Finding Religion, or a Reasonable Facsimile Thereof.

19Feb08

Growing up, Sunday mass was something I did out of habit. Or not even that. It was something I did because I had no choice, and if I grumbled about it, I would get a monster guilt trip from my mother.

Especially if my grumbling happened to fall upon Mother’s Day.

The Roman Catholic dogma itself — or, by extension, my faith — was never something I ever thought about or questioned. It was just something I was.

When I eventually went off to college, I fell in quickly with a group of hardcore Christians. They lured me in with pizza. I joined their weekly Bible study group, and then it wasn’t long before I was attending Sunday mass with them at a church up the highway, and traveling to remote areas of NJ to do volunteer work, and attending Voices of Hope concerts and off-campus Halloween parties with no alcohol. Dude. Who attends a dry party in college!? I was also the girl in my Short Stories class who happened to know the most about the Bible, and my prof used to refer to me whenever he couldn’t remember the particulars of a specific passage. How weird is that!?

Though I don’t regret spending so much time with this particular group of people (they were great; really), I was eventually put off by their brand of pushy proselytizing. And being friends with a group of people who were constantly trying to “convert” me made me begin to explore my faith in a way weekly sermons never had.

Long story short (I know; too late), I realized I didn’t actually believe in this whole Christianity thing — or, for that matter, organized religion — and I made my way gradually through the many stations of anti-faith (arguing against religion in my World Religions class; declaring myself agnostic and, eventually, atheistic to my mother; boycotting Grace at the dinner table).

Still, something has always been tugging at me. A fascination with the faith of other people. A desire for community. A vague belief in the inherently spiritual, whatever that (vaguely) means to me.

Months ago, I subjected myself to the Belief-O-Matic at beliefnet and found myself intrigued by the Unitarian Universalists, an organized group that was apparently open to all faiths.

Quite coincidentally, just a few weeks ago, my friend Nicole mentioned — in a tone of manic excitement — that she had begun attending services at a Unitarian Universalist center in Ridgewood. And she was in love and stuff. With the Unitarian community and its openness. (And with her fiance too, of course, but she’s been in love with him for awhile.) I asked her if Michael and I could join them one Sunday and she said yes and so we went this past Sunday.

This service was infinitely different from any service I had ever before attended. As I sat through it, I found myself thinking of what benefit the different aspects of the service had to the congregation.

There was a brief prelude on the piano, followed by announcements from the president of the Ridgewood society.

There was a chalice lighting, during which we all read from our books: “We light this chalice for the light of truth, / the warmth of love, and the energy of action / as we gather together in the circle of community.” It seemed a brief affirmation of the Unitarians’ beliefs, one of faith and of the search for ultimate truth, of an open, welcoming mind and a sense of community. I wondered if they said something similar each week, as I was used to prayers memorized and intoned weekly. I couldn’t figure out whether I missed that familiarity, or if the fact of the memorization I was so used to had eventually stripped all meaning from the prayers themselves.

There was an opening reading, which was incredibly brief, and which hardly allowed one time to meditate upon its meaning. This also blindsided me.

Then we all sang a song. I was excited about this, but it was something we only did once throughout the entire service, and Nicole had told me earlier that it wasn’t something they did regularly. This was something that confused me, as I had always considered congregational singing a particularly moving means of group prayer.

This was followed by two pieces played (beautifully) on the piano. The first was Leos Janacek’s “In the Mist, No. 1 and No. 4,” and the program informed us that Janacek was a composer whose “compositional style was influenced by the speech rhythms of his native Moravian dialect and the modal character of its folk-music,” which I found interesting. The concert-like proceedings were odd to me, but I imagined that losing oneself in the music allowed one time for inner reflection, meditation, and prayer.

Next, in the place of what, for me, would normally be the homily, a visiting speaker (the regular minister was on sabbatical) gave the address, on “The Legacy of Zarathustra.” I somewhat enjoyed its academic and modernistic nature, but also felt that there were too many facts being thrown at me in a brief space of time. It seemed more like a history lecture, or a narrative timeline, and I was hoping for more context, or for a way of connecting this new knowledge with my own life. Instead, I became lost in the barrage of historical facts.

This was followed by a responsive reading, the offertory, another musical selection, and the closing words.

If you’ve made it this far, wow. I apologize for going on at such great length, and in such minute detail. I’m trying to find a way to analyze what I experienced, as it was so alien to me, especially considering the ritualistic nature of the Roman Catholic mass. The service, in comparison, seemed much more off-the-cuff. No. That’s not right. Hodge-podge? It was difficult for me to find a common thread, perhaps because the center was acting as a nurturing sanctuary to those of varying faiths? At the same time, though, I was intrigued, and the basic tenets of the society were in keeping with my own beliefs.

