I once was saved in a Baptist Church completely by accident. The congregation was instructed to close their eyes, and if there was the slightest doubt whether you would end up in heaven or in hell you were supposed to raise your hand. Being a thoughtful twenty-something with afterlife questions I raised my hand. I only opened my eyes as an enthusiastic preacher hustled me up onto the altar in front of my boyfriend’s very large family. I had no opportunity to interrupt or demur. Caught like a deer in the headlights, I was saved.
At the time I was attending a Catholic college, and being raised Catholic you would think I might have fared better at the mass I recognized. One fateful day, however, a friend of mine and I brought the gifts up to the altar about five minutes too early into the proceedings. When the priest saw us, he held us in front of the packed house, hurrying through the prayers until it was the appropriate moment for the gifts to be received. When I realized what we had done I muttered “Jesus Christ” under my breath without thinking. The horrified Father shot me such a shocked look that any composure I once had completely fled. My Protestant friend, panicked at my side, frantically whispered “What do we do now?” I meant to say “Genuflect”. I really did. But instead my brain, saturated with adrenaline, came up with the unfortunate response “crucify yourself”. I knelt, slunk back to my seat in abject embarrassment and prayed for my very soul.
You might think me lacking in faith. Not true. In my youth I attended every type of religious ceremony I could, seeking enlightenment. I went to Temple and invited Mormons in for discussions. I read the Bible cover to cover. I have friends of various religious persuasions. I have always been spiritual. I sincerely wish to understand the similarities and differences between faiths.
My parents divorced when I was twelve and my mother, who was raised strict traditional Catholic, used to pretend for her mother’s sake that we had attended mass. Whether that was a moral choice, who can say? In our personal “mass time” we would stroll through the woods and talk, both of important things and day to day minutiae. I do know that this made my relationship with God feel very personal and that this shared contemplative time reinforced my faith. Mom would say God can be felt in nature as strong as in any house that man constructs. To this day, many religions and buildings later, I still feel the truth in that statement.
I have had meaningful encounters with clergy. I have experienced signs. I know God exists. What my experience has taught me is that Buddhist or Christian, Muslim or Jew, we are more alike than different. Most faiths share similar humanistic principles and encourage us to conduct ourselves within a moral framework. There is no right and wrong definitive religious view. Understanding is a very personal issue. I have brought my sons to mass, and shared my own perspectives and faith with them. I have encouraged them to seek truth, confident that God will reveal Himself in a way that holds meaning for each of them.
I am not the Catholic that my grandmother might wish. I am, however, a person whose principles and faith she would admire. I am at peace with myself. I pray daily and contemplate the beauty of the existence we have been given. I am thankful for every moment that has taught me something, whether sad, embarrassing or joyful. I am sure God has a most excellent sense of humor. For that reason I even still make an occasional appearance in church.