Losing My Religion

by Susan Pogorzelski on April 4, 2010 · 20 comments

Life is bigger
It’s bigger than you…

REM, “Losing My Religion”

It’s Sunday night. Easter. It seems somehow appropriate that I’m writing this post today, of all days, though I’ve been thinking about the subject for weeks now.

I find myself once again asking questions, again wanting to learn anything and everything about the world. I find myself again searching for a purpose, searching for an understanding…

Trying to figure out where I belong.

Faith is one of those things that I always believed was deeply personal and not necessarily meant as a subject for debate. But I’ve since realized that I’ve recently undertaken it as a type of spiritual journey to figure out what I believe in and where I stand.

Right now, I’m just not sure.

I grew up Roman Catholic just as my parents did before me, but with a Jewish best friend, I spent many Friday nights throughout my childhood watching as her family observed Shabbat. I attended mass every Sunday, eating cheerios and coloring in my books until I was old enough to sit still and actually listen to the priests and their sermons. I mouthed the words to repetitive prayers, not knowing what was being said but secretly loving the vocal rhythm and the soft murmuring of the congregation around me.

When I was seven or eight, I had my first Holy Communion and was thrilled because that meant I could participate like all the grown-ups did and eat what I thought was a cracker and drink grape juice (imagine my surprise when I found out it was actually wine). Sunday nights meant hour-long CCD classes for the next few years in preparation of the holy sacrament of Confirmation. I learned the history of the Bible, I recited the prayers, and I even attended youth group events and sang in the children’s choir.

When we turned thirteen, I went to my friend’s Bat Mitzvah and watched her read from the Torah. That Spring, I was Confirmed along with more than a dozen other parishes from the area in a huge event over which the Bishop presided.

That was the last mass I attended.

Over the years, though my belief  in religion faded, my spirituality only continued to blossom. And while there were times when that belief wavered, when anger and pain clouded my personal faith, there remained, still, a lingering sense that there was something greater than even ourselves, that there was something timeless and beautiful and full of hope and purpose.

My country is the world, and my religion is to do good. – Thomas Paine

Growing up as I did, I know that my beliefs are intertwined in Catholicism and Christianity. Yet, there is so much more that I believe in and can’t quite explain. I believe in karma, I believe in fate, yet freewill, and I believe that I am closest to God in nature. I believe in balance and harmony and doing unto others as you’ll have them do unto you.

In trying to put these personal beliefs into words, in trying to understand where I stand, I’ve begun studying world religions. Ok, so I’m reading The Idiots Guide to World Religions, but it’s a start. And while  I’m finding that bits and pieces of various religions speak to me, there’s not one that I completely agree with.

And so here I am, feeling like I’m on a journey to understand my spiritual self and my place in the world.

Not entirely sure where I fit in.

Not entirely sure that I want to.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily Jasper April 5, 2010

I wanted to share that I know what you mean. I struggle all the time. I return to church for the same kind of comforting rhythm while I try to figure things out. I do know that there’s a long way to go. I actually didn’t go to church yesterday. I started reading William Young’s The Shack the night before and got caught up the next morning finishing the book. It’s a good exploration of God, and you might want to pick it up. I think my favorite part was when Mack was asking Jesus about Christianity, and Jesus says, “I’m not a Christian.” Lots of thinking to do…

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Susan Pogorzelski April 7, 2010

Emily: Thanks so much for stopping by and reading! I’m amazed at how many people are walking the same line, trying to figure out their faith and their place among it. I think, like Mary (MAC) says below, it is natural to explore not only the world you see around you, but maybe your spiritual world as well.

It’s so interesting that we grow up one way, with tradition and structure kind of set for us, and yet we’re questioning what it means to us at the same time. Church does provide that same comfort and tradition — or at least, personally, it did. Sometimes I wish I still felt connected to that, though truth be told, I feel more connected to my faith in other ways and no longer among that setting. I think in that way, faith can be deeply personal.

I wish I had answers, but I’m still trying to figure this whole thing out. I’m glad to see that there are others who are trying to figure out what it means to them as well. If you’d ever like to talk more, would love to keep in touch.

And I’ll definitely check out that book rec. Thanks, Emily!

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Brianne April 5, 2010

I went through something similar while I was in college. I had a very thought-provoking philosophy class taught by an atheist and that single class changed my life. It taught me to think for myself and research faith instead of accepting what my parents and priests had taught me to believe.

