Friday, May 25, 2007

Losing my religion: Mother Talk Blog Bonanza

I have wanted to write about my struggle with my faith, but I always flinched away from the topic, allowed myself to be distracted. Well, thanks to the good people at Mother Talk for asking people to blog about religion and faith, inspired by the book Parenting Beyond Belief as part of the Mother Talk Blog Bonanza.
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Sitting in church every Sunday morning for years is probably very good training for a future writer. Think of it, those long sonorous sermons holding people captive just long enough to get a foothold in your imagination—people who all look like they have secrets (especially to an imaginative kid). Once you’ve got the responses/movements down, you are free to be carried along on the waves of emotion/repentance/ecstasy that break over the congregation, called by the priest’s powerful chant.

I don’t want to imply that I spent all of those Sundays daydreaming. Growing up Catholic was very important to me, so much so that I used to tell people that being Catholic was the most important fact about my life. Stepping inside the hushed, cool church, with the light making jewel colored shadows on our faces—it was like coming home, and I’d have to swallow hard past the tears that inevitably came. My parents viewed my religious fervor with approval, if a little confusion. They were (are) good Catholics, who observed all of the holy days, abstained from meat or attended church according to the Papal calendar. I don’t remember being taught my prayers, or the responses in Mass. Those were things I always knew, and that was because my parents made it that way. But they didn’t stray too far from conventional interpretations of the Bible, and they were pretty content to keep Catholicism unambiguous and comforting. Whereas I, with all of the enthusiasm of adolescence, sought out St. Therese de Lisieux
and St. John of the Cross and Matthew Fox and Meister Eckhart—as well as the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao te Ching, the Heart Sutra. And the more I learned, the more it seemed like this brand of mystical ecumenical Catholicism was my own church, Catholicism with a capital C, instead of the more pedestrian little-c weekly Mass.

And yet, I have not been to church in over a year. I have not baptized Madam. I’m unsure as to whether I ever will.

The disillusionment started in college, as it often does. I sat and listened to my more brilliant, atheist classmates systematically prove that the Church was a harmful influence on humanity. Inquisitions were mentioned. The Church’s treatment of women, of black people, of Jews. And I realized that, a lot of the time, I didn’t have a good response.

I was also swimming in a sea of beautiful poetry, philosophy, and literature. They gave me that transcendent ache I used to equate with my faith. I started to see the Church from the outside, and even though I used to console myself by remembering my “own” brand of Catholicism, that was starting to sound a little hollow.

But so much still pulled me back to the church. Whenever I came home from school, I would attend Mass with my parents, and it was as much a homecoming as that first moment when I would walk into my bedroom. Catholicism is intertwined with Latin culture a lot of the time—baptisms, Quinceañeras, confirmations, weddings—a quick sign of the Cross before any major endeavor (or just leaving the house)—novenas to the Virgin to ensure a good grade on a test, or a new job. A priest coming to bless a new house, a new car. Candles lit to St. Jude, whether or not something could be a considered a lost cause. My mother had a small altar set up in her bedroom, with a prominent painting of Jesus looking tired and loving, arms open in perpetual welcome. I used to sit there with her, watching her as she muttered her rosaries. It comforted me to know that she was asking for me, for all of the family. I was certain that when my mother was praying to God, God was listening.

Things changed, definitely, during my wedding. My dream was to get married in the same church that I had attended for years, the church where I made my first communion, where my nieces and nephews had been baptized. But the only priest who would deign to marry us had serious issues with the fact that my husband was not Catholic, and would not be converting. During his homily at the ceremony, he went on about how it was my duty as a good Catholic woman to “show him the light” and also about how marriage was just “pain and suffering.”

I was livid—not just at him, but, irrationally, at the whole Church. Hadn’t I stayed faithful, in spite of serious misgivings? Hadn’t I defended the Church against so many worthy accusations?

It didn’t matter.

Although I made brief stabs at returning to the faith, it was never the same after that. I kept straining my soul towards that sense of connection that had always sustained me, but nothing connected anymore.

