Wednesday, April 23, 2014

True Faith

**This is the transcript of the sermon I gave on Easter, April 20th, 2014.**



Why are we here today, sitting together in an interfaith church? Are we looking for truth? Wondering if there is a right faith or a wrong faith? We are sitting here today because we hope this place will help us understand what we are seeking. We hope this place will help us find harmony with those who may criticize or judge us, because what we believe is not the same as what they believe. Easter is a great time to look at the harmony of religion. Not the harmony religion brings to your life, but the harmony that we could have in the world if we stopped fighting over whose religion is right, and start fighting for what all religions stand for: love. God should be all about love and nothing else. And we will only find true peace when we learn to accept one another for our unique ability to understand not only God, but the universe, spirituality, the goddess, religion, sacred texts and the origins of the flying spaghetti monster.




I grew up Catholic, which is the religion my father's family had always followed. And I loved growing up Catholic, I really did. I loved the stories and the fantastical notions that there was once a man who had super powers, a man that could walk on water and heal the sick and dying. I loved this idea that this super man would come again, and that sometime in my lifetime I may be lucky enough to witness this magic. That was another thing I loved as a child, magic. And though the bible called Jesus Christ's works miracles, I had seen enough Disney movies to understand that the two words were synonyms of one another. A genie and a god seemed one in the same. After all, do we not make wishes upon God the same way we may make a wish to a genie? Please make me rich! Please help fall in love! Please heal me of this suffering.


My mom wouldn't remember this, but I once asked her why she had me baptized Catholic, when she herself grew up Methodist, and she said that she had wanted me to have the moral upbringing that would come from growing up in a Catholic church and attending a Catholic school. So I attended Holy Trinity church and Holy Trinity school and I learned that God was love. God was love. God was forgiveness, and kindness, and charity, and family and everything that made up love. And so I grew up falling in love with God. Hating having to sit through a two-hour mass on Good Friday just to watch the stations of the cross, and never understanding a word Father Nellis said on Sundays and mostly, begging my father out of going most weeks. But outside of mass, I really loved God. At seven I received a prayer book for my first communion that outlined masses and prayers to do every day in order to express love for God. I would go into my room and go through the motions and say the prayers. In the summertime I would go to a secret place outside, in thia grove of trees my stepfather had hallowed out for me inside a cluster of evergreens. I had an altar set up there with a crucifix and offerings to God. Offerings like flowers and rocks and all these things that I thought God would find cute and endearing. I guess I thought of him as a grandfather I had never known, because I had lost both my grandfathers before I was old enough to remember them. And I would do things that little girls did for old men like pick him flowers. Show him my drawings. Play checkers. God was basically my imaginary friend.


Just imagine how much better the world would be if everyone saw God the way a seven year old does.


When I was sixteen I joined my sister's Assembly of God church. I was attracted to it because of its youth group. There were tons of kids my age and we would do things like have pool parties at each others house and spend a week at Darian Lake together. I still loved God with a childlike wonder and I began to write stories about a girl who moved to a godless place but he came to her in the form of a stag and reawakened her heart. I prayed to the Virgin Mary for guidance and love. I prayed to Jesus as if he was my brother. I had a very personal relationship with every single one of them. I felt uncomfortable praying in a group setting.


And then one day, a friend who I trusted, a friend who I was close with, who called himself a Christian, told me that I was a sinner. I was a sinner because I tried to have a personal relationship with God. I was a sinner because I did not follow the way he had interpreted the bible to be. I went to nature to pray and he saw that as bad. I prayed to Mother Mary and he thought that was bad. I talked to God in private as if I knew him privately and that, I suppose, was also bad. All these things I did that I thought made me a good Christian, he told me were things that made me a bad Christian. I did not put blind faith into the bible to lead me in life. I did not believe that God would provide. I believed that I had to provide for myself and God would love me even if I screwed up. He told me that was wrong too.


I realize now that he was interpreting the bible in his own way, and believing everything his baptist pastor told him. And his baptist pastor was just telling him these things because it allowed him to feel a sense of control over his congregation. You see, in my friend's church, they were encouraged to go to bible study class and to sit through sermons where someone told them what the bible said instead of allowing them to read the bible themselves and make up their own minds about it. In my friend's church, religion was not about the personal spiritual experience. It was about following a group and doing what was popular.


Are you here today because you are following a group? Are you here today because all this new age stuff seems really cool, and trendy, and if we follow the way religious trends work, then everyone is going to be new age in a hundred years anyway?


The trend idea is probably true, but I really hope that is not why you are here. I hope that you are not here because it is Easter and on Easter any kind of church is better then no church at all.


I believed at one point, after I was told I sucked a s a Christian, that I was better off with no church at all. I went through a crises of faith that eventually lead me to my current path. Many of you out there who know me are all probably really confused about this talk of God and Jesus.


But I still love God and Jesus for what they represent to our society. Because of their message of peace and love.

So how did this message of peace and love divide us?


