Last induction of the Christmas tree glow… I am going to have to take this tree down soon – not taking it down until sunday 🙂 or maybe monday….
This is a piece has been in my head for years (25 yrs probably) – with the new additions – it is long but it flowed, it is a deliberate piece… I had to get it out – I brainstormed it a few days ago – and now it is written – nearly uninterrupted 2hrs writing last night, 2hrs editing/writing this morning – so good to get this one out of my soul!!!!!! YEAH!!!!!!!
this piece is about losing a religion – but retaining – gaining – regaining a spirituality – there is a very very very important difference!!!
How I Lost My Religion, 17JAN
If you sense any burning in my voice in some of these pieces, it’s because I feel the hot glue gun that God is dripping on me to force me to get some of these harder pieces together – to force me to get them out, set them on a shelf and move forward… Sometimes it is like “throwing up on paper” – get it out and then clean it up – and you will feel MUCH better…
I have a few friends who appear to have never had a religion… never got a religious or even a spiritual upbringing. I, on the other hand, have the religious upbringing but my spirituality is self taught, God has shown me beauty in all things…pretty easy for me to believe in God. One such friend, who doesn’t believe in God, says she can’t “pray” for people when she sees strife – but she does think good thoughts for them. Although she doesn’t believe in God, she thinks there is a heaven and a hell… Well, at least she has some structure in her lack of belief system, hmmm….
Being Catholic was not always easy (that’s not unique to me, I now realize) – it was all I knew for a while as a child – but growing up in a progressive, international and diverse community that was and is my hometown, it was inevitable that I would have access to people of many faiths. My family on my Dad’s side was catholic by default – from Irish background – and my father and his 5 brothers all attended our school/church (their 8th grade graduation photos line the walls of the school)…. my mother had no religion – and I remember at my grandmother’s passing the discussion that they were pretty sure she was baptized – even though there was no religion – there was an underlying spirituality that I saw existed at funerals. My mom had to go through baptism, confirmation and pre-cana all in one to marry my dad.
At Catholic school and in church as a child, I was taught that to worship you had to sit on your hands. Yup, I can remember Father John instructing us to: stand, put our hands behind us, then sit down. Father John was in the service club with my father and bridged both the worlds of being a regular-type person and a priest . Yes, I was grateful that I have the religious background and I would never trade most of my life trials for anything now – but sometimes I wonder if what I learned was truly good for me. I was glad that my parents weren’t super religious about going to church – my father didn’t like the sermons, he said. Since I went to catholic school, I didn’t have to go to CCD class. As a school, we would walk two blocks to church on feast days. One week my brother pulled altar boy duty at 7am every morning for a week, so my mom said “This makes up for lots of the times we missed”. I remember often the prevailing emotions in my life experiences- but not always the facts that surround those events. I have social awareness naturally and my book knowledge is self-taught.
My long hours in forced mass attendance did benefit me to this day – I learned to sit (on my hands) and do nothing – and to sit and not fall asleep and to sit and just let my mind go. It was a Godsend to learn how to sit still – an hour at a time – charting the time going by – making it easier to sit through college and grad school classes and boring seminars later on… let your mind go – but don’t move and don’t appear to be not paying attention… got that down – thanks catholic upbringing… don’t remember the sermons. I remember the rote memorized prayers and the tune of the most wonderful arrangement of the Lord’s Prayer… I remember my first communion – so special… sat right up in front – I remember my pink dress, my white gloves and carrying the tray… I remember the bells rung by the altar boys – their white robes and SAM’s instruction to look up before looking down in prayer. I remember my favorite retelling of the Easter resurrection story told in different parts by the many priests – it must have been special if more than one priest showed up that mass! I remember the faces of the priests – the young ones who came in the 70’s in their scruffy hippie style – as well as the demeanor of the older priests.
Father C was our pastor – he was there for over 25 years – very nice man – good with the financial and social aspects of running a church – he once ran a stamp club for us in school – I remember him teaching us the word “philately”. He also had us make unleavened bread for our class’s first communion. I remember the gift of a special rosary, reciting the Hail Mary like there was no tomorrow. I loved the school carnival – my mom ran the rummage sale – my father made “Dandy Candy Apples”. I remember spending my money on games, raffles, winning a pink and grey afghan and those old Italian ladies yelling “Hot pizza fritta’s ! – Get’em while they’re hot!” And the bingo… the smoke-choking filled gym in which parents were forced to work – “shake’em up” the permanent fixture bingo ladies would yell. It’s not just attending Mass that defined my catholic upbringing.
