Are You There, Margaret? It’s Me: God

This is an intensely personal post for me– not in the awkward Overshare kind of way, but in the I Don’t Usually Reveal This Softer, Sensitive Side Of Me in Public kind of way. Religion and spirituality are hot button and often controversial topics already– better left untouched and/or unspoken– but when you add in layers of guilt and shame from years of being taught certain things but feeling differently in your own heart, you’ve got a regular recipe for electrocution. Shazam!! I’ll be talking about spirituality today! I don’t mind if you tune out for this particular post if spirituality isn’t your thing. Maybe check out some pictures of baby animals instead? Otherwise, I appreciate you reading this with an open mind and heart. xo!

OK.

Many of you know that I grew up in a Very Catholic Family. My grandfather was actually one of the first laypeople in our city to be permitted to read aloud from the Bible during mass, and his vocabulary is still a virtual stream of direct quotes from the Best-Selling Book Of All Time. (Well, it’s more like verses from the Gospels intermingled with frustrated strings of profanity, “And Jesus said… What in hell’s name do you think you’re doing??! Jesus Christ!!! I’m trying to quote from the Bible, for god’s sake!!” Quite a character, my grandpa is). 🙂

I attended Catholic schools from Kindergarten all the way to Grade 12. We were given crosses to hang on our walls and religious pendants to wear around our necks, and we underwent most of the church’s sacraments as a class, en masse: First Communion in Grade 2, First Reconciliation in Grade 4, Confirmation in Grade 6, and regular doses of mass during junior high and high school. Passing grades in Religious Studies courses were a prerequisite for matriculation in high school, and of course it was assumed (if not outwardly required) that we all went to church every Sunday with our families.

Because nothing says "I love you, Jesus" more than puffy sleeves, crimped hair, and a total of 2 front teeth

For the most part, things in my Catholic life were fine. I enjoyed hearing about the parables (when they were paraphrased by a teacher who was a particularly great storyteller, mind you), and I threw myself wholeheartedly into the task of making macaroni crafts at Sunday School while the adults in the congregation listened to reading upon reading from the Bible upstairs. Look, ma! It’s a spaghetti rendition of the Prodigal Son! It wasn’t until I started asking my teachers in school certain questions that everything became a little… disjointed.

What do you mean, there were no women disciples? How do you know that for sure? [asked in Grade 6 when our Waste-Some-Time assignment was to draw a picture of our favourite disciple.]

What do you mean, “love the sinner, hate the sin”? Didn’t Jesus say something about doing unto ‘the least of his brethren…’ and thereby doing unto Him?” [asked in Grade 10 when a close– and gay– friend was being discriminated against via Silver Bullet verses from the Bible]

What do you mean, we can’t ask questions about premarital sex during this supposed “Family Life” unit? Don’t Catholic schoolgirls have a very high rate of teenage pregnancies? Didn’t my own, Catholic-school mother give birth to me when she was only 16 years old?? Shouldn’t we be doing something about this or talking about something else besides the epididymis? [asked every time the boring old anatomy diagrams were whipped out and flashed to our perturbed class for all of 10 seconds in “Sex Ed” before the teacher would faint from discomfort and embarrassment.]

Anyway.

In my young heart and soul, I felt that the overall message of Catholicism was Love: Love your neighbours, love yourself, love this earth, love each other, love everything about this wonderful life. Love your enemies! Love people regardless of their gender, race, age, sexual orientation, ability, or even their (non-Catholic) religion! Love love love love love!!

The overall theme of what was taught to me in school, however, seemed to be more like Jesus or Go To Church. Period. Like Nike says, Just Do It. Somehow, the simplicity of the word Love got lost in translation: verses of the Bible were used as ammunition against people who were “different”, being a good Catholic was reduced to having perfect attendance at church, and I received a stern talking to from the nun who taught me Grade 11 Religious Studies when I somehow scored higher on the “Buddhism” test than I did on the “Catholicism” quiz during the World Religions unit. Don’t go on becoming no godforsaken Buddhist now, y’hear? Those quizzes on other religions were just thrown into the curriculum to add a semblance of diversity to our program. The only true way is through Jesus. And Church. (But especially through Jesus Church.)

