Sunday, March 26, 2006

Catch a tiger

I can still clearly remember the precise moment when it first occurred to me that God might not exist. It was a sunny day and I was walking home from school, going up the last little hill that leads to the house where my parents still live. I remember feeling a little thrill of terror, as well as great deal of surprise that I had never before given serious consideration to such an obviously possibility. It seems to me that in that instant I resolved to become an atheist. It would be a few years before I could put this plan into effect, practicing atheism being hard to carry out in the parochial school environment of that time and place, but it would be many years before I wholeheartedly admitted to believing in God again.

I arrived at college a few years later and stopped going to church more or less immediately. Looking back, I can see that I never succeeded in suppressing persistent spiritual leadings, and I think if anyone (possibly anyone from any faith) had reached out to me in those years, things might have evolved differently. But being religious wasn't cool and I never shared that side of myself with anyone, to some extent including even myself (not that I ever succeeded in being cool, at that).

I still looked in from time to time at a series of Catholic churches; it would be fair to say I just couldn't stay away. Gradually, over the second half of my third decade, I found my way back. The challenge was to believe in God; if I could get past that hurdle, there was never any question about the particular religious tradition in which I would express my faith. I was heavily influenced by Quakers but did not feel tempted to join them. No other church seemed worth considering.

Like almost every Catholic I know, even the most conservative, I had to find ways to make peace with some parts of the whole. There were things I didn't agree with, but on the other hand they didn't drive me away. I was willing to accept the church as a big tent, and I was happy in my corner. The tie that bound me to the Roman Catholic Church was the sacraments. If my non-believing friends expressed surprise at the idea that I was a practicing Catholic, I would shrug and say, It's who I am; it's where I need to be. And I believed that as much as I believed anything. The struggle was to believe in God.

Which is why it's so strange that so many years later my belief in God feels unshakable, yet I find myself completely unable to choose a church. Every time I think I'm getting closer to making a decision, I'll suddenly find myself tossing away everything I thought I'd settled and starting over.

And here I am on a Sunday morning, ten minutes before the start of the earliest of several services I was considering (so obviously I won't be at that one today, since I am still sitting here in my bathrobe), pondering the schedules of four different churches. I am back to my old familiar prayer: Eeney, Meeny, Miney, Moe ...

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