Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Spirituality, religion, church

Lately I've been experiencing sort of a spiritual drought. Well, "drought" is a strong word -- it's more like spiritual dehydration. I still go to church every week, but I kind of have to force myself, and then, even though it's only an hour, it seems to go on forever, like it's in slow motion. Which is weird for me, because for at least the past ten years, I've been really into church. Sure, there have always been times when I felt more like going than others, but once I was there, I genuinely enjoyed it. But now, even though I'm there, saying the creed, praying the prayers, etc., I feel like I'm watching it on a movie screen or something. I feel very distant.

I was raised Episcopalian. My mom was, too. It was important to her, maybe partly because she was a child of parents who argued over religion (my maternal grandmother was Catholic and my grandfather was Episcopalian, back when that was a much bigger deal). When I was a kid, we would go through years of going to church regularly, then stop for a few years when a scandal broke out (in two different churches we went to, the priests ended up getting dismissed or asked to leave for alleged sexual misconduct), then start over again at a different church. But in high school I started getting uncomfortable saying the creed -- how did I know that Jesus was God's only son? How could I know ANYthing for sure? So in college I started going to the Unitarian church, where there's no set creed and you just have to affirm a set of moral principles. I liked it. But at home for Christmas and Easter, I went to the Episcopal church, and I also sometimes went to Catholic mass with friends, especially since it was so similar to the Episcopalian service.

We talk about having five senses: the sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. But after my mom died in 1998, I lost my sense of God. Even when I wasn't sure about creeds and orthodoxies, I had never before doubted that there was a God, or a heaven for the dead. I took it for granted, like I too often take for granted that I can see beautiful colors and taste delicious food. But I had never expected my mom to feel so GONE. After some people lose a loved one, they feel like they spot them out of the corner of their eye, or even see their ghost, or feel their presence in some way. For me, it was exactly the opposite. The sense of GONEness took my breath away. Life seemed coldly logical: my mother had smoked for 40 years; she got lung cancer; she died. I couldn't sense any divinity in that. It's not that I was angry at God. It was that I couldn't sense anything called "God" that I could even be angry at.

My sense of God did return, though slowly at first. I still went to Catholic mass with a friend; I went to Episcopal and Unitarian services sometimes, too; and for half a year or so, while in grad school in Boston, I regularly went to a church called The Journey. I'm a die-hard liberal and it was a pretty conservative church, but I got something out of the pastor's sermon every week, and found myself becoming a regular.

When I moved to New York in 2000, I started searching for a church home in earnest -- an Episcopal church home. I wasn't sure why I didn't feel called to the Unitarian church anymore. I just felt like it was missing something. Looking back, I think I was missing Jesus. I still don't know if I believe everything in the Creed (the virgin birth? not even mentioned in all four Gospels), but I finally realized you don't have to agree with everything and everyone in the church in order to go, and feel close to God.

Three days after September 11, 2001, I found my new church home. It was my 29th birthday, and I had never felt less like celebrating. Still in shock and sad and scared, I wandered into St. Bart's Episcopal Church in Manhattan for a prayer service. When the priest came out, he opened with, "It is times like these we cannot understand; we can only withstand." It was exactly what I needed. I joined the church and became very involved, stopping only when I moved to Camden, NJ in 2005 to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps for a year of service. I purposely chose a program with a spiritual component. I felt called -- not that I literally heard the voice of God or anything, but I felt a strong sense it was what I was meant to do at that time.

Then last year I did the RCIA program to officially become Catholic. Since my maternal grandmother was Catholic, in some ways I felt I was going back to my spiritual roots. And even though I had moved back to NYC from Camden, it's now a longer commute to get to St. Bart's, and I just couldn't seem to get up early enough Sunday mornings to get there. I was going to the Catholic church a few blocks from my apartment so often, I thought it would be nice to make it official.

But it's that same Catholic church I can now barely sit in for 55 minutes per week! So here I am, in Spirtual Drought Land.

My plan: to explore other churches, and go to St. Bart's more regularly, too. It sometimes helps to be shaken out of my comfort zone (or discomfort zone, as the case may be).


  1. I've been feeling the same way for a couple of years now! My family had always been so active in the Diocese, so it's always felt right to me to be that active, but lately I've felt very "meh" about going to church. I miss it, and yet I don't go. It's odd.

  2. I know exactly what you mean! Last time I felt that way, I found St. Bart's, so I'm hoping it's a sign I should be searching for the right place to be ("seek and ye shall find," as the Bible says. :)

  3. Yes, I'm trying to be patient- I started checking out another church nearby fairly recently, and have brought Frank a few times. It doesn't feel like it quite fits, though. Part of it is just that I'm lazy- after driving for so many years so far to get to church, I want to be able to basically roll out of bed and go Sunday mornings, you know?

  4. Totally! That's why I started going to the Catholic church regularly when I moved to Brooklyn -- it is literally only a ten-minute walk away. The convenience factor cannot be underestimated!