Monday, February 28, 2011

Someone To Watch Over Me

I spent my life trying to find shelter for my heart
. Growing up in a non-religious and non-spiritual household, I had shaped my ideas on Christ and church through Sunday services at my best friend's house of worship, my children's Bible- because although we did not talk about God, books were the ever present elevated beings in our home- and a small, simple and tender book called The Child's Book of Prayer given to me by my Nana. Lying in my bed alone at night, six, seven, eight years old, I found that by simply reading sentences about things that mattered to me to a higher power called God I felt better. I didn't know if I 'believed' in God. I wasn't worried about finding out if I did or not. What concerned me was finding solace in my pain, relief from my constant anxiety, love when my family was as distant, as mysteriously scary and sad as the full moon.

“I don’t follow it. I wish I could get with it. It would be a big help on those dark nights.” - Woody Allen said this in an interview with the NYT, regarding the Jewish religion, but based on the totality of his comments in interviews, this applies to all religion. " We all need some delusions... " he said. I had Dakota at 19 and turned my desire of sanctuary inside out, needle by bloody needle thread, sewing myself together by mothering my son, by creating a world in which he knew beyond any doubt that I loved him unalterably and that I would do anything to help him through life and to keep him safe. I can say I succeeded in passing this on. He knows. And for a while, I felt safe. It's amazing the vast difference between I was safe and I felt safe. In life, you can never be promised safety. But feeling safe? What can offer this? What can create an 'invincible summer'? Mine passed as my short lived faith in God was replaced by sheer terror with the thought that instead of creating safety in my love with and for my son, I had now created a way to experience new levels of suffering I had never imagined in my traumatic childhood home. The death and suffering of ones self is difficult to come to terms with, find peace with; the same for our children? Unthinkable. The only way I have ever been able to contemplate how this could be bearable is to imagine that there was something I could offer my children so that they, no matter their fate, could harbor a place of peace.

Holly Mcrae, Kate's mother, has said in her blog that Kate's faith that she will 'go home to Jesus' if she dies is the only thing that keeps her from losing herself to panic completely. This is not simplifying the enormous terror and pain I hear in her every word in her every post. Her faith is not healing her pain, saving her daughter, or making everything OK. But it is a ballast against the vast and terrifying darkness that can descend when a human being believes that life is a meaningless chaos of matter and energy clanging into each other.

My desire to create this safegaurd is intensified a thousandfold because I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder- GAD. Or PTSD. Or panic. Whatever particular psychological labeling I fall under, I have had enough fear, panic and sheer terror of soul in my life to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking of how to avoid it, which brought me quickly to the realization that situations this awful can't be avoided. The only way out is through. The only answer is to re-learn my entire view of the world, the Universe, and the meaning of life. In modern society as we search for peace or happiness we forget that philosophers and dreamers since the beginning of time earned their great wisdom and peace through great trial, through great study, great effort.

We forget that peace is not a well run household or smart and kind children or meditating twenty minutes every morning. True, deep soul serenity is the work of our lifetime. It cannot be bargained for suddenly when tragedy comes to our door. As Mr. Curry and I held Ever in the Pediatric Oncology and Respiratory Unit, I desperately wished for something to give my children to lean on while they waited for us in the outside world. Especially Lola. You know she struggles at times with a fierce and keen anxiety. We need something more to offer them than platitudes and loving thoughts, I told Mr. Curry. He agreed.

I have always struggled to give my children a depth of real to lean on, walk on, learn through. In small ways, Mr. Curry and I have done good work for our babies, taking in friends who had bad situations, feeding and clothing the immigrant workers in our neighborhood, mentoring a foster child that has grown into a wonderful adult, talking about the belief systems of the world, and over and over in every way that occurs to us emphasizing that the ultimate meaning of life is love, and that to love deeply and well is what brings meaning to life and ultimately, inner peace.

What is missing is a community, and the chance for them to explore if they believe in God. Because we cannot truly say we have allowed them to explore what we are not enabling them to learn. And if I can't have an abiding faith, I have to say I'd be delighted if my children could, because of the peace I have seen it bring so many. My aunt E. rejoined the Catholic church after leaving it some 20 years before, and the most fundamental reason struck me not as cheap or shallow, but as beautifully simple as a child's: she wanted the beautiful music and ceremonial gatherings in her life because it made her feel better. And she wanted it for her children. Boys, my cousins, who have now grown into young men who are liberal, pro-gay rights and pro everybody's rights- but are also Catholic. And have faith, with all the doubt and confusion and human problems that go with is, surely, but still, faith.

