Sunday, October 28, 2007

Adventures in Exploring a New Faith (by Mrs. G.)

I am hoping to post most Sundays about the experience of investigating a new faith and church (Our Lady of Malibu). Mostly, I'd like to spark a discussion about the topic of finding faith as an adult, raising children in a faith you didn't grow up in, and/or making the commitment to one particular faith in a public way.

I am not speaking for Bob in these posts, but I want to give him credit for having been most instrumental in my finding spiritual guides. He's also helped me understand things I otherwise wouldn't have even known whom to ask -- and in other ways that I could never fully express.

Quick background: I was raised in a secular Jewish home, but even as a young child I was a seeker and wanted to know God. I even went to a variety of different services with neighbors and with my grandparents, and was exposed early on to Reform Judaism and the Episcopalian church, as well as a 70's style of spiritual seeking with looser parameters, but based on Christianity.

Currently, I'm a devotee of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. I don't have any problem with that practice for myself, and I've been very faithful to it, for lack of a better term. I'm a true believer, you could say. But once Tristan arrived, I now have him to consider. Magic 8 ball kept saying, "answer hazy, ask again later." I knew The Mother would let me know what to do when the time came, and recently, she did.

Bob suggested a little while ago that a religious education might be worth considering for Tristan. The more I thought about it, the more I felt pulled to bring Tristan to a local Catholic Church, Our Lady of Malibu (OLM), to worship and to go to school. Then I guess the idea really took hold of my soul, and I myself felt drawn to converting to Catholicism.

I went to mass today for the first time at OLM. Tristan and I went with a friend who grew up Catholic and occasionally goes to OLM. Tristan immediately threw a tantrum on the floor of the church, so we were quickly facing Plan B: the Child Care room. Because of damage from the recent Malibu fires, they no longer had a large room with lots of toys. Instead, they had to make do in a very small room with a giant Xerox machine that had probably been somewhere else before the fires. There was a group of well-behaved girls doing crafts at a table when we walked in. The door was propped open and they didn't know where their baby gate was. Hmmmm. I stayed a few minutes to see if Tristan thought of the Xerox machine as a ladder, or if he would try to flirt with the girls instead. When another little boy showed up, I decided to go back to the mass with my friend.

OLM is very understated compared to what I expected at a Catholic Church. The room where they have mass is bright with an A-frame roof, but it's very simple. There is a window above the altar with a beautiful outdoor statue of Mary. The way it's configured, Mary is surrounded by bougaanvillea and looking down at us past the Christ on the Cross on the wall next to the window.

I let go of the thought of what Tristan might be getting into and let myself be drawn into the service. As soon as the priest read part of the mass from the prayer book my eyes started filling up with tears. When I was first exposed to Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, they each suggested to read his work with your heart, not your head. That's not exactly how they said it, but the idea was not to intellectually try to understand and analyze each concept, but to notice how you respond in your heart and soul to what you're reading. I took this approach this morning. Otherwise, I know I would have thought about what is different about Catholic teaching than what I'm used to, or how much trouble it is to get Tristan there, or whether I'll relate to anyone else once I get to know them, or what my secular parents would say if they knew I am planning on converting to Catholicism, and on and on. Blah blah blah.

Later in the service when they did the communion, I again had a very strong emotional response. This time, I had tears running down my face. I'm sure that I had a lot of spiritual feelings bottled up since before Tristan was born. That was the last time I went to any spiritual services. I used to go regularly to the beautiful Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades, and Bob and I would occasionally go to the Hollywood Vedanta Temple. But I don't feel that this explains my reaction completely. I am sure I was supposed to be there today and it confirmed to me that I'm on the right path.

Tristan was doing really well in the small child care room, and I am getting pretty good at not worrying about him when he's with other people. He's so outgoing, he doesn't get upset at being apart from me if there are interesting distractions, new toys, or pretty girls to keep his attention. He wanted to come out by the end of mass and I brought him into services toward the end. We sat right near the musicians in case Tristan would like that, and he did. He loved it. He danced and clapped and pointed out all the instruments, but mostly watched in awe. I don't think he's ever seen a live performance of any kind of music.

