Are you spiritual? What do you believe and why? These questions befuddled me for the duration of my youth, and here’s why. (I’m using religion in quotations to set it apart for specific reasons.)
My mother was raised by devout German Catholic parents with 11 siblings on a farm in a small rural town right here in Central Wisconsin. (I believe my grandmother was around the age of two when coming here from Germany.) My father, youngest of four, was raised in one of the bigger cities in Central Wisconsin and also attended a Catholic church. I watched my father’s quiet, yet steady faith while my mother struggled with practicing a religion versus having faith and a spiritual relationship with God. For me, memorization and repetition ingrained the practice of this ‘religion’ into my very being as I grew up. The Bible wasn’t opened at home, but preached by the Priest during the Homily at Mass, we didn’t get to question in order to understand it, we had to just believe it. We prayed, but it was more like reciting words.
Watching and participating in the ongoing Catholic traditions; I was captivated by the beauty and mysticism surrounding it. Attending Catholic grade school, I spent hours every week learning about Catholicism and attended Mass 6 days a week until I was in 7th grade (then it was only 4 days a week). Even though I was taught to obey and not question these beliefs, I did exactly that. I’m quite sure Father (our priest) winced as he saw my hand go up during ‘religion’ class when discussing such things as creation. Asking questions such as, “God created Adam and Eve and they had two sons, Cain and Abel; if Cain killed Abel, how did humankind begin without incestuous relations?” “Why did Moses live to be so old?” “Why can we eat apples if they are the forbidden fruit?” (We seemed to have spent a lot of time learning about the Old Testament.) And the list of questions goes on and on. “Why must I remain faithful to this ‘religion’ or suffer certain damnation from God?” “Who is deciding this, God himself?” “Why does a Priest need to intercede on my behalf an absolve my sins?” All the time thinking to myself, is this the type of God that I want to follow? I don’t believe I was the only Catholic teenager to have these questions. It was stranger still that fellow Protestant friends knew and understood the Bible and they seemed to question their faith far less.
In the Bible, Jesus tells us to live simply; why did Catholics seem to care so much about frivolous things such as large, ornate churches with statues and spires, gold chalices and vestments of every kind? It seemed to be a lot of pomp and circumstance parading itself to attract followers. Was I being presumptuous, perhaps? Simplicity seemed the farthest from what this ‘religion’ was demonstrating. I wanted so much to understand how this or any ‘religion’ was benefiting my own faith and spirituality.
Sometime in my late teens and early twenties I began to raise the question what is spirituality and how does it differ from ‘religion?’ I felt there was more than what I had been taught, and longed for more meaning in my faith. In growing and learning about the complexities of this world and choosing NOT to remain in a state of prolonged naivety in regards to my spirituality and faith, I searched for answers. I spoke with religious leaders, other faithful, read the Bible and other books about Catholicism, read about other ‘religions’, even books about spirituality. I would sit in the library on the floor, at times, perusing the books and devouring any information I could find. Throughout this time I came across many unique observations. Beliefs seemed to vary based on humankind’s historical interpretations of ‘religion’ itself. (Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and the list goes on and on.) Many had similar fundamentals, but varying structures. Even paganism, astrology and mysticism seemed to breath the same truth. A common factor in these beliefs was undoubtedly the care given to heal, use and grow the spirit or soul of an individual. This was certainly an AH-HA moment! I understood that although we may achieve it in a myriad of ways, believers had a goal in mind and that resonated with me.
Now, in my fortieth decade, I recognize ‘religion’ as a term used to describe an organization in which believers follow a doctrine or specific regulations authorized by a group of people; perhaps even to benefit their own agendas. GASP! Now, you could assume that I am against ‘religion.’ This is untrue. I completely support a group of faithful, well-intended, spiritual believers gathering and participating in events for the greater good of humankind. Unfortunately, I have experienced far too many ‘religious believers’ speak, act or disregard the very ideals of the ‘religion’ they claim to be practicing. It would seem contradictory to assume a title of a religious sect without practicing its beliefs and likewise for a ‘religion’ to assume the role of attaining followers to benefit their agendas. For this very reason I chose to separate from organized religion and its practices, while maintaining my spirituality by practicing simplicity.
I prefer to ‘practice my faith’ by surrounding myself with those who have similar beliefs, morals and ethics as myself. I choose to teach my children about the Bible and expand their knowledge so they may grow their own faith. A personal relationship with God (or whatever you’d like to refer to that Higher Power as) is what I am referring to. Something specific, intentional and personal. A spirituality so wonderful, that when you establish it, you will feel incredibly blessed. It is not always black and white, and at times I’ve been drawn away from God through temptation, but I always return. In returning, I’ve developed a stronger relationship along the way. I believe this is how we grow our spirituality and faith; molding and shaping all aspects of our lives.
Seem too simple? Jesus taught two simple commandments; “Love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself.” I really believe if more spiritually faithful people listened with their hearts and truly heard the Message and lived the commandments; we could drastically change the course of our world.
I am forever grateful for the journey I’ve been on. My upbringing in the Catholic church with all the memorization and obligatory repetitive behaviors taught me fortitude. I learned tenacity from watching my father, knowing that this faith can get me through some pretty tumultuous ordeals, and that it has. Experiencing so many family and friends leaving this world has given me hope that there is more than we know waiting on the other side of our human realm. Joining with other believers in prayer taught me that many hearts together can heal. Listening to that inner voice that speaks can be difficult in this chaotic world and equally as difficult is demonstrating spirituality and faith by how we choose to live.
Take time to be still, open your heart and listen to this Higher Power, experience the love and peace that comes with It. Imagine what It can do for us, our loved ones, our community and ultimately our world. Remarkable idea.