Buddhist, Catholic, Christian, Universal Unitarian, Nature as God-

What can I give my children that will be there when I am not?

I don't know the answer, but I am about to begin the journey to find out.

Which is why, on a Sunday soon, when we are all well and the skies clear and the winds feel right, we will be taking Lola and Ever to church.
Vashti said...

hey you. LOVE this post. I really pray that you find the right church to take your family to. xx

I'm Katie. said...

It's a wonderful idea that will surely give your children a kind of foundation which they can push off of in their personal search for community and greater meaning. I also grew up in an atheist household yet felt like I was tossed at the feet of a little Buddha statue when I found out I was pregnant (unwed, unplanned). That belief system saved me and the written community alone has kept me semi-buoyant (alive) when the water turns dark and terribly rough. I hope this brings wonderful lightness of being to you and yours.

Julia said...

You are so beautiful.

Faith is completely about relationship with God. Churches can help build that, or (at first) they can be a distraction from it. Depends.

I was just re-reading Anthony Bloom's Beginning to Pray yesterday, and loving it all over again. You might like his thoughtfulness and depth.

Feel free to write me off-list.

Anonymous said...

Maggie May- thanks for your wise thoughts. That was perfect. It's the doggedly thoughtful way that you go that leads me here!

Laura @ My Thoughts-Uninterrupted said...

I hope you and your family can find comfort through God or whatever you choose. Best of luck!

Melinda Owens said...

I admire your open mind and your desire to give your children the option to find their own faith. One of my favorite writers is Anne Lamott, she's a Christian, but unlike any other I've ever known. She's raw, edgy and honest. Her childhood seems to resemble yours, from what I've read here on your blog. Her book entitled Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith tells the story of her spiritual journey. Best wishes on your quest.

Steph(anie) said...

This touches me deeply. I struggle quite a bit with religion, but my parents have a church they like. They've been taking Maya with them for years. Now they are starting to take Austin too. I will admit to having mixed feelings about this that are too complicated to address in a comment, but I am glad for my kids to explore it with someone I trust, while not forcing myself into a situation that I personally don't care for. Does that make me a chickenshit?

Ms. Moon said...

Well, if it works, it works. I can't love the music and ceremony if it is accompanied by teachings of you-can-only-be-saved-if-you-believe-this.
Just can't do it.
But I understand the need.
Remember this, though, dear Maggie- just as you find your way down this path of crazy-life, your children will be even more able to do so. You cannot save them from troubles. Life is full of them. But you have given them the example of living-through-it-all.
Yes you have.

Maggie May said...

SeeKate- Buddhism is beautiful, something I've read quite a bit about and am very interested in.

Vashti and Julia and Laura and Starr- thank you :)

Melinda I have all her books and love her!!

Stephanie no way- not chickenshit, that's a great solution, open hearted and minded of you. xo

Annie said...

Hi Maggie,
I hope it works for you and your children, to explore the concept of faith. After growing up Catholic (I went to Catholic school from Kindergarten through Grade 6), I chose not to raise my son in any religion. Somehow, I felt my altruistic values were being communicated to him, through informal means. Now, I am not so sure. He is a good person, but he is often cynical- maybe that's just being a teenager. Still, I do not regret my decision. I do believe, and I will always believe, that love, in all its forms, from friendship to deep and abiding commitment, is a guiding principal; and that however we came to be in this world, that every day is a gift (and these are not just empty words). Like you, I think it could be comforting to believe in a "higher power," but I just don't see it for me. I believe there is connection, of the best kind, between all of humanity. I also believe I do not have the answers for anyone else.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

I think it's great, Maggie. My folks took us to church for awhile, but they also had a bookshelf full of world religions. They taught us that whatever helps is good. I guess that's what you have said in this post but much more beautifully.



Caroline said...

