I don’t always take kindly to being told what to do, especially when it comes to matters of my own personal beliefs. Of course, I do understand that there is a time and place for adhering to such a structure, and a time and place for independence. With religion, it was never that I didn’t have faith or value aspects of a certain religious denomination— mine or anyone else’s for that matter. I just didn’t want someone else’s beliefs and meanings to be forced on me.
When I began to question certain “rules” within religion, it was really no different than the way I’ve questioned a lot of things in life. I often question things out of curiosity, in an attempt to gain a greater level of understanding. Generally, if I can understand something, its meaning becomes more clear to me. From there, I feel that I can make an informed decision for myself. It’s been no different with religion; ultimately, I really just want my faith to feel like more of a personal choice with meanings that I arrived at for myself, rather than something I was told to do because I was “supposed to.”
I know for a fact that my parents would have liked for more of the structure and rules of the religion to have stuck more firmly with me, but everyone finds their own meaning, and their beliefs don’t necessarily have to be mine. I truly believe that and I’m comfortable with that, even if they aren’t thrilled about it. Still, to say I got nothing out of going to church as a kid would simply be wrong because I absolutely did.
When I think back to what I was taught in religious education, I remember a lot of stories, parables, and passages. I understood these mostly at face value, and although I did learn some of the lessons, a story was usually just a story to me at the time. As an adult, however, I’ve started to realize that although it’s been a while since I’ve regularly attended mass, a lot of what I learned actually did stick with me and has become meaningful to me.
What I remember most from those stories are specific words. Words like “love,” “compassion,” “grace,” “healing,” and “peace.” Even as an adult, sometimes these words can be hard to fully comprehend. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that these words aren’t often tangible things. They’re concepts that we can see representations of, but can’t actually see with our eyes or hold in our hands. Yes, there are ways to physically represent and express them, but in many cases to explain them adequately can be a very hard thing to do. Instead, these are things that we feel.
As someone who tries to understand things largely from a logical and emotional standpoint, I’ve always considered myself to be a calculated person. The phrase “everything happens for a reason” was hard for me to grasp, especially when the reasons didn’t make sense to me. I was never someone who would explain things as “this is what the universe/a higher power wants.” In fact, even on the day I found myself back at church, I told the priest I was unsure of my belief in “divine intervention,” or at the very least, I had yet to fully acknowledge such a thing.
Yes, I actually questioned the concept of divine intervention to a priest’s face.
To this day, it’s hardly a term or explanation I use, and even when I do I still preface it by saying, “I’m not sure if I believe in divine intervention, but…” Truthfully, my beliefs about souls and spirits and the like were still uncertain and undefined— they were then and they still are now. What I can say, though, is that that day I clearly remember thinking for the first time, something beyond myself brought me here.
That’s not to say that my mind and body weren’t factors, but that day, and during those few weeks, both of those things were an absolute mess. My mind was ravaged by obsessive-compulsive thoughts. What went wrong in my relationship? What do I do now? I need to fix it.
Fix it, fix it, FIX IT.
This was basically my reality, all day, every day. My anxiety was at an astronomically high level, so much so that I was borderline functional. My body was tense, I couldn’t sit still, and my stomach was constantly nauseous to the point that even eating (which I love to do) was something I had to will myself to do only because, you know, proper nutrition is important.
So yes, my body physically pedaled my bike to the church, and yes, my mind was aware of where I was going. It’s just that I wasn’t thinking, “hey, you know what you should do? You should go to church.” Something else brought me there, like an out of body experience. Whatever that was, it was right.
I didn’t go because I was being told I had to. I can’t say that I had a desire to go there. Frankly, I didn’t even go because I thought I “should.” As much as I would like to think that my body or mind recognized that I needed to go there, I honestly can’t say that it was logic or emotion that drove me to ride my bike to the church that day.
I needed to find peace.
On that day in July of 2012, I began to truly open myself up to the concept of faith and spirituality for the first time. Not just as a general concept, but at a personal level: What is my faith, my spirituality? What do they mean, and what role will they play in my life going forward?
And wow, what I’ve learned about myself since then…