A Skeptics Lent Reflections
I was born and raised Catholic. I went to a Catholic school and was indoctrinated into the rules and beliefs of our faith. I used to go to church ever week, even when my parents didn’t. I would ride my bike and catch the earlier mass so I could get back in time to watch old Shirley Temple movies. I really didn’t question the boundaries of my religion. I didn’t see any of the limitations. I just went through the motions and felt safe in its comfortable walls.
Then came college, my years of religious rebellion. I stopped going to church at a time when I was exposed to the most extreme religious views. For, I was now living in the South. I was surrounded by good Christians who would go to church every week, pray before meals, and attend bible study. Then, they would stab you in the back when you weren’t looking.
I remember an incident during sorority rush. I made up a silly skit that used the story of creation from the book of Genesis, but inserted a few of the girls that I really liked into the story…”On the first day, God created Suzy Q and she was funny and really smart. On the next day He created Jane Doe, and made her from Dallas and excellent at field hockey…” Well, I got a letter from a fellow sorority member who thought my skit was blasphemous and disrespectful. I was stunned. I felt so bad that my innocent actions could have hurt someone’s feelings. So, I wrote a long apology letter explaining my beliefs and where I was coming from and asked if we could meet sometime for lunch. When I didn’t hear from her after a couple weeks, I was worried that my note didn’t make it to her, so I wrote another one, asking if she got it. After another week I finally did get a letter from her that basically said, “Yes, I got your note. I just assumed that we agreed to disagree.” That was it. No forgiveness. No kindness. No interest in seeing things through another’s eyes.
I look back now and see that is when my religious skepticism began. I couldn’t rectify the incongruity of the most staunchly religious Christians being some of the most judgmental and closed-minded. The rules of religion were so constricting that they lost the breadth and expansiveness of God. God, the Universe, Spirit – whatever you want to call it – it surrounds us, fills us, supports us, loves us and connects us. It cannot be defined by a system of conventional beliefs and laws. It would be like trying to fit all the air of the universe into a balloon – impossible to contain. The magnitude is beyond our limited minds, but rather than leave our minds open, religion tries to create an illusion of confinement that keeps us feeling safe.
Since then, I have wrestled with church, religion, and faith. On one hand, I feel more connected to Spirit then I have in decades. On the other hand, I still deal with feelings of guilt from not attending church but a handful of times a year. I feel like I’m not doing my part when I don’t give up cookies for lent. My old self that wants to belong and be a good girl and fit in still bubbles to the surface. But, when I try on that hat, it never really feels right for me. So I take it off and try to stay true to my authentic self.
Which brings us to Lent. So, Jesus gave up eating for 40 days. Impressive. We are then asked to grow closer to God by giving up something ourselves. I get it. If the intention is pure and good then these sacrifices can bring our awareness to Spirit. But, that skeptical side of me rolls my eyes when I run into someone who gave up sweets for Lent. “Oh, isn’t she the good little Catholic. I wonder why she is really doing it. Because she is supposed to? Maybe lose a few pounds?” I don’t like that side of myself that then wants to rebel and say, “Screw you rule followers, I’m not going to give up anything!” I know that not everyone is giving up soda for illegitimate reasons…
I wrestle with this every year: trying to find a space for me that feels genuine while giving my children what they need. I sometimes wonder if I’m failing them by not providing them with the safe walls of religion. Don’t kids need boundaries? Then I think, why not keep their minds to open to infinity possibilities? I still haven’t fully rectified it because there isn’t a right or wrong answer. There is only what feels authentic to me, at this moment in time.
So, may Lent bring you all closer to Spirit, in whatever way that feels right for you: whether it is giving up cookies or taking a walk in nature. Springtime is a time of new growth – let it be so in you!