Yesterday I made an unexpected journey to Spokane from Salt Lake City. My daughter had emergency surgery, and besides feeling the need to comfort and nurture her, she needs my help with her two little rascals. On the flight here I sat next to a young woman who was on her way to visit family during spring break from a school of performing arts in New York City. She was earthy, tan, and friendly, her bare feet tucked under her, a worn pair of sandals on the floor under the seat. She struck up a conversation with the fellow on the other side of her. I closed my eyes, hoping for a little rest. Annie had called at 4 am from the hospital ER, and since I had been up writing until 2 am, I was a little worried and weary. In my half sleep stupor I listened to their conversation by default.
The fellow was also a student, a senior at Pepperdine University.
“I was going to apply to Pepperdine”, the girl said, “but it’s a religious school and I couldn’t handle that. I got to the essay in the application and the question was ‘What effect does religion have on education? I decided then and there it wasn’t for me. I just can’t handle religion.”
He defended the non-churchy sector of the university, without committing one way or the other. I actually thought he was charmingly diplomatic. And she was in every other way warm and thoughtful and didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. I was so intrigued by her remarks that I pulled my phone out of my pocket and Googled the word religion.
I would define myself, to anyone who might want to know who I was, as a religious person. My religious faith is a huge part of my life. It weaves through just about everything I think, feel, experience and hope for. Her criticism of religion made me wonder what she might have thought the definition was.
I have been ruminating on some inner level since that plane ride how this little row of three passengers on a plane could have relative ease being beside each other, with such differing concepts of our very existence. I wonder, fairly often actually, if I am one of those wackos who has thrown their whole wad of humanness into investing in a spiritual Ponzi scheme. Am I being inspiringly devoted or ridiculously deceived? My truthful response to my own question is that without the Holy Ghost in my life, I cannot and would not know. Indeed, I am a believer, and without that third member of the Godhead that I worship, I could not know…know…if my proverbial eggs of faith are being placed in the right basket.
David and I made a choice, without ever really wavering, to raise our children in an atmosphere of belief. It was not a curtain we pulled over them. It was more like water in which we bathed and which we drank daily. We lived what we believed, and they came along with us. It was important to my husband and me to raise our kids so that they were able to witness the ebb and flow of our personal faith. Dave is much more steady than his wife! It never felt right for me to overemphasize my doubts, but at the same time I did not hide them. I remember standing at the pulpit in Fast and Testimony Meeting and saying “I am not sure of much of anything. I wish I could say at this moment that everything about our church is the absolute truth. But I can’t, and I can’t explain why. But I am quite certain that if I were to die tomorrow and find out that Jesus Christ was not the Savior of mankind I would be in an awful sorrowful state of disbelief. Probably the one thing I feel most certain about is that He lived as our savior, He died as our savior, and that he was resurrected in such a way that we are all enabled to live again as well. His grace empowers us to progress as he would like us to, both here on the earth and hereafter. I have my doubts, that’s for sure. But I also have my faith.”
I look at these two little children snuggled beside me here in my daughter’s house. Their innocence is divine, and so is their faith. They fold their little fingers together before their dinner plates and thank their superhuman-power-of-a-God for their food, and they freely ask that Being they cannot see if He will bless their mommy. They do this freely, and comfortably; believing. But they are little kids. Not fully developed. I mean, they know there is also a Santa Clause, right? But I think about them, and the tiny portion of their brains that they are able to use at this point, and I say to myself, “How much do we need to explain to them to make them have a healthy understanding of things? Do they need to know how the light in the lamp on the living room floor gets the power to turn on and off? Do they need to understand the process of water coming clean and cool and easily into the sink? Do they need to understand how the baby growing in their mommy was not in the right place, had burst its holding place and so they had to hurry and cut mommy’s tummy and take it out? Because these things are beyond their comprehension are they not effectively true nonetheless?
In my age I become more and more aware of my ignorance, and I am stunned at the arrogance with which we approach divine concepts, like we know things we can’t possibly know at our young eternal age. And we make others feel foolish for trusting what cannot be known.
I am saddened to live in a world where religion is mocked, like it is a weakness and a blindness rather than a strength and a vision. I understand how it is perceived that way, because some of us religious sorts are so “in your face” with our beliefs.
I am reminded of my former neighbors, Bryan and Ann, whose lives were deeply polished to a heavenly shine by their religious faith. We do not share the same religion, but I deeply respect the way they live good, loving lives because they feel guided by a supreme being. Goodness is not exclusive to one religious sect.
Members of my family are prone to say, in response to criticism of others: “We are all just down here trying.” My intrinsic propensity to believe in religion, in a super human being who has control, has made me feel more at home, and yet more removed from others. Such an oxymoron. (maybe I am an oxy-Mormon.) I am stunned that some people who profess to be Christians call me a non-Christian.
Once, years ago, I took a few voice lessons from a woman who defined herself as a born again Christian. She was a great teacher, and a kind person. I sang one of my songs for her during a lesson. Her eyes welled up, and she said she was sweetly moved by the message of the song. She stopped herself mid sentence, like she was surprised a Mormon could write something that was moving. I responded, “ Debbie, we both believe in the same God.” I was stunned when she replied, firmly, “We most certainly do not!”
I was speechless for a minute. I asked what God she worshiped that was different from mine. She flung guttural phrases toward me, piercing and angry, like it was shameful that I would profess to in any way have a part in her God’s kingdom. I listened, surmising that arguing would not welcome the spirit into the conversation. In the end I asked if we could finish the lesson. When we were done, I told her I was sorry for her feelings, and that I had not in any way intended to offend her or God. I simply believed that there was more that unites us than divides us. I never again felt free enough to sing with all my heart for her.
To my children; to their children; and to all the world I profess that I am a sucker for God. I believe. I know its not popular. It’s certainly not hip lately. I have doubts, for sure, especially because I know we humans run the churches that rise from religion. But the church is not the religion to me. The religion goes deeper, to the dirty soil under the pretty churches, where the earth is nutritious and the nourishment hard to get unless your roots are deeply planted. The church is the orchard, where good fruit should be bounteously harvested And so I plant myself in that place, with other like flora, our roots intertwining there underground. And our branches? They reach up toward the light.
During the season of Lent I make the personal commitment to write every day. I’ve done this for the past eight years, as a token of devotion and thanks to the Lord for giving me a brain that works (usually). I publish these writings here on my blog, unedited and splattered like wet paint, as a way to share them and to keep them for myself and for my posterity. This year I have decided to ruminate on thoughts, ideas, habits and miscellaneous personal practices I would like to put in a figurative HOPE CHEST to take with me into the rest of my life and the life beyond. Besides that, there are bits of advice I would like to tuck into the HOPE CHESTS of my kids and grandkids.