Dear Maggie,
There are so many things I love about what you wrote. Faith is so deeply personal and alive. It is a journey and for each of us we all go about it a different way. Like your aunt, I am Catholic (and have similar childlike reasons for being so) but I have friends of all different faiths, those of atheist/humanist beliefs, those gay and straight and from every background imaginable. I've learned that having a respect and humility are two important qualities. We can all learn so much from one another.
As a child I had a mailbox that my father gave me. In it I would mail letters to God. I remember that during some of my most difficult times (I suffered from anxiety as a child but am much better today), those times when mom and dad didn't have all the answers and couldn't comfort me, I would turn to my mailbox, write letters and "mail" them. Looking back that was the start of the most important lesson of my life: prayers may not always be answered in my way, but the act of praying was an exercise of healing.

Petit fleur said...

Yea, this is a hard one. We have our pagan beliefs and celebrations and rituals, etc... but there is no real community in our area. And even if there were, I cannot commit to it. To going each and every week.

Anyway one thing I will say is that you don't need a formal type of religion to pray. You really don't even need to believe in God. If you know how the brain works then it might make sense to pray to your higher self, the subconscious or even to nature, or the sun which provides the energy for life on earth... I think it's the act of praying and releasing and giving thanks that is important... it can be to the universe or the cosmos... anything which is larger than us or fosters life.

Good luck Maggie!

Phoenix said...

Oh Maggie, you're so freaking awesome. My faith in God has not made things any easier in my life but it has made me forgive, love, adapt, and form a loving community that doesn't exclude others. If you're looking for a church to take Lola and Ever to, I hope you find one as unconditionally loving and accepting as you are.

Elizabeth said...

When my faith ebbs, I think that for my children they will at least have a base from which to rebel.

Sabine said...

Oh yes, I recognise some of what you feel and yearn for. Having a small and seemingly helpless child I think intensifies this. When I was a young mother I was stuck in a scenario that included my distant and rational, agnostic family and the warm and comforting large family of my man who are all serious Irish Catholics and who waited paitently in the wings for the usual rituals - baptism etc. - which I simply could not agree to. I can say this now in hindsight because at the time - and you will know this - you act so much out of instinct when you have this tiny life in your hands but there was always this reassuring thought that the world will be her homeland and that humanity will be her family and that I will do my utmost to prevent anybody, be it family or priests or headmistress or media or whatever to attempt and segregate her from this by a world view that separates "us" from "them".

Anonymous said...

I am left breathless and nearly tearful at your writing, and will be waiting with anticipation to read your description. Each of us has such a different experience with faith and church and religion and spirituality. I took my son to church from 10 to 18. Now he is 28 and hasn't stepped inside a church for ten years. I, for five. But I trust his path...and mine.

Anonymous said...

Maggie, I feel the same way. I live in a conservative Jewish area of the valley--an area of recent immigrants. And yet they are instantly more at home here than I have ever felt anywhere due to their community and common belief. All talking together, praying at the park, walking in groups along the boulevard--all united in in belief.

I myself was raised Catholic by a family who is no longer is Catholic. How could we be? Many of my friends are aetheist and rationally this makes the most sense to me--that we are here on earth as a random event of sperm meeting egg and all we have is the legacy we leave here on earth--our energy transformed into worm food after death. I think of all the horrors committed in the name of religion. And yet the idea of belief in something greater than what is material is so comforting. If I can't have that I at least want it for Nola. I at least want the sense of community for all of us.

Over the years, I have searched high and low for a church that fits us. I found the one that is closest to a fit, strayed, and have been thinking lately of returning.

Unknown said...

Much love for this post. So honest. I feel you, truly.

I don't know the answer either, but I think, sometimes, being honest about uncertainty, and sincerely always looking for the truth and for a legacy, is a good place to start. And love. Just love. You won't go wrong.

Mwa said...

This is such a timely post for me. I have been struggling with losing my faith, and as you know my son now wants to make his first communion in our local Catholic church. I'm not sure what to think about that, but this weekend we went to mass together (part of the preparation process) and it was like coming home. We both loved it, which confused me even more. I still don't know what to think. I couldn't even blog about it, it threw me so much. Isn't it funny and wonderful how some of what we're going through is shared by others so far away? I hope you sort it out for you, and I for me.

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