As people flock to catch even a glimpse of Pope Francis during his visit to the United States, I wonder about faith. The lackadaisical religious training of my upbringing (4 years of Catholic School) is long gone but I love this remarkable spiritual leader as he rejuvenates the conscience of the church, of all of us, demanding we pay attention and act against injustice, poverty. How can we not be moved? He gives me belief in humanity – a good place to start.
Because of too many recent deaths, I have been in different churches celebrating and grieving lives of those gone. It’s good there are places to do this. I flailed after my husband’s death – not knowing where or even how to hold a service but thought it important to have one for my daughter, for me. I remain ever grateful to the Unitarian Minister who guided me with poetry in his beautiful church. But it was mostly him that drew me – the congregation was too white and wealthy to become my community.
To some extent, I envy the assurance of my wise friends of faith. They know where to turn to make sense of the world, they find comfort believing their loved ones are welcomed by a benevolent God after death. It’s a beautiful story but I don’t feel that belief. During prayers, I bow my head in quiet reverence and appreciate the hum, the music, the silences of the faithful I stand with and envy the ready community to be found in a church of shared faith. But I don’t share it.
And I wonder – how others feel so sure in their belief and why I don’t. I joke about being a recovering Catholic and that recovery takes a lifetime. But even that gives more weight to the impact my early childhood religion had on me. I was done early. I went to Catholic school until 3rd grade and in 4th or 5th, had the misfortune of encountering a mean priest in confession. Other than funerals and weddings, my family no longer went to church nor did we ever pray or discuss faith. It didn’t stick.
Even as I join with others in church, knowing I am welcome, sure my questions would be embraced, I feel a foreigner who doesn’t quite understand the language. I’m glad for the visit, sometimes, even exhilarated by the energy, the force of many voices raised together, the easy support they give each other, the love offered. I listen carefully and sometimes join the prayers waiting to be moved, for them to feel like anything more than a recitation and – am not. So there you have it.
Yet, walking home from a love filled memorial service in a beautiful old church yesterday evening, the moon appeared huge and bright on the horizon. My heart filled and I felt the wonder of the earth beneath my feet spinning through the universe.