Sadly, over time I developed a skeptical crust over my otherwise open heart to protect myself from The Catholics (and The Christians, and anybody who was going to throw Bible verses at me as part of their persuasive artillery). I wasn’t buying it anymore. Alas. What started out as an honest yearning on my part to just stick to the lesson of Love became a hardened resistance to the people in my life who, unlike myself, had managed to find this Love through organized religion. I felt like my parents had been duped by the Church, and I was wholly embarrassed by the over-zealousness of my Bible-thumping grandpa. I stopped going to church altogether and started secretly judging the people who did go. I was enlightened. I knew better. I didn’t need no stinking Bible, I didn’t need no corrupted church, and I certainly didn’t need no virgin priest telling me what to do or how many Hail Marys to recite.

I’m ashamed to admit that I felt this way for a very long time. I had been brought up a certain way– Catholic– with the best of intentions, but the mere mention of the word “Bible” got me all defensive, and anybody who wanted to push my buttons for whatever sadistic reason needed only to utter the name “Jesus”. (Naturally, this all caused me to feel extremely guilty and ashamed of myself– the one lesson that definitely had stuck with me throughout Sunday School was that Guilt Was The Go-To Feeling for everything. Guilt was like the Robin Hood brand of emotions: All-Purpose.)

But something was missing.

When I met Marty, I was surprised to discover that he was an intensely spiritual person. (Wasn’t spirituality for the uneducated masses?) Having grown up in the Czech Republic during the Communist period, however, Marty knew practically nothing about Jesus, or the Bible, or even the parables I reluctantly admitted to liking. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of Catholic churches in Prague, but nobody had been allowed to practice their religion openly when Marty grew up… so Marty, bless his commie heart, grew up naturally being drawn to the loosely spiritual practice of Love.

From (Old, Communist) Statue Park in Budapest

Marty’s respect and genuine love for other people– even The Catholics and The Christians and The People Who Quoted The Bible– opened my eyes again. Through him, I realized that my resistance to my religious upbringing had completely missed the point and defeated the purpose: I had become exactly like the people I had judgednarrow-minded and dogmatic– just in a different way.

So I opened myself up to spirituality again. I embraced God wherever I found Him– in other people, in animals, in nature, in delicious meals, in synchronicity, and in life’s tougher lessons. Today, I call myself spiritual but still shy away from the term religious. For better or for worse, I use the word Universe interchangeably with the word God. I do not read (or, I’ll admit it– respond very well to) the Bible, but I accept that millions of other people do. That’s okay. To me, being a spiritual being does not have to involve attending church or studying any particular sacred text, line by line. Instead, spirituality requires a commitment to Love and an openness of the heart and soul. That’s it– all you need is Love.

Whenever I feel like I am out of balance or losing my way, inevitably it is because I have closed myself off from the channel of Love. I have judged others or have felt judged myself. I have suffered from a lack of self-love. I have prioritized only one aspect of my health without loving my whole self: diet and nutrition plus exercise plus mental health plus sexuality plus being social plus my spiritual health. All in all, spirituality has found me again, but it looks nothing like the spirituality of my childhood and youth. That’s okay, though– it’s all good.

22 responses

    • Thanks, Tori– how quickly we sometimes forget this! (Like when I make my gigantic salads with 18 million ingredients in them… hypothetically speaking, of course.)

  1. Great post! As a fellow Catholic Who Questions, I think it’s our responsibility to wonder. Maybe not to the Vatican, but to our souls and to God. (And when you’re bored, you can make up alternative stories for the stained glass windows.)

    • “Wonder” is a great word, especially in this context– thank you! It’s not too harsh a term– like “doubt” or “question” can be– and it’s not too soft/automatic, either. I appreciate you reading and commenting! 🙂

  2. This is a post I can relate to in a big way, Dana. I grew up with an insanely religious mother who inadvertently pushed me away from church and all things religious, but recently I’ve rediscovered that I am indeed spiritual and grateful to the Universe or whomever for the Love that transcends human efforts to understand God! Thanks so much for sharing this!
    Kathy

    • Thank you for the beautiful and supportive comment, Kathy– I really appreciate it. Glad to hear that this post resonated with you (even if it was for some of the wrong reasons!) 😉

  3. You have no idea what your post did for me. I have been feeling so out of wack lately turning into psycho mom and then feeling guilty etc etc. So much anger and frustration resides in me towards some people and then I read your post. You are right. I need to be open to the channel of love to rediscover balance and tranquility. Thank you for putting things into perspective. Right timing. Right person. Right kind of media. There are no coincidences. Thankful to you.

