Is Your Concept of God Growing?
When I was young, I went to a Catholic school in Connecticut, and religion class was the first subject we studied every day. Our school was next door to the church and kitty-corner to the rectory where the priests lived. Our playground was the church parking lot.
I was surrounded by church bells notifying us of funeral Masses that were starting, and our school year was punctuated with rehearsals for Easter processions, Lenten stations of the cross, and weekly trips to the confessional. It was an all-inclusive time of memorizing multiplication tables, names of the continents, and answers to the Baltimore Catechism. Since the nuns who taught us were Polish, we also learned Christmas carols in Polish and a few Polish dances complete with costumes adorned with colorful ribbons.
That was grammar school, grades 1-8. Just as I was approaching puberty and higher order thinking, just as I started questioning authority and rebelling against my parents (in relative safety), I started ninth grade in the only high school in town, Torrington High. There I met people who were not Catholic, or if Catholic, maybe they went to the Italian church, St. Peter’s, and had different ways to do everything. I was a smart kid, so took some honors classes, and met the first Jewish kids I ever knew, as well as Protestants, and a few black kids, all in the public school that threw us together without a single class in religion.
I didn’t really know how to handle all that change, but other challenges were more imperative: navigating locker combinations and attention from older boys who wanted to carry my books to the next class, and cliques and lots of different teachers, some of whom wanted me to think for myself and not just recite answers I’d found in books. My religion was not asking that of me, however.
In time, I went to a Jesuit college, where I met free-thinking Catholics and an updated understanding of the Bible, not as literal truth but literary, poetic, and metaphorical, where the truth was to be gleaned because it shined through and resonated in my heart. It was the first time I dared to take off the religion ‘jacket’ I’d acquired in St. Mary’s grammar school and trade it in for something that fit me better. It would not be the last.
Our spirits are constantly informing us, leading us in creative and life-giving ways to grapple with the difficulties in our lives and help us to live through them, emerging with deeper experience of the mystery that is life here on this planet. In the sixty plus years of my life, I have lived through the deaths of my parents, separation and divorce, loss of friends and mentors over the years. Things happen that are not easily explained or understood. Over those years, the early lessons of my religion needed to be re-examined and questioned. What is mortal sin, anyway? Do I really believe in eternal damnation for committing such a sin? In my day, missing Mass on Sunday was a mortal sin. So was murder. So was adultery. Others were venial, considered less weighty in God’s eyes.
Did God really look at me the way I believed he did when I was ten? Did God really judge me as harshly as Sr. Brunona did? Knowing some of the sins of my relatives, where did I think they went after they died? The container holding my religious teachings was too small for me now. So was my understanding of God that had carried me through those early years. My understanding, my concept of God needed to get larger. I believe today it will always get larger if I am truly on the path that I was born to walk.
Over time, I had to seek some help in coming to terms with my own life, with the hurts I had inflicted and the harm that I had done. I also had to come to peace with things that might never be resolved between me and others. I had to learn what forgiveness really looks like and feels like and I could not come to these understandings by myself, in the confusion of my own mind.
I was fortunate to find mentors who would help me, books that enlightened me and gave me hope, and always, for me, there was music to touch my heart and my soul. I had to speak of these things, and I needed to be listened to.
Now I am able to listen to others, to be that non-judging, presence full of sacred curiosity, ready to take a ‘long look at the real’ in the lives of those who come to me for spiritual direction. When they come, I believe the Spirit is at work with them, leading them on their path, and all that they need is someone to listen and share the silence and what emerges from that silence.
Contact me if you are interested in exploring spiritual direction. I’d love to hear from you.