Son: I’m so excited that tomorrow is Christmas Eve!
Mom: I know! Me too! Remember, tomorrow we go to church in the evening.
Son: I don’t want to go to church. Church is boring.
Mom: It is. I know. I like the people and the music and Father Jerry. I also like when the boring parts let me think about the things I want to think about.
Two things happened here. I am very conscious of telling the truth as I partner in raising this six-year-old human being. (You can call me out on that when I talk about a couple of our magical rituals that bend traditional definitions of truth—the Tooth Fairy, who came to our house last night, for example.) So when my son has feelings or thoughts, I acknowledge them. It would be easy to deny his feelings and say, “It’s not boring. There are interesting things to learn if you just listen.” Or, “How can you be bored? I let you play with cars and coloring books at church.” I will leave my son’s spiritual development for another post since he has already taught me so much from his pure approach to faith.
The second thing that happened is that the conversation set off a path to a moment of clarity which is keeping me awake and which I am sharing with you right now. The truth is that I’ve spent my life on and off, bored at church. And I’ve had periods of not going at all.
When I go back to my faith community, for real, here’s what I find:
- Fleeting and sometimes binding instances of clarity
- An exalted spirit lifted by music
- A relaxation of my soul in the rituals I know
- A connection to a community of people lifting up the same prayers of hope that I hold in my heart, but can’t always name
- Moments of joy, grief, sorrow, love, laughter, a-ha knowledge
I am writing this to share my faith and boredom and desire. My desire is to create light in the world. Your path to light may be different than mine. I have faith that your path is right for you. I encourage you to find it. Seek it out. And give some of the traditions that you do know, some of the religions that you do know, a chance again.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddist monk told me (when I read his book), that I can embrace Buddhism and not chuck (my words) my own religious traditions. I had never thought about it that way. I have called myself a cafeteria Catholic because I pick and choose what works for me. I openly disagree with certain tenets of the Church. I spent six excellent years at a Quaker school going to weekly Meeting for Worship and sitting in silence until spirit urged me to speak. What if I took the good of my experience with religions for me and for my family and shared that? What if I took my faith to a new level? I didn’t know how to do that. So unconsciously, here’s what I did:
The Search for Clues
I began studying. Not just books, but through conversations with people of different religious traditions and no religious traditions. And I chose to just pay attention to life and my inner voice. Is that God? My desire? Magical powers? Intuition? Do I have to name it? [Note: I called the examples below, “case studies” just for formatting purposes. I was not actually studying these folks, more loving them and looking to understand their way in the world.] I have lots of friends who “do” lots of things.
Case Study #1: Buddhist Mama When I met her, she did not celebrate Christmas. I was told it was because she grew up in the Bible belt of the South and was turned off by her experience. She has since deeply explored (joined?) a Buddhist community. She has also become a mother and sent me photos of her children standing inside giant Christmas stockings.
Case Study #2: The I Love Almost Everything Jewish Mom She gets most of her Jewish culture from her mother who converted to Judaism in order to marry her father. She also celebrates nature, supports a belief in fairies, teaches her children about native American spirits and Mexico’s Day of the Dead, and has had African naming ceremonies for her children in lieu of traditional baptisms.
Case #3: The Athletic Activist She isn’t down with the whole Catholic thing. But she volunteers like a daemon at a community center. And I venture to say that there are only eight weeks (or less) of the year when she is not playing a sport with some of the coolest women out there. So she’s intensely part of a community. So maybe she’d be called SBNR. What’s that you say? You don’t know that acronym? I didn’t either until I read it in my book, but it stands for “Spiritual But Not Religious.” I’d venture to call her softball and football regimens religious. I’d also say that the way she has helped this community center with fervor points to a faith that is not anchored by ceremony, but in her very simple beginnings.
Case Study #4: The Holy Smokes I Never Knew Grace Like This Catholic She has been an incredible spiritual anchor through conversations and texts teaching me about discernment, grace and faith through recent periods of grief, fear and exaltation in my life. She has become obsessed with Pope Francis. She also sent me the book, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, by James Martin, SJ.
The Written and Spoken Word
I have been reading the Jesuit book, with audio downloads of Danielle LaPorte’s The Desire Map and incessantly reading young adult novels from the 39 Clues series to Chronicles of the Red King. So this morning, I decided, when I couldn’t sleep, that I needed to pull the Jesuit book. If you don’t know about Jesuits, they are the more liberal order within the Catholic Church who have a commitment not to advance to high political levels, but instead, to work for social justice and the poor. When I read the book this morning, low and behold, there’s a chapter on Desire. I couldn’t even finish it because I had to write to you right now.
I have to tell you something: Believe.
Believe in something. In someone. In the Universe. In whatever you want. Just know that it doesn’t have to be one thing, one path. You may want to join a community.
I am only on page 63 of 414 pages of the Jesuit book, but there are two key takeaways I’m swimming with right now.
An Adult Exploration of Faith
An adult life requires an adult faith. Think of it this way, you wouldn’t consider yourself equipped to face life with a third grader’s understanding of math. Yet people often expect the religious instruction they had in grammar school to sustain them in the adult world.”
Lots of us had a childhood experience of God as follows: “Please God. Tell Santa to bring me the red bike.” Or, “Please God, don’t let my mom die of cancer.” God was seen as a problem solver. And when God fails to deliver the bike or save a life, do we give up? Take our marbles and go home? What if grace, faith, spirit, God—whatever you want to call it—was not there solely as an anchor in times of crisis or morality?
Faith as Desire
Desire is a key part of Ignatian spirituality because desire is a key way that God’s voice is heard in our lives. And ultimately, our deepest desire, planted within us, is our desire for God.”
Case Study #5: Caregivers too Busy to Pick Passions I know several people in their 40s who say that they don’t have a passion outside of what they do for work or their families. They have been so lost in the busyness of life and commitments, that they say they don’t need their own passions or couldn’t find them if they tried. If this resonates with you, check out The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte. If you want a community, worldwide book clubs are being launched on January 7. Don’t worry, I’m sure they will continue in waves, if that timing doesn’t work for you. This book and the optional audio components are not religious, but they do help you get to an ecstatic point of desire. I know to some, that may sound scary. Just imagine, though, that if you became clear on your desired feelings for your regular every day life, how much easier it would be to make decisions about family, work, relationships, money and faith.
So light your candles, your incense. Do your trance dance. Genuflect. Move that Elf on the Shelf. Lift your glass.
There is light in this world. And it resides in you.
Shine on, my love, shine on.