Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Religion, Emotion, Community

This may be obvious to some, but I've been thinking how being religious is essentially being emotionally-driven.  At least that's what it means to me.  When I think about the time of my life when I was most religious, I was on an ongoing emotional ride.  I don't mean that I was moody, but rather that I saw the world through a series of feelings.  I interpreted everything around me according to how it made me feel. Actually, I think I still do, in general.

What's changed is the feelings that now arise when it comes to religious topics are no longer what they used to be.  They're not passionate, mysterious, encouraging, even interesting or interested feelings.  Overall, religion stirs in me a feeling of ambivalence.  There are aspects of religion that actually make me feel slightly disappointed, repulsed even.

And yet, I know I still have it in me to experience feelings of awe, gratitude, beauty, enormity, peace, joy around religion.  It has to be a particular scenario.  It looks like this.

I'm alone, and it's quiet.  I'm surrounded by beauty - either of nature (which I hardly think I need to explain), or traditional church art: stained glass letting the sun's rays sparkle as they sneak in.  Statues of figures expressing their own emotions, of piety, wisdom, compassion, sorrow, peace.

Given enough time alone with my thoughts, I'm able to allow my surroundings to penetrate past the outer layer of my earthly identity, and resonate deep inside, reminding me of my spiritual self.  I feel - yes, feel - a part of something bigger, something that isn't limited by religious explanations or human labels.  I'm reassured of life being something far beyond mere earthly existence.  It's vague, yes, but familiar and certain.

Religion, the religion of my upbringing, is likewise familiar, but neither vague nor certain.  Organized religion is very specific as to how the world around us ought to be explained, and how each of us ought to live our lives.  And yet, there is only flimsy evidence, at best, to support any of their claims.  It's the familiarity that keeps me coming back.  It's the link I have to my personal spirituality.

The two used to go hand in hand so well.  At first, because I was ignorant of what the Church actually taught, so I was free to run with whatever interpretation happened to occur to me.  Also, because I was surrounded by family who likewise had their own interpretations, and those are the ones I went with. Finally, because I was convinced of the Church's own explanations and fully believed what was taught.

Over time, I lost a sense of community I didn't even realize I had.  I no longer believed what the Church taught, so I was at odds with other church members.  And I didn't maintain relationships with relatives nor form new ones with others who had similar views.  It's hard to find people with my same views on spiritual matters because they are so eclectic.  (That's why Alex and I get along so well.)

So here I am, with no religious or spiritual community in spite of regular church attendance.  And no personal spiritual practice that I blame on the business of motherhood.  And all that's left is complaints and guesses as to when exactly my exodus from the faith began, and if there's any hope of ever returning.

I don't care about being "right" or even knowing "truth", which so many religions claim to provide, but which I don't believe can be explained, only experienced.  I only miss the emotions that gave me a consistent spiritual high from my religiosity.

Pious people will say this is the wrong reason to seek religion.  That one shouldn't expect religion to make us feel good.  These are the people who believe their religion is "the truth", so we can't really find common ground.

Secular folks will tell me to find fulfillment in other areas of my life.  But this is dismissive of the very real grief that I feel for having lost something that was once very dear to me.  I don't expect them to understand, either.

There's probably others like me who just muddle through, keeping their disappointments - in themselves, circumstances, their religion, or all three - to themselves.  They put on a happy face, pretend that nothing has changed, and just find other passions to occupy the empty space inside that was once fulfilled by their faith.

I find it hard to believe that that's the best I can do.  That that's what God wants for my life.  Yes, that's right, just because I'm not religious doesn't mean I don't believe in God.  I most certainly do.  I do not know the nature of God, other than that God is creative and awe-inspiring and eternal.  I don't know if God is personal, in that I can talk to Him or that He has a personalized interest in my life.  I used to believe this, but I just don't know anymore.

Perhaps the problem really is just with having to reset my expectations.  Religion has always been a big part of my life in one way or another.  I turned to it for comfort and explanations and community.  Maybe I just need to find these elsewhere in order to be satisfied with the diminished role that religion now plays in my life.  I may need to split these up - comfort from one thing, explanations from elsewhere, community somewhere unrelated to either one.

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