During one silent part of service when people were receiving communion, I told him that it was quiet now and that people were praying. It was totally quiet, actually, and I was whispering in Tristan's ear to keep him from squirming too much. I whispered, "Thank you, God" as an example of what it means to pray. He immediately repeated in a clear, high little toddler voice, "Thank you, God!" Everybody looked around at us. I am sure when I was younger, I would have been embarrassed. But I felt much more comfortable at my advanced age, and Tristan was so totally innocent of trying to get attention or anything that would have annoyed me as an onlooker, so I just took it for how sweet it actually was.

I won't usually have this much to say at once. But I thought a little bit of explanation was warranted. I especially want to know about your experiences as an adult exploring your spirituality, and anything else you might want to share.


Leslie (Mrs. G)


Van said...

"He immediately repeated in a clear, high little toddler voice, "Thank you, God!" Everybody looked around at us. I am sure when I was younger, I would have been embarrassed. But I felt much more comfortable at my advanced age, and Tristan was so totally innocent of trying to get attention or anything that would have annoyed me as an onlooker, so I just took it for how sweet it actually was."

I'm not sure why this immediatly came to mind on reading that... and I probably shouldn't post this here, it is is so completly off topic... but I think in some strange and bizarre way related, though at the other end of the spectrum.


Have you ever heard the Bill Cosby skit about new parents changing diapers? The event of the first solid diaper, and how its something to be shared with grandparents and talked about... until the dreaded day when God puts the smell in the poo... well, our oldests first odorific diaper came when I was holding him while we were waiting in a long line in a crowded church corridor for our first time to vote in Missouri.

All in all, I think I'd prefer your first experience in church!

The idea of going to church, of taking our kids to church, is still new to us, though our daughter is interested. We've checked in on a couple churchs around here... Baptist, Episcopalian, Catholic... so far we've found too hot and too cold, but not one that is just right - I'll be interested to hearing how your experience goes, glad you'll be sharing it.

Leslie Godwin said...

LOL! Bill Cosby sure is able to put words to so many parenting experiences :)

Please do share about your journey to finding a church.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful motivation!

Bob has written so much and so well on the triadic nature of father/mother/child that I hope he applies it to this as well. Tristan will get more out of this experience if Dad is exerting fatherly leadership.

In my faith we believe that the Holy Ghost enlightens our mind and enlarges our understanding. I think that this is a good yardstick for your journey forward.

Of course I am compelled by my own faith to bear witness that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Light.

hoarhey said...

Thanks Leslie for sharing your experiences today, particularly the tearfilled ones.
It reminds me of how I've been too caught up in the blah, blah, blah of daily life recently and sometimes getting resentful over the responsibilities I've taken on, when I need to be participating in a little more reflective slack. The quality of my inner life suffers when activities are stacked up back to back to back.
Things will be changing in a more slack filled direction shortly.

With Tristan and Chritianity, I was just pondering some of the multiple religions of the world and came to the conclusion that kids can "get" Jesus early on where it seems that Budhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, etc. are more geared to the adult mind. Not that Christianity isn't also geared to adults also but there is an innocent part which is easy to grasp for kids at an early age.
I've also seen teenagers who have been raised in christian homes who seem innoculated to the pop culture of this society which brings at least a portion of many peoples lives to ruin. They just decline the temptations with an easy "no thanks" and move on.
Oh to not have to dig out of the wreckage and shed the baggage.

jimmiedub said...

Mrs G, first off thanks for raising this topic as it is one I am currently wrestling with. I was raised in a Christian home with regular Church attendance but I got tired of it and happily quit going when I was 18. Now I'm 33 and have a 5 month old son and I want him to have some upbringing in the church. But that's not the only thing: I've recently come to the conclusion that there is real spiritual substance to be extracted from Christianity (among other paths, of course). But my little boy of course adds a sense of urgency to the whole enterprise. In particular, I'm interested in your response (as well as Bob's and those of the regular commenters as well) to the idea of the crucifixion and resurrection in the context of the following, quoted from your post:

"...but the idea was not to intellectually try to understand and analyze each concept, but to notice how you respond in your heart and soul to what you're reading."