And then I got pregnant, and everyone told me that NOW I would find that missing emotion. And I tried. It felt important to give my child that same sense of spiritual union that I had grown up with, that sense of being beloved by something much larger than yourself, or even your family. I tried to go back to my readings, reminded myself that TEG always said that we would raise our children in both of our faiths (he was raised a Hindu, but attended Catholic school all of his life). But he’s not the slightest bit religious—he just wants to make sure that she understands the cultural importance of the Hindu rituals.

I want so much more than that for her, but whenever I reach out, it is like grabbing through mist. I am empty. And I’ve been that way for a long time, even through the fear of her NICU stay, and the strains in my marriage. I still pray, but without that feeling of union that I remember from those times with my mother.

Now, finally, I am feeling some faint religious stirrings again. But they are not leading me back to Catholicism, but rather towards Buddhism and Hinduism. How will I reconcile these longings with my desire to immerse my daughter in her Latin culture—and in her grandparents’ tradition? How will I create a place for faith and practice in our lives without TEG’s participation? How will I learn enough to feel like I can teach her these faiths without feeling like a dilettante?

I’m not sure. But I’m open to all suggestions. Even divine ones.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Daniel said...

First of all, I want to say faith is important to each people and everyone should have a faith in the heart,I asked my friends on EbonyFriends.com and they all have faith, though they have diffrent ones, we can choose the faith to believe in.

1:19 AM, May 25, 2007  
Blogger coarse gold girl said...

When you wrote the following:

And then I got pregnant, and everyone told me that NOW I would find that missing emotion. And I tried. It felt important to give my child that same sense of spiritual union that I had grown up with, that sense of being beloved by something much larger than yourself, or even your family. I tried to go back to my readings, reminded myself that TEG always said that we would raise our children in both of our faiths (he was raised a Hindu, but attended Catholic school all of his life). But he’s not the slightest bit religious—he just wants to make sure that she understands the cultural importance of the Hindu rituals.

I want so much more than that for her, but whenever I reach out, it is like grabbing through mist. I am empty. And I’ve been that way for a long time, even through the fear of her NICU stay, and the strains in my marriage.

I felt so many different feelings. Relief that someone else out there understands the feeling of grasping at mist when trying to find spiritual connection in organized religion--even the religion that they were raised in. So much of your piece hit chords for me, reverberations of my experience as a mother wanting to raise her children with a sense of a higher, bigger than them, being. . . with a husband from a different cultural background and religion (Buddhism) but he is Buddhist in rituals only. . .

College was when I too started to really drift from the beliefs/faith that I was raised in. I found myself mentally outling sermons in Church and thinking about better more dramatic ways in which the preacher could have delivered them.

I have had both my girls baptised, but more so that should we ever end up in the States they won't feel odd for not being baptised and because having them baptised meant a LOT to my parents and other relatives.

The minister asked me not to tell anyone in the congregation that my husband wasn't Christian though--he worried that some members would object to the girls' baptism. . .

Your writing is always very thought provoking and you have a wonderful voice in your writing. I'll go back to reading it now! I usually read with out commenting when I don't know the author but your post just stirred the dust in my mind and left me staring at the patterns swirling around.

1:50 AM, May 25, 2007  
Blogger Ally Bean said...

“pain and suffering”

I had a similar experience in church on a Christmas Eve. The pastor took a lovely, sharing time of year and turned it into a lesson on pain and suffering on the Easter cross. I was livid that no one else in the congregation thought that his sermon was inappropriate to the message of Christmas joy and hope. Since then I've kept my distance from organized religion and read the Bible on my own taking from it what I need in that moment.

There's a big difference between being religious (external guidelines) and being spiritual (internal motivations). It's when there is dissonance between these two ideals that the trouble starts. Good luck to you as you try to understand where you stand on such things.

