Saturday, February 19, 2011

Random Thoughts on Religion & Faith

I'm sitting in our cozy family room, watching through the windows as the breeze stirs the madrona trees, and makes whitecaps on the water. The wind is from the North today, so there is a blue, cloudless sky, and the tide is running "in" - from North to South - so strongly that it looks like a river out there. The power of the water and the changes in its appearance will never cease to delight me.

I grew up spending my summers on the shores of this water - Puget Sound - and it is where my heart is, and always has been. Now, my daughter's ashes are in this water, and someday, those of my parents - and mine - will also be set free in it. I like the idea of our remains mingling together in the same salty body of water that holds so much life, and so many happy memories, for all of my family.

Yesterday, I was thinking about my faith. It is rooted in Christianity, but it is no longer what I think people would call a "religious faith." I don't go to church very often, and I hardly miss going. I miss certain people and fellowship, but what drove me to stay out was the infighting over doctrine that arose in our absence (when we were in Seattle for Katie's treatment). I expected to return to the bosom of the church that had nurtured us, and where I had served as a deacon, Stephen Minister, LOGOS volunteer, etc. But while we were away, a horrible fight blew up like a tornado, and ripped the church apart. After Katie's death, I could not enter that fray - and it was still going on. It has been resolved, after many of the members were driven out, but I cannot seem to drag myself back there. I have been to Mass with my Catholic friends, and that is a wonderful experience, except that I'm not allowed to partake of the Eucharist, which I miss. So I just study, read and pray here at home.

It occurred to me yesterday that one reason that I don't mind missing out on church is that my faith has changed so much. I'm not particularly religious, but I am faithful. I don't think I will fit in most churches, because my beliefs have been so shaped by my experience that I am a bit radical. Experience truly is the key test of religion, for me. If it held up in the hospital, then I believe it; if it's too intellectual - just a theory - then I have no time for it. I will give you an example of this: I now see Jesus and his mother, Mary, as a gift from a loving God - a gift, not just as objects to worship or emulate (though I do try to follow his example and teachings - he is my Lord), but as PATTERNS, like the instructions in sewing a garment. Patterns that we will be conformed to follow, if we are willing.

If Jesus and Mary are simply objects to look at and think about, little is required of me. I can remain comfortably distanced from the drama and the pain and think to myself, "So radical! So violent, those Bible days and times! Who could imagine a crucifixion now? I'm so glad we've progressed beyond that savagery...and I can learn from his forgiveness, surrender, generosity, healings, words and attitude." I used to see it like this, and it's so much easier, to take this sort of academic approach than it is to enter the story.

Without my consent, I entered the story on October 10, 2006. It really began on the 9th, the day of Katie's ultrasound and first CT scan, when the mass in her abdomen was discovered. That night, Gregg and I lay awake in bed, frightened and not talking, - me with a cold, leaden feeling in the pit of my stomach. I entered the story of Mary and Jesus that night, and I began to learn within a few weeks that this wasn't just a teaching story, wasn't just the Bible, wasn't just a cultural phenomenon, or even just my Lord and his mother; this was THE WAY things are, the pattern, and I was being called to walk in it after them.

Walking the way, companioning my daughter as she struggled to endure each round of treatment and the massive, invasive surgery to remove her tumor was as close to the story of Mary and Jesus as I had ever come...and I gradually recognized something new in it. God loves us so much that He put this story in our path, to teach us what this world is like. We are not alone, unobserved. God's own Son was called to walk the path of suffering, to show us how to do it, but also to show us that NO one, not even God's own Son, escapes suffering in this world. It's a broken world. We are here to live and do our best in it. We ARE God's hands and face for one another, in this place. (There are other traditions that teach the message in other ways, and this, to me, is further evidence of God's loving provision for ALL of His people, everywhere, in all times.)

I was given a "Mary" role, but also experienced my own "crucifixion," in suffering. My Mary role was "standing at the foot of the cross," Katie's cross of suffering, and suffering with her, watching her and helping to ease her symptoms. I had to let her go, and I had to keep out of her way as she went. I had to do that, and do whatever I could to soften the experience for her, to hold her in love, but not hold on to her. I had to let go, and make it as easy as possible for her to go - all the while, my emotions and feelings were screaming, "NO! She can't die! I want her here with me! I can't live without her! I love her! I need her here! Please!" But I couldn't give way to those emotions and feelings, because my job was to make the unthinkable as easy as possible for Katie to accompany her, to take the fear out of it (as much as possible), to let her know that each step was held in Love, - that she would always be loved.

In that experience, I found the love of God in a new way. I found, by Grace, that He loves us so much as to allow His own Son to do it first, and then to preserve these accounts, so that, two thousand years later, we know the story. Mary had to watch her son suffer and die a horrendous death; God knows how I feel. Jesus begged His Father to allow "the cup" of the experience that was coming, to pass from Him. He pleaded with his Father: if it was possible, please find another way. Apparently, it wasn't possible - for Jesus, or for Katie.

This story, as harsh and as difficult as it is to understand intellectually, has brought me great comfort. I feel known, understood and cared for. I feel God did this for me, for us, to teach us THIS IS HOW IT IS HERE. It's not about me, or Katie, or Gregg, or David, or Ben, or Carin, or Michelle, or Henry - and it is about us, all of us. This place is broken in certain ways, and we are God's hands and His face for one another. Stuff is going to happen that we don't like, wouldn't want, and will avoid at all costs; some of that stuff will happen anyway. He cares; He loves enough to send His own Son through it ahead of us, to show us that it will happen, and how to do it.