Karma and nature are my religion and the ocean is my church. I never feel more insignificant, yet thrilled to be alive and connected to the world, than I do when I’m sitting with my feet in the sand watching the waves roll in.

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Susan Pogorzelski April 7, 2010

Brianne: Isn’t it funny that the more you learn, the more you begin to wonder and question? And I think it’s remarkable that we question and learn and wonder. I think that’s actually what brought this on — this spiritual journey; I’ve become so interested in learning about other beliefs, trying to see where I fit in, trying to figure out where I stand and what I believe. I may not fit in, I’ve realized, and I may spend a lifetime learning, but I’m really ok with that. Because my beliefs work for me, they make me the person that I am now and help me try to become an even better person for the future.

I love, love, love when you say “karma and nature are my religion and the ocean is my church.” I feel the exact same way among nature. As I said to Emily, I don’t feel connected to God in a church, but rather I feel so close, so spiritual, when I’m outside among nature. I think there’s something to be said for that ;)

It sounds like you and I have a lot in common — I would love to hear more from you, if you’re ever interested. In the meantime, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and your beliefs!

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Brianne April 7, 2010

Oh yes, the more I figure out who I am and learn more about the world around me, the more questions I have! I honestly don’t care if I ever find the answers because it’s the journey that makes life so amazing. Life isn’t a math problem to be solved.

As for the ocean, I feel the absolute most peaceful when I am sitting in the sand watching the waves come in and the birds flying and seeing families on the beach just doing the life thing.

Just let me know what you have in mind and I’d love to continue talking with you on anything you’d like! Conversation is like air to me. :o )

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MAC April 5, 2010

I give you credit for going through with the confirmation. My mother got upset because her work schedule interfered with the classes for my confirmation. Then she gave up because I had the sense of independence to declare I didn’t want to go through with it and that I felt no sense of commitment to the Roman Catholic Church whatsoever. Commitment to God, yes, the Roman Catholich Curch, absolutely not. Too political to be satisfying to me.

I still search out something more, and I have a strong faith. People are always trying to get me to go to church. That’s where I have a problem…organized religion. I feel like many organizations are missing something. I do not knock those who get something out of it, but like my FB says, I prefer my religion disorganized. I pray daily. I read the Bible. I think, somehow, my childhood experiences left me scarred there too.

I did find a church that I thoroughly enjoyed. We were all “lost souls” of sorts. They were a group of disgruntled Presbyterians who branched out on their own. We were too small in number to stay alive in the modern world and finally disintegrated in 2003 after their existence for 16 years. It took me more years than that to find them, and I did it because I wanted my daughter to have a good foundation to someday make her own religious decisions. I grew a lot from the 7 years I attended that little church in Oxford, MD, and I would do it again.

Susan, keep looking for that answer. I think it’s only natural we all search until we find our connection.

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Susan Pogorzelski April 7, 2010

Mary: I’m glad that I waited to get confirmed, in all honesty, because I think I was too young then to really understand what it is I did and didn’t agree with in regards to the religion. And while my faith is very much still based in that, there’s just something unsettling, something stronger that speaks to me.

I think you hit the nail on the head saying that organized religion is too political. I completely agree. Looking throughout history, God was something that people feared and many went to mass because of structure and tradition, perhaps fearing repentace. I don’t believe in that God. I don’t believe in that kind of religion. While I admire people’s devotion and ritual, it also makes me question it. I’ve always thought that religion — as in organized religion — was created by man, for man. Spirituality — that’s something else, that’s your personal connection with God.

It’s so hard to explain, and perhaps even harder to understand, where my beliefs lie, but I do want to tell you that I very much understand where you’re coming from, Mary. And I absolutely respect your own spiritual journey. Thanks for sharing your insights and thoughts and being a part of mine. :)

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Sam April 5, 2010

As we talked about last night, even though I’ve always had a very strong connection to my religion, I haven’t always been able to put my personal beliefs into words. In fact, I still can’t…but I think that’s okay. Although we will probably have the same core values most of our lives, our beliefs can and will change with time. So, you will find your place eventually, no need to worry or try and force it. You have faith, even if it’s not in the traditional religiony sense. Great post, so glad you decided to share!