Catholic church Masses at college weren’t the same – first off, it was too far across the main thoroughfare of our tiny town –they were held at the other school across the way – a 70’s incarnation of a church – modern with no stained glass saints which you could study while sitting through that long hour mass – no families – just college kids – guilt brought Catholics to church and I guess these kids were no exception – they had been guilted well. A few times I attended – not really worth the trip….
Then a friend said – let’s try the local community church – for all denominations… first and foremost, we ran into our professors – whoa! – my chemistry and biology advisors – their families – other professors – community members… there was a WOMAN minister – with children’s time at the beginning of the service – when the stories were entertaining for the children and enriching for the adults. There was the coffee hour afterwords – say what??? My catholic upbringing had none of this – and you call yourselves Christians, lol? Drinking coffee together? Shaken – but happy to see that the people were happy… WAIT where’s the guilt? HEY – didn’t you have to go to confession before you were allowed to have that communion??? Yes I was raised with tolerance, compassion for my fellow man and an open eye view of the people of the world – but coffee and talking after church with cookies? where was this in my catholic upbringing? Again I don’t remember the sermons but as an emotional learner – I remember Rev D – I remember the personal connections – her reassuring smile and the people’s faith in what was preached.
World Religions class in junior year was a pass/fail formality for me – some easy credits to accumulate – it wasn’t part of my core classes, so my major professor, chemistry teacher and overall good egg, Dr B, let me take it pass/fail to reduce my stress levels, knowing that my energy had to be focused on P-Chem and Biochem and oh yeah – that new boyfriend of mine 😉 … World religions was an eye opener to my catholic apartment-mate – she never heard of half these religions where as I luckily knew people in my hometown who practiced them – diversity in your upbringing makes a HUGE difference… For some strange reason, the world religions professor loved my writing – that had never happened before – I whizzed through class – left after 20 minutes during the final exam to the horror looks of the other exam takers – “it’s ok” I said out loud to the exam takers and again to the professor, “It’s OK! I am only taking this pass/fail and I have to study for Chem….” 😉
Back to that boyfriend… time for marriage… time to find a church back home… we had moved back to my hometown to start our grad school careers. Well my beloved childhood fairytale wedding – in my home church – stained glass, was dripping with flying wood buttresses – and faithful Father C… Fairytale wedding? not so fast… our first or second meeting… there was “the paper”… Guess what, my fiancée was Methodist (born Presbyterian and transferred to Methodism) – that’s not Catholic… hmmm… There was/is one Christ right? Hmmm… not catholic… Not just a formality to breeze over this oversight on my part, a few extra Hail Mary’s on his behalf – no, I had to sign a paper – had to promise to raise my kids catholic – WAIT! KIDS? WHAT KIDS? Yup, they were pre-calling me on the carpet… Where was my upbringing? Where was my faith? Where were the tenants of my religion? If I wasn’t true to my religion then how could I be true to anything?? Discouraged – looked down upon for my situation – no mercy from Father C. I know others had been in the same boat – but worse – not able to get married in the catholic church. My future husband was supposed to sign away his rights to raise our kids in his faith – he didn’t actually have to sign the paper, just verbally agree… hmmm… My Dad said -“Eh, just sign it – whatever” with the thought that it really didn’t matter what I signed – it was a later decision… My Dad’s words of wisdom were – “Your Mother always wanted you to be married in a church – don’t disappoint your Mother” … there it is folks – was I to lie to God to make sure I get married in a church?… No, that was one thing I couldn’t do – lie to God – nope – so I didn’t sign it – I didn’t even call Father C back up – I just wrote a letter retracting my request to be married in my home church – I lost my fairytale wedding I thought – move on…
The REM song “Losing My Religion” – That’s Me in the Corner – That’s Me in the Spotlight – Losing My Religion – yes, that was my theme song for 1991-1992. Profound and prophetic – coincidence or music therapy? Let me be clear – it was not just my lack of willingness to sign the dotted line about my unknown unplanned kid’s religion – but it was truly a year’s long process of my disagreements with the tenants of the Catholic church – with the heresy disguised as traditions – with my opposing views on euthanasia and abortion – sure I liked the Pope (John Paul II), but I really had been losing faith in my Catholic religion for years…. The forced paper for the wedding was the last straw. My biggest argument then and now is – ‘It doesn’t matter whether you go grocery shopping – to X or Y (two local stores) – it is the same food, just different packaging. That is the difference in these Christian religions – same food – same take home message – but packaged different – repurposed rebranded for a particular store.’ It was so clear then and now that Catholicism had its stronghold on churches and people but Christianity was and is much bigger than an individual church and an individual religion. It was a good effort on my part to harden my heart and to tell myself it didn’t matter – but with the REM song in my head – IT HURT – it really hurt to lose my religion.