8:00 AM, May 25, 2007  
Blogger Leah said...

beautiful, beautiful writing. thank you for sharing. my religious background was quite odd and mixed, so in some ways i wish i had had all those beautiful traditions that you grew up with. i see the value there. in other ways i'm glad i didn't because they might have clouded my thoughts or kept me from questioning things. my experience with organized religion wasn't a positive one, but studying religions has always been fascinating and has help lead me to my own form of spirituality. i don't have any advice about what to do with your daughter, but no matter what, in the end, she will make her own choices and i'm sure she'll be grateful for what you've chosen to bring or not bring into her life. (((hugs)))

11:09 AM, May 25, 2007  
Blogger kate said...

I feel we are such kindred spirits. You captured here what so much of my book is about. I, too, find faith in literature, in poetry, in knowing that writers before me have lived what I've lived and survived much worse. Such a wonderful post! Thank you!

11:28 AM, May 26, 2007  
Anonymous fern said...

I was raised presbyterian, but I have no idea what that means. There is so much that I want to know about the religion I consider myself a part of, but somehow that exploration just takes a backseat to everything else in life.
Religion is so abstract, I fear that if I try to delve into it too much, I might get lost.
As always your posts are so interesting and make me want to explore a part of myself that I'd forgotten about...thank you...

p.s- how about a chat tonight?

11:55 AM, May 27, 2007  
Blogger Tori said...

Thank you for taking the time and being brave to write about this. The incredible thing about putting your thoughts and feelings out there and 'exposing' yourself is that you get people like me that say "I TOTALLY get it and relate". We are so glad that we are not the only ones grappling with thoughts.

1:50 PM, May 27, 2007  
Blogger Amber said...

Hmm...We both wrote about faith and religion this week. But I left out my family's Catholic heritage, and my deep feelings about the church. But there is no getting around growing up Catholic, or with Catholics. You wrote so well of the *feeling* of mass as a child-- of returning to a cozy home, when you walk into a church. I SO get that. To the point that even though we go to a non-denominational as a family, when I feel in need of deep, quiet prayer, I always head to a Catholic church! Just to kneel alone in the colored light through the windows, light my candles, smell the smells. See Mary... It brings back something inside of me, and I can't really explain it.

But I had to be very honest about the fact that I just don't agree with so much. To only worship in the Church would have not been authentic. I needed a place where I felt okay in my own brand of faith and relationship with God. So now I am a Unitarian, and I am happy with the fact that my faith is personal and not up for debate with other people who are tied to doctrine and legalism. And it allows me to keep and honor my Catholic inner-child.

I found the most liberal church I could, and I bring my kids every week, because I want them to have that foundation on which to build their own faith. And we talk about all the different, worthy, beautiful faiths, and how God reaches people. Because he is Love. That seems to work for us. ;)

:)

12:22 AM, May 29, 2007  
Blogger deirdre said...

There seems to be a theme in my life this week. So much of what I'm reading (and writing) is about faith, religion, God. My very earliest religious experiences were within the Catholic church. I find myself wondering what it would be like to never question, only to believe. I really understand the pull of two directions you've written about here.

12:35 AM, May 29, 2007  
Anonymous Frida said...

I've no advice, but I admire your willingness to keep asking yourself these questions. You are thoughtful and honest and I am sure you will provide Madam with the access she needs to find her own path.
x

9:36 AM, May 31, 2007  
Anonymous tammy vitale said...

I count myself a recovering Catholic - you're right, it never leaves. But you can understand it better. I started my kids out that way and then swerved hard right out of it. And they followed. And then I remarried someone who is also now a recovering Catholic. My belief now is in connectedness and that things happen for a reason (a lesson we decided on way before we got here this time) and my kids seem very happy with that. sometimes I wish I could go back and get that feeling of safety and sameness - but then there's the problem of women and how they are treated and a lot of the things you mention, plus how the current pope was a leader in squashing liberation theology in south america...the rat (and that's an intended play on his name). These days I don't need doctrine. I'd rather have truth - and I search hard for it.
Lovely writing.

8:04 AM, June 02, 2007  

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