This Sunday I will become the godmother of my first nephew, Carson, at his Catholic Baptism. While honored, ever since I was asked to take on such an amazing task, I have been more confused than ever. For some background:
I was raised Catholic.
At the request of my parents, I completed all of the sacraments up to Confirmation. After that, they always told my brother and I, we were free to make any religious choices that we so deemed appropriate.
Always the force to be reckoned with between the two of us, I was the one, naturally, to actually take them up on that.
I admire their flexibility in their children’s lives.
I also have often wondered if they regret it. As you will learn below.
For the record, there are many things that I admire about religion. The tradition, the unwavering convictions, the inclusive nature of having a church to that feels like home.
There are also many things that I don’t admire about religion. The rigidity, the sense of condemnation, and the unquestionable duty aspect that always seems to accompany such endeavors.
In simple terms, I like the idea of religion. I am struggling with the practice and application of religion.
In fact, the last thing I can recall having considered sacred was my apartment. But we’ve already talked about that here, haven’t we?
And so I have a make-shift “religion”-for lack of a better term- of my own until I find exactly what it is that I am looking for somewhere else.
So needless to say, I have spent way too much time organizing this duty of being a godmother in my head for the last few weeks. Not liking to fail at anything EVER, I was a little nervous about feeling screwed from the start based on my above statements. But then I realized that my religion, or my set of beliefs, constantly in formation and fluid in their existence, maybe was worthy of passing on to another.
And so, in the true spirit of someone who has always been better with written words than spoken ones, this letter came to be. Here’s what I will teach him about religion.
Meet 100 people, and you will have 100 definitions of religion. This is mine.
Religion is realizing that you are not the biggest force on this Earth. It is realizing that you should never judge yourself in regards to the position of other people in the world, because there will always be greater and lesser people than yourself. Religion is stopping to breathe in the midst of chaos, and in admiring the detour when you are really trying to just get there already, and being most willing to help the people who you want to the least.
Religion, in other words, is much easier said than done.
Religion is not defined by and only alive within the walls of a church. It is not a solely a Sunday specific activity graded on attendance. It is not something you should believe in for fear of what happens if you don’t. It is not something that saves an otherwise horrible person.
Whatever your grasp of religion is, make it very important and personal to you. So important, in fact, that you will fight to live by the principles of it every single day, in all your personal choices, with whatever borders you choose to give it. But also, know that it should never be the final answer to every multiple choice question for everyone else, for the world and its inhabitants are too complicated to be so sweepingly categorized in your own personal code.
You will need to define what a religious place is to you; a place where you can go for comfort and feel the weight of the world lifting off your shoulders. Maybe it will be a church; and there is nothing wrong with that. But be open to other places as well. It may be at a specific park bench, the one nearest to the water but still under the protection of the shade. It may be lying on your back in a field, staring at the sky and wondering how something so big can seem so small from a plane. It may be driving in your car on a deserted highway at midnight, with no one but you, the curves of the road, and the occasional street lamp lighting your way. It’s not as much as you choose the place as much as the place chooses you. Be aware of when that happens. Don’t fight it.
Challenge your religion. Do not take teachings at face value, and realize that explaining your religion to others is not your chance to be a dictator, either. Know that questioning does not show a disbelief, but rather an interest in learning as much as you possibly can from a multitude of sources. People that cannot respect that are, essentially, not respecting you. Appreciate the difference between memorizing and learning a lesson. Memorizing a lesson is basic and easy. Learning a lesson is tedious and difficult.
In challenging your religion, also let your religion challenge you. Spend the rest of your life being challenged. Because if you don’t, I’ll be the first to tell you that you are doing something wrong. Say what you will about my patchwork religion, but the following are my principles that I try to live by every single day. These principles are the closest thing I follow right now comparable to a “belief.” You will fail miserably at all of the following. I still do to, on a basis more regular than I would like to admit. But I am trying not to. And therein lies the challenge.
Be good to people. All people, at all times. And know that most of time, the people who act like they need you the least are usually the ones who need you the most. Help them see that. In doing this, you will never know a greater feeling of community.
Be fair. In your work life, in your personal life, and in how you split your time between the two. You can never be in two places at once, but you can easily not be mentally in the same place you are in physically. Wherever you are, try to be there fully. In doing this, you will never know a greater feeling of presence.
Be honest to and about yourself. Do not lie about who you are, or about the stories that got you to where you are today, or the lessons that taught you along the way. Fight this by not being silent about things that need to be given a voice, or by negating your opinion as irrelevant, or by not speaking at all in fear of being misunderstood. Say only the things you mean and people will learn that you always mean what you say. In doing this, you will never know a greater feeling of freedom.
Love all that you can. Love inanimate things, like the smell of old books, the sound of bagpipes, the emotions a favorite photograph can bring back in an instant. Love animate things even more. Love people before they are gone forever. Love people who aren’t really sure how to love you back. Love people who don’t even know that you love them, much less think about them. In doing this, you will never know a greater feeling of satisfaction.
Strive for peace, both within the world and within yourself. Never claim that other people are wrong, especially when it’s more likely that you just don’t fully understand their reasoning. Never doubt yourself when you think that you are wrong. You probably already know what’s right, it’s more likely that you just don’t like the answer. In doing this, you will never know a greater feeling autonomy.
Give back in every way that you can imagine. If you don’t have money to donate, give your time in volunteering. If you don’t have time to volunteer, say a prayer. In doing this, you will never know a greater feeling of offering.
Give more of yourself than you think possible when someone in need is asking for it. Realize that they will likely not be asking for this help in specific words, but rather in actions. Or maybe even in the absence of actions. In doing this, you will never know a greater feeling of selflessness.
Constantly evaluate your surroundings. Work to make them better. Be active in your life. Don’t wait for love, the perfect home, or the right amount of money. Without conscious effort, love will always just be a relationship, a home will always just be a house, and money will always just be paper you can never seem to spend correctly. In doing this, you will never know a greater feeling of power.
Above all, know this. The right religion for you will always accept you, and nurture you, and keep you striving to be better than ever you imagined. It will make you believe that it will bring the people it is supposed to into your life, and absorb into the past the people who never really seemed to belong in the first place. It won’t always seem that way, and you will fight like hell against it, but know that, after a certain point, you simply can’t control it.
Have faith that everything will work out exactly as it is supposed to. Trust in something greater than yourself. And, as frustrating as it is lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling for answers, know that, in their own time, the answers will come. Probably all at once, just to throw you for a loop. And probably when you least expect them, just to keep you on your toes.
And then the day will come when you will not believe that you ever wished for anything different from exactly what you have been given.
And you will be thankful, to a person, or to a being, or to a power bigger than you. One that, even though you try, you can’t define, or prove, or make others understand.
And you will have found your religion.
Enjoy your journey.