When my brother became a Muslim, he meant it. And not because he had fallen in love with a Muslim girl (he was well on his way before then) but because Islam fit him somehow, connecting the spiritual dots still floating outside him. Still, when he told me, I was devastated.
Instead of respecting his right to explore what he needed to (and trusting the greater wisdom that was guiding his path) I railed against it.
My own anger with religion—ANY religion—kept me from sharing his joy. And it’s no wonder. Raised in fundamental Christianity since the age of three, I experienced a form of control and punishment that left me bitter and wounded for years. It took me decades to reclaim my mind after being programmed to believe I was bad and filthy with sin. I didn't want this for my brother. So when he shared his excitement about Allah, I reacted with shock and then anger. My hostility hurt him deeply and our relationship suffered. I poured my sadness into journals. And this is what came up from the page:
Trust your brother
Trust the process of Life
I decided to examine my own painful thoughts and realized a greater lesson was emerging if I was willing to learn it.
Slowly, I began to honour his right to choose his own path.
I let go of my idea of who I felt he should be and the rift between us healed. But then, another shift in his life. A painful separation. A divorce. A crisis of faith. I flew to go see him so he wouldn't be alone on his wedding anniversary. “How do you want to mark this day?” I asked, knowing the importance of ceremony in his life. “By doing the two things I haven’t done in eight years,” he said. “I want to eat pork and drink wine.”
"I want to eat pork and drink wine."
This scared me. I didn’t want to casually enable the undoing of a belief system. I didn’t want to contribute to the landslide that had uprooted his faith. “Are you sure?” I questioned. Damon was sure. And so the preparations began. Wine was purchased, glasses unpacked, candles lit, and pork was ordered. Not bacon (as many others have done when breaking their religious vows) but ribs in all their fat, glossy glory. When the boxes arrived, Damon put them on the counter and opened the lids. The scent of hickory and meat filled the room. He inhaled deeply, drawing the invisible porky particles into his body before loading our plates with ribs and dark mop sauce. I poured the wine and we toasted to his new life, come what may. And then, the first bite. My brother closed his eyes and took the tender flesh of the rib into his mouth and I watched him eat . . . Like an animal. And I don't mean all messy and grunting-like (although there was certainly some of that).
I mean without remorse or guilt.
Animals don't have a verbal part to their mind. They don't make up stories about what's right and wrong. They simply partake in life. They feed themselves. Humans are the ones who make things sinful.
We're the ones who created a need for punishment. That’s why we lacerate ourselves for eating pizza or cake.
It's why we’re at war with ourselves.
When we make something bad or forbidden, we separate from the part of us that desire it. In an effort to be GOOD, we deny our true feelings. And that’s a problem. Because any time a desire or emotion is denied, it gets shoved down into the subconscious. And the more hidden it is, the more it controls us unconsciously. Maybe you’ve heard of the Shadow Self? This is the dark cellar in our psyche where we store everything that's not approved by our parents, our culture, our religion, our gender, our mates, and our society. For most people, that means anger, sexual preference, selfishness, and other normal feelings that are considered negative. By locking our dark side away, we keep the truth from ourselves. But here’s the thing about truth. It wants to be known. So it shows up as sickness. Or passive-aggressive behaviour. Or odd slips of the tongue. The more we suppress our shadow self, the more it pushes back, needing to be expressed. Which is why the night of pork and wine was so significant. By acknowledging his true desires, Damon was allowing himself to be whole. And wholeness is what the self truly craves. Robert Johnson, author of Owning Your Own Shadow, says it best:
"The place where light and dark begin to touch is where miracles arise."
Here's the miracle I witnessed that night. My brother ate and drank without shame. And without that shame, the cycle of sin, guilt and punishment couldn't be activated. He simply enjoyed the ribs and the wine. He bravely make a new choice at a time in his life that required one—allowing himself to be acceptable exactly as he was. In my books, that's true salvation. So . . . if you find yourself torn between who you are and who you THINK you should be, maybe it's time to make peace with your Shadow. You're not bad, my darling. As Anita Moorjani found out in her near death experience, you are perfect just the way you are. You are complete. Whole. Innocent. Wonderful and utterly magnificent. Despite what you’re thinking or feeling. You already ARE everything you want or need to be. There’s nothing to fix, change, heal or improve. All you need to do is embrace your WHOLE self without shame. And if that means eating the forbidden fruit, then maybe it's time to take that bite.
Sending you so much love,