It's not what I thought Love looked like. It's not what I wanted Love to look like - I wanted Love to look like rescue. But it is Love, when you look at it from a certain angle - the love that is solidarity, understanding and union. And for that, I am grateful.


deb colarossi said...

Absolute perfection.
I love you.

Mary Potts said...

Karen, this is a beautiful reflection with so many of your thoughts hitting home with me. I was raised Catholic, and now struggle with some of the "rules" imposed by the church and the disappointing lack of response from our priests in times while we were drowning. You're several steps ahead of me in your grief process, and I'm still working to find footing on so many fronts. The area of religion remains one of them.

Last April in my early days of blogging, I wrote the post "Take this Cup" which expressed some of my desperate pain about watching Erin on the cross as the chosen one. "Oh God, take me", I'd begged. He did choose me in a different way, as you also mention.

And now, here I am among the community of souls who struggle to find meaning in all the sorrow and a way to live without my precious Erin for the rest of my days. You're right - Love is not rescue...

xo - thank you for writing this

Jennifer said...

I am speechless. Please, please put this entry in the book you will write ... it is not an exaggeration to call the truth you reveal here "groundbreaking" -- not that it's brand-new, but the way you write of it, your clear vision of it, IS.

I have been stuck in a certain way of seeing/being with Jesus and God, because I had felt somewhat abandoned by them in my suffering. I did not always experience them as Love (like you, I kept getting tripped up by thinking of Love as Rescue, or something very like it). I continued to pray, to read ... with a background hum of questions/doubt. But your words and your authenticity and the truth you speak ... those last two paragraphs in particular ... you have actually opened the door (I thought was closed) to hope, you have pointed me to Love, in a way no one has. Actually, that's not quite correct -- you AND Katie, together, have done these things.

Love to you, and a thousand blessings, as you continue on your journey.


Robin said...

I wonder how many of us wrote down the words "Take this cup" near the beginning ~ only to have the cup poured through and all over us. Somewhere in my earliest private journal I wrote something about ice flowing through my veins.

We've talked about this before and this time I see so clearly the gift it was to you, anguish-filled though it was, to care for Katie in her final months. For those of us who got no final months, or even seconds, this all comes afterward. And perhaps the prayer might be characterized as "Reverse!" rather than "Rescue."

I wonder whether time (which you've had a little more of) does give more clarity. I know that when I was engaged in this kind of prayer with the Stations of the Cross during late nights on my retreat last year, I thought I was close to losing my mind. And here I am, up and commenting after having fallen asleep early only dream of the violent death of another of my children. Probably brought on by having attended a baby shower today.

I'm afraid that my own experiences of love are still equally balanced with those of horror.

Jennifer said...

I don't think there's anything "random" about this post. In all of my years at church, reading the bible, studying to know and understand what these stories are and how they relate to our lives now, thousands of years later.....I feel like I JUST got it. I completely just had and A-HA moment!
You are a wonder and so very wise and I am grateful to God that he brought us to each other.
Thank you.
Your Faith has helped me truly find mine.
With love, blessings and thanks,

Sheri said...

How narcissistic is it that I feel like you wrote this just for me?

Thank you for giving me a perspective I have touched on but not let myself truly process or feel. It hurts, but it gives me a different path to muddle my way out of where I have been lately.

I love you, my dear friend.

Karen said...

I loved this post. So very deep, reaching into the deepest places of the heart-- so hopeful and helpful, elicidating the heart of the gospel and God's mysterious workings in this glorious mess of a world. And I loved reading the comments, and seeing how it reaches into other broken hearts and begins healing there. The pattern of suffering no one can escape, but there is a way through. I love that. You are always pouring out, Karen. Thank you.

Busy Bee Suz said...

Your beautiful words, thoughts and feelings have again moved me beyond MY words.
You are so insightful Karen. I love knowing you.

rebecca said...

thank you for writing each word you have shared. i am deeply moved by your heart and where you have arrived by following selflessly and courageously.
you are a generous soul. humble, honest and willing to walk even the most precious and difficult circumstances.

thank you for blessing me with your friendship.

Michelle said...

I lifted your line, karen, about Love and rescue to title a post. I've been at the foot of the cross and it has formed me in ways I could not, would not, have imagined or desired.

ChiTown Girl said...

In the spirit of sending you our love, I wanted you to know that I posted today about this year's St. Baldrick's event, and, naturally, Stud will be honoring Katie again. Thank you for letting him share your Katie.

Dawn ~ BJSMomma said...

OUTSTANDING! And you know....Jesus is pretty RADICAL too!


Elizabeth said...

I read your words and can only wonder, let them sink in and wonder some more. I can't pretend to know them as you know them, but I can feel them and it feels significant.

Thank you, as always, Karen, for your ability to articulate grace and your generosity in sharing what you know.

Daisy said...

(((Karen))) Directly to the heart.

Kay said...

Your faith really was put to the test during Katie's illness. And the fact that out of that grew something more immersed in knowing God and less about 'the religious' is really a good thing. I feel the same way...somewhat awkward within the confines of the denomination I grew up in. I'm thankful to be in a 'different place' spiritually than I once was. : )

Magdalene6127 said...

I'm a friend of Robin's, and came here at her urging.

All I can say is "thank you" for your honesty and openness- as a woman, as a mother, as a pastor, as a daughter, as a lover. Thank you for all the ways what you have written will resonate in me and change me.

Knowing and loving Robin has changed me. Your words have power and truth. Blessings.

Magdalene6127 said...

Karen, your beautiful words have made their way into my sermon for tomorrow. I hope that is ok. Please let me know if you would prefer otherwise... I always give full attribution.

Word Verification: heart

Deborah said...

Oh Karen, I know not how you breathe. You are beautiful. Big Love, Deb