There was no “peace” during the service — something which I’ve always thought to be one of the best parts of mass, a reaffirmation of our communion with each other — but there was a coffee hour and, while there, I grabbed a bunch of informational fliers. I’m looking forward to checking out the other UU communities in the surrounding area (Montclair, Wayne, Paramus), and seeing if any of them feel like a fit for me. Reading through the Ridgewood society’s resource handbook got me excited about becoming a part of such an inquisitive, self-analytical community. It would be exciting if I could finally find a place where I could truly explore the nature of faith.

On a related note, sitting through the UU service also made me more sure than ever that I wanted to enroll in the celebrant program at the foundation/institute in Montclair. I would go through a one-year curriculum on various religions and rituals and come out certified to write and perform services!

Okay, I’m sure you’re all ready to call it a night. Later.

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4 Responses to “Finding Religion, or a Reasonable Facsimile Thereof.”

  1. Wow…. my results… (funny how Roman Catholic is at 15%). Looks like we’re on the right track, for both of us. :o)

    1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
    2. Theravada Buddhism (96%)
    3. Secular Humanism (92%)
    4. Liberal Quakers (91%)
    5. Neo-Pagan (76%)
    6. Mahayana Buddhism (73%)
    7. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (69%)
    8. Taoism (69%)
    9. Nontheist (65%)
    10. Orthodox Quaker (65%)
    11. New Age (65%)
    12. Jainism (62%)
    13. Reform Judaism (55%)
    14. Bahá’í Faith (47%)
    15. Sikhism (47%)
    16. Scientology (43%)
    17. Hinduism (43%)
    18. New Thought (40%)
    19. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (37%)
    20. Seventh Day Adventist (32%)
    21. Orthodox Judaism (29%)
    22. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (29%)
    23. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (28%)
    24. Islam (27%)
    25. Jehovah’s Witness (17%)
    26. Eastern Orthodox (15%)
    27. Roman Catholic (15%)

  2. Wow…I’m new to your blog (I found you through Ms. Perfect) and love this post! I was also raised Roman Catholic, which left me with lots of memorization but not much in terms of feeling connected to God. After college, I did a “church of the month” project, where I faith shopped, eventually landing in a UU church which I loved. But the larger denomination ultimately felt too “open” to me–I guess I wanted more structure to inform my spiritual search than they offered. Anyway, all that to say–I’m cheering you on in your search, and glad I found your blog 🙂

  3. @Trish: Welcome Trish! This is actually sorta funny. I’ve been reading your blog for a month or so now (I probably found it through Ms. Perfect, now that I think about it), but haven’t peeped up in the comments yet. But I’ve definitely been enjoying myself over there.

    I like the sound of your faith-shopping. I was never sure exactly how to go about it, myself, and always tried to find The Best, Most Comprehensive World Religions Book Ever, but could never find one I was satisfied with.

    I’m interested in your comment about needing more structure after spending time at your UU church. I’m curious to see how this will pan out for me, because that lack of structure did feel weird.

    Ah, well. We shall see.

  4. 4 christina W.

    I actually sat here and read this entry. the first time. Even though I am tired as all hell and should be in bed. Anyhow…. I was interested in that site you mentioned-Belief-o-matic. took the quiz and these are the results.

    Besides being a little surprised at # 1and 2 it is what I expected.

    1. Seventh Day Adventist (100%)
    2. Orthodox Quaker (93%)
    3. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (90%)
    4. Eastern Orthodox (88%)
    5. Roman Catholic (88%)
    6. Orthodox Judaism (68%)
    7. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (68%)
    8. Hinduism (64%)
    9. Islam (56%)
    10. Jehovah’s Witness (54%)
    11. Liberal Quakers (53%)
    12. Bahá’í Faith (52%)
    13. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (45%)
    14. Jainism (44%)
    15. Sikhism (43%)
    16. Unitarian Universalism (38%)
    17. Reform Judaism (35%)
    18. Theravada Buddhism (32%)
    19. Mahayana Buddhism (32%)
    20. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (27%)
    21. New Age (24%)
    22. Neo-Pagan (22%)
    23. New Thought (20%)
    24. Scientology (17%)
    25. Taoism (14%)
    26. Nontheist (13%)
    27. Secular Humanism (13%)


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