Mighty Companions Ministries

My Spiritual Journey

My Spiritual Journey Thus Far                                                                          

Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes

To begin this discussion, I need to recap my journey before entering One Spirit Interfaith Seminary.

I accepted Jesus as my savior at 16 years old and decided that I wanted to be a music minister when I graduated from high school. I began to do that by joining a Born-Again Christian commune, and a Christian music band called The Amplified New Testament. We played and sang for years at many churches throughout the South. During college, I was a member of another Christian band called Stained Glass Bluegrass and giving thought to becoming an ordained minister. I began to act on my homosexual feelings at this time by falling in love with one of my band mates (the banjo and CUTE). This was not received very well. I realized that fundamental Christianity and the Gay lifestyle were not compatible (I am now seeing signs of change in that religion). I put my spiritual desires aside to begin my adult journey as a Gay man.

After college, I moved to NYC and became a Radical Faerie singer/songwriter/performance artist. During these years I became HIV positive, discovered Louise Hay, the writings of SETH, and fundamental New Age principles such as “thought creates reality”.  As I created the character of “Yolanda Gender Warrior”, singer/songwriter/performance artist/Queer activist, the lines began to blur between Roger and Yolanda. Yolanda was regarded as a Goddess by many fans and this regard began to lead me back to the conscious spiritual path. 5 years ago I met my husband and I took a break from performing for about 3 years. During this time, my husband and I began to investigate UNITY and met our current “guru” Rev. Shawn Moninger. Under Shawn’s tutelage, we have grown immensely by becoming students of A Course In Miracles. In 2009 I decided that I wanted to become a music minister again combining all that I have learned from Christianity, ACIM, Unity, and New Age Thought. I found out about One Spirit Seminary and understood Holy Spirit’s guidance to enroll.  As I have gone through the two years of study at One Spirit, the main thing that strikes me is how VERY similar all of the faiths are that we have studied.  We are all talking about the same thing, just using different language. The most valuable skill I have developed is on-the-spot translation abilities.  More often than not (with more than a few glaring exceptions) I can catch myself in the moment when I’m behaving in an ego based way that is not conducive to building bridges and invoking Peace.

 I was already very involved with A Course In Miracles when I entered One Spirit Seminary. I have totally enjoyed the study and discussions of practices that are different than mine. I still mostly resonate with spiritual practices from other cultures that are similar to meditation and A Course In Miracles concepts. I have found those connections in almost everything we’ve studied.

As a result of this year’s interactions with people of many faiths, I have begun to distinguish the difference between my feelings and Truth. I used to think that feeling spiritual was truth, but now I see that Spirituality is not a feeling. Spirit is what we are in truth, not a feeling that comes and goes. At the time of the writing of this paper, I don’t FEEL very spiritual, but the TRUTH is that I am LOVE always, I am WHOLE always, I am PEACE always. I am ABUNDANCE always. The things I seek are already within me no matter how I feel. I don’t even have to seek anything because I already AM those things I think I seek, because I am GOD expressed. I don’t always feel like God expressed, but I always am that very miracle.

 A practice that is new for me and is a direct result of my One Spirit experience is Taize. Since my goal is to be a music minister, I totally LOVE Taize. The One Spirit Taize team is wonderfully creative, and is helping me shape the future of my personal ministry. I call Taize “spiritual performance art” because it is creatively fulfilling, involves the audience, and is performative, informative, and meditative at the same time. Religion has been the inspiration of wonderful artwork throughout the ages and I feel Taize is part  of my artistic spiritual path.

Buddhism struck me with its similarity to ACIM. One of the first questions I answered was …“what do you think the Buddha meant by saying, “I am awake”?  I immediately recognized the Buddha’s concept as what ACIM calls “correct perception”. We are not separate from God or each other. Our only problem is this belief in separation, and when we “awaken” we realize the oneness of all creation.

In Hinduism, I also felt right at home. I loved the question, “what are the three “real desires,” what we “really want,” according to Hinduism?” The answer being: “to be, to know, and to have joy.” This answer reminds me of the ACIM lesson “God’s will for me is perfect happiness”. Since I already had a meditation practice started (which was a bit hit or miss), I took the opportunity during Buddhism and Hinduism to be absolutely committed to the practice of meditation. I’m glad that I made this commitment, because it is now a foundation for my daily life.

When we reached the BIG 3 religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all I could think about was how much destruction these three religions (as practiced) have caused the world. The miracle here is that I began to address my anger toward “western” culture. I believe I have come a long way in this healing process since we began the seminary year. I truly have come full circle with Christianity and now embrace the teachings of my youth. I no longer believe that I need to convince people that Jesus DIDN’T die for their sins. I now understand their language of salvation. I understand salvation as forgiveness and so do they, and furthermore, we are not “us” and “them”. We may disagree on a few points but it doesn’t matter to me anymore. It’s all ok.

I’d like to quote from my Islam homework because I feel that I make a point that is still relevant to me about the “religions of the book”:

“Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all have beautiful mystic traditions attached to them, but those traditions are not the ones that have been spread to the world in a big way. The ego based versions of all three of these religions are what have taken so many people into their folds. Spirit is quiet and guides from the heart. Ego is loud, and guides from base impulse, fear, and intellect that does its best to control people’s behavior. What we really have here are three political systems of mind control not-so-disguised as “religions”, while the spiritual teachings are pushed into the background and or turned into “laws”. Does this mean I need to stretch in order to appreciate the beauty and wisdom in this tradition of Islam (or Christianity or Judaism)?  Which tradition are you talking about? The one that has spiritual value to me is the Sufi tradition (or the Gnostic or The Kaballah), which actually pre-dates Islam. According to the Sufi scholar Idries Shah, Sufis claim their origin from the Egyptian God, Hermes. After Islam conquered the region, Sufis used Islam to illustrate their ancient mystery tradition. Sufism is the old, pagan religion camouflaged in Islamic terms.”

