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Monday, March 30, 2015

What's left of Easter

The Easters of my Catholic childhood were, as I remember them, optimistic Sundays of budding crocuses and crowded church pews. We woke to birdsong and splendid baskets my mother had fluffed with plastic grass, then were whisked off to Mass to be reminded that Jesus rose from the dead.

Heady notion for a kid just wanting to get back to her malted milk balls. I was never sure how Jesus’s death and rising canceled out our more demonic behavior, but I figured the grownups had worked it all out.

A few decades of living can shoot holes in that sort of trust. To quote Sting, you could say I’ve lost my faith in religion. It had been slipping precipitously for years, and then along came The Revelations (this is how I think of the journalism around the Catholic child-abuse coverup) to  pound the last nails in the coffin.

My trust in the Church has been replaced by certainty in a couple of less mystical truths.

1. The grownups rarely have it all worked out. 
2. Any institution that instructs you to obey its rules without question has something to hide.

All of this has been brewing in my head for the last few days. Easter approaches, and along with it comes wistfulness about the loss of church. Sure, I still have spirit. But how lovely it would be if my mother’s house of worship had been worthy of her trust– a faith she raised her kids to live by, too.  How reassuring it would be to feel that centuries of wisdom and prayer and love had built an unassailable structure where we could find it all: succor and solace, guidance and deliverance.

There is no there there, as far as I can see, though if you find it for yourself I am genuinely heartened. I find the there in here, instead – a small place in my heart that grows with prayer and meditation and shrinks in their absence. No longer dazzled by the altar and the pillars, I remain reverent about Jesus and the purpose of his life.

Love, he told us. Put others first.
Then he did it himself just to show us it could be done.

He would not approve of my road rage, but he might give me a few points for all the times he sees me making effort not to be a complete self-centered jerk.

He would appreciate my kindness toward animals, though he would almost certainly wish that I could extend that a little further onto my fellow humans.

He probably frowns when I natter on Facebook about the weathergirl’s bad fashion. He probably thinks I have enough flaws of my own, and that on the very day I get my own self together in one spiritual basket, then I can start judging how other people live. And dress.

If all of this seems a little flimsy, a little too loosey-goosey, let me assure you that I’m more certain and passionate in this humbler faith than I ever was about all those golden arches. There aren’t many rules, but they’re firm:

My religion tells me to love and be kind. Love everyone, including myself. And be kind to all, not just the dog. This is the spiritual work of a lifetime. This seems to me to be made plain in the life of Jesus, and in the Easter story.  It’s the part of the church I couldn’t leave.


Cary Curtis said...

In my 40's, I had the experience you have shared, realizing that no religion could contain the God of my understanding. Religious Science helped me to understand that Jesus had been teaching that we could do what he did in our own lives. He was saying that while he seemed spiritually gifted, so were we all. It was up to us to find our gifts and to share them in the world. Instead, we put him on a pedestal and made his life something no one else could come near to living. That put us in our places and cleared us of any obligation to our planet and its inhabitants. Now, because the inner wisdom became free to grow in me, I have a belief that doesn't shake any more, as you have. Thank you for trusting your inner voice, or highest self, as some call it, and then writing so eloquently about it.

Valorie Grace Hallinan said...

I enjoyed reading this a lot. Have similar feelings.