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Saturday, April 8, 2023

Why Infuse Religion in a Progressive + Modern Family?

Headphones on. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing is calming my busy thoughts down. Slowing down my breath. If you are able to listen while reading, might I suggest this as a soundtrack?

Come Thou Fount

Why do I feel a connection to old hymns? 

I wasn't raised ultra-religious, but we were a church-attending family. I had been baptized as an infant, received my 3rd grade bible after a weekend retreat, served as an acolyte, and went through 6th grade confirmation, all through the Methodist church. It was a very traditional, very "vanilla" experience. There were no tent revivals or talks of fiery hell. Nobody raised their hands or cried during an acoustic rock set. We sang hymns backed by a church choir and organ or piano. I loved (and still love) when the handbell choir or brass would make an appearance. Other than that, it was pretty boring and uneventful.

 



Christianity has gotten a bad rap, but to the Methodists' credit, the only messages I ever received about God and Jesus were that of love, forgiveness, inclusivity, and peace. To my parents' credit, they encouraged questioning the messages we heard in church, and supported independent thoughts and opinions. I never feared church, nor felt judged at church. If anything, I felt bored and/or safe at church. It was dependable. Unchanging.

I realize now what a gift that actually was.

Twelve years ago, before becoming a wife, before becoming a mother, I shared some religious reflections after reading a book about The Stages of Religious Development. I enjoyed revisiting that post tonight. I really resonate with Stage 5, where old traditions hold new power.

I am grateful that it is Easter weekend. I'm grateful that when we go to the Easter service as a family on Sunday, we will experience a connection to music that spans generations. We won't be discovering new music or new stories on Easter morning. We will, as a family, and as a local community, hear a message that is ancient, and sing songs that are ancient, and say prayers aloud that are ancient. Why do I feel a connection to old hymns? I have to expand upon the question...

Why do I feel drawn to infuse church + religion into our modern + progressive family? How much is appropriate in 2023? Haven't we evolved past this?

There's something special about being in the physical building. I feel connected to yesterday and tomorrow, at the same time. We live about 45 minutes away, so we don't go in person very often, but when we do, it's a nostalgic experience. I'm grateful I get to return to the same beautiful sanctuary my dad attended as a little boy, where family members were married and baptized, and where Granddad's memorial service was held. I still think I see him there sometimes, even though he passed away years ago. What a gift to get to put my physical body in a specific place, and feel reflective, nostalgic, and inspired. George felt the same way while attending his grandparents' memorial service at their Osage Catholic church in Oklahoma. We both had reverence for that space. When I sing a familiar hymn at church, I feel connected with our family's culture + traditions. My ego dissolves into the collective. 


On the other hand, when I listen to a familiar hymn in my headphones, it's a different experience. I feel like I'm praying, expressing the words to God, and it's just me and God, nobody else. I feel like God and I are communing and we are one. 


I feel something inside me when I hear that verse. I tap into something when I sing that verse. When I pray, or listen to hymns while alone, I feel an intimate connection to a Higher Power, that I can't deny. 

I saw a shooting star last weekend, and felt like that was God's way of saying, "Let me dazzle you." I understand there is a scientific explanation for what a shooting star is and why they occur. I understand God is not an old man in the clouds, saying, "Let me dazzle you." What I mean is...in that moment, seeing that beautiful shooting star, I knew I was filled with awe + wonder, rather than explanations + answers. I was fixed on it. 

In that moment, my heart was pure, my ego was small, and I wanted for God to just take my heart and seal it. Seal my identity as that good person. Not the anxious mom who's scared of what could happen to her kids. Not the nagging wife who is texting her husband about taxes or bills. Not the hurried woman who could've done better, been more patient, or helped more people. The wide-eyed little girl in me that lit up over a shooting star? That's who I am when I'm focused on "God." When I'm at my best, that is who I am. Religion gives us perspective, stories, songs, and prayers that tell us we are not alone when we experience God in this way. "God" (or religion, or your spiritual practice...again, make this work for you, Dear Reader!) makes this available for everyone. That said, I realize it's not helpful for everyone, and what works for me might not for others.

As a teen, I believed God was an idealized fatherly figure (Stage 3, "God The Parent"). As a young adult, I moved through the "Distant God" phase and questioned everything. I'm more comfortable now believing no one religion has all the answers. I like to think I believe in lots of things a little bit, and nothing all the way. Even though I no longer believe The Resurrection literally happened, I still feel uplifted and excited about what it means metaphorically for my life. I feel like the wide-eyed little girl who was in awe of the shooting star. I can sing the hymns, say the prayers, and receive the message that we all fall short, and we are all given grace. Every soul is forgiven. And maybe I can be a little more gracious, and forgiving, since I know how good it feels to be on the receiving end. I still feel like something greater than us exists, and I find solace in connecting with it. 


While finishing our taxes this week, I felt incredibly frustrated and stressed, and when I stepped outside for a breath of fresh air and a moment to reflect, my brain short-circuited to an old memory of a "Wonder Years" episode about taxes. It's called "Faith."

From the POV of middle school narrator, Kevin Arnold, his mom is stressed about having lost the receipts for their taxes. Kevin sees her sneak away to a church (they don't usually show the family as church-goers), light a candle, and pray. He assumes she's praying about the taxes! ***sPOiLeR ALeRT*** She's praying for the Apollo 13 astronauts. I love that we see this through the innocent lens of a child. The ending shows Jack and Norma laughing together while working on taxes, despite the loss of receipts. Kevin thought his dad might strangle his mother over losing those receipts, but he didn't. The episode was a story about grace, and it landed. Unmerited grace.

That's the point I'm trying to get to. That's what I'm tapping into this year for Easter.

I think the Jesus story, this year, to me, means grace when we don't deserve it. We don't have to believe Jesus rose from the dead (or we can). We don't have to believe Jesus is the only way to Heaven (or we can). We don't have to pray to God (or we can). I don't know how much is too much, or not enough, in terms of infusing religion into our family. What I do know is Amazing Grace is a beautiful hymn, and I hope someday, when the girls are grown, it will make the hair on their arms stand up, like it does mine. 

I want to at least lay the foundation for religion and spirituality. What they choose to do with it is up to them. If religion isn't for them, I think I can live with that. But, I don't want to let the loudness of the cynics and the skeptics drown out the call from something Greater, the call to our collective weary soul. The call that reminds us of how small we all are, and how big it all is. 

I hope I can give our girls the gift of hearing an old hymn, alone, and feeling a direct connection with God. I'd love for them to be able to sing that same hymn in church, maybe on Easter, and feel connected with their culture, and our traditions. I'd like them to feel connected with both yesterday and tomorrow. Maybe, if I'm lucky, long after I've died and my soul has moved on to whatever happens next (or doesn't), my grandchildren will think they saw me in church. That wouldn't be so bad. 


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