I’ve had a blind faith in The Man Upstairs for a long time. I grew up small-town Catholic but knew little about the Bible. Catholics have Catechism, not Bible study. We did not have nuns. We were lucky to share a priest with a triangle of other farm towns.
Growing up Catholic for me was more about belonging to a church family than choosing a religion. Our church had humble beginnings. This is no joke: my sister’s First Communion was at the American Legion. That’s where we worshiped after breaking ground at the site a handful of farmers chose for our simple church.
When I left for college, I left church. I tried campus Catholic ministries. The music was a lot better than at our church back home, and the pastor reminded me of James Taylor – but I didn’t feel the bond.
My first husband and I tried church together. I’ll never forget Good Friday services at a big, rich Catholic church in Atlanta. The huge wall behind the altar was all glass. In front of the altar, two young men were doing a beautiful reenactment of washing Jesus’s feet.
A fat bolt of lightning crashed into the trees on the other side of the glass. After a collective gasp followed by children screaming, the branches stayed lit for longer than you’d expect. It was scary, it was awesome – it was God. But that church didn’t grab me either.
So here I am, this side of 60. I’ve tried beachfront services. I’ve visited a tiny community church by the marina with old stained-glass windows and a very entertaining reverend. But the AC lacks punch on a dewy Florida summer Sunday morning.
Then one week, just a short drive away, I tried a church that made me feel so at home, I was crying during the sermon. Even more comforting was the kind woman who handed me the Kleenex, and the welcome hug from another 60ish gal who looked like she’d be fun to lunch with.
The music was like a rock concert. The message found my heart. Have I found a spiritual home? I hope so.
Everyone comes to their spiritual center in their own way, and it takes a lifetime. It’s not always about religion. Most of my adult life, I’ve been a Universe/Mother Nature/God follower in my own hippy chic way. But I think I want more. I think I’m ready for a church family again.
Meditation, prayer, silent reflection, conversation. For me, they end up being about the same thing: my space to come center. I remember telling my husband once to pray for rain at the family farm one summer of severe drought.
“You can’t pray for rain,” he said.
“Of course you can pray for rain,” I replied. “I’ve done it my whole life.”
At the time, I worked with a devout Christian woman named Virginia, a fiery redhead. We became very close and shared our thoughts on just about everything.
“Of course you can pray for rain,” Virginia said when I asked. “You can pray for anything. It’s just conversation.”
Yesterday, I was reminded again how easy it is to pray. I overheard a man recounting a story to a mom about her son in his Sunday school group several years ago.
“I was struggling with prayer myself,” he said, “and your son looked up at me and asked ‘Mr. D? We don’t know how to do this. Can you help us?’ ‘Of course I can help you,’ I told them. ‘That’s my job.’ Then it dawned on me. God is our Heavenly Father, and we are his children. Of course he wants to help us. That’s his job.”
So, is it really that easy? Is that all there is to it? It’s a very personal thing. Maybe all we really need to do when life gets hard is “Let go, let God.”
Praying is easy for me. Please Lord, bite my tongue when I snap at my husband. Just for this day, don’t let me spill coffee on my white blouse. Green light? Thank you, Jesus. A picture of twin girls in holiday dresses on Santa’s knee? Priceless. Thank you, Savior, our reason for the season.
World religion is an ever-evolving stage. In 1999, the Parliament of the World’s Religions adopted the Universal Code of Ethics in Cape Town, South Africa. These four ‘commandments’ were labeled nonnegotiable:
Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not murder. Do not exploit another sexually.
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if all people, all religions could follow just four life guidelines?
We all get so busy around the holidays. We forget to stop and think about what it all means – to us and to the world. As we get older and wiser, reflection can lead us deeper. If we believe, can we have salvation and eternity? This does seem to be the end game.
Joan Chittister, author of The Gift of Years, writes, “It is the older members of society who not only teach us how to live. They also teach us how to die, how to make sense of the unity between life and death, how to love life without fearing death – because we know ourselves to have been always on the way, even when we did not know where we were going.”
My hometown church was just up the road from school, and it was a big part of our life. Catholic Youth Organization teamed with all the other teen groups in town for hot dog roasts, dances, sledding parties and fund raisers like collecting returnable pop bottles off the road banks.
Church was about involvement. I was always in charge of something – organizing a trip or counting the money. It was good life training more than it was about religion. Between school, church, and a mother with an eagle eye, I had a village keeping me out of trouble.
Kids need places to hang out, especially as schools become strapped for funds, then scrap music and athletic programs. But churches and community centers are strapped too and rely on donations and volunteers to keep programs running.
Maybe this holiday season is the time to find a local place that lifts up your community and its children. If you can, donate or volunteer a little extra. Give your best this season.
This passage from Corinthians says it perfectly: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
What spiritual exploration are you planning to do this holiday season? Which practices are important to you? What do you do to support your local youth? Please join the conversation and let’s share our best ideas.