We decided that as humans, we were entitled to decide what was best for everything else: animals, the planet, lesser countries. But who decides those things for us? And the majority of the population decided that the only thing that could take care of us is divine intelligence. And of course gods come and go as countries come and go. And what is popular to believe in this millennium may not be popular next millennium. But part of our humanity's strength is faith, and part of humanity's failure is faith. And trying to put a face to God or gods or the lack of god or the existence of the flying spaghetti monster and Darwin's walking fish has neither helped us move forward in our evolution as better beings nor caused us to slip backwards into savagery.


I think back to my self as a child praying to God. And knowing without a doubt, that something in the universe, some kind of energy, some kind of all knowing spirit, was listening to me. Adored me. Loved me. Wanted me to grow and achieve my dreams.


I was accepted from the moment I was born! No matter how many people said they did not accept me. I was accepted. Because it is not what they think or believe. It is what I think and believe. And I believe in love.


And that is why many of you are sitting in this room, because you are seeking love. You are seeking a God that is love. You are seeking acceptance, despite your inability to conform to the popular idea of religion and God. You are here because, at some point in your life, religion was used to hurt you. It was used to segregate you from your family. It was used to make you feel bad about yourself. It was used to make you feel unloved. It was used to try to change you, because someone saw something in you that scared them and they were unable to face that fear on their own and they tried to make you feel guilt, so that they themselves would not have to feel so guilty.


But is what you believe the same as someone else? Look at the person next to you. What do they believe? Do you understand that belief? Can you agree with everything they may have to say about faith and God? Well stop wondering. Because it's none of your business.


So there was a tradition after every Sunday mass at my church, and I don't know for sure if this was common practice at all Catholic churches. But at the end of every service, after communion, after we sang, we would then turn to the people around us who had gathered to hear the word of faith and love, and we were to shake their hands and say, “Peace be with you.” Sometimes people would hug. Sometimes they'd smack each other on the back. But the message was the same.


Peace.


Nothing else.


Just peace.


Peace be with you.


In my faith now, after a prayer is said, we respond with “Blessed Be.”


Peace be.


Peace and love. All those who are religious are hippies.



So please, make a peace symbol, turn to your neighbors, embrace them one by one, and wish them peace. With any words of love you care to express.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ashley Rieflin's Personal Page for 2014 POLAR PLUNGE Canandaigua



On Saturday I will once again be participating in a charity that means a lot to me. I will be jumping into the freezing waters of Canandaigua Lake to raise money for Special Olympics of New York. I am asking for your donation to sponsor me. I ask for this donation not just so I can have bragging rights about the amount of money I was able to raise, but because the money will help someone feel love and acceptance in what can sometimes be a judgmental and unforgiving world.



I preach the word of love for everyone every day, no matter what their faith or understanding is. I believe we all deserve to fall into open arms. That we were born for a reason. So please help me raise money for a charity that means so much to me.



Thank you,

Ashley





Rieflin's Personal Page for 2014 POLAR PLUNGE Canandaigua

Monday, March 31, 2014

Do You Still Believe in Magick?




I will never grow out of magick.




I have been waiting, poised and elegant, prepared in away for the day I wake up and the belief in the world's ability to constantly shimmer with the golden light of possibility and promise has disappeared. I have written my will, arranged my possessions and have become peaceful with the thought that someday all of this will mean nothing to me. I will wake up one day, obsessed with the worries of the adult, the worries of providing for my family in the most practical manner possible. I will be obsessed with materialism. I will be convinced that my life is meant only for what society has in store for me.




But I am already providing for my family and obsessed with materialism. I am already a slave to the society that humanity has built even though I, as a human, would have the ability to change it if I chose. I am already an adult, but I believe in magick.




We waited. My family waited. My boyfriends waited. Even myself waited for the day I would stop believing that there was more to the world then the things that existed in our bubble, for we have indeed built a bubble around our existence and called it real.




What is even more sad is that I just spent an entire weekend trying to convince my boyfriend's three small children that magick is real. That men can turn into fish. That polar bears can talk. My mom yelled at me for telling them things that aren't true.


Of course my response was, “How do you know none of those things are true?”




I received an eye-roll of course. My mom has been waiting for years for me to grow out of my “Faerie Phase.” But that started when I was fourteen. I would demand books on faeries and magick and my mom thought it was ridiculous, I wasn't a kid anymore.




Now I'm twenty-six and still collecting the same knowledge, still dreaming the same dreams. I think at twenty-six, I am fully grown up. Anything I'm going to grow out of would have left me by now.




Especially a belief in magick.




How about you? Have you lost your belief in magick?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Farewell

 
Last night I lost my closest companion. More then a cat. More like a child. I had found him in a shelter when he was ten-weeks-old and he had jumped from his cage, filled with little black kittens identical to him, and into my arms. He chose me. So I took him home.


