Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Finding Holy Redemption

I have a complicated relationship with religion. It's not something I talk about often, but my faith occupies a difficult space in my heart and psyche that is hard to explain. I grew up in a Southern Baptist home. We went to church on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. We had evening devotionals in our house. I remember being probably five or six and my mom calling us into the living room for devotionals. I hated it because I was a kid and wanted to be playing or doing anything instead. I've been to revivals and heard more fire and brimstone sermons than I can count. I was terrified of sinning as a kid. As a perfectionist the idea of sinning is terrifying when you've listened to your preacher talk about all the ways you can go to Hell. 

I've read the Bible cover to cover several times. I memorized dozens of Bible verses and excelled at reciting them in Sunday School often to win prizes. I'm not sure if it was my faith so much as my desire to win prizes that helped me memorize scripture and the books of the Bible, but I do really love to win.

I was baptized on Valentine's Day in 1988 when I was nine years old. I remember it vividly including having to wear earplugs for my baptism because of my chronic ear infections. Southern Baptists get submerged in water; none of this wimpy sprinkling for the wicked. My mom told me later that people commented about how much I smiled during my baptism. 

When I was in junior high we started attending a Methodist Church in my hometown. It was much less fire and brimstone, and I loved it. I thrived in that church. I taught Sunday School for a few years. I went every Sunday with my mom and often drove back to my hometown (45 minutes one way) on Sundays to go to church with my mom when I was in college.

At some point there was a shift in my faith. I can't pinpoint a moment or event, and it was subtle. I was dating a guy who was Catholic in college, and we'd go to mass together when I wasn't going to church with my mom. The Catholic church could not be more different from the church in which I grew up. It's rigid and structured. You know the sequence of events no matter where you attend church. It feels familiar, and I began to identify with it. Unlike the churches I attended growing up Catholics don't seem to study the Bible the same way. As I went through RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) I would ask questions about why certain prayers were said and asked a lot of "why". My priest was often exasperated by my questions. A lot of Catholics do things because that's merely how they are done. Even with some unanswered (or not answered to my satisfaction) questions, I still found myself identifying with Catholicism. This Easter marked 14 years since I converted.

My husband and I were married in the church. Our son was baptized as a Catholic. And yet my relationship with the Catholic Church has become complicated as well as my faith has been tested. Our wait to have a child really pushed the limits of my faith, and for the first time in my life I felt as if my conviction had abandoned me. Even the birth of my son didn't bring my faith back to that strong place where it had been much of my life. 

Maren Morris had a hit song last year with My Church. Her lyrics are that she feels the most spiritual when she's driving and listening to country music. I love that song because it's awesome but also because that's how I've felt about running the last few years. I feel more faithful and closer to God in those quiet moments on the trail than I do reciting prayers in church. Those quiet times when it's simply me and the miles I'm logging have become my church. 

It's been challenging the last few months when I haven't been able to run. I barely observed Lent this year. I've been frustrated by my health challenges, and instead of turning to faith I have ignored it. I haven't taken time to reflect, and as I get older I think that's what faith is about. It's not about what religion you practice or what building you visit on Sunday morning. It's about taking time to be mindful and pray and reflect no matter where you're doing it. It might be in your car or during a run or while you're in church saying the Lord's Prayer.

Last weekend we went to West Virginia to visit my mom for Easter weekend. Morgantown is always my happy place, and this weekend was no exception. We arrived late on Thursday, but on Friday morning I had to go for a run. I hit the Deckers Creek Trail, one of my favorite running routes anywhere.

When my dad was sick I logged lots of miles on the trail while training for the New York Marathon. Now it's where I feel closest to him and also closest to God. I actually found myself talking to my dad and praying out loud during my run. It was the best run I've had in months. It was great to tap into my faith again. 

Feeling peaceful after my run
On Sunday morning I attended church with my mom at her Methodist Church (a different church from the one I attended in high school and college). It could not possibly be more different than going to mass. It's relaxed and informal. Parishioners call out prayer requests and join the preacher at the altar for impromptu songs. At one point I found myself slightly impatient for the lack of structure.

But then we closed the service by singing some older hymns, hymns we don't sing in the Catholic church. Some of them I could sing with my eyes closed because I know them so well. As we began to sing the hymn He Lives, I felt tears come to my eyes. My mom and I sang the alto notes, and by the time we got to the chorus I struggled to keep it together. I'm not sure if it was attending church with my mom that made me emotional or some type of different divine intervention, but I'm not sure it matters. Who's to say both of those things aren't an important part of my faith?

Enjoying a beautiful sunset Easter weekend
It was a lovely Easter weekend, and I felt peaceful in a way I haven't in a really long time. I'm not sure my relationship with religion is less complicated than it was this time last week, but I do know it's important for me to look for holy redemption wherever it exists...and I don't always think that's the same place. 

This kid. 

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