Unable to fall asleep at the unjustly early hour of my childhood bedtime, I often had lengthy talks with God.
I continue the practice here in my well-advanced middle age at scattered moments throughout most days. The conversations may appear a bit one-sided at times — or maybe not. A nun I once knew said, “God answers every prayer. Sometimes it’s just that the answer is ‘No.’”
Raised Roman Catholic and graduated from Catholic junior and senior high schools, it’s nearly impossible for me to entirely divorce that early influence from who I am and how I think. Nor do I see any reason to. It certainly affected how my fellow formerly Catholic husband and I raised our kids.
A regular churchgoing, say-your-prayers foundation, albeit a Protestant one, was offered to our three children. At least every other weekend saw us at service. I even taught Sunday school. Now with the kids grown, I find myself in church less and less.
My recent absence from brick-and-mortar church is not unlike my relying more on search engines instead of the public library for research, or shopping online and not at the mall. I don’t hunt for facts or buy any less; I just do it differently. I haven’t abandoned my ongoing, if often vague, quest for faith. I simply pursue it outside stained glass, inspirational architecture, and hard wooden pews.
I’ve long considered organized religion as primarily a source of community and comfort, which are far from unimportant. Over time I’ve grown to characterize myself as spiritual rather than religious; following the guidance of my own code of behavior; trusting to a largely indefinable higher power; doing my best not because of a reliance on eternal rewards or dread of fearful retribution, but because early on I was led to a solid understanding of right for right’s sake, and have tried to build an inner and outer life on that understanding.
The state of anyone’s religion is both subjective and objective, and if survey statistics are correct, often a fluid thing. We humans seem to be drawn to the quest for something outside of our own existences, something bigger, wiser, better. The results are often mixed.
Incalculable harm has been done in the name of religion. The Crusades, the diabolical work of the Nazis, and the destructive actions of jihadists are stark examples. Then again, there are the soft words and gentle acts that have successfully sought to bring positive change to the lives of individuals and nations; all inspired by an abiding belief in something beyond what we can see and perfectly comprehend. Think Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa.
With true demons and saints being rare, I figure the majority of us are simply looking for a way to feel less alone, less powerless in the face of trials and heartaches, and less terrified of what happens after we end. Some of us do it in a big, beautiful building, some in the presence of majestic scenes of nature, others in quiet moments of meditation, or through murmured prayers spontaneously offered on any given day.
We may not find the answers we seek, but there’s much to be gained in the search.