The only problem…I consider myself to be a spiritual person. I find myself at Grace sitting amongst the Episcopalians with a certain degree of regularity…not just because it’s a beautiful church (medieval with lots of arches and stained glass, replicas of the Ghiberti doors out front) but because it’s accepting, liberal, controversial. The sermons are given not just by Episcopalians, but by people from numerous other faiths. Weekly forums are held on topics, religious and non-religious, like gay marriage, stem cell research, the state of Islam today. And the main guy, Rev. Alan Jones…I think the reason he appeals to me is because his sermons address real life…he asks questions about what it means to be human and flawed…quotes the likely and even the most unlikely characters (like Winnie the Pooh, Adolf Hitler, Pablo Neruda)…assures me that it’s ok to have questions about faith. Thank goodness for that!
Questions…I’ve got plenty of them. The religious ping pong I was made to play as a child probably didn’t help much. My Catholic mom resorted to follow my Baptist preacher of a father into his brother’s church…until I was 7. That’s when my parents separated. My brother and I were thrust into the Catholic church after years of Baptist Sunday school and I went through the very confusing ritual of taking first communion. I liked it at the time because I got to wear a pretty white dress. But I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I was used to my uncle or my father passionately screaming scripture from the pulpit, and here, people were whispering quietly and politely, taking wafers into their mouths, holding hands. And why the hell was Mary here all of a sudden? I thought this was about Jesus!? That’s ok though…turns out I didn’t need to understand it…my parents got back together. No more wafers, white dresses, or Mary. No sooner had I taken my first communion with the Catholics, I was taken back to the Baptists and submerged in a “cleansing” pool of water. My uncle baptized me. (And he held me under the water for a little too long, if you ask me.) We stuck with the Baptists for a while…and then the military took us to the predominantly Roman Catholic country of Panama. I went to a few of the masses with my high school boyfriend. I didn’t understand it any more than I did when I was seven. So I quit religion altogether. I went away to college and my parents tried out a “nondenominational” church for a while. Not for me. None of it seemed for me. Especially since it all seemed like a load of piping hot crap anyway…particularly when my uncle, the very preacher who baptized me, divorced his wife, his child and his church for a life full of the very sin he screamed from the pulpit about. Hopefully, God is as forgiving as my uncle used to say he is.
Now, as a scientist, I find religion a particularly befuddling question. I have no answers. Only questions. When I think of the complexity of this world and where faith might fit into all the starving, sinning, and suffering that goes on in us and around us…the last thing I think is that a child should be made to grasp it all. I can’t even grasp it for myself…I hardly think the kids in Fisher’s Jesus Camp can either. That much I know.
For now, Grace appeases to the confused child in me…the one standing out on the corner wondering whether to go into the First Baptist church, Second Presbyterian church, or the Third Whatever church of Whomever. Appeases me because if it’s ok for Rev. Jones to quote a communist within the church’s medieval walls, then there’s room for me and my questions too…
By Pablo Neruda
Now, we will count to twelve
And we will all keep still for once on the face of the earth
Let’s not speak in any language
Let’s stop for a second and not move our arms so much
It would be an exotic moment
Without rush, without engines,
We would all be together.
We would all be together in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea would not harm whales.
And the man gathering salt would not look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
Wars with gas,
Wars with fire,
Victories with no survivors,
Would put on clean clothes and walk about with their brothers in the shade doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about.
If we were not so single minded about keeping our lives moving,
And for once could do nothing,
Perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness
Of never understanding ourselves
And of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
As when everything seems to be dead in winter
And later proves to be alive
Now, I’ll count up to twelve
And you keep quiet
And I will go.