Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Note on Spirituality

I’m back from my trip and am so exhausted both physically and mentally that I can’t really recount all of the fabulous details for you at the moment. There were actually some pretty crappy details as well and I just can’t bring myself to think about them again right now so I’ll save that for later.

However, I did witness the baptism of my 3 nieces and my nephew over vacation and it got me thinking about spirituality, or rather just about how much I dislike church. We attended a rehearsal for the baptism, in which Matt and I were required to think about how we, as guardians, were responsible for the spiritual guidance of these children. Well let’s just say I’m glad they don’t interview or test for these guardian positions because I’m afraid I would fail. I’m not much of a church goer.

I went to church for most of my junior high years. I was never baptized and my parents did not attend. I mostly went because I was involved in AWANA (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed) which is kind of like being a boy scout for Jesus. We had vests and badges and all that good stuff. We didn’t have to start a fire with twigs, but we had to memorize and recite all the books of the New Testament- you get the idea. There were a lot of crafts and a lot of snacks so it was right up my alley. I made bible bookmarks and Jesus and Mary puppets, ate graham crackers and cookies and “asked Jesus into my heart” about 50 times because maybe he didn’t hear me or I didn’t say it right, or that cuss word I let slip last week negated it and then I would end up burning in a fiery hell for eternity.

I finally stopped going to church when I became too old for the Awana’s and was put into the teen bible study group in which they told me that my friends or family who went to different churches or who didn’t go to church at all were not going to get into heaven because they didn’t believe exactly the things that this church believed.

Wow! Somehow my church had got a hold of the real heaven handbook and only we knew the secret handshake that would get us through the pearly gates! I might have been young but I was old enough to know that that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. If heaven really was a member’s only club like that, well then I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a member. So all in all it left me a little bitter about organized religion and I think I can live out my days very happily without ever stepping in a church again except for a wedding or funeral.

Now that you know a little more about my spiritual views – back to the baptism. It was held at an Episcopal church, which is really just slightly less ritualistic than a Catholic church. It was actually a lovely church. Very unassuming and quaint and Matt and I were made to feel very welcome. The kids were excited about their baptism. We rehearsed all of the sayings (or chants as I like to call them) and I even held my tongue and didn’t ask when the goat would be sacrificed, well at least until Matt and I were alone outside the church and then I just had to say it. Matt, knowing my aversion to such ritualized church proceedings merely rolled his eyes and smiled.

The day of the baptism came and of course my son threw the biggest tantrum of his entire life and proceeded to pout in the lobby for almost the entire ceremony. So here I am, intensely irritated, envisioning my first born either being abducted or simply leaving the church and laying in the street begging cars to run him over, while Matt assures me that he is fine. The clergy have changed their robes more times than I can count, I’ve chanted, I’ve sung at least three hymns hopelessly off key, I’ve watched them bless the water, the whole rigmarole and I was just trying really hard to live in the moment and enjoy it for the kids sake and for Matt’s sake because that’s why I was there but it was just really difficult.

I mean I get it. It’s all symbolism. The bread, the wine, they’re symbols; reminders of Jesus’ sacrifice. The blessing of the water, the sign of the cross is a symbol. That water isn’t any different than what I slurped out of the water fountain 10 minutes earlier just because a man made the sign of the cross in it and said some words. He’s just a man, a human. He eats, he drinks, he shits, he picks his nose just like the rest of us. I’m not allowed to take communion because I’ve never been baptized. That’s the magic ticket you need to be able to choke down some dry cracker and cheap wine. Doesn’t break my heart of course because to me that’s all it is; a dry cracker and a cheap wine. I realize to someone else it is the body and the blood and I can appreciate and respect that, I just don’t prefer to be involved because they’re not my symbols. I don’t believe in them and to me they’re just really kind of silly

