“Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, asks us to reflect on the past year. For those whom I have hurt, I ask forgiveness. For those whom I could have helped more, I ask for understanding. For all the ways I could have served the world better, I ask for strength to be better this coming year. May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life. May we all be better this coming year than the last.” -Mark Zuckerberg
I have been mulling over this post for awhile. My faith is not often something that I write about. To some extent I fear further isolation from people who have supported me in my grief journey, but may not agree with my religious position. It is an odd conundrum, because it is simultaneously my story, but also one intended to be absorbed by others. Ultimately, I tripped across the following:
Religion is a touchy subject for many, but I should not feel disinclined to write about my own experience.
I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school through grade school, and attended church two times a week. Ger had a similar experience, also went to Catholic school, even longer, through high school. We were married in the Catholic church, and continued to attend after. I was a member of the church choir. Theo and Quentin were both baptized Catholic, though we had trouble finding a church that we liked once we left our hometown. We “church shopped” a bit in Madison and attended one long enough to be recognized as members so that Theo could be baptized. Then pretended to attend one in Aurora to do the same for Quentin. But the kids were young and difficult to contain, and without finding a church that “fit”, attendance fell by the wayside.
I began to struggle a few years ago with my own beliefs against the teachings of the Catholic church. How could I take my children to a church that did not recognize women and men in the same capacity – where women could not be priests? Where gays were merely “tolerated” but not fully welecomed? Where women’s issues overall were a source of eternal condemnation? I felt no guilt about being an absentee Catholic, but still was not sure about what the right path forward would be.
Andrew Solomon writes in his book Far From the Tree about vertical and horizontal identities. Vertical identities are traits passed from parent to child: race, nationality, language, and, to some extent, religion in the sense that parents teach their children. Horizontal traits are those with which parents cannot identify: such as a genetic distinction, like dwarfism, Down’s Syndrome, or transgenderism (Solomon’s examples, among others). I am grateful for the moral and spiritual path I was given as a child. Ironic that it is that sense of morality that then caused me to question the institution itself.
Through the loss of two daughters, I never lost faith. I never questioned the existence of God. I had brief thoughts of feeling punished, but ultimately I believe that my God is not a vengeful God, no matter what my faults. I could see in my living children a lack of spiritual direction, as they did not have adequate words for heaven or the afterlife. They had some vague sense of our babies going “above” us, but Quentin referred to it as the attic. If anything, it drove me more to instill a sense of understanding in my children about the universe around them.
Add to that the mounting tensions in our country against people who are “different.” Race, nationality, religion: all are coming to frightening blows. I want my children to embrace and accept all people: to do more than just tolerate, to celebrate differences. To never feel the guilt that hovered over me for so long, but instead feel that inquisitiveness is part of the journey of faith.
All of the above led me to attend a Unitarian Universalist church last Sunday. The service started with “Welcome to our open and inclusive community” and I thought “These are my people. This is where I belong.” It ended with “Namaste.” The service last week was a study of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. Today was a service on meditation, and long moments listening to the steady intonation of a gong bath. Throughout this week, I found myself looking forward to the next service, the next thing that I would learn. Religious ed is offered for the kids, and I left them in the age-appropriate children’s classrooms. When we picked them up at the end, Theo said “This was really fun! Can we do this every week?” His class had read a book about Islam. The mission of the church reflects my own mantra in life:
We gather as an open and inclusive community to grow in character, mind, and spirit and to transform the world toward fairness, love, and compassion.
After last week, I reflected on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. Ther are many things that I could have done differently for others in the past year, but that is a separate reflection. For myself, I allow forgiveness for wandering for so long and release myself from any guilt or sense of abandon that had been holding me back. Spirituality is a continuum, I now realize, and I was under no obligation to be the same person that I had been for the previous decades in this world. I am under obligation to myself in finding what is right for me. I have a right to grow. For the year ahead, I am going to be gentle with this journey and let my own character, mind, and spirit be my guide.