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Susan Pogorzelski April 7, 2010

Sam: Thanks for being my first-read through the other night! I understand when you say that although you have a strong connection to your religion (which is great, I respect that and sometimes wish I could find that or feel the same way), you find it difficult to put those beliefs into words. I think that’s where I am right now. I know what I believe (and what I don’t), but to be able to articulate it is something else. Perhaps because spirituality is so encompassing. Perhaps because, as you say, those beliefs are changing as we grow and change and learn (and discover). I like how you say that it’s our values that remain consistent.

I think knowing who I am at the core and what values are important to me makes it easier in not fitting in with a religion, but rather in understanding my spiritual self instead.

Thanks, as always, for your thoughts and friendship, Sam!

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Harl Delos April 6, 2010

The book of Daniel, written hundreds of years before Jesus, promises life after death. So much for one thing I learned as a child. The first commendment tells us that there are multiple gods, and Yahweh is the god of Moses, not necessarily the god of mine.

I’ve been learning a lot by talking to God – my God, not necessarily Moses’, not necessarily yours – and the world seems to make a lot more sense. I’ve thought for a long time that a lot of Christians were highly immoral, and finally I realize why: they’ve been paying attention to the wrong god.

I can’t give you any answers this time, but I suspect that if you talk to God – your God – you’ll come up with some. Mine doesn’t talk in real time; I leave a message on the answering machine, and God gets back to me overnight.

You might want to take a look at Beckami’s last post. She seems to have something relevant to say. Well, relevant to me, at least. Maybe it will be relevant to you as well.

Hang in there. On one of the episodes of House, M.D., a patient tells House that we experience a series of rooms, and how we react to the people in those rooms shapes our life. I’m paying closer attention to the people in those rooms, and paying a different kind of attention. Sometimes druggies, and boozehounds and thieves and whores and all sorts of scurrulous folk have valuable lessons for us, and it’s the church ladies that are leading us astray. I’m starting to understand why Jesus decided to pal around with the scum of the earth. Sometimes, they’re the only decent people around us.

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Susan Pogorzelski April 7, 2010

Harl: What I love most about your comment is your personalization of God. Your God may be different than my God, your beliefs may be different than my own. And, as you say, that’s OK. In my own “talks with the Universe,” (which is also, in a way, listening to myself and talking with God), I’m able to understand things, put things in perspective, find hope and strength. I’m able to listen to what my instinct and heart are telling me, to see through the tainted muddiness that life sometimes blinds you with. In that, I find God. In that, I find my own sense of spirituality. Hope. Strength. Understanding.

Maybe there aren’t any real answers. Maybe religion is organized but spirituality is more personal. Maybe it’s a journey that everyone finds themselves on, in different ways, leading to different conclusions.

On your last point — I think that everything we encounter has something to teach us, even if it’s something as simple as empathy and compassion. It’s interesting how love and courage are sometimes found in the most unlikely of places…And how those very same traits are often missing where you think it should be.

Thanks, as always, Harl, for sharing your thoughts and insight!

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Ryan Stephens April 9, 2010

Your inquisitive disposition reminds me sooo much of myself Susan. I dated a girl for awhile in college that was a different religion than me, and when I attended her church it was a very uncomfortable experience. In the scheme of things she was pretty insistent on having someone share her faith so I delved into nearly all the doctrines (Yes, even Scientology). The crazy thing was that I came out the other side the same religion I went in, but now I had a reason other than, “Oh, that’s how I was raised.” It was an enlightening and educational experience.

You’ll discover what fits for you, and then it might change. That’s life, eh? :p

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Sarah April 14, 2010

Susan! Did you tell Grandma that you may not have been in church, but at least you were writing about it? I think she needs that confirmation.

All joking aside, I still think of myself as a Christian, even though my entire life structure is very, VERY different from the teachings I grew up with every Sunday. I still believe that there is a God, and that he sent his Son, yadda, yadda, yadda. But the one thing I do not believe in is that you have to be in church, every Sunday, just to be practicing the Christian life. Church was about who could one-up each other in occupation, money, or devotion to the church itself. But when a member of the church needed assistance, everyone would just sit back and sneer, saying, “Well, I’ll pray for you… but I certainly won’t lift a finger to help you.” Ironically, that is not what those same people making those comments taught me in Sunday School.

I believe that no matter where you are, God sees you. He sees you offering to babysit for a coworker who has to work two jobs just to feed their kids. He sees you holding a friend’s hand as they cry. He sees you devote your time to help surrendered, lonely animals. My Christianity is about what you do, not where you worship or how much money you make or how much you’ve prayed today.

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