Methodism – yes – an opening at the Methodist church – same date – same Christ – beautiful church – and actually this was the same church where my Godfather’s wife – a Methodist – attended… He did sign that paper – he took his kids to catholic church himself without his wife – she went to the Methodist church and he came to catholic mass – equal but different – a testament to the strength of faith in one’s own religion and the strength of marriage – they agreed to be separate to be together – she agreed to it – and he was and is a wonderful loving dad and godly man – and they are still amazing in their togetherness, and their kids are amazing too.
The Methodist church – a beautiful church for a wedding – and guess what? Recovering Catholic – guess what? ALL the “pre-Cana”-like classes we had were filled with former Catholics – talk about an exodus… nearly all couples had a former catholic – including one whom I went to catholic school with. The term “Recovering Catholic” was how my librarian friend and work study mentor described herself way before I became a “Recovering Catholic” – a term I still use today – when people ask my religion – I say I attend the Methodist church – we practice Methodism – I was raised on Bingo but now I am into covered dish suppers…
Methodism – just a year or so after we got married a new pastor came to town – a spitfire – the most powerful preacher I have ever met – and also a great mom and grandma and pastor too. She lit up a room when she preached and brought me to tears so many times – especially in my later years through horrid grad school experiences… I still want to re-hear her Christmas sermon with children about gold frankincense and mud – I can’t remember why the mud – but I remember the emotions – the power. Her Baptist-raised, Southern-bred soulful fire brought personal heart-touching stories – ones I long to hear again. Methodism is yes, methodical but it like any sermon can be personalized and the result is unmatched in my opinion. My good high school friend, now a Pastor, happened to attend as well – a friend who herself is a preacher now in the cold north country. Her dad passed away suddenly quite young and the most vivid words from Rev RD will always be with me – “It Sucks!” Yup, there is no way around it – there are good words to give at funerals – but when it comes down to it – “IT SUCKS” to have a family member die – a Dad – with so much more spirited life to live. She was grieving with the whole church in addition to the family – she showed us that it is ok to grieve his loss – it is ok to cry – it is ok to trust God too while we mourn. Those sentiments echoed in my head a week or so ago at another friend’s 51 year old mother’s funeral – it sucked for the family – our current church’s Pastor was visibly moved by the emotion in the congregation at the service – it was a therapeutic cry for all.
There are more verses for this essay which are not lived yet – more stories for people who believe and who don’t believe –
Why? I ask: Why do we cling to religions that provide structure but provide strife? Why are people forced into pigeon holes of beliefs when it was supposed to be one church! and yet, I have found that many people are not schooled in why there are different religions anyway – they just find a place that they like the people and the pastor and stick with it for a while – there are some people who are hardfast into one religion – but others are just floaters…
It was a good effort on my part to harden my heart 20-25 years ago and to tell myself it didn’t matter that I lost my religion – but with that REM song in my head – it really hurt to lose my religion – and it DOES matter that I lost my way.
See there are more verses – more dos-i-dos – more losses and regains to be found for me and for others…. this is a good time to stop this essay – regroup and them come back…
Religion is not a fairy tale – beliefs gets lost in the shuffle – religion is nice while it lasts.. but it just doesn’t sustain me like spirituality…. God’s Spirit in us is what really matters…