The true miracle is not walking on water or walking in air, but simply walking on this earth. Thich Nhat Hanh
Among the most important photographs my mother has kept in an old album, is a photograph of me as an infant — wearing a long, white-laced dress, with a pair of cute white booties. I’m in my mother’s arms, with my father standing tall next to her, holding a candle. They’re on the steps of a church altar, facing a priest, with my God-parents on their side. Everyone seems to be intensely focused on the moment at hand — my Catholic baptism.
Ironically, that was perhaps the only Church visit I ever had with my parents. They are Catholic, but they are what I consider home-based Catholics. My mother has always been religious at home, not in Church. Every night she begins her prayers about half-an-hour before she goes to bed, and you can still hear her mumbling prayers even after she turns off the lights and is falling asleep. Growing up, my mother did too many hora santas as a token of appreciation to El Niño Jesus. There were also plenty of references about the power of God almighty.
I, too, began to pray at night during my childhood, especially when I felt scared or worried about something. I would pray in the silence of the night before falling asleep. I am grateful I had prayer as a source of comfort.
But around the age of 14, I began to search for more. I needed to find a place of silence, peace and tranquility. On my own, I decided to go to church in the morning, before my first class period in high school. I took public transportation to downtown Manhattan, in New York — an hour each way, to and from school. Every morning, I got up about 30 minutes earlier and got off the bus a mile before my high school stop, to attend the 7:30AM mass at my favorite church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The mass was about 20 minutes long, a short mass for the busy working people. But it was a great way to start my day. I loved the way the cathedral smelled — I still remember it. And I loved the fact that I could count on it’s silence and peacefulness — something I desperately needed in my life. I don’t believe I ever told my parents I went to church on most mornings.
When I went to college, I continued on with trying to get close to my religion and the church. I went to Sunday mass a few times, but it didn’t feel the same. I made an appointment with the priest at that time. I had lots of questions to ask him. About 100 of them. Inquisition had taken over the need for peace and tranquility. We had a great conversation. He was cool, honest, and real. I decided to do my communion at Columbia University, at the age of 19.
But as I became more invested in finding myself, and learning about the world, my curiosity about other religions began to expand. Literature, sciences and philosophy created new questions, all of which I needed to find the answers on my own. Gradually, I began to let go of what I needed (the peace that religion gave me) and embrace fear. Over the next several years I engaged in a quest for my own answers. I questioned everything, not out of cynicism, but in honor of independent thinking, and freedom of thought.
By the time I had my first daughter, I had a very well-defined set of ideas and beliefs – a compilation of all the growing I had done, thus far. So when the time came for me to introduce my daughter to God, it felt beautiful and it felt right for me. I have no baptism photographs of my children — they’ll have the opportunity to decide for themselves later, if they choose to.
Today, I don’t label my beliefs. I am neither this nor that. But I am my actions. What I do is my religion. That’s what I teach my children. What I do know is that I believe in kindness, in good-will, in compassion, and tolerance. I also believe in myself.
And when I speak to them about God, it is simple. It can be summarized in 6 reminders I like to share with them. This is what I say to my children about God:
1. You are God. God is you.
2. God is in you (and I point to their heart).
3. God is everywhere: in the air, on the leaves of a tree, in the music we dance to, in a warm embrace…
4. God is an ever-present energy, an undeniable force within us and around us.
5. God is responsible for everything — the miracle and the mundane.
6. Because you are God, you are beautiful, powerful and righteous.
Regardless of your religious (or not) background, conversations about religion and spirituality are very important to children. These conversations bridge the cognitive, the emotional and ethical. At the very least, they stimulate the mind and the soul of the growing child.
How do you talk about religion, spirituality or God to your children?
photo credit: Alice Popkorn