That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God. I just don’t believe the symbols and the rituals that most organized religions use to portray him and his work and his love. I see him everywhere. Mostly I see him in my kids. Their innocence is his, the sheer innocent joy they take in life’s smallest things, a lightning bug, a crayon, the feel of grass on bare feet, that’s God. Their laughter, their smiles are his. When Matt helps the old lady down the street take her garbage can and recycle bins to the curb that’s a little bit of God in him. The sacrifices we make for our friends and family, the joy and wonder of nature, God is in all of those things to me and I don’t need a church or a splash of water on my head to realize that. What happens in the after life I don’t know and to be quite honest I don’t really care. I’m just going to try and get through life the best that I can and take whatever comes.

Now I don’t want to take anything away from the baptism because it meant a lot to the kids and other family members and it truly was a wonderful experience for them. And as I said the church was lovely and everyone was genuinely kind which is pretty rare, even in a church. And now if my brother and sister-in-law ever kick the bucket at the same time I’ll not only get custody of the children but the responsibility of raising them as children of God. I can sing a pretty mean “Jesus Loves Me” I think that will do. Plus I’ll discourage things like murder and greed etc. That should fulfill my duty.


Anonymous said...

These posts are old, so who knows if you'll ever see this?

It seems to me from what you write that you desperately want a relationship with God, but you have many fears and anger which keeps you from approaching Him for it.

Your disrespect for the religious views of others is striking (all the while saying, "Now, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against baptism..."). Is that the kind of person you want to be? Anger comes out in just about every line you write. Do you want to go on that way? Your post on eating meat on Friday in the face of your Catholic family was horrible; they had gone out of their way to accommodate you, and you rubbed their noses in it. What looks to you like nonsense or "symbolism" is actually a whole lot more; it's called sacrifice.

You could have a much happier life, inside and out. You say you're fine with the way things are, but you're clearly not. It's eating away at you and comes out in your posts. And you're the one who shared them, so don't shoot the messenger. No one wants to be pessimistic and "bitching" about their loved ones. This is not a true woman's heart.

Your experience of God through AWANA is not enough. Your experience of religion and God is immature, and maybe that's not your fault since that's all you were exposed to. If you had truly given your heart to Jesus, you could never have written what you said about the "Jesus" stocking your kids' grandparents gave them...

You bash Catholics right and left, but as a practicing Catholic, I can say that your understanding of Catholic belief and "ritualism" is extremely flawed and incomplete. You might benefit from actually opening a book and looking into our 2000-year history to better understand your relatives. All you do here is show your ignorance on the subject, as well as tremendous disrespect for your husband, your husband's family, and others who have what you apparently don't have--friendship with God.

Yes, God is everywhere. God reveals Himself through nature, good-hearted people, the love in our hearts... but there is more, and yes, religion is important because our hearts were made to worship, both privately and together. God is a personal Being who wants us to know Him as He is--not as we merely envision Him or wish Him to be, or picking and choosing what we want to believe about Him. He wants us to seek Him out and really know Him, so we can love Him.

You don't have to keep living with such anger in your heart. If only I could share my entire conversion story here and tell you what Jesus Christ has done for me and what would have happened to me without the intervention of the Church--yes, the Catholic Church. I was pulled from such darkness and despair, and now I live a renewed life with so much joy and hope in my heart. I personally encountered Jesus Christ in a dramatic way and have never been the same since. I am going to pray for this same grace for you, whoever you are, tonight (Christmas Eve).

Jesus has the answer to your deepest questions and troubles. I sense here on your blog a sense of shame and fear, but He can restore whatever it is that you lost long ago--and only you and He know what that is. He can restore your true identity so that you can be a happier person and share that joy with your family. You seem like an intelligent, witty person; imagine if you used those gifts to make others happy in a genuine, lasting way through your writing? Imagine if you used it to inspire, rather than mock (the Church, yourself, others).

Anonymous said...

Oh, and my name is Elizabeth; I don't like posting anonymously, but didn't want to sign in.