It is my distinct honor to welcome Kristen from Motherese to this space today. Kristen’s blog is one of those I admire most, for her lucid and intelligent probing of questions so relevant to me I often feel she dug them out of my brain. Kristen is dear to me, too, for leaving me one of the comments here that has meant the most to me. It turns out we have a personal connection that neither of us knew, and I love that we found each other through the ether first.
Kristen writes beautifully about questions of identity, politics, parenting, and living in this world. Her posts are shot through with personal reflection and every single day she makes me think. Her essay here talks about something that is much on my mind of late: faith. I am certainly grappling with some big questions of belief in my life: I feel often as though I’m groping around in the dark, occasionally grabbing something solid or feeling a truth, as gentle as a moth’s wing, brush against my cheek. As I grope, I feel lost but am propelled forward by a distinct, unavoidable longing for something.
I’m delighted and blessed to have her words here today. Please go check out Motherese. You won’t regret it
Losing my Religion, Finding my Faith
I worry, too. I worry all the time.
I worry about forgetting lines to plays that I am not in. I worry about forgetting to mail a mortgage payment. I worry about passing a fifteen-year-old calculus exam. I worry about my dad embarrassing me with an uncouth comment.
I worry that Big Boy will have another meltdown at tumbling class. I worry about what the other mothers will think of me when he does. I worry about why my son would behave that way. I worry about how I will handle it.
These are the shades of my worry.
But there are other shades, too, shades that don’t cast an inky penumbra over my mind.
I don’t worry about dying young. I don’t worry that the world will end before my kids grow up. Even in the face of graphic evidence of the possibility of calamity, I don’t worry about catastrophe – natural, economic, interpersonal.
I have always thought of myself as a neurotic person, as a woman whose days are sketched in anxiety and colored in worry. But recently it occurred to me: I do worry, but I worry about the small things. I do not worry about the big ones. I worry about my performance, about how it will be evaluated. But about the most important things? The life-altering, life-threatening, life-crushing things? I don’t worry.
Instead, I practice random acts of blindness, never allowing these deeper, soul-shaking worries to penetrate my bedrock of faith.
And this is a strange revelation for me. After all, I am an agnostic. I am not a religious person anymore. But I still have a sense of subconscious serenity honed, I think, through an early commitment to religious practice. I grew up with a traditional religious education: I went to Catholic school for nine years and went to church every Sunday, loving the rituals and the singing, the candles and the community. I was never sold on the dogma – on transubstantiation, the ascension, the Holy Trinity. But I believed. I believed in the benevolent, white-haired gentleman. And I prayed to him every night before bed. I confessed my white lies and my gray doubts. I asked him to protect me, to look after my family. And – it seemed – he did.
My family faced its share of health problems. People we loved died. But my own life – and my own experience of it – seemed to take place in its own sort of numinous space.
In my adult life, some bad things have happened to me. I have faced illness, high-risk pregnancies, and physical violence. But I have never doubted my fundamental security.
I don’t spend time these days talking to that white-haired man. I don’t ask for intercession or for forgiveness. Now I am more a veteran of religious practice, with a medal of faith pinned to my chest, a talisman against the deepest doubts.
I am the seasoned traveler in Christina Rossetti’s “Up-Hill”:
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.
In this life – this entropic life – I feel safe.
But now a new worry sprouts: how will my sons, children of an agnostic mother and an atheistic father, unschooled in religion, never steeped in belief, find their safety? Without faith, will the monsters of worry call to them from under their beds and from behind their closet doors?
Do you worry about the small things or the big things? What role does faith play in shielding you from worry?
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