Friday, April 19, 2013

The Decision of Religion

One Mom’s Search for her own Garden of Eden – No Serpents Allowed

Examining the idea of religion has brought me to the realization that there are two sides to the communion wafer.  On one you have rules and conformity and the other a spiritual connection.  At any given time you may find your soul ebbing and flowing between the sides…searching and following… enjoying the comforts of community, traditions, and dogma, but hopefully taking time to be moved by the spirit.    

I was raised as a devout Catholic…actually the word devout isn’t strong enough.  President of my church youth group, student diocesan retreat leader, and then happily skipped off to Fordham University.  There was no questioning, no doubting, and no freedom to explore. My family and I considered religion on equal footing with race and ethnicity, that could never, would never, be changed. 

Soon enough it was time for me to bring my own children into the flock.  As they started memorizing prayers for points in CCD class, with recitation more important than understanding, a crack formed in the foundation of my unwavering devotion.  For the very first time I allowed the questions to rise and I needed answers.  I met with priests and deacons, I read and I searched…and without going into detail, I didn’t like what I found. 

So, on a bright sunny Saturday in May, 2009, after my youngest daughter received her first holy communion, I walked out the doors of a Catholic Church for the last time as a practicing member – and drank Margaritas on my back deck with 50 of our nearest and dearest and silently celebrated my confusion. 

I made the conscious decision not judge those who were Catholic; my choice to leave was in no way an admonishment of their choice to stay.  I was not given that same respect and many made it known that I was crazy, going to hell, and my children would permanently suffer due to a lack of religious identity. Whatever, I moved on. 
I quickly self-labeled as a recovering Catholic and allowed myself to explore and rest on the damage done by how I had internalized my former devoutness.  The very idea of black and white rules, someone else deciding what was right and wrong for me, a fear of God’s punishment for eating meat on Friday, missing a Sunday mass, or…gasp…voting Democrat.  The fire and brimstone description of hell by those who secretly abused while on their own self-proclaimed righteous path –the exclusion of those who choose alternative lifestyles...all the judgment…oh the judgment.  The hypocrisy which I previously supported overwhelmed me.   How did this all effect the way I operate in the world? Who was I and what would my life look like without the thick layer of church doctrine guiding my path? 

I thought my first move should be to jump to another religion so my soul had official protection.  I selected without hesitation the Presbyterian church down the street.  I sought the council of Pastor Jeff Vamos who helped me sort out the issues of my new recovering Catholic status.  I thought he was going to offer membership to me with open arms.  But he did just the opposite.  He said it wouldn't be a good idea for me to join given the transition.  He let me know that the church community was available for the spiritual needs of me and my children (phew!) and when the time came, the community would be ready.  My daughters have attended youth group which is all that they are interested in at this time.  Fine by me.  

I moved along my path into two serious post divorce romantic relationships and religion was not a part of either one.  I welcomed the distance from a house of worship and allowed the damage I carried to dissipate.  However I did feel like something was missing. 

Recently someone new has joined my path and he has shared he is part of a religious community. All I really know is that he has found great peace.  Simply by his sharing that he is involved, I felt a little light go off inside of me…wake up Jen, this might be the time to explore. Dissertation finished (check!) now time to nourish the soul.  I am finally in a position in life where the journey of spirituality and possibly religion could be mine and mine alone for my heart to tailor in a way that resonates just for me.   No judgment, no expectations….just me and the higher power.  And since I just made the declaration to get out of my head and into my heart and find time and space to quiet my mind, the man upstairs could be part of that… to connect to, to sit with, and to just be.  Maybe a spiritual community could help me with this quest but on terms I agree to with only the almighty…without the should’s or must’s.  

Last week I was in charge of cooking dinner for youth group (don’t worry they all survived).  I found myself with a few extra minutes and wandered into chapel, where I just sat with my surroundings and felt great peace.  I took it as a good sign that lightning didn't strike.  In those moments of sitting I challenged myself to take a small step forward and attend the low-key worship Sunday night.  Turns out it was gospel service – with special guests from Camden.  For a chick doing so much soul searching this suddenly turned into the perfect place to start.  There was soul and fun and spirit. My lack of vocal talent was masked by loud clapping.

Jeff the preacher acknowledged my presence with a warm welcome from across the room.  Jeff is a calming spirit – a little Zen– a hobby carpenter who has built meditation benches and carved salad bowls for his flock.  Years ago I remember he had a walking labyrinth for Lent.  So as I sat and observed and digested I realized that Jeff’s peace fits with my recently declared quest for mindfulness as well.  Huhhh….I felt a fit. 

So will I drink the Kool-Aid from the cup of the carpenter and dive in full force?  I can unequivocally say that for the moment, no.  I’m not in the mood to study, to struggle, or read much.  I don’t want this to be an intellectual exercise.  My joiner days are over.  But I am definitely on a path that feels right for me…and so I will continue.  This coming Sunday the gospel singers return for round two and the topic of preaching is the story of the Whore of Babylon…no way am I missing that one…add to that the incense and fire pit in the middle of the room and well….I think it all might be better than the Game of Thrones.  

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