That's just the thing I've been wrestling with. How does one read past the literal meaning and see it all with the soul? What historical facts, if any, are relevant to such concepts as the resurrection and salvation? How does one avoid thinking of Christianity as a transaction (eternal life in exchange for something like ideological loyalty) and see into the structure with the eyes of the soul?

I've been reading a good book by Jacob Needleman called 'Lost Christianity' ( in which he discusses the 'lost' practices of a so-called 'intermediate Christianity' which had purportedly been common in both Eastern and Roman Christianity during the middle ages. In this book he discusses, among much else, the faculties which should be engaged during worship. It is not the literal, nor is it the ultra-emotional, but rather it is through some 3rd vector that religious communication and nurture should be integrated into the soul. Bob, have you read this book?

In any event, I enjoy the blog very much and I appreciate Bob's daily efforts as well as the comments. I've been lurking for quite some time and have bought the Coonifesto. It's next on my reading list after Needleman.



Leslie Godwin said...

Dear Jimmiedub,
Bob will be able to provide many more actual answers than I can, but I can share my experiences for what that's worth.

The way I currently understand listening with the heart to get inside of a new faith is that it is both a first step and then something you can do to have a direct experience of God anytime. I assume that you'll probably do more or less analyzing at some point, or at least Bible study, depending on your personality and need for the intellectual understanding.

It seems that there is a need for both the direct experience of God and faith by way of Grace, as well as studying to better understand it. I find that the understanding can enhance the experience kind of goes back and forth. Plus, as a Westerner, I don't know if I could just be satisfied with a religion with no intellectual understanding of it. But I do need a lot less of that than before I started yoga and learned about Grace and aligning my will to the Divine's will.

Thanks for your comments. Please do keep posting about your situation. It sounds very familiar and you sound very thoughtful about it. I'd love to know more about how you are figuring this out, or letting it come to you, etc.


Leslie Godwin said...

Hi Hoarhey,
You wrote "The quality of my inner life suffers when activities are stacked up back to back to back."

That is SO true, even obvious, but so hard to change. I struggle with that, too. And it's both the activties and how tired I am after them. But Tristan needs to be tired out twice a day at this point, and I'm sure you have similarly necessary activities. But if I build in small reminders of my spiritual life throughout the day in a ritual of some kind, I find that helps. Like reading something spiritual/reflective first thing (Bob emailed me a link to Sacred Space. I'm sure there are many sites like this where you read a brief prayer or comment to start your day.)

I plan to get back to saying grace with Tristan, and I am teaching him to pray before bed. I do that myself.

Also, I've gotten in the habit of thanking the Mother for everything big and small throughout the day. At first it helped to have a picture of her on my wall in my home office. I still find that helpful.

Anyway, thanks for reminding us about that challenge. Let us know how you're doing with that.


USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Hi Leslie!
Thanks for sharing your amazing experience.
I believe that listening with your heart is often mistaken for emotionalism, which it is most certainly not.

To me it is more of a receptive way to simply let God in.
A realization of God within.

Not to say that emotions aren't part of it, but rather emotions are a response to the Divine touch.
An indescribible Beauty that moves you to your very core.

That is worship. A Communion with our Father that evokes True gratitude, joy, love and peace.
That timeless moment where we are healed.

I look forward to hearing more about your journey, and how Tristan responds.
My hope and prayers are with you all. :^)

Leslie Godwin said...

Just beautiful!

sehoy said...

How appropriate that it was Our Lady of Malibu, is what I'm thinking.

What an excellent post!

I returned to the Catholic Church after a twenty year absence just a few years ago. Small children played a part in my return too, I would say.

I look forward to hearing more about your observations.

Bob F. said...

