Of This World
Sometimes, I wish I believed in God.
I used to when I was much younger. As a young child I was active in the Catholic church and felt like I had a very special, unique relationship with God. My parents divorced and there was a good deal of stress and tension for many years – these were the times I leaned hardest on my faith. I never had a bad experience with the church. Our church’s priest was a wildly cool guy who was funny and hip – he smoked cigarettes and flew ultralight aircraft in his free time. He was easy to talk to and not at all in a creepy, pedophile way.
As I headed towards adolescence, I began to feel like my church connection was more of a burden, like a needy younger sibling. I began to dread weekly catechism classes. They cut into the more important parts of my young life: sports, homework, talking on the phone with my friends. So I stopped going.
My parents were not the driving force behind my church involvement, although it is my mother who signed me up for religious education classes when I was in 1st grade. After we moved to a different town when I was in second grade, I sought out the church and enrolled myself in classes. This sounds more ambitious than it was, because my neighbor went to church and I just tagged along with her. When I chose to stop attending church in 9th grade, it was not discussed with my family. I was free to choose without repercussion.
I know my parents believe in God. My mother was raised in a devoutly Catholic Irish family with too many kids and not enough resources. My father was not religious in a traditional way but he does believe.
It occurred to me when I was in my early twenties that the Bible was a work of fiction – the whole Adam and Eve story pissed me off. I was a big feminist and found the repeated blaming of females in religion terribly offensive. As time evolved I felt further and further removed from the faith that had been so sustaining to me in my youth. I wanted to believe and I didn’t want to believe.
After my son was born in 2004, I really wanted to believe. But I didn’t feel it. If anything, it felt fake and contrived. I could not reconcile the connection I had felt years ago with the ideologies that were in complete opposition to my own views. So, no baptism.
The following year, after my son’s first birthday, my father-in-law committed suicide. My husband found him, lifeless, in the recliner we had just purchased for him from Costco. The phone call I received from him – sobbing, hard to understand because of his crying – was horrific. When I joined him at his father’s apartment, I had some assumption that despite the tragedy in front of us there would be a sense of peace. My father-in-law was a tortured, sad man and his passing at his own hand was in many ways a relief for both him and us.
Yet, when I entered the room where he had spent his final moments, I felt…nothing. He looked like he was sleeping, only he had slumped too far down in the chair to be comfortable and in doing so, his glasses had slipped off his face and were tilted into his cheek (leaving an impression on his face that remained until his cremation). He had vomit down the front of his shirt. He did not radiate peace. He radiated pain. It was like looking at a melted, burned down candle without a flame.
I was reaching out in a “spiritual” way, hoping for some feeling of relief from him. Or some sort of connection with him from the afterlife. Or, really, anything. There was nothing. I couldn’t even say that I felt he was “with us.” Because I didn’t.
This isn’t the direction I intended to go with this post. I really wanted to talk about how I long for the connection with something larger than me. I’m not sure how it all points back to the loss of my father-in-law, but it does.
Despite our obvious differences, the one thing I have in common with Christians is that sense of certainty and knowing. Because as much as they know – within themselves, without question, KNOW that Christ is there for them – I feel exactly the same way, only opposite.
I know in my heart and the center of my being that there really is nothing to believe in.
I wish I was ok with this, but I’m not. It does make me sad.