The Business of Dying by Christina Knowles

seidoryu As an atheist, I shudder at the thought of a chaplain at my bedside when it’s my time to die. However, today I was privileged to listen to a truly profound and helpful chaplain guide someone close to me on “the business of dying.”

Shortly after being informed that she had very little time left, the chaplain arrived, and instead of a long dissertation on theology, endless prayers, or reading cliché bible verses, he merely accepted her word that she was confidant of her eternal life and moved on to the harder part, the present.

At first, I was concerned. He seemed pushy and inconsiderate. When he asked her what she was feeling, and she replied, “It is what it is,” he pushed, aggressively.

He led her through each possible emotion, explored them, talked about them, and acknowledged their validity. He said it was okay to grieve your own life, the disappointment, the lost time, the things that you will never be able to do, time with loved ones stolen. He asked about fear, not fear of the afterlife, but fear of the actual dying and fear about leaving loved ones behind. He validated all emotions someone might feel and empathized.

Next, he asked her what she wanted. He said she didn’t have to answer now, and that it didn’t have to be one big thing, but that she should think about that every morning when she wakes up and ask, “What do I want today?” He explained that he meant real things, good things like asking for a hug or asking to have a conversation about a memory or about what someone means to her. He encouraged her to go deep inside herself everyday to really get in touch with her heart’s desire. He said to not let these things go by undone. If she needs to say something to someone or just relive a memory with someone, ask for it. If she needed closure, to fix a relationship, or address a regret, she should have that conversation.

The chaplain told her that part of the business of dying was to celebrate the life she’s lived. He said to reflect on her life’s accomplishments, things she was particularly proud of, things she enjoyed, and things that she did right. He told her she lived a life that deserved acknowledgement.

He ended his counsel by asking her if she wanted anything else from him. She asked him to pray with her. He laughingly responded, “Is that what you want, or do you think that’s what I want to hear?” She said she did want it, and his prayer was beautiful, specifically saying that she was in control of her life and how she lived it to her last breath.

He was brilliant and profound, comforting and respectful. I thought, This is what a chaplain should do. So many times, I’ve heard the well-meaning pastor spout clichés and seemed more concerned with reinforcing religious beliefs than dealing with real emotions and concrete issues. I always cringed at the shallow recitation of the typical platitudes. Finally, a chaplain who knows what to say to the dying, what they need to know in their last days, what not to forget in the days to come. The compassionate and practical advice I heard today cut through all the nonsense of avoidance. People don’t need vapid dictums when they face the end of their lives; they need something real, something meaningful and honest to go about the business of dying. –Christina Knowles

photo via seidoryu.com

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Signs of Life, A Memoir in Poems

I have always wanted to write my memoirs, the story of how I got from there to here. Perhaps, I just need to explain it to myself or to those I love. Perhaps, I need to leave a legacy for those who knew me after I’m gone. At any rate, I find that whenever I try to express my deepest feelings and my most profound experiences, I do it through poetry, so here it is, my memoir in poems.

This collection of eighty-one poems is a series of reflections of moments throughout a life lived. Some are joyful, some tragic, but all are heartfelt and real.

“Christina Knowles is a poet who is not afraid of delving into the inner world of symbolism, emotion, and dream imagery. Signs of Life is a revealing journey into the soul, a look at the inner self to which we can all relate.”

Available in paperback and Kindle Edition on Amazon.com

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So What the Heck Is a Secular Bohemian? by Christina Knowles

tree-huggerWhat Is a Secular Bohemian? I am. I am non-spiritual (secular), and I am unconventional, artistic, and a bit of a hippie (Bohemian). How do these two descriptors coexist in one body?

Well, I may seem like a bundle of contradictions to some. After all I read the Tarot, I celebrate pagan and Christian holidays, I meditate and practice yoga, I eat organic and respect animals, I use alternative and Eastern homeopathic medicines, and I light incense at my Buddha altar.

