“I need to bring up a serious subject,” my dad said. We were walking to the market in Rowayton, Conn., last summer. It was a hot day and I could feel sweat suddenly coming out of my ears as anxiety simmered in my throat. I was visiting my parents for a couple of weeks with Agnes as a sort of last northeast hurrah before LG arrived in August.
“Oh dear,” I replied.
My dad has a way of sinking the putt before you’ve even approached the tee box.
“It’s nothing bad, just something we need to talk about…Your mom’s been really worked up about it.”
I didn’t know where this was going, but had I listened to his words via voicemail and had an hour or two to think about it, I probably would have figured it out.
“It’s about church,” he said.
Before I continue with our discussion and some of my thoughts on a complicated and personal subject, I will explain some of my background: I was raised Catholic. My dad’s Italian and my mom’s a solid chunk Scottish-Irish. Church was a part of our existence from as far back as I can remember. I squirmed restlessly in pews as a kid waiting for the priest to tell us all, “Mass has ended. You may go in peace.” Allelujah. Amen. The only times I ever really enjoyed church were when I was a part of mass singing hymns in the choir and on Christmas Eve in Salzburg listening to “Stille Nacht” at the Silent Night Chapel (this was where it was sung for the first time in 1818). And I can’t forget my wedding at St. Francis Solano in Sonoma in 2013.
My family fell somewhere in between holiday churchgoers and devout churchgoers (I looked up a better term for holiday churchgoers and the best I could come up with was “submarine Christian” because they only surface for Christmas and Easter). I swam competitively my whole life and as important as church was to my parents, I never missed a swim meet for church. Our attendance at Mass was sometimes hot (every Sunday) and sometimes cold. But we all had rosaries and crosses in our rooms and my brother and I went through all the sacraments good Catholic kids do, while attending CCD through the eighth grade.
At some point in high school, I took it a step further and participated in a retreat in our town called Emmaus. It was a super-charged spiritual experience where a select group of Christian kids went away for about 72 hours and listened to a bunch of talks given by our peers (usually older kids we looked up to in high school). Following the talks on various themes, we’d split up into groups and debrief. Take a break to eat. Listen to another talk. Sing. Group discuss it some more. Write a little. Go to bed. Repeat. There was a lot of hand-holding, hugging, crying and prayer. Even a little fun, too. I was so moved by the weekend I kept going back and was even asked to give a talk at one of them.
Then college happened. Church was the last thing I thought about. My priorities were swimming, parties, boys and school (in that order, too, much to my parents’ chagrin). I would join my parents at church if/when I saw them for holidays (my parents moved to Tokyo when I started at UVA so our time together was limited to summers and Christmases).
Much like I can’t put a finger on when I went from being a confident transatlantic flier to someone who can barely tolerate turbulence on a 15-minute flight, I can’t really put my finger on when my faith fizzled like the end of a New Year’s Eve sparkler. Suddenly, I just didn’t get it.
I want to believe in a God. More so in a heaven. I’m terrified of death and the infinite nothingness of it. Death would be a heck of a lot more bearable for me if I knew there was a place where I’d see everyone again. But I can’t sit here and honestly write I believe in an afterlife. When good things happen to me, I feel lucky and blessed. But by what I don’t know. In my earlier days, I cherished the idea of loved ones who’d passed becoming my guardian angels. I was always a strong believer in signs. Are they the work of God? Are guardian angels sending us messages? It’s comforting to imagine. And don’t get me started on mediums. I love listening to them reading people and half-believe in spirits floating among us. If God and angels are at work in miraculous situations, like just missing an accident on the freeway or popping up from nearly drowning in the ocean, then who’s at work (or not?) when really bad, terrible things happen in life?
What my dad was referring to in the beginning of this post was Easter last year. My in-laws were visiting and I spoke to my mom on Easter Sunday. She was appalled we didn’t go to church, or rather, I didn’t make it a priority to show up.
“You have so much to be thankful for I cannot believe you aren’t going to church!” My mom shouted at me through the phone with the same oomph she would have expressed if I told her I’d signed up to join the Mars One settlement. She was referring to our struggle getting pregnant.
“So many people prayed for you. How can you be so ungrateful?”
She cried out of disappointment. I cried out of disbelief at her comments and the conversation ended fairly abruptly. We didn’t talk for several days.
I expected to have a conversation with my dad about this much sooner than when we did. And possibly another conversation with my mom, but it never came up. Until now.
“Regardless of what you believe in — I don’t necessarily believe in everything — the values the church teaches are really important,” my dad said. “What is your plan for instilling these kinds of values in your child?”
Yes, the church taught us good lessons. But don’t books teach these, too? And/or people? I get that love and kindness, sacrifice and generosity are intrinsic to the Bible, but there are other places in this world one can find these virtues, no?
My dad made some good points that day and I told him I’d consider his thoughts as I prepared to give birth to our first child.
I used to keep a book of quotes that inspired me and this one came to mind from surf legend/adonis Laird Hamilton:
“If you can look at one of these waves and you don’t believe that there’s something greater than we are, then you’ve got some serious analyzing to do and you should go sit under a tree for a very long time.”
Thank you, Laird.
I am often enraptured by the natural beauties of this world. I have a kindergartner’s understanding of science so while Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” might explain how we all came to be, I still feel at the end of the day something bigger is among us. While I have a deep appreciation and awe of the world around us, I am absolutely in need of some kind of spiritual light in my life. But is church the answer? We are thinking of having LG baptized, more for his grandparents and knowing it would bring family and friends together, than for “freeing him from original sin and from personal guilt” (baptism according to Catholic.org). We want him to make up his own mind about faith and God someday.
While it would be nice to impart my family’s traditions of Catholicism with LG, MainMan (who was brought up Presbyterian and expresses similar questions about God and faith) and I want our son to be accepting, respectful and tolerant of all mankind, and I’m not sure the Catholic Church will teach him this kind of inclusivity. And if I don’t believe in all of the “Apostles’ Creed” and I stand in Mass reciting it, doesn’t this make me a hypocrite? That’s the part I can’t quite come to terms with.
Luckily we have some time to think about this. MainMan and I have briefly discussed the conflict of where to baptize our son if we haven’t really chosen our own paths moving forward.
Are you religious? Do you and your partner come from different religious backgrounds? How do you embrace spirituality, if at all? And how do you share this with your LOs? I think I need to do more research. I’m up for ideas. In the meantime, I’ll just be off in a field somewhere sitting under a tree, chasing after LG and wondering, what’s it all about?