Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"I want to be a Quaker"

I said these words to my husband last night.  I've run the gamut of the religious/spiritual spectrum over the past 18 months or so.  When my long-awaited daughter was born nearly 18 months ago, my hubby and I were both very involved with our Catholic church, our Christian faith had grown through several struggles, and I was overjoyed at my dream of a child having been granted at last.

Immediately after birth, which was an intense, drug-free homebirth, I remember gazing at a picture of Jesus that we had at the house and feeling an inexplicable bond with him.  It's hard to explain, but I felt connected to his cross thanks to the childbirth I had just experienced.  Perhaps because of the mastisis and related breast problems that ensued, I quickly fell into a postpartum fog that I now recognize as postpartum anxiety and depression.  This was only exacerbated by the fact that we sold our house - the one our daughter was born in! - and moved out of state to be closer to my husband's work.  I was isolated, in a new environment, and exhausted from newborn care.

To be honest, I just didn't have the time or energy to focus on anything spiritual or religious.  I didn't like any of the churches we visited.  None spoke to me the way our old parish did.  We settled on the closest church where Alex felt comfortable, since I wasn't getting anything out of Mass anyway.  And for months I just attended Mass but often didn't even spend much time inside the sanctuary, but rather walking the grounds with my little bundle of joy in a carrier.

With time, I became less and less interested in all things religion.  As my postpartum problems subsided, I became interested in spirituality again and went through a very short-lived interest in Reform Judaism.  This turned out to be my last stop on the side of organized religion before finally embracing the identity of being spiritually independent, a Deist, post-religious, or some other vague label that noted my desire for spirituality on one hand, but a clear disconnect with any outward expression of religion on the other hand.

The last time I remember "being religious" was at my daughter's baptism.  I took great joy in welcoming her into our faith community.  I took a lot of heat from my mom over our choice of godparents, which we wanted to be sure were authentically Catholic, and not merely Catholic in name.  I had every intention of raising my daughter to be a faithful Catholic, a believing Christian.  I really can't tell you why all of that changed.

During the transition period, as I think of it now, I distanced myself from my Catholic-Chrisitan identity, I slowly shed the last shred of guilt over not believing the Christian creed, and I started to look around the void that was left in that inner part of me that was once filled with spiritual concerns.  I researched Deism and thought it described me pretty well.  I read a book by Deepak Chopra and felt that I was now ready to accept God as something other than a personified deity, and hence that it wasn't so much that God wasn't as I imagined "him", but that even "I" am not who I thought I was.

Minimalism kept nagging at me to be welcomed into my spirituality as well, yet I felt that I had thrown out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. I believed in something beyond the material world, something eternal, something from which we come and to which we return, and I believed that who we are at our deepest essence is immortal in some way.  But this left me without much comfort, and even less certainty when it came to thinking about how to nurture my daughter's spirituality.

I no longer believed in religious indoctrination of the young and impressionable.  I'm fine exposing my daughter to what people believe, as long as it's clear that she will have to make up her own mind once she's old enough regarding what rings true for her.  I largely see the entire mainstream Christian religion as an elaborate fairytale, and I say that with no disrespect.  I liken my old view of God as that of a Santa Clause, and I must admit, I miss that version of "him" a little bit.  Just like I miss believing in Santa Clause.  But that sort of religion didn't serve me anymore.

And so I've been sort of going along with my husband to church, getting nothing out of it (not for lack of trying).  But I was shaken into somewhat of a sense of urgency when I noticed that my daughter had begun to cross her self (sort of, she touches her forehead and then puts her hands together in prayer fashion and says "Amen") before meals, per my husband's example.  It was cute.  It was adorable.  It was .... religious.  I needed to figure out where I stood on the topic of religion.

I see three options laid before me.

1.  I do nothing.  I change nothing.  I continue to attend church with my husband, play a passive role at grace time before meals, and I simply let my husband take over any and all religious instruction of our daughter as she gets older.

2. I become involved with my husband's church, even if it isn't authentic.  I go through the motions, like so many other cultural Catholics around the world, again, letting my husband take the lead when it comes to any questions of religious importance.

3. I find my own spiritual community to belong to, one where I feel my integrity can remain intact, one where I can see strenghtening my values and helping me express my inner experiences, so that when it comes time for my daughter to ask religious questions, I can play an integral part in her spiritual upbringing.

I can only see one option that resonates with me: #3.  Interestingly, this is so because it corresponds to one of the core Quaker testimonies - that of integrity or truth.  I have to be true to myself.  I don't mind being involved with my husband's Catholic community, but I don't think I can do so authentically without a formal religious affiliation outside of the Catholic church.  Right now, I'm just a "bad Catholic", because I do come from that tradition.  I can't just become "non-Catholic".  That which used to be Catholic about me must be replaced with something else, something even more compelling, something equally respectable, so that when I come across situations where I may butt heads with someone, I can simply refer to my Quaker beliefs to back me up.  But I cannot in good conscience call myself a Quaker if there isn't a meeting behind that claim.

From what I understand, to become a Quaker, I need to do three main things:  1) Live according to the Quaker testimonies.  This is something I feel I've been doing for a long time.  It's the reason I've thought of myself as a "Quaker at heart" already.  2) Regularly attend waiting worship with other Quakers, as well as make a daily habit of silent worship to fine tune that still, small voice within.  This is the area I've gotten some backup, since of the two meetings I've attended locally so far, neither feels like home.  3) Contribute to the meeting I attend by becoming involved with a committee, either as a member or attender, and financially supporting the meeting.  So once #2 is taken care of, I'll be able to discern where to fulfill this third obligation, even before I request formal membership in a meeting.

Since we are hoping to buy a house and move to a different zip code, I've located several other meetings that will be closer to the new area where I plan to visit and hope to find a spiritual home.  Until then, I really do need to stop being spiritually lazy and establish a daily practice of silent waiting worship.  I have personally experienced the benefits of such a practice, and I know that it will help even with discerning where to look for a spiritual home.  But I guess I'm so out of practice in all things spiritual that I just haven't established a good time where I can do this on a daily basis.

So I'm hoping that by putting it out there by virtue of this post, I can take the next step:  10-15 minutes daily, spent in waiting worship.  The most likely times to work to this end are soon after my daughter falls asleep at night, before or after spending some alone time with hubby; during her naptime (instead of blogging ;) ), or after dinner, when my hubby is hanging out with our daughter.

One final thought on becoming a Quaker.  I started this post because I have some doubts about taking on another religious identity.  After all, it took a lot out of me to mentally leave organized religion behind, even if I still occupy a physical space inside a church on most Sundays.  While I know that I won't find a better fit than the Religious Society of Friends, I still worry about living up to the expectations of one who chooses to identify as part of an organized religion, which the Quakers still technically are, even if very liberally so.  Perhaps it's just a fleeting hesitation, since I'm coming from a creedal background, and that's what's made me so uncomfortable in the past.  And I guess I should be thankful for the clearness committee and the process that is involved with accepting new members to the RSF, so that I am motivated to do the inner work needed before putting forth my formal request.  One thing is for sure - I cannot stay where I am.  I cannot remain stagnant spiritually.  I know there is a lot riding on my decision, a lot of good that can come of my comittment to a new religious affiliation. 

Perhaps the best way to end this post is with a real world application.  So I'm off to wait in silence for that still, small voice...