When I was a little girl I dutifully went to Sunday school. I dutifully listened as I was told how and what to believe. I dutifully crawled into a dark musty room and dished my 11-year-old fears and secrets to a cloaked man I had never met before.
When I was a little girl, I spent half my weekend sitting in a pew listening to people preach words that meant very little to me. As they spoke I would stare up at scary images of war, brutality, and suffering. I dutifully made the sign of the cross in front of a scary man hanging off of an actual one and didn’t know how to make sense of any of it.
When I was a teenager I dutifully went through Confirmation. I spent hours listening to someone tell me who and what to believe in. I listened to someone preach anti-abortion, anti gay-marriage, and anti- divorce. I listened to a girl timidly ask: “What happens to the unwanted children?” And listened as they answered: “The Church welcomes everyone.” What I wanted to ask and didn’t was, “But what about the gay and divorced?”
When I was 26, I dutifully went through Pre-Cana marriage classes in order to be able to walk down the aisle in a Catholic Church. This time I fought back tears when a man told me how and what to believe. “You are a used car” he told me when he learned I was living with my fiancé. “Now why would any man want to buy a used car?”
When I was 33, I dutifully brought my daughter to be baptized. After being scolded for not going to church enough times and then questioned why I was using two godmothers, I hit a wall. I was no longer dutiful. I knew what worked for me. I knew what brought me solace…and this wasn’t it. It never was. No one was going to tell me how or what to believe in any longer.
Now I am 39, and I’ve seen and been through too much. I’ve worked too hard to overcome the guilt that organized religion pushed upon me. I’ve witnessed too many wars and bombings and plane crashes where religion was the cause. I’ve heard too many stories about abuse where religion was the excuse.
I’m sitting in the church for my grandfather’s funeral, looking up at the brutal images of death and struggle and the helpless humans with their hands in a prayer position. It dawns on me – some people need this. They need to see a casket go into the ground and feel the support of the human bodies in the pews with their hands raised.
I didn’t need this.
I already received my closure when I met his spirit the day before he died on my birthday. When I felt his bear hug around me in the middle of the night as his body lay lifeless in the hospital. When I saw the red cardinal that wouldn’t move from my window. No, what I needed wasn’t in that Church or the pew or the dark musty room off to the side. What I needed was what I always had within me – wisdom and prayer discovered and executed on my own terms.
My gaze turns now from the casket to the sky and my thoughts are with my kids. I can’t explain the bleeding man on the cross to them, because it does not speak to me. But what I can explain is the spirits that will visit them and the feeling they will witness when they ask them for help, if they believe. I can’t explain original sin to them, because that does not speak to me. But what I can do is take them to their little brother’s dedication service to celebrate original goodness instead, to make a promise to be his protector and to participate as a kind member of society.
I can’t explain Adam and Eve to them because they don’t speak to me. But what I can do is retell the teachings of a man named Jesus and how important his way of life was to the world. I can teach the power of resurrecting your own self as a metaphor. I can teach them that they always have the power to be a better person; to rise above. I won’t teach repentance because I refuse to let them wear the gnarly robe of guilt that was so ingrained in the Catholicism I knew as a child.
Instead I will teach them how to put their hands together and pray to something bigger. We will point up to the sky together to witness the sun peeking through the clouds just-so and wonder who is being looked after in that exact moment. And they will know that their spirit will go to a higher power in death. They will know they will walk among similar, good spirits and watch over those who need it. And in life they will know they can always visit a wildflower patch or a hiking trail or a yoga mat or the stairs of a temple or anything they deem spiritual. They will never be made to kneel at an unaccepting alter.
And when someone asks me, “How do you know? How do you know there isn’t a fiery hell that will meet them because they didn’t have water placed upon their forehead?”
I will simply answer, “Because I have faith.”