I was just up in my teenager’s room and a small paperback was about to fall off the backside of his bedside table. It’s a book his grandmother sent a few years ago, and because my teen has a habit of not noticing things that fall on the floor, I grabbed it before it joined who knows what else between the bedside table and the wall.
It’s a book filled with prayers and scriptures, and as I grabbed it, instead of my usual knee-jerk reaction of dismissing it because Grandma’s religion is really more of a cult, and I have less than no interest in most of the propaganda she sends us, I commented to my son that there is a lot of good stuff in the Bible (and other religious books), but people misinterpret it far too often to suit their own agenda. And this has been going on since the first religious books were written.
In my young life, I railed against going to church when I was about eight for so many reasons, and part of it was not resonating with some of what I heard. Some things didn’t make any sense and my parents didn’t discuss their beliefs or faith at home. Their beliefs were personal and I guess they decided if we wanted to go to church when we grew up it would be our choice. Religion didn’t play a big part in my life, especially once I was Confirmed in my protestant church when I was thirteen. And even that was done mostly out of obligation.
In the church I was raised, we were baptized as babies so if we died we’d go to heaven. And at the baptism a set of godparents proclaimed their faith and stood up (at least in theory) to help teach the child about their faith if the parents were unable to do this for some reason. Around the age of twelve or thirteen we took classes and had a Confirmation ceremony to formally announce our faith and begin to receive Communion at Sunday services.
I guess it’s a bit like the Catholic First Communion and the Jewish Bar mitzvah. Not exactly the same, but quite similar. A time of going through puberty and having a religious ritual signifying moving from being a child to taking on more adult responsibility in the area of religious beliefs.
Growing up without strong ties to my church or religion in general, I sometimes giggle now because I have more than faith when it comes to God and spirituality. I’ve had direct experiences of both God and the spiritual world which lives inside everyone. And because I wasn’t heavily indoctrinated into a particular church or faith, but enjoyed exploring different belief systems, including Eastern thought like Buddha and the Tao, a lot of things were more easily accepted. I didn’t have to be deprogrammed.
That said, the more of my own stuff I heal and the more I’m able to open my heart to other people’s ways of getting through life, I can appreciate my mother-in-law wanting to help us by giving us religious books and pamphlets, even thought they absolutely do not resonate with me. I wonder what she’d think if I sent her some Rumi? I have a feeling she might not be open to it, but who knows.
Her church is quite dogmatic about everything from not only what they believe, but how to raise children, be a good husband or good wife, how a person should eat (only vegan and organic) and they espouse ideas like being anything other than straight is an abomination, and having sex outside of marriage is a sin. I’m sure they have a list of sins a mile long and an even longer list of “if you don’t do this you won’t get into heaven” type things.
As I found the book of prayers, I wondered how my mother-in-law got so religious and why this church. I’m guessing it’s the one she was raised in, and when her first born died when he was eight, diving into her religion was how she coped. It was how she survived. It was the way she could make sense of his death and keep going on.
As a parent, I can’t imagine anything more painful than losing a child. Absolutely nothing. It’s losing a part of yourself, but even more difficult than losing a limb because when a child is lost it’s also all the hopes, dreams, and visions we have for them.
The thing about religion is when we find one that works for us, there’s resonance. All religions have some sort of dogma; a set of principles and truths. And when it comes to churches they find a fit between dogma and culture.
Christian churches tend to teach that God is a father figure who is tasked with taking care of us and who loves us, but only if we obey him. He stands in judgment of us when we are bad and when we die. Certain churches are more or less judgmental than others, but they set down rules to follow so you know right from wrong. Rules of conduct and behavior to follow if you want to stay in God’s good graces and get into heaven. That’s the big end goal. The reward for living properly. To get into heaven and not be doomed to purgatory or hell. Basically you’re taught to follow the rules and you’ll get your sweet dessert after you eat all your food. Otherwise you get punished for eternity. That said, depending on the severity of transgressions and how sorry you are, you can work your way back into God’s good graces.
This works for a lot of people. Especially if they were raised in a patriarchal family where the father provided while the mother supported him by taking care of the children, and keeping the house clean. And when the children disobeyed, they were punished. That’s a little simplistic, but you catch my drift.
Religion takes something that’s beyond the everyday human experience and tries to describe and teach it. But along the way it gets humanized. We slap our conditioning, our programming, our judgment on it and it can lose a lot in translation. It’s also why so many different interpretations and flavors of faith become developed and resonate with so many different people.
Having my own conditioned beliefs and judgments healed at broader and deeper levels over the past four years of living with active Kundalini energy, I’m not only seeing things from broader and broader perspectives, but my heart is able to stay open because I’m not so quickly emotionally triggered by things. Instead of summarily dismissing things as bad or wrong, I’m able to see how although they may not resonate with me personally, they work for others. And I’m discovering this extends to religious beliefs. My ability to hold others in a space of compassion seems to be developing further.
*Adding a quick note that this mother-in-law is not my husband’s mother; it’s his step-father’s current wife. My husband’s mother passed away over 20 years ago.