time for wonder

May 14, 2011

before i was 11 or so, i was a God-fearing, Jesus-loving, Mary-idolizing Catholic girl, probably with more and more genuine religious feeling than any of my siblings. i frequently imagined being a nun and living in a convent. i prayed. a lot.

one of the things i asked for was “to be a girl,” and i figured out around the same time that i was a girl and that a lot of the things i had believed in didn’t make very much sense at all, especially my belief in the Catholic Church (and even it’s individual cells in the form of priests and nuns) as all knowing and inherently right, a view neither of my parents ever expressed but which seemed to me to follow naturally from things i had been taught in Catholic school and heard at church on sundays.

but i missed the magic and mystery of God very quickly. i dabbled in Wicca and other forms of Paganism and was very, very strongly attracted to the idea of a pre-Christian, nature-based spirituality, but grew disillusioned around age 14 after a long time of feeling like my friends and i were “making things up” or faking it.

as an adult looking back, i’ve decided i was just too used to the feeling of having an authority figure leading me in my faith and especially in its ritual manifestations. being the leader sometimes and other times having no leader at all was likely the problem. i even wonder now if my great-uncle (who is a priest and a strongly intellectual man, who once assured my grandmother that people like me (i.e.-queer folks) had existed since the beginning of time and are part of God’s plan) ever feels the way i felt then when he is giving Mass.

i don’t have a strong sense of spirituality now. i’ve tried to give my kids religious literacy, reading selections from the Bible, the Quran, and other religious texts, participating respectfully in religious and quasi-religious events to which we are invited. i haven’t come out and told my kids that i am a conflicted atheist, wanting to feel something like i felt as a child but unable to convince myself of anything for which there is no evidence. i am stuck here, between some of my skeptic friends who find it a tad infantile and possibly foolish that i feel this way and my friends who experience a sense of spirituality (as often as this has to do with God it has to do with crystals or energetic memory in water and all of it is so embarrassingly rooted in a willing suspension of disbelief or a total lack of understanding of how the world demonstrably works that i have trouble having conversations with people about it). but i would love some evidence for God, or even the crystals or water-that-behaves-differently-when-you-play-heavy-metal-music-to-it. the problem is that there isn’t any, and it is a short hop-skip-and-jump from God or Goddess to water-that-makes-you-sick-because-you-said-the-word-hate-to-it and, well… how about weird, sad consultations with Sylvia Browne for people in grief?!

my eldest child is a born skeptic. he has never taken anyone’s bait about Santa Claus (even without a direct contradiction from me (it was first brought up by my mother and father while i was unavailable for comment)), and he will tell anyone who asks that he doesn’t believe in God or heaven or any kind of afterlife at all. This has been steady for him since he was 3 or so, despite any number of Christmas celebrations and Sabbat dinners. His little brother, on the other hand, despite hearing from well-respected-authority-on-everything-big-brother that none of these things exists, believes in God, Jesus, Santa Claus, ghosts, and the Easter Bunny, as well as fairies and toys that come to life when you aren’t looking.

so far, i have managed to stay out of these debates of theirs other than to offer the noncommittal “some people believe in…” types of comments. i’m not really sure where to go from here. part of me is very charmed by my little one’s belief in a world alive with literal magic and the supernatural, but worried about the possible letdown he may experience should his beliefs all shipwreck on the rocks of life. another part of me is immensely proud of my older son’s skepticism and intellectual rigor, while hoping desperately that he will experience some measure of “magic” in this real world that we live in, in the people we know and love and in the wild, rural, and urban environments in which we spend time.

because i do. i may not have managed to convince myself to believe in Jesus-fearing-leprachauns or guardian angels, but i experience wonder and joy when our seeds sprout and when i hear my children singing and when a spectacular sunset turns our living room red and orange. i experience something just shy of spirituality when i breathe the air beneath ancient trees and imagine the place i live now as it might have been when those trees were seedlings, and before there were coniferous trees at all, and going back so far it is hard to fathom.

if i can’t believe, and if my children ultimately can’t, i at least want us to stop in wonder. there will be time to explore and find things out and know the cold, hard truth in any number of situations. and we will make time for wonder.

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