I was christened Catholic, however, since my mother divorced my father, back in the day, she felt as though she was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. As a very little girl, I remember going to a Psalm Sunday mass with my grandfather once. That was the only Catholic exposure I had until much later in my life.
When we were with my father, we were part-time southern Baptists – spurred on by my Great Aunt Mary. She started working at the 5th Ave Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. since the day she was born, or so it seemed. We spent summers with my father and early on, it was off to church and Sunday school. My Aunt Mary insisted we go to her church. She was the epitome of a southern Baptist woman, with strong beliefs and a heart of gold. We also went to those lovely vacation bible schools every summer. Admittedly, I had fun at those little retreats. Since I spent every summer away from my actual classmates, I had to adapt and find other summer play mates. This is where my introduction to Christianity really came into focus. Even back then, something didn’t feel right for me. It was fun and I did learn a lot, just never did understand why.
In the third grade, we lived in Valparaiso, Indiana. My two very brave older bothers and I were swooped up into a big blue Baptist school bus and ushered to attend another Baptist church. To this day I wonder how we got to going on that bus. It must have been the neighbors fearing for our souls. My mom and step father never went with us – just let us go on our own. One day during a fiery sermon , the preacher said, “if you don’t come forward and be saved, you will surely go to hell!” We were afraid for our lives. We all three got up from the pew and walked down the aisle to give our lives over to our lord and savoir, Jesus Christ. At least, that was what they told us to do – to be saved. We were used as examples of bravery and were touted as new little Christian soldiers. Wow, that was such a scary day! But, Aunt Mary sure was proud of us. We didn’t know any better. But, they gave us shiny new Bibles. Mine was white and the boys’ were black. We were pretty poor, and a new Bible was seriously something exciting. And we didn’t have to share them! Total score!
Eventually we just stopped going to anything. My dad and step mother switched to a Methodist Church. My mother didn’t seem interested in religions. During school I would go to church with one friend or another, and never really figured out anything about it. It was all the same. It was all too early on a Sunday morning, and it all didn’t mean much to me. Empty was my spiritual self. And I remained in a constant state searching, searching.
When I went to basic training in the US Air Force, one thing I, and most recruits, found out very quickly, was that going to church was AWESOME! It was non-denominational. It was a time and place where you could relax, sing, cry, and just be a human being. If you didn’t go to church, you usually ended up with special duty, so church was the way (out of that special duty), the truth (we could be real people), and the light (the church was filled with natural light, unlike our dormitories.) Hallelujah!
Up until much later, probably the late 80s, I didn’t have much spirituality in my life. But, always, always, I was in search of something that could help me find that link. So, I ventured into the world of my birth and started Adult Religious Education with the goal to become a confirmed Catholic. To be honest, my education was simply just wonderful. My classes were one on one with a priest in Dickinson.
He was an amazing, kind, generous, educated and seemingly non-judgmental man. I was actually sad when my classes were over. But they were, and I went through first communion, the laying on of hands and the works. I was a full fledged Catholic – with all rights, guarantees, rules, dogmas, and creeds associated with said accomplishment. This included my still empty spiritual feeling.
I loved the ritual of the Catholic mass. I loved the fact that there was memorization and the same songs and you knew pretty much all of what would happen except the priest’s sermon. That is where I started to think, “What the heck?” I tried. I did. I wanted so much to be able to believe, but I only wanted to believe in the parts I wanted. But, it doesn’t work that way. I lost my little brother and my father in the span of four years and my religious choice did nothing to help me through those times – it only fueled anger.
So I stopped. I stopped trying to fill my spiritual gap with an organized religion. I couldn’t do it. They work great for some people. They are there to serve a purpose and many, many people of the world are served well by their religious preference, or lack of one. My white towel was in the ring. I surrendered. I gave up. Then, I tried the United Church of Christ. It was great – but only because the minister was someone I really wanted to listen to and learn from. I still didn’t find community. I still didn’t feel at home. I still didn’t feel much of anything, except that I wished I had eaten breakfast, or slept in, or was out golfing, or doing anything but sitting in a church. Ugh. I was tired. What was the point?
At a friend’s suggestion I decided to try the UU church. I had no idea whatsoever what it was going to be. I didn’t know if they were atheists, agnostics, pagans, witches, devil worshipers, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or anything else. I had no clue whatsoever. I just heard they were open and peace loving and not all about the dogmas and creeds other religions try to live by. What the heck, right? Wow! Admittedly, my first service was difficult. I didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t know anyone there. But I didn’t give up. With some encouragement, I returned. And then I returned again. And then I went back again, and now here I am writing a blog! Here, I have found community, peace, and a place of comfort to explore my spirituality. Who knows, maybe I will actually become a member someday. Check this blog out next month for news on that front.