It is my belief that the “mystic traditions” of the Big 3 religions are actually pagan spiritualities that were not entirely wiped out by the Big 3. I like to remember this point because it helps me understand that God is God and Truth is Truth no matter what people try to do to Truth. The Course says “only Truth is true” and I like to remember that whatever the “Big 3” religions “did to the world” in the name of religion doesn’t really matter. Only Truth is true and that Truth can overcome any circumstance. All history has happened perfectly as it needed to happen. The future will happen as it needs to happen and all is well.  I can’t control the history of the world and I can’t change the past or the future. I CAN let go of grievances, practice forgiveness and be free.

My favorite faith tradition was Unitarian Universalism. I found the principles of the tradition and the church we visited, and continue to visit, resonate with me in a similar way as ACIM, Abraham/Hicks, and the Native American tradition in their beautiful simplicity and honesty. The thing that most impressed me was the statement in their literature that Atheists were welcome.  “UUs promote reason and tolerance and embrace a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. As members of a non-creedal religious tradition, Unitarian Universalists are encouraged to discern their own beliefs about different spiritual topics.” Wow that’s true enlightenment in my book. UU actually invites people to determine their own belief system within the context of spiritual community that celebrates the uniqueness of the individual. I truly like that. My partner and I continue to go to The First UU of Brooklyn when we can. We feel welcomed and empowered with each visit.

During the study of Indigenous Religions, I did very much enjoy the Babalawo when he spoke to our class. He made the religion come alive. He practiced a divination process with kola nuts that was amazingly similar to my TAROT cart readings. LOVE THAT! I also remember that he addressed similar ideas that a co-worker of mine tried to explain to me concerning some African practices that he does. When my co-worker tried to talk to me about it, I was not very open. After hearing the Babalawo speak, I went to my co-worker and apologized. My relationship with him at work has greatly improved.

I have always been somewhat interested in Native American practices. I have Cherokee blood in my family and was morbidly fascinated with the massacre of Little Big Horn when I was young. I also have had a strong connection to trees all of my life and recently a connection to Bears. Our speaker, Frank, was a member of The Bear Clan and also talked about Tree Spirits and how they have consciousness. I was very moved by his presentation. The week after that presentation, I was scheduled to go to Georgia to play at a music festival called BEARAPALOOZA.  A student gave me a Bear talisman that day in class and the trip suddenly took on a brand new meaning. I knew it would be a blessed event. When I got to the music festival, I was asked to invoke a blessing on the event from the stage. I remembered Frank’s blessing with arms outstretched like a tree reaching for the sun and I shared that blessing with the festival. Every morning of the festival, I held a meditation period and reading from ACIM for those who wanted to attend. This festival is NOT usually a spiritually oriented occasion, with sex drugs and rock and roll abounding. To my surprise, people came to the morning meditations and spoke to me of how moving it was for them. I was prepared and ready to allow Holy Spirit to use me in a powerful way. All of my personal judgments and fears showed up also, but I was able to put them aside and we all saw Holy Spirit work. The day after I got back from the trip, we had a Taize service that also moved me in a powerful way. I am thankful to have started and ended my trip with One Spirit as my touchstone.

 One of the most significant changes I have seen in myself these 2 years is a willingness to practice forgiveness towards myself and others. Even though I had been practicing A Course In Miracles for 2 years prior to One Spirit, I had not really practiced the willingness part of forgiveness. It was more of an intellectual concept rather than a real practice. This lesson in willingness showed up most notably in my workplace.Because of my frustration at work, I would lash out at my co-workers from time to time. I didn’t like the way I was behaving. Finally, I understood the concept of just being willing to forgive myself and others. That was a breakthrough. From there I began to see what a mirror my co workers are for me and my behavior has changed drastically. So much so that a co-worker asked me what I was doing differently. I explained my new insight and he was excited by that. I’m thrilled to say that my co-worker came with me to Diane’s Forgiveness workshop because of our experience together. Now I see the power in being willing to forgive and the letting Holy Spirit work through me.

I’d also like to mention is how my time at One Spirit has helped me heal my “multiple personalities”. I performed as Yolanda for many years and as I was entering One Spirit, I was thinking that I had to leave Yolanda behind. I see now that Yolanda is truly my inner co-pilot. I love the God/Goddess aspect of my being. With encouragement (from the very beginning of my time at One Spirit) by staff and students not to discard Yolanda, I have had a radical healing. I am currently working on a new show called “The Yolanda Gospel Hour”. This show embraces all that I feel that I am exploring in this body. I am exploring male/female/minister/performer/artist/songwriter/Christian/pagan, and this exploration in song is healing to me and hopefully to others.

This has been a wonderful 2 years for me. I am firm now in my decision to be a minister in the world. I have passion, vision, and a renewed sense of gentleness. I have a better understanding that loving God is best demonstrated by loving all my relations. I am grateful to One SpiritSeminary for being a living demonstration of that principle.

In the spirit of love for all my relations, I’d like to end with a poem by Leigh Hunt, that was recommended to me by one of my co-workers at my day job.

"Abou Ben Adhem"

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An Angel writing in a book of gold:

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?" The Vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."

"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the Angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow men."

The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And, lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest!

-- By Leigh Hunt.