I’ve been writing this post in my head for quite some time now. It’s been an ongoing dialogue with my own evolving faith and spirituality and I’m warning you now, this is going to be a big one. A little background: I was born and raised in the Catholic Church by Catholic parents. I achieved all of the milestones, baptism, communion, confirmation all the while attending church as a family every Sunday. Our church was huge. For most of my church-going life, mass took place in the church’s school gymnasium. There were squeaky plastic folding chairs placed shoulder to shoulder in two large sections facing a wide center aisle where the mass would take place. With basketball hoops retracted up to the ceiling and brightly colored playground balls stuck in the rafters it wasn’t exactly a place that emitted holiness. There was an actual church on the premises but it was a small neighborhood church and the congregation had grown so large that there was no choice but to hold each Sunday’s multiple masses in the gym.
Our regular priest had a “kindly uncle” air about him. He had an easy smile that made crinkles around his eyes and a voice that made the gym sound system absolutely unnecessary. Overall, my experience in that church were all very distant. I was one in a crowd. Did that priest know me? Did he know my family? No. I grew up as a spectator to religion. Yes, I went through all the classes, which were excruciatingly painful given my shyness. All of the other kids in the program went to school together, where I was from a neighboring town. I never took much ownership over my religion. It was just something I did.
Without saying so, by the time I was in college my parents let me make up my own mind about religion. They stopped asking me to go to church and stopped going themselves shortly after the parish finally raised enough money to construct a monstrosity of a church. Real pews, statues and breathtaking stained-glass windows in every direction- no one could argue the holiness of this place, but it wasn’t mine and it was no longer theirs. Had they chosen to pursue a religious path for my sister and I while we were young but lacked in their own faith of the Catholic religion behind the scenes? My father is guilty of always thinking outside the box, always questioning. He was the one that would ask me when I was young, “What if the universe is actually in a glass bowl on someone’s coffee table?” Never did he preach to me that Catholic beliefs were the be all end all.
Skip ahead a few years, Mr. Something and I were preparing for our wedding. Having been raised “Christian” but without any solid religious background, Mr. Something was a stranger to Catholic marriage ceremonies and I was far from comfortable at such a heavily religious event. We knew our ceremony would be spiritual but not necessarily religious. Enter Pastor Ryan, the pastor at a dear friend’s church who has now preformed four weddings in our group of friends. Mr. Something first got to know him while acting as best man at the first two weddings. Without a thought, we knew he’d be the one to marry us. He has an easy going nature that somehow made him more human than the priests that I had grown up watching. They were lofty, untouchable men of God. Pastor Ryan was like a friendly neighbor that you wouldn’t hesitate to invite over for a barbecue and a beer. Meeting him started to shift my idea of religion being this formal, bigger than life pageantry to something simple and comfortable.
Naturally, there were pre-wedding counseling sessions which were cause for some anxiety. At this point in my life I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God, but Pastor Ryan quickly showed me that religion and faith are constantly evolving for everyone and even though we may not have been on the same page as him, he could provide invaluable insight on the topic as well as our approaching marriage. It was a comfortable change to the religion that I had grown up knowing, but was I suddenly embracing religion in my newly married life? Not so much.
I love when two totally unrelated things suddenly come into your life and become inexplicably related to one another. A good friend of mine sent me a “Favorite Things” package over this past winter break. Among her favorite things was the book Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom
It’s the nonfiction tale of Albom being asked by his childhood Rabbi to compose and present his eulogy. What ensued was a relationship that spanned almost a decade and Albom’s own rediscovery of faith. In the beginning of the book he states where he was religiously as an adult and I found his description quite fitting to my own adult journey up until now…
… I attended no services. Who had time? I was fine. I was healthy. I was making money. I was climbing the ladder. I didn’t need to ask God for much, and figured, as long as I wasn’t hurting anyone, God wasn’t asking much of me either. We had forged a sort of “you go your way, I’ll go mine” arrangement, at least in my mind. I followed no religious rituals… Over time, I honed a cynical edge toward overt religion. People who seemed too wild-eyed with the Holy Spirit scared me. And the pious hypocrisy I witnessed in politics and sports- congressmen going from mistresses to church services, football coaches breaking the rules, then kneeling for a team prayer- only made things worse.
Like Albom, I never had felt the need for God, or faith, or even something larger than myself, that is until the idea of foster care adoption entered stage left. Having never felt the maternal pull to have my own children, suddenly I felt moved to pursue this path. I have found numerous foster care blogs that are heavily religious and claim that they were called by God to do this. As in Albom’s quote, this in-your-face spirituality scared me. However, I’ve been asked to justify our choice a number of times and the further we get into it, the harder it becomes because it feels more and more like what we are meant to do. Like never before I have the feeling that there is something larger than Mr. Something and I guiding us in this direction.
I was on the phone with a dear friend and in a moment of much needed support she said, “You need to have faith in your choice to take the path less traveled. I have faith, in both of you, that you can do this.” There it was again, faith.
Later in the book, Albom shares an account of a conversation he had with his rabbi…
“Ask yourself, ‘Why did God create but one man?” the Reb said, wagging a finger. “Why, if he meant for there to be faiths bickering with each other, didn’t he create that from the start? He created trees, right? Not one tree, countless trees. Why not the same with man?
“Because we are all from that one man- and all from that one God. That’s the message.”
Then why, I asked, is the world so fractured?
“We’ll, you can look at it this way. Would you want the world to all look alike? No. The genius of life is its variety.
“Even in our own faith, we have questions and answers, interpretations, debates. In Christianity, in Catholicism, in other faiths, the same thing- debates, interpretations. That is the beauty. It’s like being a musician. If you found the note, and you kept hitting that note all the time, you would go nuts. It’s the blending of the different notes that makes the music.”
The music of what?
“Of believing in something bigger than yourself.”
Maybe the analogy resonated with me because I am a musician, but it made sense. I struggled with religion claiming to be the one right answer, but now I find my faith is stemming from the feeling that for the first time in my life I am compelled to take the hard road- that I didn’t choose it, it chose me. Do I want to claim that, “I have found God!” Am I going to join a local congregation and become a zealously devout member? No. However, all of these experiences, people, and insight has lead to a broadening of my idea of faith. It will be tested when things get scary and tough, but my well of faith is being dug deeper every day. It’s a well that hasn’t always been there, but it has grown into my own notes that are contributing to the symphony that is “…believing in something bigger than yourself.”