Hi, Leslie,

About four years ago my wife left music teaching after many years and took a job as music director at a local Methodist church; for the last 3 1/2 years I've been singing in her choir. I had just sort of wandered away from the Catholic Church after flunking out of a Jesuit high school in the early 1960's; ten years ago, if anyone had told me I would consider myself a Christian ten years hence, I wuld have been extremely sceptical.
I decided to sing in the choir to support what my wife (Jerri) was doing. She had been a closet Christian for years, having been married previously to a professed atheist (and college professor). We had met at a Religious Science church; my own thing was reading Krishnamurti, probably to excess; nobody we knew seemed to take Chrsitianity seriously.
I figured (sacred) music was (sacred)music, I have been fed by listening to a lot of oldies but goodies, like Hildegard of Bingen, and I didn't really have to pay attention to what was being said.
I find Methodism pretty lukewarm, but actually doing the music is powerful, even though I'm musically illiterate, and only get to sing in this very good choir because I'm sleeping with the music director.
I live within walking distance to a Catholic church also dedicated to Our Lady, but I haven't gotten around (or gotten the courage) to attend Mass there.
When I left the Church the Mass was still being said in Latin. The only times I've been to an English Mass was (almost) two years ago when my older son graduated from a Catholic high school, and in 1998 (hard to believe) when I walked into my thirty-fifth high school reunion completely by accident.
I had gone to New York with my wife, who was taking her high school chorus to a competition. The Saturday we were there was a day off, we were at a museum near the school, and I suggested to Jerri that we walk by so I could point the place out to her; it had meant a lot to me even though I tanked in the middle of my junior year; I had never set foot in the school again after that. We got near and Jerri insisted on going inside; we saw a woman go in and Jerri pointed out that a.) the school was obviously open, and b.) she had to use the bathroom.
We walked in the front door and found a lot of people in the lobby. There was a table set up with name tags for the class of '63; as lot of the names I recognized. The alumni director came over to greet us. I explained to him that we just walked in off the street, all the way from New Mexico, that I had been in the class of '63, but didn't graduate. He brushed that off, said that I had "finished early" and invited me to attend the reunion. I did, and was pretty much speechless for the rest of the day/evening. A Mass was said by a former classmate who had become a Jesuit. That was my first Mass in a very long time.
The accidental reunion was a destabilizing experience for me, but maybe not exactly what you were looking for in other people's church-searching. I think it might have opened something in me.
I've told Jerri that I can't pay too much attention to the music we do in the choir because if I do, I fill up and can't sing past the lump in my throat or see the music through the tears in my eyes.
I think of myself as an omnivore Christian, taking whatever feels right from any tradition. I began reading Bob's blog at a time when he was referencing Meditations on the Tarot a lot; I got the book, read (parts of) it, and then started reading other books Bob referenced; I've been particularly taken with Orthodox spirituality. I've thought about going to a Greek Orthodox church I drive by every day on my way to work. I've realized that what I thought I knew about Christianity was a child's view and that there is a vast richness there unknown to me before.
This has gone on too long. reply if you'd like.
Bob Foster

Leslie Godwin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leslie Godwin said...

Bob F's comment reminded me of something.

I became a believer as an adult because I made an intellectual decision to start acting like I believed in God. When I was 35 I decided it's now or never. Or maybe it was put up or shut up. I'm sure there's a cliche involved in any case.

This was September, 1995. In August of 1996, I had my first experience of God's Grace. It doesn't seem that long looking back, but since I didn't know if I'd ever have any kind of confirmation that I was believing in a God who was real, it felt like a long time.

I think that making the seemingly arbitrary decision to join a particular church at a particular time was the same sort of act of will that previously led me to a state of Grace. (Sorry, I'm not sure of the language to use.)

I think of the previous set of experiences as effort vs. Grace. I needed both, although I don't actually believe the effort was all mine.


Leslie Godwin said...

Bob F,
Wow, that's a great story. I almost want to say testimony. It was very moving and I'm so glad you took the time to share as much as you did.

I wish we lived near an Orthodox church. I felt like I was "compromising" (no offense intended!) to try Roman Catholocism, and it added a road block that I'm glad I ran over anyway.

I'll post something related as a separate comment, but I felt something when I read about your experience. It was very inspiring!

dilys said...

