasting stories of us that we leave in the world.