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!
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.]
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 judged— narrow-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.