Day 4: My views on religion
Me and God, God and me…if I can think of any relationship more personal than a marriage, this is it.
I didn’t grow up with much religion. My mom is Jewish, my dad was Catholic, and we were a big ball of “nada.” Sometimes we had Seders, sometimes we had Easter, we had Christmas every year. In terms of a “connection” with a church, I never had one. My Dad, in an attempt to appease his own mother, had us go through CCD and receive our communion, but church itself always felt cold, impersonal, and sterile to me. That never changed as I grew older. The closest I came to feeling the warmth that many feel in a “house of prayer” was the temple that my kids went to preschool in. The congregation of families we encountered, the Rabbi who reached out many times to let me know they were praying for us when Kenny was sick, the community of parents and kids who enveloped my kids and I when Kenny passed away; it will stick with me forever. Had I stayed in NJ at that time, I can only imagine we would have become members ourselves.
I believe that all people, should they decide to go to any place of worship, should go where they feel comfortable and connected. However, I don’t really think most (any?) religions get it “right.” Something I like to remind people when they want to debate me on that, is that all organized religion is man-made. Within those religions, you’ll find personal bias, sexual bias, all based on it’s writer’s personal take. I don’t love the concept of donating gobs of money to any organization that promotes the idea that you are a “sinner” if you don’t pray the way they say, that you’ll go to Hell if you’re different than they say, that you must repent for the simple fact of being born. It doesn’t resonate with me.
I spent a lot of time in my life questioning “faith,” and “God,” and why things happen the way they do. When I was nine, my cousin died; he was in his early twenties, an otherwise healthy man who had an accident. I was devastated- I’d adored him, and it was my first experience with loss. I remember sobbing to my parents, yelling “WHY???” My Dad just kept saying “I don’t know,” as he cried (my cousin was his Godson). That really hit me. For years after the fact, I would wrack my brain wondering how this could happen; how could he be here with a life ahead of him, and then just…gone? How could God let this happen?
An answer never came. I still don’t have an answer, nearly thirty years later. The difference being, after being unable to help my Dad, after being unable to save my husband, that I accept that it’s simply not for me to understand. I’m not “okay” with it, but I accept that those things are out of my control. That’s clearly reducing a lifetime of soul searching and complex emotions on the topic to a few sentences. Of course, I will always wish it were different; that “good” had anything to do with our life outcomes, but knowing that Kenny was about as good a person as they came, I realize “Good” has nothing to do what happens to us on Earth.
My real relationship with God, oddly enough, didn’t begin until just about two years ago. I debated on sharing this story I’m about to tell you (I’ve never shared it with a soul…), for fear of sounding crazy, but to understand my faith, now, it’s the only way to explain it…
The last days of Kenny’s life, he was in a bed in his parent’s house, unconscious, heavily medicated to halt the back-to-back seizures, and comfortable. The pain was palpable for us all. People came, brought food, sat vigil; but I was in so much agony. At one point, unable to handle another minute of idle chatter, I hid behind a couch to get away, that’s the level of “not okay” we were at.
His sister and I administered the medications; they were due every two hours. We alternated “shifts” so we each could get about 3.5 hours of sleep at a time, or get a break during the day. His mother and I alternated sleeping in a recliner next to his bed, I’d wake her after one of my “shifts” to spend my time with him. One morning, my second “shift” was around the break of dawn. I sat, holding his hand, watching the sun come up; at first, painfully aware that this may be the last sunrise we’d ever have together, and then…peace. Calm washed over me like I’d never felt before. Friends, aside from the births of my kids, I’d never felt such a presence of God in my life. Kenny wasn’t gone yet…but I had the very sudden, profound knowledge that he was “okay.” I breathed it in, I let the tears roll, I basked in the warmth of that presence, that serenity.
As a confession, in times of struggle, even now, I will sometimes close my eyes and transport myself back to that moment, sitting in the presence of my husband, my focus on that sunrise, and of God, with that divine sense of calm. It is a permanent fixture in my mind.
My faith in a higher power has nothing to do with a building, or with a figurehead, or with the idea that Jesus was the son of God (or a prophet). I find God, now, in the act of living. It was in the first screams of my babies, it’s when I watch them sleep every night, it’s when I hold them, laugh with them, and marvel at who they are. It’s in the leaps I take, not knowing what will happen, if things will pan out. It’s every day that I hope for the best, despite what I know about life…to me, that’s all faith. I feel most connected in nature; in the woods, with my toes in the sand and salty air licking my face, when I step outside in the morning and inhale delicious cold air, and, as you could imagine, during a beautiful morning sunrise.