I think "God" may be my "Sex": when it comes to the uncomfortable talk.
I don't believe in God. I own a certain optimistic predisposition that hopes for an ultimate goodness to which we all belong. It's a sentimental quality that I'm growing fond of in myself. Intellectually, I know that I am simply ill-equipped to understand, one way or the other, purpose or chaos or something else (certainly something else?). Yet, this centre in me, this glowing, growing ember, loves to hope.
Lately, I've been questioning the "religious upbringing" part of parenting. I'd never questioned it before. We don't believe in God, so we don't talk about God. Why would we? Sometimes my husband and I will engage in conversation around "what if's" about certain theories of life. The children see this as boring adult drone and quickly start acting up. It's not talking about God.
I worry, though. I recognize that my own religious upbringing was, on the whole, more of an impediment to understanding God than a help. Still, from the time I can remember, I had a close, personal relationship with God. I prayed. A lot. All the time. I felt loved by God when I did not feel loved by my mother after my sisters were born.
I believed that I could influence God - not control him, but influence him and maybe get him on side with me on some important things. I once badgered God for three weeks, non-stop, through classes, through meals, as a constant background process, to make it so I won the walkman at the school draw. When they called my name, I was not surprised. God understood that access to music offered an escape from my noisy family and a path to explore new music. God knew it was important, because I'd let him know, over and over in case he didn't hear.
When I lost my religion, my very concept of God collapsed. There is nothing. Nothing matters. How stupid had I been? Could I really have bought all that shit? Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Jesus? Maybe I need to START smoking something!
So, nothing matters. It's all on me. Just make my way and survive this place, have some fun, make enough money to enjoy things...now I get it. Fuck you, God! I'm not talking to you anymore. YOU DON'T EXIST! You were a childish fantasy.
I hate you. How can you not exist? You tricked me! They tricked me! How can I trust anyone? Ever?
(I miss you. No I don't.)
Yes, I do.
I wish there was some way that I could wrap my head around this world that would let me believe, not just "have faith," that there is a purpose to all of this. So I explore that, I give myself permission to have some space to try out my imagination on scenarios of hope. I do so with no expectation, intention, nor (ironically), hope of finding one set of ideas that I can stick with. I just take it in, add it to the soup, smell it and even taste it once in awhile, to see what else might make it better. I will never understand, and the part of me that's not okay with that is calming down.
I believe the core of me that prayed was powerful because I felt connected and tethered in the world, even though I was praying to myself all along. When I rejected an external God, the part of me that understood what was going on was severed - I didn't trust it anymore. I didn't believe in LOVE, and allowed myself only love. Nothing mattered but my immediate present.
As I find my way back to hope, overcoming my intellectual scoffing with the humble truth that I simply cannot know anything for certain, that core in me is the strength from which I draw. It's like putting on a comfortable glove, praying to myself, to the air that touches my skin, to the water and food that nourish my body. I can't live there, but I can experience that sometimes.
So...what do I tell my three and four-year-old?
When I say nothing, I make God taboo. I leave them floundering. They will not build a close personal relationship with God on our watch. I don't want to be a prison guard, keeping that ridiculous notion of God out. But I do feel that way. I've been so afraid of religion corrupting their minds. I haven't thought enough about how to simplify my own thinking to share it, because it's still pretty new to me and I'm not convinced it can be effectively simplified. I'm just starting to explore these ideas with my husband - he needs to be on board for any notions of "God Talk," doesn't he?
I have no code to teach, like my parents did. How do I give my preschool kids permission to build a close, personal relationship with their own spirits, while not giving the impression that there is an omnipotent or separate being of higher authority? What words best explain to a four-year old the paradox of accepting that we can't know and letting that be the key knowledge? What few words convey how trust can let you down, and yet remain absolutely necessary? How do I explain about loving our violent, selfish nature because love manages anger, when they are having trouble understanding not to hit?
Every day, I try to live these ideas, and every day I fall down and learn out loud. They watch, they see. But I don't share the context. I don't talk about the framework. In other families, they are saying grace, or going to church on Sundays, or praying before bed, because in those families, they believe in God. I don't choose those expressions for my devotion to loving life, and I haven't really replaced them.
I am, semi-consciously, trying to spare my children the grief and pain of losing God. In doing so, am I robbing them of the confidence of trusting that there is purpose to the world's cycles and they are an integral piece? Am I robbing them of the capacity to build hope around a dream, an imaginary wish, however improbable?
Sex I can do. God...not so much.