Wonderful, "thank you, God," indeed. In fact, I think you will find that -- well short of tantrums of course -- tiny wiggly chatty children are scattered all over right there in the main liturgy gathering. Although if Tristan would rather be trolling for babes in the Outer Room, that's all good too....

Never saw it said better, the end run around the saturation of memes, language, and ideas: "What I thought I knew about Christianity was a child's view and that there is a vast richness there unknown to me before."

For those hovering around these questions, I can mention that many Catholic Churches have opened to the public an Adoration Chapel, usually tiny and quiet premises where the Blessed Sacrament -- according to the doctrine, the Real Presence of Christ -- is exposed to view in a jeweled monstrance. I have found that to be a highly-charged atmosphere rewarding attentiveness, patient waiting, praying for guidance, and asking, face-to-Face as it were, What's the deal here on this stuff? Is it true? Why or why not? The answer, and the palpable authenticity of an answer, may be surprising.

Immunization against eventual cynicism: IMO these sacred and robust religious institutions are supremely valuable for sustaining the legacy of the essential message, and providing the sacraments as material and effectual expression of the divine in the here and now.

Nonetheless, an open heart to the Truth conveyed, may require narrowed eyes toward associated phenomena -- the tendency to enlist for a calendar full of programs; reification of kitschy sentimental or fortress culture; ill-thought-out sweet-sounding political orientations; and offhand assumption of authority (institutional and extramural), if it doesn't sound accurate and healthy. Some things about church life can be a pnuum-load of ezptrcp, just as dicey as anything else in this World Below.

Prostrate before God, and standin' tall amidst the rest.

:-) :-/

phil g said...

Hi Leslie,
I am on a similar journey to yours but coming from a different road. I was raised in a fundemental Christian sect, schooled, churched, parents teachers in the associated school, etc. I couldn't get away from it fast enough after I left the home for college. Some twenty five years later after my wife and I tried several prostetant churches we decided to accept an invitation to try a Catholic mass from a new friend of ours in a community we recently moved to. I had never been to a Catholic mass and was raised with awful anti-Catholic propaganda. That first service was pure experience as everything was different and beautiful. I was also overwelmed with tears and was amazed at the reverance of the service and the participants. Wife and I are now going through the initiation process which in our church is a wonderful experience. This is a huge step for both my wife and I as we are the first Catholics in our respective families in probably centuries. Our young girls (4 and 8)are really taking to it as well. They can't wait for church. The Catholic experience with the icons, pagentry, beauty, reverence, sensory stimulation I think really touches the kids. They started out very figity and bored, but now sit quietly, copy our moves of prayer and the 8 year old likes to try to read along with the songs and scripture reading. There is no doubt that this is where we are supposed to be and it is amazing on reflection just how we got here...God's hand indeed.

I credit the discovery of this blog, Bob's manifesto and other suggested readings such as the 'Meditations on the Tarot' for guiding me along. Bob has showed me that it is safe to be religious and has helped me overcome my 'Jesus willies' as USS Ben calls it.

Thank you for sharing your experience. God speed on your journey and may God bless you and your family.

Susannah said...

"That's just the thing I've been wrestling with. How does one read past the literal meaning and see it all with the soul? What historical facts, if any, are relevant to such concepts as the resurrection and salvation? How does one avoid thinking of Christianity as a transaction (eternal life in exchange for something like ideological loyalty) and see into the structure with the eyes of the soul?"

Historical facts are important to me, as a Christian. I cannot honestly say I "believe" in something that, on its face, is historically untrue. Rational faith is as important to me as knowing God intimately. All my education (even that intended to the contrary) and experience up to this point have done nothing but support and undergird the supreme rationality of the Christian faith.

On the other hand, one encounters God not merely through the mind, but spirit-to-Spirit. So often, the wisdom of God runs right against the grain of the wisdom of this world, and creates what appears to us as paradox. Trust, submission, obedience, resting in Christ...all these bear such glorious fruit in the heart of the believer. Yet, they are almost invariably despised by the world. And in fact, our own pride, shame, or self-condemnation often block us from running to the light we need most.