On the other hand, I don’t believe in gods, heaven, hell, an afterlife, magic, ghosts, reincarnation, the soul, or the supernatural, in general. I accept the current views of the scientific community, and I like to have hard evidence to support the things I believe. I use reason and don’t just accept anything I hear.

So why would a rational person with no spirituality be interested in all of these questionable practices? Well, I consider myself somewhat of a cultural pagan, just like people who aren’t Christians celebrate Christmas. It’s fun and enriches my life. Celebrating the cycles of the earth and the culture of my ancestors enhances my sense of where we came from, what they believed, how they lived, and it’s full of joy and creativity.

I do understand that many non-theists think that all religions are harmful because they promote irrational thinking, but if we take the positive cultural customs in full awareness that there is nothing magical about them, why do we need to toss it all? Most of us give gifts and have a Christmas tree in December, but we don’t have to lie to our children about the existence of Santa Claus.

Meditation, yoga, many essential oils, and nutrition as medicine have all been studied and shown to have positive effects on health. Some doctors are now prescribing essential oils to treat symptoms and disease. For example, frankincense has been tested in the lab has been found to have a positive effect in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and even cancer. Don’t get me wrong, if I need medicine, I’ll take it, but if I can treat it naturally without experiencing the string of side effects associated with pharmaceuticals, I’d rather.

And I know organic foods have been highly criticized by skeptics as well. I don’t have a problem with the concept of genetically modifying food to feed the world or to create a drought-resistant crop, but I do object to genetically modifying food in order to withstand dousing it with proven toxic chemicals like Roundup. I also prefer that my meat is not tortured before slaughter. I do realize that all organic foods are not all they are advertised to be. That’s why I prefer to support local family farms whenever possible. I also think that our food source should be more about health and survival than about corporate profits.

As far as my Buddha and incense rituals go, they simply put me in a relaxed state and have nothing to do with a spiritual concept. It just sets the mood for my meditation—and it smells good too.

And although I never get a flu shot, I am not an anti-vaccer. I guess I just don’t get why freethinkers are so closed-minded when it comes to these things. Things like acupuncture and other Eastern medicines are being researched and positively tested more and more frequently. To just dismiss these things out-of-hand without inquiring about their validity is being skeptical to the extreme. You know, all science is pseudo-science before it is has been tested and accepted, and we actually do not understand everything about our world, at least not yet. I’m not suggesting we believe every new idea put forth by the general public, but neither should we condemn something without enough information. Don’t knock it till you try it.

So, I guess being a secular Bohemian means being open to ideas and experiences that don’t necessarily conform to only proven scientific conventions while not being subject to irrational beliefs about them. And instead of trying to fit into a secular box or a Bohemian one, I accept my complexities and even embrace them. So peace out and merry part!—Christina Knowles

Photo via EcoEquine/Horse Hippie

Blessed? Aren’t You Special by Christina Knowles

blessed_1063_1280x1024I am so tired of hearing the constant gushing of ‘I’m so blessed because God . . .” Fill in the blank with all the nonsense people say was God’s gift to them—nice house, new car, health, a good job, etc. I don’t think they know how rude and offensive this is taken in light of the millions who are not “blessed,” such as the homeless, the sick and dying, the children currently being molested and abused. Yet, God chose to bless you and ignore them. Aren’t you special.

Sure, many people mean this just as a humble way of saying that they don’t deserve all they have received in life, but many people really do mean that out of all the suffering people in the world, they were chosen to get special treatment. Usually, they connect this to some behavior they have done to trigger God’s blessing. Disguised as humility, they are really saying that they do deserve this special treatment.         blessedThey often state it something like this: “God is so GOOD! Ever since I turned my life over to Him and followed his will, things have all been falling into place for me!” The other one that is popular is giving credit to other people for praying God into submission to their will. It goes something like this: “Sending prayers to you ASAP! We have all our prayer warriors on this!” implying that God will have no choice but to comply with “prayer warriors” fighting the battle for God against Satan. Apparently, God either needs permission to stop Satan from wreaking havoc, or he’s not capable of doing it on his own. Maybe he just needs the popular vote from his followers to decide that finding a missing child is worth his attention.

