I am nervous to post this. I don’t talk about religion or God very much. For a long time, it has been a topic that I have automatically, reflexively shied away from. I have been known to say that “religion is so weird” and “God talk skeeves me out.” But this has been a big part of my life lately, somewhere much of my mental energy is going, and so I want to talk about it. If you, like me, are occasionally skeeved out by God talk, then I have given you fair warning and my blessing to skip this post.
A lot of my life has been characterized by searching: searching for a home, searching for a partner, searching for a path. Why should my relationship with religion and spirituality have been characterized by anything else?
I was raised Catholic. We went to church every Sunday. I sat in the pew, sat and stood and knelt along with everyone else, raised my voice in the responses with everyone else, sang along to the hymns with everyone else. I slid along the wooden bench and out into the aisle, moving towards the priest with my hands cupped, receiving the bread and wine with a whispered, “Amen,” along with everyone else.
But I was never really there. It was never really a part of me. I went because that was what our family did. I went because it was important to my mom. I went because I didn’t think there was any other option.
When I was 16, I became more vocal about my doubts and feelings of not belonging. My mom sent me to one of the most respected women in our church for a kind of religious counselling. We talked a bit about God and the church and what I was feeling. She gave me a notebook with some Bible quotes printed on the bottom of each page. I left, feeling neither vindicated nor released, but rather, more confused.
I continued going to church with my family as though nothing had happened, as if my doubts had all been dealt with over three evening sessions in an unfamiliar living room. But still, I strained against what I felt were the bonds of a faith that I had never chosen for myself. I listened to the priest’s homilies and alternately tuned out or seethed with anger over the closed-minded invectives against homosexuals and abortions and other things that I just could not find it in me to vilify. When there was a homily that rang true for me, I dismissed it with a wave of my hand, coming, as it did, from the same lips that preached so many ideas that I abhorred. I clenched my fists and bit my tongue and grew ever more angry and distant.
Eventually, perhaps inevitably, I broke from the church completely. In a painful exchange with my mom, I informed her that I no longer felt connected to the church, no longer identified with any aspect of it, and would no longer be attending services when I went home to visit. I read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and promptly pronounced myself an atheist. (I spent a lot of time saying no to all gods and all religions, though part of me longed to say some sort of small yes, somewhere, to something.)
But that never sat right with me either. I have always had a complicated relationship with the idea of God. The Catholic God, who is all knowing and all loving and yet perfectly willing to condemn people to an eternity in hell if they fail to be the right way or repent of their smallest sins, is not a God that I am interested in knowing. But I have always had a sense that there is something bigger out there, something larger than myself, some unknowable force or forces that we cannot hope to ever comprehend. I don’t know about heaven and I don’t know about eternity, but I do know that I think there is something. I do not, I cannot, believe that we are alone.
In the past few months, after three years of staunch aversion to all things religious, I have tentatively begun searching again. I woke up one day and realized that there was an emptiness in me that I had been ignoring, an emptiness that was longing for something spiritual to fill it. I don’t yet know what that something is. I don’t see myself returning to the church of my youth, but I don’t entirely rule it out. I have been doing a lot of reading, which is not only what I do for fun, but what I do when I am at a lost for where to go next. I’ve read about different religious traditions (I just read several books about paganism and Wicca, a few aspects of which really stuck with me), and other people’s stories of religious searching. I have plans to visit the unitarian church here in the city, and maybe the United church just down from us. (I’ve had those plans for months now, but come Sunday morning, I always seem to find an excuse. Maybe I’m just not ready yet.) I already meditate, and would love to bring a bit more of a spiritualist focus to that practice.
Whenever I talk about trying to find my career path, Bryan always tells me that he thinks I’m a “slash” person: writer slash teacher slash entrepeneur. That I will never be happy with just one thing. I think the same principle applies to my spiritual endeavours. I am a bit of an eclectic, and need to bring multiple aspects of multiple denominations into my own practice.
I remember, in grade 9 at my Catholic school, my religion teacher told us about how she took things from other religions that resonated with her and incorporated them into her Catholicism. For example, Buddhist teachings really struck a chord with her, and so she brought them into her relationship with God. That she could do this and still identify herself as a Catholic was mind-blowing to me. It was the first time anyone had told me that you were allowed to be more than just one thing, that the borders between belief systems were fluid and not fixed. That you were allowed to have a multi-faceted, multidimensional, multiple personality relationship with God.
I think that’s where I’m at now. I’m still searching. I still don’t know exactly what I believe or how to engage with that. But my years of journeying and wondering and reading have exposed me to many different disciplines that have struck a chord of truth in my soul. Perhaps, for now, that can be enough.
“When you join a church, you are basically picking which hot mess is your favorite.” – Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans