Tuesday, January 24, 2012

At the Risk of Alienating All My Family and Friends. . .

These are some things I believe about Life and Death, and lots of questons I still have.

When I was about 5 years old, I realized that I was going to die.

I remember it perfectly.  (I wasn't sick or anything.)  I was lying in bed with my then-baby brother, in a little apartment in Rocky Ridge.  I was just going to sleep for the night when the realization hit me:  I was going to die one day.  It terrified me, and I started crying.  My mom came into my room to see what was wrong, and all I can remember was crying and saying that I didn't want to die.  She hugged me and kissed me, and calmed me down enough so that I could go to sleep, but all she could actually give me was: "That's not for a long time."

And I remember lying there and thinking that that answer wasn't nearly good enough.

Looking back, I realize that that night was the first of countless nights spent staring at my ceiling and agonizing over things that I have no power to change.

We went to church a lot growing up, and I heard all the stories that the churches tell:  If you're good, and ask Jesus into your heart, when you die you'll go to Heaven and be with everyone you love again, and eat cornbread (or . . .whatever Heavenly delicacy you desire).  If you're not, you go to Hell, and it's just awful.  I wanted to do everything I could to avoid the Hell part, so I thought about and worried over these things on a daily basis.  I decided I would change my life, and just be 'good' from then on.  (Though as I write this with the clarity of the years, I wonder what a child my age could've ever done to worry so greatly about being sent to Hell. . .  THESE are the thoughts that trouble me as an adult.)

I digress.

So when I was about 8 years old I did what the preacher said, and prayed a prayer and asked Jesus to come into my heart.

I expected something to change.  I expected to feel different.

I didn't.

I was sure that I had done something wrong.  So I meditated on it, I tried not to think hateful thoughts, or envy people, or covet that Hello Kitty purse that a friend of mine had just gotten, or be anything but 'good.'  And I prayed the Jesus-come-into-my-heart prayer every night for about a month.

All the while convinced (and deeply worried) that I was doing something wrong.

So then I heard the preacher say that we had to ask God to forgive every sin we committed, because otherwise he would not forgive us.  I decided I would do that.  So every night when I went to bed, I prayed.  And I mentally went through my entire day, starting with when I woke up, and asked for forgiveness for every single sin.  Even ones that I wasn't so sure were sins, but wanted to be safe.  (Just in case.)

And every night I fell asleep before I made it to the end of my list.

Which meant that I had sins lingering out there that I couldn't remember, and that were going to go unforgiven. 

I don't think I even have to say that this caused me a great deal of anxiety.

Fast-forward to my teen years, and I went to church all the time.  My parents were active in the church, my friends were there, and I went.  But about the time I was 15 or 16, I had more and more questions about what was being taught.  And I didn't feel like my questions were being answered.  More truthfully, I once again wondered what was wrong with me that *I* appeared to be the only one questioning what everyone else seemed to simply accept as Gospel truth.

My faith wasn't strong enough.

I struggled with it, and years went on.

Then when I was 24 years old, I lost my husband.  Well, I didn't actually 'lose' him---he died.  I had loved him deeply, and one day he was just. . . gone.  I couldn't function for the longest time, and after I did come back to myself again, I found I was. . . different.  Because he had been young, too, and the fact that someone so young, and so important, could just be GONE didn't jive at all with what I had spent my entire life believing.  I believed everyone was here for a purpose, and you didn't leave until it was fulfilled.  And I had decided that he hadn't fulfilled his purpose yet.  So. . .

. . .what was I supposed to do with THAT?

But for a while I had no choice BUT to believe in a mythical Heaven, because I was certain he was waiting for me there.  Still, it was at this point that I began studying the religions of the world in earnest.

And what I found, though many could and would argue the semantics with me. . .is that they are more or less all basically the same.  Be kind, don't harm others, be thankful for what you have, and love, love, love every chance you get.

And I remember feeling a little let down.  Because as surprising as it is to admit, I guess I was waiting for some magical book to give me all the answers about life.

And that's just not going to happen.  (Feel free to insert your Bible argument here.  I've read the Bible.  I know what it says.  I have questions and problems with a LOT of it.  But in the deepest part of my being, I believe in what Jesus taught.  I believe in what he stood for.  I have found it to be true and good, and it is in that way that I strive to live my life.  And that's the best you're going to get from me.)

But to get back around to my original line of thought:  Am I still afraid of death?

Yes.  Yes I am.  Very much so.  I'm human.  And in being so, the thought of never seeing the ones I love again just destroys me. 

But for some inexplicable reason, I have more or less come to terms with it.

I should hope so.  I lived with the shadow of death hanging over my head for more years than I can count.  Quite literally.  It is the reason that, to this day, I refuse to let my husband leave the house without telling him that I love him.  If something were to happen. . . I want that to be the last thing I ever said to him.

Do I believe in Heaven?  Yes and no.  I have a real problem believing in the storied (to me 'mythical') version of Heaven.  I wish that I could believe in it.  I really do.  But it's just not in me.

But I believe in God.  Not in His 'Big Policeman in the Sky' role that he took on in my youth, but in a much more gracious and abstract way.

I believe in the Universe around me.  I believe that it operates according to certain laws.  I believe that this Universe wastes nothing, and that matter can neither be created nor destroyed by us as humans.  I believe that there is something in every one of us that is malleable, and corruptable, and infintely 'good'.  And I believe that it will survive in some capacity long after this body has turned to dust.

I believe that every body loses a certain amount of weight after we die, and that it is pure energy that causes our brain to function, and our heart to beat, and our synapses to fire.  I believe that pure energy swims all around the cosmos, dancing in ways that I can't even comprehend.  I believe that Life would be nothing without a little mystery.

I believe that Love is the greatest magic that we can know as human beings, and I don't believe that it simply evaporates when we are no more.

I believe that all these things, all these thoughts and experiences, are what we think of as a Soul.

And I happen to believe that Souls are forever.

Beyond that, and in what capacity are they forever?  I haven't the foggiest.

If you feel the need to preach to me, I will warn you now that I will ignore you.  But I welcome discussions.  My problem with those that preach to me is that they believe that they have all the answers.  And people with all the answers. . . stop looking.

So this is what I believe, and I could be wrong about most or all of it.

But I will never stop looking.

And to end, I'll share my favorite quote from my favorite Beatle:

"Everything else can wait.  But the search for God cannot wait."   ----George Harrison

1 comment:

  1. Very well said. This world could use a lot more people who thought the way you do regarding such things. I'm happy to say I'm one of them.
    Beautiful line:
    "People with all the answers stop looking."
    That line is perfect for those who like to answer questions about religion with "read your Bible", or "have faith". Like you said, I have read it, and understood it, but I still have questions. But I think its people like us that are truly closer to the truth of God. As well intended as they are; all religions are man made and therefore inherently susceptible to corruption and misuse, even abuse.
    You know its sad that the best thing I ever heard about a religion was from someone who claimed to worship satan: she was asked why she worshiped satan and replied with: "because he accepts everybody". God accepts everybody as well, but many religions would argue otherwise.
    Peace and love to you and yours. I'm off now to thank the stranger that linked me to this site.
    Thank you for a little pick me up today.