Of course, if things come out in their favor, yay God! He is soooo GOOD!!! Yeah? Well, what about everyone he didn’t rescue? They didn’t have enough Facebook “Amens” or “Sending prayers!” posted, I guess.

And what happens when after all this prayer, they are not “blessed?” They don’t get a new job, their car breaks down, they can’t pay the rent, and the doctor gives the worst news? Are they suddenly quiet? Ashamed that they must have done something to deserve this? Confused, wondering why God has deserted them? Or like, Job, do they give the standard, “Who am I to interfere in God’s plan? He gives and he takes away.”       Some have these reactions, while others continue the vigilant prayers, never wondering why they choose to worship such a capricious and cruel god, even though they would never treat their own children like this. Struggling to make meaning of suffering, they ignore the obvious conclusion. The things that happen to them are merely a result of a combination of random chance, coincidence, and the natural consequences of the choices they and those around them make.

Just as the ancient Greeks were desperate to explain the droughts and floods, the lightning in the sky, and the numerous uncontrollable aspects of their lives, we are desperate to make meaning of tragedy and chaos, so we too, invent myths to explain them and to comfort us. But they don’t comfort us. In fact, they are disgusting and harmful.

To those who believe in this god, is this myth you perpetuate, this god, the same god whom you think is going to send your child to live in everlasting flames merely for being unable to believe something for no good reason? Is this the god that would let a child be raped and murdered in order for those around him to learn some sort of twisted lesson? Is this the god that would allow free reign of ultimate evil for a time to separate the wheat from the chaff? Ask yourself, would a good parent let one child jump in front of a moving truck to teach the other child to look both ways? Would a loving parent let home invaders in to terrorize and kill just to see who finds the faith and strength to not give up? This is one twisted god you serve. And that’s what I think of every time you post how blessed you are.

Stop saying that when you do things right, or when you experience random good “luck” that God is blessing you. Stop saying that every time you have a good day, miss all the red lights, and find a parking space that God has blessed you. Stop saying that your expensive house, good job, and new car are the results of God’s goodness and love for you. Not only is it an affront to common sense, it’s cruel. How do you think that makes the abused woman feel? The starving child? How are they supposed to take it when you credit God for giving you a big house, a nice job, and lots of friends? If God would really do all that for you, why wouldn’t he throw this molested or neglected child a break? So that’s what some of us are thinking every time we read your ridiculous posts. Look, no one has a problem with you being grateful, but stop acting like you are chosen to miraculously be rescued from the suffering that God chooses to ignore in everyone else’s lives. Please.—Christina Knowles

Alone, I Thrive by Christina Knowles

I wrote this poem in 2009 during a time of struggling to believe in the unbelievable, trying to make sense of a cruel or absent god with no evidence to support that this god existed at all, and finally coming to the realization that God was not cruel; he just did not exist. This was not the beginning of my struggle, nor was it the end, but looking back on this time, I realize that facing the reality that God probably does not exist, I, indeed, am thriving. I say “probably” because I cannot know he does not exist, but I have no reason to believe he does, and living my life based on my best assessment of reality has freed me to blossom and grow with the confidence that I won’t drown when the waves of trouble crash against me; I can swim.

Ocean Storm

via free-download.com

“Alone, I Thrive”

Once again I’m drowning

With You nowhere to be seen

Can’t You see I’m floundering

In the open sea?

 

In my doubt I’m sinking,

Not knowing if You’ll come.

I just can’t help but thinking

More faith would help me some.

 

Could it be Your purpose

To let me drown again?

I think You are not merciless;

There must be a higher end.

 

I reach out to You, Oh Lord,

Grasping at Your hand.

I can see the distant shore,

The fabled Promised Land.

 

I feel Your hand is slipping

There’s nothing I can do.

I feel my heart is ripping,

But Your plan was all You knew.

 

Gazing at the inky sky,

I see the moonlight shine.

I tell myself I shouldn’t cry

For Your will be done, not mine.

 

I tell myself, someday, You will let me see

The purpose in Your plan,

And I’ll understand why You let me

Sink, slipping from Your hand.

