Over the past year, Petunia has been exploring her faith through confirmation classes, called "Confirm not Conform," at our Episcopal church. Next weekend, she will complete the process and become a full member of the church. When I shared with a friend at a Halloween party that our weekend would involve Petunia's confirmation, his reply was: "F*ck religion. Why are you doing that to your kid, teaching her to be a sheep? Seriously, f*ck that. Don't do it. How could you?" And I looked him in the eye and replied, "I don't think I can engage in this subject matter with you," and I left it at that -- and walked away. I learned long ago that when a person feels *that* strongly about religion, there is no point to engaging in debate.
Mine is a quiet faith, and, frankly, it is not always there; at times, I feel more agnostic than Christian, and. for a while, I felt certain that my correct label was "secular humanist" while I also felt a draw to Buddhism. Where I ended up is here: does it matter? I am not a member of the "religious right" who inflicts her faith on others through the political process. In all likelihood, I am a member of the "Christian Left" who believes but one thing: that a God of love and acceptance, a source of hope and strength, is a good thing to have in my life. Someone else once mocked that angle on faith, calling it "Santa Claus faith" -- all good things, no damnation. Well, it is what it is. I do not purport to having the answers, but I do know that in the very darkest moments of my life, I have felt like I am not alone. And that counts, very much, for something. I cannot dismiss that feeling as mere "coping."
As well, just as I identify as part-Welsh, part-Italian, etc., Christianity is part of my family's identity, and the path that I have chosen to walk through my own life very much incorporates lessons of faith from generations of my ancestors. We have incorporated Christ's very real community service into our own natures; it feels like our family's faith roots me to a history of community action and to a way of living. Sure, those without faith can do that, too; we just consider it part of a calling -- perhaps, even, an obligation -- even as we do not shout from the rooftops that we "walk in love, just as Christ loved us" (Ephesians 5:2).
I also feel that I parent differently because of my faith. For example, when my children argue, it is my refrain to tell them "be loving." That message has been handed down from my family, but it also comes from my faith's focus on loving-kindness. The two are so intertwined that I am not sure I can tell one from the other. And at the end of the day, I feel fortunate to come from a family who took me to church to spend time among those with, for the most part, a shared value system. (It may be important to note, here, that we subscribe to a more "liberal" type of Christianity.) Some friends from my upbringing in the church remain friends for life. So, when my own daughter started placing importance on the church community to which I introduced her, I felt very warm-hearted. These people, they will be part of her community of support for as long as she needs it; and she knows, now, that if, at any point in her life, she needs to broaden her community -- whether because she needs something or because she has something to offer to others -- church is a solid place to find that space. In these confirmation classes, she had mentors with listening ears and open hearts. I am not convinced that teenagers seek that out, but I do know -- from my own experience as one of their teachers -- that when given the opportunity, they seize it. Perhaps faith is not a requirement for such community connection, but church is one community in which such connection can be found and fostered. And if kids take away from that what I did years ago and what my own daughter does now -- that our church community is an extension of family -- all the better.
With Petunia's permission, I share with you what she offered at the first phase of her confirmation, a presentation to our church on something she learned. I had never attended such an event at our church and ended up being caught quite offguard by our priest summoning her (first among the confirmands) to the lectern with the words "Come and Teach."
Nine children taught that day. We can learn so much from them; I find myself now wanting to say "teach me something" to teens and think this will be the subject/challenge of their next lesson with me. The confirmand's faith-based lessons last Sunday all tied to being good people. I am so proud to be among their teachers, and my heart burst when Petunia shared the following, my favorite prayer, followed by her message:
The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument
of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred,
Let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may seek
Not so much to be consoled
As to console.
To be understood
As to understand.
To be loved
As to love.
For it is in giving
That we receive;
It is in pardoning
That we are pardoned;
It is in dying
That we are born to eternal life.
Petunia then offered: "The prayer of St. Francisc really moves me because St. Francis cared for not only himself, but he cared for everything around him too. He used to be rich but then gave all of his money to the poor. He not only gave up everything, but he gave it to a good cause. St. Francis also cared about the animals. He believed that animals were our brothers and sisters.
My mom and I were in San Francisco a couple weeks ago to see the Wizard of Oz. We were putting coins into the meter when someone asked us "how are you?" My mom replied, "good, and you?" Then the man told us that he had talked to twenty people that day, and we were the first to reply to him. My mom and I couldn't believe that no one else had responded to him. This relates to the prayer because where there is hatred and judgement, we should all sow love.
St. Francis should be a role model to us. He was extremely charitable, and we should all follow in his footsteps to make better communities."
From her mouth to God's ears.
Regardless of what you believe, this seems, to us, like a good way to live. And living this way does not make us sheep. It may make us servants in the best possible sense, though -- and in our house, that's a laudable aim. We hope to give more than we receive, drawing our example from that of Christ, the original community organizer. I am glad that Petunia's village has expanded to include a large church family and look forward to seeing her blessing and welcoming by our bishop this weekend.