shall we go for a swim?

Growing up in a Catholic family, I went to Easter mass, Christmas service, and then Sunday church a couple of times a year. Out of the 52 weeks a year, I say we probably attended an average of 20 weeks a year, the average getting smaller and smaller as the years go on and my bothers and I get older. Our manipulation techniques are stronger now, therefore it is significantly easier to get out of things. I was baptized. I wore a white dress with stripes and received my first communion. For each grandparent we had a big funeral service. My family even went one step further and all us kids went to private Catholic elementary school and then I continued on to private Catholic high school. I was conditioned from my brith to believe in God, Jesus, communion, the word, the ten commandments, the disciples and the Bible. We said prayer before meals and I memorized all the major prayers in my classes. But it was all just words and practice. I didn’t get any answer when I prayed. Shitty things happened to me and people who didn’t deserve to have shitty things happen to them. It was all confusing. If there was a God why was he such an unresponsive asshole. My grandma fell and was alone in her house for days before anyone found her. What kind of fucked up God does that. I began to repel. I fought the Catholicism. I hated the traditions. I hated going to church, sitting there for an hour listen to a guy mutter prayers that I did not understand over a little wafer and a small cup of grape juice. It was pointless. A complete waste of time.

Then Malibu happened. At my high school, there was this thing that a few of the coolest seniors went on before their senior year called Malibu. I remember looking through the yearbook at the end of my freshmen year and seeing their picture in the yearbook and the amount of fun it looked like they were having. I spent the rest of my high school career wanting to go on that trip. Of course I just wanted to be popular and Malibu was the thing that the popular kids got to go on, I had no clue what it actually was. Well needless to say, given my anti-social tendencies and extreme insecurities, I was not very popular. However my friends were in with the cool crowd.  The awesome teachers who led the trip, the Dyers, loved my best friends Alyssa and Valerie so in an effort to get those two to go on the trip I think they pity invited me. But I was ecstatic! I had made it! Who cares if it was an artificial invite, at least it was an invite. So I went to Malibu.  I went to Malibu with Alyssa and Valerie and 200 other kids from the west coast, my age who were pretty, rich and way too cool for me. It was kind of great kind of not. But I did it. And I realized some things about myself and my faith.
Malibu is a Younglife camp, which focuses on spirituality in a “nondenominational” way (still Christian-but not anything overwhelming). Each night, we gathered in the big hall and listened to a speaker talk about certain topics, an awesome musician would play a smooth slow song and we would reflect. The days were filled with fun water activities and swimming. Group bonding and team activities were plentiful and meals were delicious. We could swim in the large pool and tan by the side or we could go kayaking in the beautiful inlet that bordered the south of the camp. There was so much to do. Every night after our group hall event we went back to our cabins and have a more personalized reflection. The girls in the group from my high school all gathered on the floor with Mrs. Dyer and talked about our trials, tribulations, successes and failures.
One night in these reflection we were talking about our faith and Mrs. Dyer said something that has stuck with me all the way up until now. This analogy has help me explain my faith to myself and others in a way that does no demean or disregard religion in any way. It goes something like this…

     “Religion is like that pool out there where you guys all spent today swimming. The water is warm and clear, controlled in a basin that is only capable of holding so much. It is safe. Some are better swimmers than others but lifeguards are always on the watch, making sure you are okay. There are also rules. no running, you must shower before you enter the pool, no alcohol, you must wear a bathing suit. All of things have a rightful purpose and they attempt to make the environment even more safe and secure. But they are still rules, just as the rules and traditions in religion. You get the safety net and the containment of a pool environment. You go by the routine and live life seeing everything in a pristine manicured way. Sterilized by chlorine, the word of God comes through a sermon, in pretty, carefully planned words. And that is how people connect. They want to guidelines and the play-by-play to find their connection with God. They are okay with the rules, because hey, life would be horrible if it was disorganized. Life is good in the pool. 

     Faith, however, is like that crashing inlet through the window.  The current is powerful, and frightening. You can see the swirls and the water almost fighting amongst itself. The inlet is dark and overwhelming. The depths are unknown and you can never be quite sure what is wading in the water. Swimming in it can be scary and intense. The deeper you go, the farther away from the shore, the more overwhelming it gets. The scarier it gets. the fear can become nauseating or numbing. The cold makes your toes tingle and you teeth chatter. But there is the adrenaline. The feeling that you are actually feeling. You are alive and the water rushing around you will not let you forget it. All your senses are in tact. You feel the cold water across the surface of your body. You smell and taste the salty waves. You see your feet through the murky surface kicking keeping you afloat and you can see the shore and the trees with the mountains towering above you. If you can lay on your back you can see the clouds and the sky, the sun and the stars and the moon. You may feel small but you are still relevant. You never know what is coming but you can sense the power and the force of it all. Faith can be like this if you dare to swim out into the inlet. You can get wrapped up in it, surrounded by the movement of a spirit. There are no answers at first but you can start to realize things and see new sites if you let the current take you on its own accord. Not fighting but floating. It is excited, and unpredictable, always changing and evolving. It can sting you and scare you, knocking you into the rocks and and pulling you under, but you are alive.” 

     Therefore, your method of belief is your own choice. We are all capable of and inclined to faith. No matter what forms it takes. Some need religion to understand and comprehend, they like to dip their toes in the pool and watch the others laughing and having fun. The safety and community provides comfort. Others want something more raw. They need to be hit with the spirit, jostled and spurred to recognize what they find valuable. And thats where things get confused. There isn’t a right or wrong way. You just find the way that suits you and run with it.”

 

 

This resonated with me and maybe it can resonate with others. I needed an “inlet” kind of faith. I wanted to feel not just accept. Therefore I became critical and started analyzing my religion, really actually analyzing it. And that is when I realized, I do not know anything about Catholicism. I was coming up on when I would be getting confirmed and I realized I did not even comprehend the words coming out of my mouth at the dinner table when we said prayers. I hadn’t truly listened to Father Jim. I didn’t know what he was doing when he was “turning the wine into the blood of Christ.” There was no way I was going to get confirmed without thinking about and understanding these things. Confirmation is a big deal. You are literally confirming yourself to the church. How can I confirm myself to something I do not understand? I nearly gave my mom a heart attack when I told her I didn’t want to do it. But I had realized something, I was not going to blindly accept the rules of the pool. I wanted to test the waters, tread in the inlet and find out who this higher being is to me. Because this is a life long journey that shouldn’t be decided without some reflection. And that is what I did. I may not look out every day for signs and I know I could do more to make an effort but I am proud I made that realization. I am happy I have decided to find my own faith.

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