  4. The great thing about spirituality is that we all have it, no matter how much any particular religion or religious individual might try to convince us otherwise.

    The Golden Rule is instinctive, not just the result of our recognizing and articulating it. Life would not exist were it not for nurturing, cooperation and reciprocity.

    • I think the idea of articulation is an important one– what I resisted the most about my Catholic upbringing was seeing people become such slaves to the written word. Too much of the Bible has been taken word-for-word rather than as an allegory for a much larger (but more simplistic) way of life. LOVE.

  5. hey dana. i too, am a catholic school girl (in italy no less! the most catholic of countries!). i like to say that i had the religion beaten out of me by angry nuns. i do still feel intense attachment to catholicism, weirdly enough. attachment that i didn’t realize i had until the Fiancee asked me to convert. it was weird that my knee jerk instinct was to recoil in horror from such a thing (esp when i’m not a regular church goer anyways). call it a great brainwashing job? who knows. all i know is that somehow, this free-spirited-catholic-girl-gone-astray is now having a catholic wedding ceremony in a fancy pants church. and i’m relishing all the ritual of it. i no longer notice how annoying it is to stand and sit all the time, but now i’m noticing how beautiful the hymns are, etc. maybe it just takes a bit of growing up for us to become okay with our spirituality?

    p.s. there is nothing i hate more than people throwing bible verses at me. the way i was raised, we never memorized bible verses. we just learned the lesson BEHIND the verse. so i hated it because a) i felt they were missing the point by quoting verses, semantics i say! b) i hated it because these were arguments i could never win since i couldn’t quote anything back. i hate losing arguments.

    • I totally agree. And I happen to love going to mass in other countries– all the standing/sitting and hymns seem so beautiful (almost haunting!) when they are in another language. *Such a tourist.* Alas, I haven’t been to English-language Catholic mass in many years.

      My knee-jerk response to Bible quotes is usually an annoyed rolling of the eyes, followed by a frustrated “whatever”. There has never been a time when I’ve been like, “say, that IS a good point”. But never say never, right? 😉 People change, and maybe one day I’ll own and love my personal Bible! You’ll be the first person I quote to…

  6. Great Post. I definitely hear you. In 11th grade while learning about Catholic history in Sunday school, I asked why we weren’t learning about the Inquisition. They told me that just wasn’t what they were teaching during Sunday school. I began to wonder “what are they teaching then?” . I began to question the honesty of and selectiveness of the information being taught in Sunday school.
    I now have a personal relationship with God on my terms. I don’t agree with all Catholic beliefs so I participate in a way that feels right to me.
    Thanks for your post.

    • Great comment– thank you! I’m also a picker and chooser when it comes to the Catholic beliefs. That selectivity also extends to other world religions, though– I guess that makes me a perfect hodge-podge of the world’s spiritual beliefs. The best of ALL worlds.

  7. I think I experienced the real shift in Grade 8 when we learned about the Crusades. I felt personally hurt, indignant and generally teenagery.

    What I’ve found most personally damaging, and what I feel like I still battle with regularly, is the culture (in my community) of shame and silence around everything taboo, which was a lot. Thinking I’d caught her in a conundrum, I once asked (also in Grade 8, it was a big year) Sister C in catechism why premarital sex was a sin if it wasn’t in the ten commandments. Rather than tell me that adultery means sex with anyone you’re not married to, which would have satisfied my haughty question, she looked at me like I was already lost. Now I shudder to think I even asked.

    The silver lining for me is that even in all that I couldn’t identify with there were messages of love that glimmered through and I truly enjoyed those moments. Now those love moments bubble up occasionally and whatever doesn’t I try to learn from.

    Thanks for the visit from the spirituality fairy. My cup runneth over (not that I’m throwing scripture in your face) 🙂

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