There’s something that’s been bouncing around my mind a lot for the last few days, and it’s something I feel pretty strongly about, so I’m gonna be serious for a few minutes about it.
Most people know me know that I was raised Catholic, and got 12 years of Catholic education. I never went through Confirmation, but you can’t be raised in an environment like that without finding yourself identifying with it, especially because my mother’s mother was a practicing Catholic who sent her own kids to Catholic school.
Initially, faith wasn’t a complicated thing for me, and I wanted it to be. I remember in sixth grade our teacher told us that questioning our faith was a way of showing growth and maturity. And I specifically remember sitting on the porch swing on a beautiful day and thinking, “Well, what if it’s not true? What if we’re wrong and other Christians are right?” and various thoughts of that nature. But I distinctly remember thinking, “I’m doing this because I’m told I’m supposed to, not because I really doubt my religion. God is real and I’m Catholic, that’s that.” I was even an altar girl, and I loved it. I remember the Masses I would serve, and making it a point to stand straight with my hands folded at my waist, to kneel nicely and not sit back on my legs like I would do in the pew, and to bow deeply and respectfully before the altar, because I wanted God to see me doing my best. Plus I got to play with the big candle lighter, which was fun, and the priest, Father Tom, was super nice and every so often, servers would get to go have pizza in the rectory or even get out of class to serve a funeral Mass. I also remember watching the consecration of the Host very earnestly. I would try to picture the Holy Spirit coming down from the beautiful domed mural above the altar and entering the bread and wine. Being all of 10 or a little older, I didn’t know the Catholic Church’s position on transubstantiation, or if I did it was very easy to accept. And I always thought one day I’d be able to see it, or feel it, or tell the difference in some way, but I’m not sure I ever did. But my bridge with the Church hadn’t even started yet. That waited for high school.
It might have been partly because of my ADD. I always felt bad during Mass because even on my best day there was no way I could keep myself focused on the ritual and being prayerful the entire hour. I fell asleep one year at Easter Mass during the homily, but that was a rarity. Usually, I just fidgeted and let my mind drift, and would feel guilty when that would happen. I wanted to feel close to God, why couldn’t I just pay attention? And Mass in high school was in a gym with about 800 other kids, so it was easy to sit with a group of friends and mostly mess around. Of course, some of my friends got into Wicca and Buddhism, and I read about both and even tried a little Wicca on by way of reading books, but was never really able to follow through much. But there were elements of both I either understood or liked. For instance, spell casting in Wicca just seemed to me a very active form of prayer, an extra element of control. Our senior year Christian Living teacher led us through meditation in class on Fridays, and I liked that as well. I had a couple of friends who were very in love with their faith, something that always gave me a stirring of envy, but I didn’t seem to get the same feeling they did in the little chapel, even though I wanted it.
After high school, and a funeral Mass for a friend, the first Mass I went to was when John Paul II was dying. He’d always seemed like a good, kind man, and as any kind of Catholic, I wanted to go to be a part of a community to acknowledge his passing. And I was glad I went. But I didn’t feel compelled to start going to Mass regularly as a result.
Then, a couple of years ago, during Lent, I decided to really throw myself in and give it another try. One of my work friends was being confirmed and given First Communion at the Easter Vigil, and our co-worker, another convert, had that spark I remembered from my friend in high school, and I wanted it. I went to Mass every Sunday during Lent, and tried to pray the rosary every day. I thought, “God, if this is where you want me to be, show me. Help me feel it, because I want to find the right place for me.” I was hoping God would flash me a big old neon sign and make it obvious, because apparently I’m not that observant in these matters. At the Easter Vigil, I knelt and cried, and prayed, “Alright, God, I’ve got nothing to offer you right now but my brokenness, but if you want it, it’s yours.” I felt better thinking that, but I didn’t feel that revelatory “This is where I belong” feeling I’d been hoping for.
Depending on how you look at it, there are a lot of reasons for that. Catholics might say I’m stubborn, since I don’t accept the whole Catechism and teaching of the Church. I’m pro-Choice, though I hope to never have to make that decision for myself, and am thoroughly in favor of birth control. I’m pro-gay marriage. I’m your typical bleeding-heart liberal. I know there are people like me in the Church, but I find it so frustrating because I want to find a place where I feel like the people around me believe like I do and not like a fraud. And I don’t want to change those beliefs necessarily. It’s not that I don’t want to be open to that inner voice. It’s that I have a really hard time in believing in a God that would create all of us as imperfect creatures, who is supposed to be like a parent to us, but will only love us if we do things His way. Or, correction, He’ll love us, but He’ll still choose to separate us from Him forever if we don’t get it right.
Dating an atheist hasn’t been easy all the time either, as a person with a background of religion if not a working location for it. There are lots of logical reasons not to believe in a God. It certainly simplifies things. Stuff just happens, the whys are all scientifically linked, and there’s meaning to be found in that, too. I like the idea that the molecules that make up me will go be a part of things forever, regardless of what happens to my soul when I die. The easiest thing in the world to do would be to just let logic explain everything, and stop thinking so much about the rest of it.
But I can’t.
Because deep down, in my heart of hearts, I do believe in something. I believe that God, or whatever you want to call him/her/it, has been with me in my worst moments. There have been a few personal instances where I felt God hear me and make doors open in my life that needed to open. Many times have I been outside on a beautiful day and felt overwhelmingly grateful to whatever it is that caused all this to be and caused me to be there to appreciate it. I’ve seen love and compassion from others that was like being able to see a part of what God is like. And the philosophy that I’ve come to in myself and am trying to make work with the part of my brain that’s programmed to follow rules is this: There is no wrong. (I feel guilty even typing that. Catholicism runs deep!) If God is infinite and created the entire universe and each and every one of us, wouldn’t it make sense that there would have to be a lot of ways to figure who He is and how to get to Him? And even more importantly, don’t we do more to honor whatever God it is we love and serve by being loving and compassionate towards others? What kind of God do you believe in that wants you to list His grievances to the rest of the world? Don’t you do more to show God by being someone who thinks and learns and loves and screws up and goes back and starts again?
Maybe it’s true that I’m rationalizing my desire to be a heathen, or whatever. Maybe I’m totally wrong and God disapproves of everything I’m saying. And if that’s the case, I’m trying to be open. But I really wish churches spent more time making people feel like they wanted them there and value them as they are and less time making them feel like they get everything wrong.* And that’s my long-winded, non-coherent religious ramble.
*ETA: If you stop by and read this, say hi and let me know if you feel similarly or can see where I'm coming from. It would be nice to feel less lonely. :)
*Hat tip to Revolution Church for being the kind of Church I’m describing. If I’m ever in New York, that’s where I’ll go!