Lately, with what has been going on with current events here in the United States, I will admit that I have been grappling with my ambivalence with the religious faith I was raised in – Catholicism – more than usual. I have been one of those people who has always questioned things, who has always wanted to know the why and wherefore of things. Dogma has never done it for me, as I know dogma really doesn’t do it for a lot of people. Some find it very easy to separate their daily lives from what they might hear in church on Sunday, but I have found it very difficult to check my own beliefs and my own questions at the church door, which explains why I don’t attend mass regularly. And some of it also has to do with what I chose to study in college; I was taught to and encouraged to analyze how words work and how they convey meaning, and how to link the idea of one meaning to another. In one of my classes – a Renaissance English literature class – we analyzed the King James Bible not as a holy book, but in its other incarnation as a literary text. Approaching reading the Bible in such a way changes your entire approach to religion completely, as it did mine.
For a good year or two, I went between periods of going to Mass and not going to Mass, and then I just ended up skipping out altogether. While the messages that I heard in the church I attended were about God’s and Jesus’s love for us and how we should strive to be like Jesus in our everyday lives, that part wasn’t clicking with a lot of the other things that are part of the Church’s belief system. It made me feel lost, and the questions made my head want to explode, so I took a step away.
But then I remembered a passage from the Gospel of St. Thomas – which I had heard in the movie Stigmata and had seen quoted in other books – and it really struck a chord in me: “The Kingdom of God is all around you, not in edifices of wood or stone. Look under a rock, and I am there, look behind every tree and I am there…” And there are quite a few quotes from Jesus in the New Testament urging people to seek him out. So why couldn’t I do the same thing? So while I didn’t go to church, I still prayed to Jesus, God, and my saints, and sort of started my own little “relationship” with them. I just took out the middle man. And so far, it has worked, and I have a much better understanding and attitude about my faith than I did while I was going to church.
Then, in late January, while running errands for work, I heard Krista Tippett’s interview with the late Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue, on her radio show On Being. O’Donahue was able to articulate everything I had been struggling with in the past few years with just a few simple words:
[Y]our identity is not equivalent to your biography. And that there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.
And then I realized that it was this. This is what I was missing in organized religion, and what found on my own. It is perfectly normal for human beings to question things around them and to seek answers out for themselves. And they are all going to find different things, because everyone’s own answer is right for them and might not work for everyone else. It isn’t one person’s place to try and covert another person to their religious or spiritual beliefs or to persecute someone else based on what they believe. Nor is it right to use those beliefs as an excuse to hate or persecute others who might not live according to the way that you would. It is about seeking out a higher part of yourself and coming to peace with who you are as a human being. It is about doing the best you can to contribute to the world around you and be of help to those who might need it. It is about showing love and compassion toward your fellow human beings. This was what Jesus was about all along.
At least this is what spirituality is for me.