 

I’ll understand Your absence

In time I’ll comprehend

Why You don’t come to my defense

No doubt your reason will transcend

 

The silence from You is deafening

Abandoned once again

My hope in You is lessening

My withdrawal from You begins

 

I don’t blame You for Your failure to assist

Me, You are unable to respond

You simply don’t exist

I should have known it all along

But the idea— impossible to resist.

 

So alone in the water, I struggle to survive

Rising to the surface, surging

Forward, I arrive

To the shore emerging

In tact, alone, I thrive

—Christina Knowles (2009)

What I Miss About Being a Christian by Christina Knowles

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Photo via deviantart.com

Since I’ve become an atheist, I have had to give up a lot of things I was used to. When giving up religion, God, an entire belief system, of course, there are going to be major changes.

For example, I gave up some prejudices. It’s not like I had obvious prejudice in my life, but I remember feeling sorry for people whom I thought didn’t “know” the truth like I did. When people asked why so many horrific things happen to good people in a world with a supposedly loving god, I thought they just didn’t understand God like I did. After all, what about free will or helping us to grow our characters? I ignored how in the bible, God didn’t really condone free will at all. I mean, is it really free will when you are condemned to everlasting torment if you refuse his commands? That doesn’t even fit our legal definition of free will. At the very least, it would be considered coercion or extortion. And I tried not to think about how a child getting cancer could possibly have a positive purpose. After all, to a Christian, this life doesn’t really matter as much as the afterlife.

Speaking of the afterlife, I had to give up ignoring this life in favor of an unknown possible life after death. As an atheist, I have to face that this life is all I have, so this makes me appreciate each day, see the beauty of now, and make the most of the time I have here instead of dreaming of a day when I get to die and go to some better place. To be honest, heaven never sounded that appealing to me anyway. I’m glad this is the only life I have, and I’m going to make the most of it.

Without God, I also had to give up being a child, being told what to do and how to do it. And without the hope of heaven, I had to give up selfish reasons for being good. Now, I have to decide for myself what I believe is right and wrong and how best to live out my ideals. When I do something for someone, I don’t think there is some invisible father watching me, counting up my good deeds in order to lavish reward upon me in the afterlife. I do it just because it is the right thing to do, it is kind, and I want to live in a kind world with the least amount of suffering for my fellow inhabitants of the earth. And who really wants to remain a child all her life? Aren’t children supposed to grow up someday and think for themselves? Apparently, not God’s children.

I also had to give up a lack of self-esteem and guilt. Being told you are nothing without God, a seemingly cruel and vindictive tyrant, can damage your self-image. Worshipping anyone, including an imaginary being, takes a toll on your self-perception. I’ve always had an issue with the idea of worship anyway. If there were a perfect being, wouldn’t he be too perfect to have an ego problem? If pride is a sin, then the god of the bible, if he existed, would be the biggest sinner of all. Why would he feel the desire to strike people dead and send them to hell for not bowing down to him? Does he have a self-esteem problem? He sounds worse than any monarch I’ve ever read about. But now, I don’t have to believe that something is inherently wrong with me just for being born human. I don’t have to tell myself that I deserve hell when, really, I never did anything to deserve eternal torment. If God created me and chose to make me with flaws, what gives him the right to judge me for it? And expect me to bow down and thank him for the privilege of not being tortured for eternity?

So, I had to give up fear of punishment, especially for thinking. I can’t make myself believe something so flawed and unbelievable. I can’t make myself believe something which has no basis in the reality I experience every day, and I can’t force myself to have the faith God supposedly requires to avoid his wrath. Now that I don’t fear my doubts, but instead embrace skepticism, the world just makes more sense, and I sleep just fine at night. People ask me, “What if you’re wrong?” Good old Pascal’s Wager. The common atheist answer is “What if you’re wrong about the particular religion you chose; what if you chose the wrong one?” But my answer is that if I’m wrong, God will have a lot of explaining and apologizing to do, and if his answers aren’t good enough, I probably won’t even offer him my forgiveness.

