Universe/Mother Nature/gods/God/Yaweh/Allah/little-baby-Jesus/spirits have always confused me. And being an adult, and not knowing what you believe in, that’s confusing too. The older I get, the more I see, feel, hear, know, and realize that I don’t know. There are times when I think that there is no possible way there’s a higher power and times when I think that there just has to be. Catholic school taught me how to be a good person and maybe learning about Jesus did too. But it certainly scrambled my little soul.
You spend your formative years watching a man in a white robe sing poorly about bread then hold tasteless wafer crackers in the air as two children bustle around him assisting his table-setting, tiny priest-waiters. Napkins, plates, book with a ribbon bookmark. You can see their school shoes beneath their miniature white tunics. They’re just like your own pair. The annual suede bucks from Vandyke and Bacon. Two hundred people file to the front. Then two hundred people share the same cup. The body of Christ. The blood of Christ. And with your spirit.
When you pray before bed, you make up a sign-off you say every night: “Thank you. I love you. Bye bye. Amen.” You pray for the people you love, you think good thoughts for them, you hope that the boys you like start to like you back. Looking back, this was more of a meditation on things you hoped would happen. Is that what prayer is? You’re still not sure at 31. Thank you. I love you. Bye bye. Amen.
You “earn” your first confession in an old classroom where you tell the same white-robed man who’s now mysteriously wearing all black that you have been mean to your sister. He tells you that you’re absolved and you receive a metal pin. You likely continue to be mean to your sister. O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. The act of contrition. You’re seven, and you have no idea what “contrition” means. You’re told you’re supposed to feel differently than before, and so you try really hard to feel differently. You convince yourself that you do, that you’re cleansed. I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.
Now that you are cleansed of your sins, it’s time for First Communion. You dress like a child bride in a dress you love, veil too. You practice: left hand over right, put in mouth with right hand. He will say, The body of Christ. You will say Amen instead of “thank you.” Say Amen instead of “thank you.” Say Amen instead of “thank you.” You get a party afterward because now you, too, have the body of Christ in you. Adults are drinking orange juice with champagne. You are seated at the right hand of the Father.
In 8th grade, it’s time to be confirmed. You must confirm your faith. You are 13 and that is what you do. You choose a new name because now you’re an adult in the eyes of the church. (Does the church have eyes?) There are many events to prepare you and all of your peers for this compulsory confirmation. One is a lock-in where you are to stay up all night. There are high school kids meant to be spiritual guides. They’re nice enough but you’re skeptical of their ability to guide. One of your classmates flashes a group of boys–this is the first you hear of such a thing. You get a special dispensation to chose a virtue as your confirmation name: Hope, rather than a saint’s name. You’re not even really sure why you care enough to write the extra essay. Amanda Marie Hope Doran. I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
High school opens doors for more religious history, which you find interesting, horrifying. At some point you watch Alive about the soccer team who crashed in the Alps and resorted to cannibalism. The questions of morality and resulting discussions are difficult and challenging. Senior year you have a doctor of theology for “Images of Christ in the Arts.” One day you’re working at Panera and a person who is blind comes in. You help her order, get her food, and lead her to a table. The doctor of theology is also at Panera that day and sees this exchange (which is simply a part of your job). At the baccalaureate ceremony, you win “The Growth in Christian Womanhood Award” which is a gold necklace. You’re sure this is a a combination of sympathy for being runner-up for the coveted Super Senior Award and helping the woman at Panera in front of the head of the religion department. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
Throughout college, you attend the crunchy granola church you grew up in with your mom. It offers intellectual stimulation, community, a Sunday ritual, and beautiful music. This feels right but you’re not sure it has anything to do with Jesus. You start to think of him as a good role model but with your newfound mental independence, you have a hard time believing he’s risen from the dead, walked on water, didn’t eat for 40 days, etc., etc. The mystery of faith.
You visit the Vatican at 20 years old and the walls inside St. Peters are lined in gold. And a woman with one leg begs just beyond the massive wall lined with saints, for a few coins as all of the tourists walk by, you included, annoyed to even have to look down to avoid tripping over her. You get to go to mass said by the “papa.” He seems mean. It is truly right and just.
You flail aimlessly through services of different kinds, types, faiths, throughout your 20s and into your early 30s. Unsure. Uncommitted. Untethered. And this is a story you keep writing. Because you just don’t know. How can any of us know? Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Then, I imagine Grammom in her final month on earth praying the rosary in loop, although she could barely talk. She used the hand that still worked and tore through those decades. I know the steadfastness of her faith and the example she set for us. How she really lived the way we were taught to live in Catholic school. And I just have to hope or have to know that she’s with Universe/Mother Nature/gods/God/Yaweh/Allah/little-baby-Jesus/spirits because sometimes, even in the scrambliest moments, the mystery of faith just feels better than the absence of it.