Monday, November 30, 2009


I was raised Catholic.  I went to Catholic school through eighth grade, and attended church on Sundays until I went away to college.  Since I don't consider myself religious at all now, I guess you would think I would have a complicated relationship with religion.  I don't.  I think religion is perfectly right for a lot of people, for a lot of reasons.  Just not me.

As a child, I could tell that my younger sister, the one I was closest to growing up, had a very different relationship with God than I did.  She prayed, fiercely at times.  She was tormented about her day-to-day choices and what they meant to God.  At one point she grappled with feeling obligated to become a nun, although it didn't feel like a calling for her, because the Church needed nuns.  I watched her struggle with all of these things like you watch a neighbor through the window shovel snow on your day off.  That struggle is not yours.  You don't feel the cold wind on your face, the heavy burden on your shovel, the drive to keep trudging forward through the task.

I spent my senior year of high school battling a severe depression.  Once on a particularly bad night, my boyfriend at the time took me to church.  I remember seething with anger through the entire mass that he would bring me to church, of all places, thinking: he must not know me at all.  Later he tried to explain, along with my sister, how mass makes them feel a little bit better about the world.  I wasn't hostile to their point of view by the time we had the conversation.  I just sincerely didn't get it.  Mass doesn't make me feel better about the world at all.  It's just boring, like a trip to the grocery store.  I'd never do either again if I had my druthers.  I've never felt the feelings that faith is supposed to inspire in the hallowed halls of my own, or any other church.  And I'm simply not driven to search there.

Some people come to religion out of a love of ritual.  My mom, a devout Catholic, explained to me how meaningful it was to her to repeat the rituals of the mass, to know that she was performing the same liturgies that she did as a child, that her mother did, that our ancestors have performed for generations before us.  A Jewish girlfriend told me she felt the same way about the rites of her own faith, the bone-deep satisfaction of passing down from parent to child of ancient traditions.  Others are drawn by a deep belief in the Scripture itself, the meaning it imposes on a life of sometimes seeming chaos.  They draw comfort from a cohesive narrative that shapes their daily decisions, providing a guiding principle to light the way through the murkiness and moral challenges of everyday subsistence.  I've seen this faith in action, lived out by college friends from the Bible Belt Midwest.  I think both of these reasons are beautiful.  They're just not a beauty that fits me.

I believe deeply in my own intuition.  So deeply that no matter where I've found myself, no matter how tragic or ugly, I can't shake the faith that I am always exactly where I am supposed to be.  My faith in my intuition is so strong I sometimes believe that everyone else is exactly where they need to be in every moment.  That as a culture we are always exactly where we need to be right now.  I've told people this on a few occasions and they usually look at me a little slantwise.  It occurs to me now that this might be my own form of fundamentalism.  I believe so deeply that it must be true for everyone.  It must be true for the world.

I said to my husband once, still on fire with the flash of a consummate notion that had arisen from nowhere yet felt like a homecoming of sorts:  We are put on this earth to eat and shit, to work and play, to sleep and wake, to fight and fuck, make and raise babies, to rage and to love.  That's all there is.  Do you really think there's nothing more to it than that?  he asked.  Nothing MORE?  I replied.  I can barely wrap my head around all of that, it's so abundant!  

That--just that--is so much, so full and so heavy and so bursting at every seam with joy and pain and struggle and striving, it's hard for me to ever imagine needing more.  I breathe in.  I breathe out.  This is a miracle.  For me, it's exactly everything I need.  I breathe in.  I breathe out.  This is how I worship.

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