Okay, so this blog is pretty personal today.
Last week we had the privilege of seeing my baby nephew christened. It was an Anglican High Mass, with lots of ritual and incense, and I liked the quietude and the solemnity of it (well, I think I would have enjoyed it more if we hadn’t been trying to keep 10 kids quiet for the whole 2-hour service). I was a little amused though when Picasso said to me, “Mummy, why is it foggy in here?” I think the priest had got a little over excited with the incense at that stage, and we were indeed all looking at each other through a fine, scented mist.
Later on I fell to thinking about his comment – and how true it is of where I am at in my spiritual journey at the moment.
I grew up in a fundamentalist black-and-white kind of church environment. It was a very particular, narrow world view that I was presented with – and expected to believe unquestioningly – and I spent a long time forcing down the questions and concerns I had with what I was being told was “true”. So many limits on knowledge and understanding; so many rules and regulations.
After I decided to embark on a more personal journey of discovery, I very nearly gave away my faith. I have this very clear memory of sitting on a beach in Sri Lanka and asking myself, “What do I believe?” I could only come up with one certainty. I believed in God. That was kind of it. The rebuilding of my faith began from there.
A lot of the people I grew up with in church have given their faith away completely, and I totally understand why. It’s why I relate to Guy Sebastian’s struggle you can read about here. When you grow up in such a narrow world, and you finally move beyond it, you realise how limited your previous understanding was. It’s easy to have defined views about gay people if you’ve never actually befriended someone who’s gay. It’s easy to accept being told that marriages only work if women are submissive to their husbands until you get beyond that little world and see there are so many different models for marriage and relationships, and that actually patriarchy is of the most destructive forces in any society.
There are so many things that make me frustrated with religion. The fact that Christianity is so often hijacked by a (mostly right-wing) political agenda. That a friend of mind is shunned when she walks down the street, just because of her sexuality. That religions of all kinds are used to justify the most appalling acts of violence and hatred, resulting in the destruction of so many cultures and peoples. The very reason we have our current nation-state system is because creating states for people was the only way to stop the religious wars that were destroying Europe in the 1600s. The fact that religion has so often been used to preserve social institutions that are inherently unjust – it is mind boggling to me that women are still, to this day, not allowed to speak in some churches. The fact that ministers and pastors and priests and rabbis and whoever else can speak with such certainly about knowing “the truth”. I just think that’s supremely arrogant. Of all the trillions and people who have lived and died, and the trillions yet to come, it’s a little absurd to think that one particular person, who has grown up in a particular culture and has a particular world view, has sole access to “the truth”. I think we are all so far from the truth that we get glimpses now and then, but generally, in my experience claims of “but this is the truth!” are mostly used to convince you of a belief that you might be validly questioning.
And so why, despite all this – am I a believer? Why do I still have faith? I read somewhere recently that just as we don’t do away with science altogether because science was responsible for the atomic bomb, we can’t distill religion down to the crumby bits. Faith has also produced the most wonderful acts of sacrifice and service known to man. Take Corrie Ten Boom, who went to a concentration camp because she could not bear the suffering of the Jewish people around her. Or Mother Theresa. Or countless others who live daily lives of love and sacrifice because they actually take the commandment to “love others as you love yourself” seriously. I hang in there because of all of this, and the fact that there just has to be more to life than what we experience day to day. So my journey along the spiritual road is foggy, and at times challenging. We do, after all, see “through a glass, darkly.” But it’s what makes life meaningful and beautiful.
I wish all of you well in your own spiritual journeys, and hope you can take comfort in peace and beauty during those times when it is hard to see the road ahead.