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Bits & Pieces: Finding my religion

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A while back my older son asked me about God.
I got all panicky, fumbled around with some half-assed reply and hoped that it would hold off any more questions concerning life after death, God or anything to do with religion for a while. But, as we know, kids are naturally curious and the questions keep coming. I have no choice but to put on my big girl panties and really face some of these questions.
I’ve also had to ask myself what it is I believe now, but more importantly how am I going to steer my kids’ young minds through the often-prickly world of religion. I needed to come up with a game plan ASAP, one that that allowed them to explore this new subject without any of my baggage influencing them.
I admit there was a time where I probably would not have made a game plan at all. Frankly, it was a subject that I didn’t particularly enjoy. Anything I deemed spiritual or religious would send me into fight or flight mode. It didn’t take much mentioning of Jesus, La Virgen de Guadalupe, or the Holy Spirit to trigger a sense of dread. I was so uptight about this whole thing that just the chanting in a yoga class or someone suggesting we bow our heads in prayer before a meal would make me nervous.
I suppose I was in full on “recovering Catholic” mode. My childhood was filled with hours of forced catechism classes, mind numbing rosary sessions, and Sunday mornings where I was stuck fidgeting in the pews at St. Mary’s Church. But, perhaps the most intense religious moments were experienced while visiting my very pious family members in Mexico.
My Abuela in particular took her Catholicism very seriously. She kept a statute of La Virgen in her home and would light devotional candles almost daily. Several times I witnessed my grandmother in her gingham frock walking on her knees to accept communion. The hard stone ripped up her bony legs as she counted rosary beads in her fingers. She was a hard-core Catholic and wanted us to follow suit.
Maybe she meant well with her strict ways, and all those catechism lessons did somehow tune my moral compass, but mostly what I remember is a copious amount of guilt, shame and some extremely frightening stories about “el diablo” that were meant to scare us kids into submission. The terrifying stories certainly worked to keep us in check, but when I slipped up I found myself frantically praying for my little soul.
The final nail in the coffin that turned me away from all religion was the day I was forced to confess in the dank library alone with a priest who must have been a hundred years old. I was only seven years old and didn’t think I had much to offer in the form of real sins. But, seeing that the old guy was not going to let me out of that room until I came up with something juicy, I quickly fabricated some form of wickedness to get me out of there as fast as I could mutter in Spanish, “I stole bubble gum from my brother!” He gave me some Our Fathers and Hail Marys and I skedaddled out of there as fast as I could.
Is it any wonder as I younger adult I wrestled with religion? But, somewhere throughout this wrestling match I realized there was an innate curiosity in me. Something pulled me back to wanting to believe in something bigger than myself. Maybe it was having kids. I don’t know, but eventually I came to terms with the fact that I could no longer shut out spirituality. I had to accept that religion was important, and if not for me for much of the world. It is a huge part of our history and runs throughout our daily lives. It’s in everything from clichés we use, to books we read, to the songs we know by heart, and even on our money.
As hippie-dippy as this may sound my biggest teacher or connection to religion has been nature. It’s the place I can look up at the starry night or an immense snowy mountain range and really feel my place in this universe. It makes me feel insanely grateful to be able to be part of it all. In my opinion, there’s nothing like nature to remind us how connected we are to everything, and how we really are these spiritual beings having a human experience.
So, I guess you could say I’m making my own religion as I go along. For my kids and for myself I am choosing what that religion looks like; rejecting the negative and adopting more fluid boundaries that I was not allowed to explore when I was their age. I encourage my sons to be curious, ask questions and study any religion they want, or if they choose, none at all. This may not be the best method for everyone, but it’s working for us and I believe making us more tolerant of different spiritual points of views.
As for having the answers to all the their hard questions, well, I’m far from being the all-knowing spiritual-mama. But, I do know that I’m not shutting it all out any more, and in this divided world more openness toward religion, and towards each other’s points of views is quite possibly the best game plan of all.