Past experience has taught me to swaddle my religious beliefs into a tight, self-contained bundle.
After all, religion is supposed to be one of those – shhhh, keep your opinions to yourself – in order to not alienate friends and family.
However, after reading a book titled “Post Traumatic Church Syndrome,” or PTCS, those bonds of self-preservation are slipping. Author Reba Riley highlights her struggles to come to peace after breaking away from her upbringing as a Pentecostal Christian. She seeks answers while making a spiritual quest that takes her to 30 assorted places of worship. Her goal is to finish the quest by age 30.
I began reading, even while questioning why I was doing this. Was there something in PTCS, I needed to learn? Or to use in resolving questions from my faith journey? About half way through the book, I am still pondering those questions even while finding it nearly impossible to stop reading.
My spiritual resume features being raised Baptist, converting to Roman Catholicism at age 17, and visiting a lot of churches as an adult.
Baptist and Catholic, although both Christian denominations, seem goalposts apart. That point was forcefully driven home soon after my conversion when family members discussed my decision. The overwhelming consensus was two thumbs down, in conversations that resembled mixing Diet Cola with Mentos.
My response was to find a place to hide and try and calm down. Were they correct? Was I wrong to feel – finally –- at home in the Catholic church?
Like Riley, I was at a point where I desperately needed answers. A wise woman was there for me. Her joy in being Catholic encouraged me to reflect on why I’d made the decision to convert.
I won’t say the journey grew easier after that. I stop attending church for a time during my first marriage to an agnostic. Eventually I began attending mass again. Regaining my spiritual equilibrium involved learning to appreciate the best of what I had learned as a child – and where I respectfully disagreed with my family, and yes, also with the Roman Catholic church.
Curiously writing as a religion reporter would broaden my outlook as well both in my professional and personal life. In reporter mode, I attended interfaith holiday services at Protestant churches, learned about the Orthodox Greek church, and was a guest of honor at Passover gatherings. Asked by a Jewish person why I was there, I respectfully replied I consider Judaism the parent of Christianity.
Although there to record, I mentally connected to what was happening at these varied events. The answer, I thought, was focusing on what we hold in common. Do good to your neighbor. Do not harm the person who asks you for help. Show caring and compassion to others.
I appreciated the times when people of differing faiths came together, such as the evening a group of Catholic and Muslim women held a dialog at a mosque. The facilitator said in this time of darkness she wanted Christian and Muslim women to share their faith.
The intent was not conversion, but understanding.
I covered an event at a Catholic college where the campus community were saying good-bye to a young Buddhist monk who’d attended classes there. He was returning to his home in Cambodia to operate a children’s home. Watching him, in his orange robe, hug the former college president, good-bye brought tears to my eyes. “You go with my love and prayers,” the president told him.
Truly, links between religions are possible. My journey includes forging connections between the church of my youth with the spiritual home of my personal heart. Yes I believe in the trinity of God, Jesus, the Son, the Holy Spirit. Serving as a lector, or reading the Bible, at services is another tie. Siblings and my mother have attended mass with me a few times and I sometimes attend their church services.
Now that I am in my middle years, I appreciate better my family’s distress. Parents want to share their beliefs, values with their kids. Be that in church – or not attending church. Atheists, agnostics have every bit as much concern about their humanistic values. Seeing sons and daughters questioning and breaking free of family expectations, isn’t easy.
But my faith is my own. I don’t expect others to fully share or appreciate it. I wrestle with it, fight to remove any blinders, and seek answers. Others must forge their own paths as I do mine.
© 2015 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.