I have been struggling with the idea of organized religion for the past several months. Although I'd questioned my beliefs for some time, it was a speaker I heard at the end of last year, the author of a controversial book written in the 1990s, who was the catalyst for me to move from questioning the value of religious tradition to a strong desire to explore what life might look like if I chose only to be in relationship with God spiritually, minus the structure, rigidity, and community of the Catholic church I had been raised in, married in, and raising our kids in.
And, the God's honest truth is, if it were only me/myself/and I being affected by this change of heart (if you want to call it that), I know the comfort of sitting someplace brand new to me would be easier. But as a mother to five, three of whom are still under our roof, and another of whom is quite committed to a religious path, I know my personal decision about faith and organized religion, what role it will play in our lives from here on out, isn't something I can just shrug off.
I also believe, with a lot of prayer and reflection, the guilt I am holding about wanting to pursue my faith, without religion, has A LOT to do with the teachings instilled in me from early on.
The faith journey, for me and others who choose to believe in something greater than ourselves, is a highly personal, sometimes lonely, walk. It can mean facing criticism, even from loved ones, and it can go so far as to split relationships, families, communities, countries...
But, one of the things I firmly believe is we are here, having this experience called "life", to remember who we are...which, for me, means I am a living, breathing spark of God (yes, I this point is directly from Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch), and whether or not I believe there is a Heaven/Purgatory/Hell, a devil, or that I accept Jesus as my ultimate savior, I am going to lead my life the same way I have up until this point of turning away from those traditional beliefs.
I will live this life I have been given with integrity, compassion, empathy, and as little judgement of others as I can possibly gather. I will live it knowing the force driving me is my soul, deeply connected to the Creator of life. This is what I choose to model for my children, my spouse, my community...
Because this is who I am.
I have found, no matter what my relationship with God is or isn't inclusive of, I can support and encourage my children exactly where they are in their faith journey.
For example, Allen-Michael and I recently had a phone conversation about a significant change on his Catholic college campus he felt was headed in a direction not at all in keeping with what he'd learned and embodied the past five years of his student life. He felt disillusioned by what the changes and outcome might bring. I listened with empathy, and I understood the personal turmoil, a result of being faced with a situation completely against the grain of what you've come to understand is "right".
Since he felt so strongly, I encouraged my son to find a way to express how these changes on campus would contradict what the current and former students have come to know and demonstrate in their daily campus life.
We spoke again a few days later and I learned he, along with several others carrying mutual concerns, gathered a significant group of students and represented themselves and their views at a meeting before the president of the undergraduate class.
How beautiful it was to hear he was actively standing up for what he believed in, when at the same moment I was making personal changes to my own walk in faith vs. long-held traditional belief!
We can hold space for others, and guide them to trust their own inner voice, even when we don't readily agree with their views. We can be enlightened witnesses to the perspectives and struggles others face, knowing as human beings we all experience them. And we can love one another without condition, encouraging people right where they are in this moment.
And while I believe God wants and needs nothing from us, his desire for us is to love, accept, and make room for everyone...
...because, we are all sparks of God.