For some folks, that’s a deal-breaker in this whole “religion” thing, and I respect that. Even at the Catholic university that I went for my BA and PhD, I knew plenty of agnostics and straight-up atheists in my school who valued the rigor of the liberal arts education that they received, if not the religious doctrine.
But, even with my rigorous skepticism in all things man-made (from genetically modified food to the US Congress), when I step into the sacramental chapel of a Catholic church (the religion I was raised in), I genuflect, cross myself, donate a quarter from my wallet, light a candle, and pray for the safety of my loved ones.
Is that strictly rational? Nope. But does it help me emotionally and psychologically? Yup.
A few months before my son was born, I wrote a lengthy blog post, defending the right for people to believe in a god. It was a response from a rather angry, anti-Christian atheist from the UK, and my aim was NOT to condemn and then convert him — that would be the worst of Pharisaic sins, in my opinion — but to explain that I wasn’t a brainwashed ignoramus for this irrational belief in a god.
And — even worse to my opposing interlocutor — an irrational belief in the Catholic Church’s understanding of God (albeit what I call “Brown Catholicism”).
I’m not going to re-hash all of that here (feel free to read the previous posts, although — warning — they are long). However, as I look at the past six years of my life, especially the last two years, I find myself finding solace in my faith that I’m not absolutely alone in bearing all of this.
Obsessive-compulsive behavior. Divorce. Single parenthood. ADHD. Depression. Anxiety. Cancer.
I know that belief in God (or any transcendent being) can be a crutch, can be an enabler of infantile behavior, can be an excuse to behave badly.
Just as Flannery O’Connor has painted her Pharisaic characters, I can point to myself and mumble, “Yeah — that was me.”
But these past few years, I found my belief in God as a calm and steady presence in the crazy whirlwind of my life. Asking God to take away this crazy whirlwind feels a lot like Jesus asking God the Father to take away his inevitable death in the garden. We can ask, but we already know the answer won’t be exactly what we asked.
I know now not to ask God to take away my pain and suffering. Instead, I ask God to give me and those in my life strength and peace of mind as we bear our pain and suffering.
Maybe it’s the placebo effect, but I often feel that strength and peace of mind these days, these days when my immediate response is usually a flash of anger and sadness and an incredulous “Seriously? SERIOUSLY?”
But then the flash is gone. I breathe. And I accept the new normal with a grace that I know — I just know — I couldn’t have done all by myself.
This is what my belief in God has given me — is giving me. This is why I’m teaching my son about God in the same faith that I was taught in. That when those who love him — those he can see and hear and feel — are away or gone, he still has a presence within him that will never go away, that will give faith that he isn’t all alone, even when empirically he is.
Yes — when he gets older and becomes more independent, he can choose to stay within my chosen faith in God, choose to believe in another faith in God, or even become an unbeliever in any faith in a deity.
But as long as he has faith in his ability to be strong, to be at peace, in this crazy whirlwind that is and will be his life — I have done my job as his mother.
And, I believe, so has God.