I’m 24 and shit. One of my best friends just got married a couple of days ago. I’ve been thinking about love a lot lately. Pretty much, get ready for an introspective, stream of consciousness piece about fear, religion, relationships, having children, and all that.
Ultimately, my vision for our world is one filled with compassion and love.
But how does one pass compassion and love on to children?
My knee-jerk answer has always been structure and disciple. That pattern of thought then brings me to religion.
I grew up Catholic. My mother taught at the Catholic school I attended and I grew up admiring nuns. There was this running joke in my family that when asked what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would respond a nun with 10 kids. Looking back, I think I understood nuns to be powerful, compassionate, elevated women and so aspired to be that. I no longer think those things, but I digress.
When my family came to America in 2000, I continued my Catechism classes at St. Joseph where I also gardened on Saturday mornings and served as an Altar Server on Sunday evenings. My base for goodness, compassion, love, discipline, and structure revolved around church. I grew to know the good in myself through service of others and the church provided that foundation. I’d never take back those experiences.
Baby girl grew up
However, when I went away to college and had a choice, I moved away from my Catholic foundation. Christians sometimes refer to college as the place where a young soul can get lost, so my family prayed for me often during my four years at Syracuse University. When I had tough times, I requested prayers, but it was never a habit I made for myself. It’s not that I didn’t pray, I did, but sporadicly. When I felt emotionally overwhelmed or tested, I strung a few words together in prayer. However, scripture was not the place I looked to for the peace I needed.
Upon graduating college, I went off to work at Farm and Wilderness in Vermont for six months. While there I spent a lot of time out in nature meditating.
It was not about worshipping an almighty God or higher power, rather it was about working to grow myself within myself through silent meetings with myself and all that surrounded me.
It was about feeling the birds in the trees above.
It was about hearing loons learn to call for the first time.
It was about hearing the lake move.
It was reflective.
I thought about the world around me and often envisioned the ways to add light to it.
It was then that I had this revelation to become a community organizer, the most rewarding thing I have done.
Despite all I’ve said so far, when I think about raising kids, my mind often goes back to how I was raised. For some reason, I seem to think that I am the person I am today because of how much my mother enforced church. I seem to think about my grandmother and her relationship with the Bible and God. She was an incredible, loving, forgiving, compassionate person and the route she took was the Bible.
But the Bible has never been it for me.
I don’t find power in scripture in the way my family expects me to.
A lot of times that recognition makes me feel guilty. It’s like I am letting my family down, and because of that I have this back and forth relationship with myself where I say “Flose, you gotta revert back to structure and discipline yourself in The Word,” but That’s never where I find peace.
Where I find peace is in meditation, nature, and silence. That’s the space that brings me to light.
I’m treading interesting space here because there is room for The Word in meditation, nature, and silence. In truth, I’m just not as interested in creating space for that in the way I enjoy adding Eastern religious exploration to my spiritual diet. Learning about OSHO and processing his teachings moves me more than remembering the Ten Commandments does. Having a silent meeting in nature to feel the present energizes my spirit in a way going to a three-hour church service does not.
Hold on to your tea cup, mom, I’m not an atheist.
I met up with some college friends in New York City about a month ago, and we discussed religion. A couple of them said they could not marry someone who is not Christian, because they need that basic foundation for the power of prayer to exist within their home. I chimed in that I could marry a person of any religious background as long as they were not atheist. A couple weeks later, I said the same thing to a man who I liked and who happens to be an atheist, but that wasn’t a flag for me.
I know I’m not an atheist because I believe in the existence of God although I don’t know that I can fully articulate what that means.
Atheism is a dirty word in my family and culture — at least that’s what I have been led to believe. I have not visualized people who do not believe in the existence of God as compassionate and loving. That’s not to say I have not loved people who are atheist. One of the best inter-faith community organizers I know, Kayla Gilchrist, is an atheist, and so is a pal from college, Tyrell Carter, who I spent a lot of time with. I almost feel like I’m pulling that but I’m not racist, I have a black friend card here so I’ll carry on.
The point is, I seek to add compassion and love to my life, and I have been led to think the only way one can inherently be those things is if they believe and exist in God. But wanting to keep getting to know a man who I thought to be compassionate, patient, and loving despite his atheism turned that idea on its head and reminded me of relationships like the one I have with Kayla.
There’s fear in my future
There’s this fear of raising kids wrong that sometimes takes precedent when I think about family, the kind of man I want to marry, and what I want for our partnership.
What I have come to realize is that because my childhood was traumatic, I have fears about parenting, and begin to foresee the things I could get wrong. I haven’t even had kids and I’ve stacked a mountain of self-blame.
I could discipline my kids in a manner that doesn’t show them that I love them.
I could raise them without compassion.
What I seem to think is that the way to prevent fucking up as a parent is to model goodness through dogmatic teachings. I mean, it makes sense. I’m a crazy Gemini who has that I need things to be orderly and perfect syndrome, but that’s not actually what I want to strive for in childrearing.
I see church and religious leaders as powerful community catalysts who have the potential to help others achieve compassion and love.
However, I recognize how politicized religion is. I believe it, at times, can create neediness and lead people to complacency. I don’t believe we need to dependent on God or a higher power to change us because they hold some secret key. I think we can do that for ourselves through any vessel we choose. This is not to say that I don’t benefit from church. When I attend services there’s usually a takeaway, something to use as a reflection point to better myself, but this idea of a higher power delivering us from evil is not how I ground myself.
In all of this, there’s a coming out that needs to happen. I’ll have to step out of the closet and have these conversations with my parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins without guilt or fear of being an outsider.
This recent self-realization also raises questions I don’t have answers to.
What will I say when they want to pray for me?
Do I value prayer?
How can they receive the compassion and love I intend for them to receive if we are not using the same channel?
Does the Universe/God understand prayer in whatever form in comes?
What is God?
What is the Universe?
How do I raise compassionate, loving beings without the structure of church?
I don’t doubt that there is flow of energy, or that the universe works with all forms of life that are present. Does that mean there may be some other religious category that I fall into but haven’t discovered?
I think these are important questions I’ll need to answer while I adult. I’m certain I’ll encounter answers on my journey in the way I’ve been led to face my honest feelings about my religion today; through living, building relationships, and engaging with myself.