Sunday, March 20, 2016

Spring is in the Air!

And with it, it brings new life!  Today marks the third anniversary of Maya's homecoming (ie. the day we transferred her embryo).  Tomorrow we will find out if our last FET will give her a sibling or not. And over the weekend, yesterday in particular, there has been a resurrection of a different kind in my life.

For about the past two years, since after Maya's baptism and our move to Maryland, I have struggled with my faith.  At first it was just not a priority, then as I tried to get back into it, I realized I didn't feel it was a good fit and considered other faith traditions (yet again), and finally, I tried to makes sense of the label of spiritual independent and/or Deist.  Last August, I attended a women's retreat through my Catholic church as a last ditch effort to remain Catholic.  The advice I was given on that retreat was to not only keep attending mass, but to go back to receiving Communion, even if I didn't believe in the Real Presence or the creed, because God would meet me where I was.

So I decided that I still had a birthright to the label Catholic, even if others might call me "lapsed".  I tried to grow in the faith again by attending a Discovering Christ series with Alex (and Maya!), which went OK but didn't convince me of anything.  This was all of fall.  This spring we attended the follow-up to it, Following Christ, and it was even worse.  I was bored out of my mind and I might as well have been attending an atheist convention, because I didn't share any of the beliefs or assumptions that were being presented.  I had pretty much given up hope on truly being Catholic again, and made my peace with being a Deist.  I joined a couple of online Deist groups, which actually haven't been very active, and that was that.

But I wasn't happy.  This weekend I got an incredible urge to want to believe again.  I researched "making yourself believe something you don't" and "what's the harm in believing something that isn't true" and I read with great interest what a bunch of skeptics/atheists/Deists had to say on the subject.  At the end of their arguments, I was left with a singular observation.

I have long held at my core that the meaning of life is to find happiness, and to help others find contentment.  And my current spiritual trajectory just wasn't bringing me happiness.  I thought I was quite rational, believing only what the objective evidence (nature) would allow for, and simply didn't believe in the concept of God revealing Himself through a prophet or holy book.  But in the end, what good does it do me even if I do only believe in evidence-based facts, if this doesn't bring me joy?  Is truth only the sum of rational facts?

Upon further reflection, I realized that truth is relative.  Truth, beauty, love - these are not experienced equally by every individual.  One person can love another when others do not.  One person can find something beautiful when others do not.  One experience can be true for someone when it isn't true for someone else.  So while religion doesn't agree that truth is relative, and neither do atheists apparently (who reveal themselves to be just as religious as theists in that sense), my personal conviction is that truth and fact are not interchangeable.

There may not be facts to back up everything taught by my religion, but I can find universal truth in the interpretation, in the metaphorical meaning.  My problem has always been that I have been too literal.  I assume what I hear and read is literal unless and until proven otherwise.  I've tried to accept Catholic teaching on a non-literal level before, but yesterday, I think I was finally granted the grace to do so!

I started praying again.  Praying in the sense of speaking my heart to God.  Not just in lifting an intention in my mind's eye and envisioning it being immersed and enveloped in God's purifying light. I still think I'll treat intercessory prayer that way, at least for now.  But I actually spoke to God, to Jesus, to be specific.  I called Him Lord and it didn't make my stomach churn.  I think I have distanced myself from my previous literal understanding of God long enough that it is no longer a conflict for me to think of Jesus as Lord.  In the interim, God has become very distant, abstract, impersonal, unapproachable, unknowable.  Jesus is the opposite of all of those things.  And I do not feel like I'm betraying God-the-Father by lifting my heart to God-the-Son, bc I now consider the way God-the-Father operates is more from a distance, by delegating - if you will - to Jesus.  As I was praying in front of our Divine Mercy image of Jesus, I felt God's approval - all of God, including God-the-Father.  And I thought about the Trinity, a concept that gave me so much trouble before, and realized that it's not literal.  The Trinity is simply a Christian koan, a riddle that is meant to make us realize that we are never going to be able to comprehend the full nature of God, so we really should stop trying!

The timing couldn't have been much better.  I didn't even realize we were entering Holy Week.  We have a secular calendar hanging in the kitchen, and I have missed mass the last few weeks, so I had no idea where we were in the liturgical year.  And then yesterday at mass, I looked around at all the familiar rituals, objects, words, and I found comfort in them, and realized they were "true" all along, I just kept interpreting them too literally.

I give myself permission to disagree with certain interpretations and teachings of the Church, following the advice of the priest from my last retreat, namely that God would meet me where I'm at. I don't feel the need to be in agreement with other Catholics, or the Catechism, or the Vatican, in order to reap the rewards of Catholicism.  I give  myself permission to be a part of an imperfect church, even as the church denies being wrong on such issues as gay rights.  I believe it will come around, though perhaps not in my lifetime.  But instead of trying to find a perfect place of worship, which I think had become a scapegoat for my own personal imperfections, I am embracing an imperfect church.  And by extension, I am accepting myself as an imperfect being.

I don't like the term "sin" and "sinner", but synonyms such as missing the mark, being broken, veering off the path, having shortcomings... these are all undeniable and essentially all that "sinning" really means.  It's funny, I don't like to think of myself as a sinner.  It bothered me to no end how much focus there seems to be in Christianity on all the wrong we do, all of our mistakes, instead of focusing on how we can improve.  But if I'm being honest, how can I know what to aim for if I don't know where I'm coming from?  The message of Jesus is that my mistakes do not define me.  It's critical to be honest with myself and realize that I'm not perfect, but that it's ok.  It's my own fault if I focus on the mistake and not on the remedy.  The church has opportunities for both.

Later today I will be leaving the two Deist online groups.  I will continue focusing all of my attention on finding meaning within the religious tradition that was given to me as a tool as part of my birthright.  Yes, there is truth to be found in other religions, but that doesn't lessen the value of my own religion.  The other religions are not there for me to convert to, but to learn from.  My task is to work on my spirituality within the context of Catholicism.  There will be challenges and disagreements, but I know from exploring other faith traditions that this was going to happen no matter what, in every conceivable tradition.  The lesson is that we are not perfect, and neither are our human institutions (say, organized religion), but that's ok.  The challenge is to learn to live within an imperfect world.  To embrace acceptance.  To be content with what is.  To stop striving for a future time, a different place, and to get into the habit of perfecting every present moment, wherever we find ourselves.

Tomorrow I find out if we will have another baby.  I'm leaning towards yes, that he's a boy, and that he will become a priest.  And that he's the reason I have fully returned to the Church. I can't explain it any other way, except that today, I feel like fully Catholic again.  And I thank God for that.

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