When I met with my spiritual director last week, I had told him about my spiritual and religious life in under an hour (no small feat). His observation: “You seem to be able to carry a lot of tension within you.” My response was that the only tension I feel these days is external tension, internally, I’ve reconciled a lot (being a practicing Catholic, practicing and understanding my traditions, having doubt and being rational, being queer, being pro-choice, etc.). A lot of that credit goes to my mother.
When I first asked her about my being confirmed in the church, I did so with the belief she would be offended and tell me that I was a horrible son to even consider such a thing. After all the psychological and emotional abuse she and her sisters had in the mission school, I almost wanted her to excuse my interest in deepening my Catholicism. But instead, she said a remarkable thing: “That’s mine, don’t make it yours. I had to do a lot of work to forgive them for what they did to me. So don’t make that yours.”
On two fronts, it taught me valuable lessons. The first was that she had taken personal responsibility for her own emotional welfare and the second was that beautiful things happen when you do hard work. In a time and place where we were surrounded by inter-generational trauma manifest in alcoholism and addiction, we all would have been justified in losing ourselves to our fear, regret, guilt and shame, but she recovered.
The second part of forgiveness is one with which, everyone struggles. At certain points in my life I’ve thought of it in terms of “I’ll forgive but I won’t forget,” or, more cynically, it’s terribly convenient to institute a belief system where you can be excused any crime because “Jesus” or because “forgiveness.” But having gone through my own forms of recovery, I’ve understood what my mom meant: resentments that remain unexamined and nurtured only hurt the person holding them. The best process of acceptance is to understand that we do not control our own lives, no matter how much we think we do or how much we think we’re entitled to control them. Life happens, deal with it on its own terms.
When it comes to the Christian/Catholic bit, the thing I appreciate is Jesus. My doubt, reason and rationale allow me to entertain the very real possibility that Jesus didn’t exist at all, or if he did, he’s probably an amalgamation of new people and new ideas at the time and what made it to the written form could very simply be a fraud. Yes, all those things can be true and so can the faith from which it all springs.
It’s human nature to hope, to love and to dream, it’s what makes us individually and collectively valuable. The hopes, love and dreams that repeat themselves in our experiences over time is what’s inspiring, that generations of humans have all had a shared experience of the best of us keeps me going. And so, I think of myself as a Christian, as a human, as Lakota, as queer, as a relative and all those things can be embodied in my experience of Christ.
I understand not everyone’s experiences are like mine and I don’t blame anyone one bit who’s been hurt by organized religion who calls for its downfall, that’s human too. But when we hate more than we love, when we fear more than we dream and when we despair more than we hope, we lose that part of our humanity that drives us to do good things for one another. And I don’t think we could live our lives as well as we do some days if we don’t have those.