He was an energetic and mischievous kitten who always had to be touching us or playing. He would lay on our shoulders when we played video games or lay on my keyboard when I was working on my school work. Every night he'd sleep in between my legs or curled up on my pillow above my head. He was one of the smartest cats I had ever known. I taught him how to sit on command in two tries, and he never forgot.

 
 


Niko was addicted to treats and catnip and we considered putting him in rehab when he was only a year-old. The cat loved to indulge on everything he could, treats and loves. His favorite place to cuddle up was on my chest while I read a book, wrapped up in his favorite microfiber blanket.


Things changed when Niko was three and crystal blockages began to form in his urinary tract. After failing to keep this from happening to him every few weeks, we decided to invest in an invasive surgery that would ruin part of Niko's urinary tract and make it impossible for him to block again.


All was fine for a year, and then he began to suffer from chronic urinary tract infections. This is when my cat changed. A cat that was once loving now hated everyone but me. He hissed and growled whenever someone entered a room. He rarely cuddled and never purred. He would prefer to find a quiet spot above everyone, observing the room.


His life became pretty miserable. He was constantly finding ways to avoid the medications I had to feed him and we spent most of our time together fighting. He would run from the pills or drops or powders I needed to give him and he took out his stress and pain by refusing to use the litter box. I hate to say that in his last year, Niko and I felt more resentment for one another then love, and I will forever regret that.


I found out last night that his kidneys had failed and if we chose to have more invasive and painful surgeries, he would only have 50% chance of living. He and I both decided to end our fight. When I asked him if it was alright to say goodbye, there in a strange examination room at a strange vets, he began purring for the first time in weeks.


Niko was ready and in a large way I was also ready as well. I still see him everywhere. We knew he was with us in bed last night and we know that he will always be with us. He will be my spiritual sidekick for the rest of my life.


Niko's life was so short; he was not even six-years-old yet. I hope I gave him the best life in the short time he had and I will never stop feeling guilty that half his life was spent in pain, fighting endless infections. At least now he is free of a body that only ever caused him pain and is free to be the cat that he always wanted to be. My other cat Hunter will save a spot for him at the top of his cat tree, so that he can always lay in the sun.
 

Friday, March 21, 2014

It's Spring! And I'm Still Cold




 
It's spring every body! The snow is melting and the faeries are coming out to dance in the yard and in the gardens and shake the sleep from the eyes of crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths.

It is still quite cold where I live up in the far northern wastelands, beyond the wall. That doesn't mean that we aren't feeling the spring spirit! I spent my Ostara working hard to get the garden center I run all ready for business once the weather breaks. We are anticipating a busy spring. It has been such a harsh winter that everyone is going to be itching to work in their gardens and yards. I know I'm one of them. My spiritual organization, Spark of Divinity, just leased a gorgeous and historical mansion in my town known as The Garlock House. It has sat empty for the last couple years and I was put in charge of gardening and landscaping the grounds that were once famous for their rose garden. I can't wait for the ground to thaw so I can get to work.

 The forecast still shows temperatures in the 20's next week, so I still have to wait a bit longer.

After working out in the cold all day, I drove through freshly falling snow to home where I took a very hot ritual bath and did some singing meditations with my cats. My night ended by dancing around The Garlock House and crawling around its basement. I think that the faeries who have been sleeping on the grounds have heard our singing, seen our crystals and heard our prayers and they are beginning to wake up! I can't wait to dance with them come Beltane!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Ostara and I hope it was warmer, more green and less snowy where you are! What did you do? Any fun springtime traditions?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Spring Break




Juxtapoz Magazine - Painted Photographs by Shae Detar
 
 
The snow is melting and along with it my desire to do nothing but lay in bed all day, accompanied by either a book a movie or a video game, but most definitely not accompanied by writing or words. So I feel like writing a blog post again. And to give you guys some updates when it comes to the social media surrounding Magick Culture and fun stuff that only spring can bring.




First off, Magick Culture has its own Tumblr blog. I started it to get myself back into social media and blogging after months and months off from it. I have been away from the Internet for so long that I have almost forgotten how to use it! So I started a Tumblr and started getting myself into a new schedule. Usually, people are trying to find ways to wean themselves or “divorce” themselves from social media, while I have been struggling to get our relationship going again.




Taking a semester off from school did not help. I am studying Integrated Marking Communications, which is a smart way of saying “Using social media to make a living.” While I was working on my masters, I was in the thick of studying social media, advertising and communications and so immersed and fascinated by everything I was learning that I never wanted to stop. I took a semester off to work on my novel, (and to save up enough money to pay for the next semester) but instead I ended up playing lots of video games meant for twelve-year-old like Petz and Nancy Drew and watching a lot of TV shows with my boyfriend.




Don't get me wrong, I will play video games meant for a twelve-year-old until the day I die and my favorite activity will always be spending time with my boyfriend, but now that the weather is breaking I am going to spend a bit more of my free time not at my real job working on writing and blogging and everything that comes with it.




So what have you guys been up to this Winter? Did you get any projects completed, join any groups, start any new hobbies? I wish I had.