I may have occasionally viewed Christianity through that transactional lens coming up. But overall, I was taught that faith consists in knowing God and loving Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. This is only right, because of who He is and who we are in relation to him. I mean, God made us--He has every right to do what He wills with us. There's no "transaction" involved because I have absolutely nothing to offer Him but filthy rags, and yet in His supreme goodness, compassion, and mercy He offers me everything.

It's no mere dispassionate ideological commitment (although I believe it's impossible to avoid an ideological makeover when you come to God)--it's LOVE. From that, all else flows.

Susannah said...

P.S. That was so sweet, what Tristan said in the service. I'm sure many were smiling and saying "amen" in their hearts. :) I would have been.

ximeze said...

Ditto Susannah's PS: very sweet. A kind of Madonna & Child moment, something not likely lost on those witness to it.

Are you familiar with the works of Kathleen Norris? I picked up a copy of "Dakota: a spiritual geography" in an airport many years ago to read during a cross-country flight.

What a breath of fresh air that was to me. While reading it, up there in the sky, an interior door blew open which has stayed open ever since. She's gone on to write a half-dozen or so more titles.

Today I reserved one from the Library that I somehow missed when it came out:

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work".

Thanks for sharing your adventure with us. What a great coonmunity this is.

Leslie Godwin said...

Thanks for the book tip. I put it in my amazon cart. The name sounded familiar, but I haven't read her yet,

Leslie Godwin said...

Please do keep posting. I'd love to hear more about your girls, as well as your journey with your wife.

I'm so glad to hear the details of peoples' experiences.

Ivan Ivanovich said...

Hi Mrs. G

I'm a little late, but when I read your post I wanted to tell you my story. Quickly, of course. I was raised in an American Baptist household. I always enjoyed the services because I got to dress up and sing (off key). I was baptized at 13 and married a girl from the church when I was 20. At 23 I read Ayn Rand and decided I was an atheist. 30 years later I laughed when after a near death experience I was still able to maintain my beliefs. Then 3 years later my wife walked out. Searching for answers I went to a medium and she introduced me to 3 old ladies, naming my grandmother, and describing the other one. I never did know who the third one was, but I have an idea. She also told me about a good friend and a nephew that had pasted on, and the name of my new wife (to come). Since that time I have been visited many times by the spirits and Bob’s writings help me very much.
I encouraged my children to go to church, even if I didn’t go. I don’t know if it has helped them, but I guess it’s like chicken soup.
Thank you

Leslie Godwin said...

Thank you for your post, Ivan.


Mizz E said...

Hi Leslie,
I've recently returned from a long, 7 day road trip, from Austin to Seattle, that's why I'm just now getting to read and respond to your moving story.

Needless to say, while on that journey I experienced *again* the value of having a good road map to use in conjunction with my inner GPS. As you gno, the map, no matter how tested and beautifully decorated, is not the territory, nevertheless a good map and map reading skills are essential to have for locating the right direction, avoiding sink holes or dead ends, and enjoying the time it takes to make a journey. Graced are us who come upon the occasional undocumented oases [like One Cosmos] along the way, not to mention being enriched by the many pilgrims one encounters while traveling with similar maps.

When contemplating being confirmed this summer in the Roman Catholic faith, I read a little book that clarified many misconceptions about Catholicism. Perhaps it may be of help to you. It's called simply:
Rome Sweet Home.

Finally, when i see beyond the maps of my life, I see We all live, move and have our being in Love who made and brought us together. Part of that Great Love lives within each of us, as illustrated in this poem, Mary, Our Blessed Lady written by Albert Joseph Herbert.

When neither kings nor kin were there,
it mattered little, Mary Love,
just who was there or anywhere,
for Love Itself, for Love was there.
Full many were dismayed a King
could not afford more royal wear,
have nobles by, and glittering spears,
and a crown of gold for His hair.

No senates came with tribute due,
the most of men seemed not to care,
It mattered little, Mary Love,
for Love Itself, and you, were there.