Furthermore, I had to give up pretending I don’t have a mind. I don’t have to pretend that the earth is six thousand years old, and that women were created as an afterthought, just to keep men company. I don’t have to pretend to believe that two of every animal on earth fit on a boat, or that we have different languages because God confused them because he was afraid people could actually build a tower to heaven, or that a man lived in a fish for several days because he refused to be a missionary (where’s his free will?). I don’t have to believe that it was a good thing for God to impregnate a barely pubescent, scared virgin teenager or that it was right to accept the blood of an innocent to atone for the sins of the guilty. Now, I can use my brain to think and say that it is actually silly to believe the unbelievable.

But the most important thing I’ve given up is confusion. The entire time I was a Christian, I was completely confused. When I first became a Christian, I wanted to learn all I could. I read, and I studied, but that’s the worst thing you can do if you want to stay a good Christian. The more I learned, the more I realized that the bible was full of contradictions, the god of the bible was a lying, self-centered villain with a maniacal ego, and that Christianity was just another cult like every other religion, based in no more reality than Scientology or the worship of Odin. Now that I am not a Christian, the world seems to make more sense, and I am not constantly in a state of anxiety over trying to figure it out.

So, I gave up my stress over making sense of religion, and with it, I gave up my conditioning—what I was taught from birth to accept without question or logic, what my culture decided I should believe, and I learned to see the world without the blinders of indoctrination. I’ve given up the chains of blind belief, and I feel truly free for the first time in my life.

So what do I miss about being a Christian? I miss out on wasting my life on a delusion. I miss out on forcing myself into a box in which I never fit, and I miss out on overlooking this life while I fantasize about the next, which probably doesn’t even exist. What I’ve gained from giving up on God is the whole world and the ability to be a grown up, making my own decisions, and living this amazing life as I see fit.—Christina Knowles

This Beautiful Life by Christina Knowles

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“Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems.
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun . . . . there are millions of suns left. 
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand . . . . nor look through the eyes of the dead . . . . nor feed on the spectres in books.
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me.
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.”

“There was never any more inception than there is now,
nor any more youth or age than there is now;
and will never be any more perfection than there is now,
nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”– “Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman

These are some of the most beautiful words I have ever heard, and they embody my worldview. The beauty of the honest search for truth is the most exquisite gift we can give ourselves. The realization that we do not have to “look through the eyes of the dead” and believe in the myths of old, do not need to listen to the ghosts of ancient men and their antiquated notions, do not need to listen to our conditioning, but we can read, investigate, think, and dialogue all ideas and decide among them for ourselves is true freedom. And my conclusion that this world is all I will ever know, that this is both my heaven and my hell, has given me appreciation for every sweet breath I take, joy in every moment with those I love, and the perspective that allows me to live, really live, taking nothing for granted, and noticing every lovely thing in this beautiful life.—Christina Knowles

Photo via weheart.com

 

All the Heaven and Hell by Christina Knowles

“All the Heaven and Hell”

Lightly falling snowflakesFlowers in Hair

The loving eyes of my old dog

The smile of a baby

Red and gold leaves scattered on the ground

Glistening wet petals in the morning sun

This is all the heaven I will ever know

Holding the hand of my mother as she leaves me

Burning tears of loss, the indescribable pain in my chest

Holding my best friend as she takes her last breath

Angry words from a trusted mouth

Grave news from a doctor’s chart

This is all the hell I will ever know

The soft glow of a crackling fire

Holding hands with the best man I’ve ever known

The swell of love his gaze makes me feel

The time spent with my closest friends

Laughing until my stomach hurts

This is all the heaven I will ever know

The anxiety of deadlines

The crushing weight of responsibilities

Debts to pay and artificial worries

The helplessness of age

The loneliness of loss

This is all the hell I will ever know

Pain and depression

Joy and the sweetness of love

Anger and frustration

Comfort and peace

Gratitude for all of this life

This is all the heaven and hell I will ever know—Christina Knowles (2015)

Photo snagged from Pinterest