Friday, November 25, 2005

Giving Thanks

I call myself "sadly agnostic." Sadly? How can one be "sadly" agnostic?

Because, at one time, I believed. At the breast of my Catholic mother, in the hands of the teaching Sisters of St. Casmir, I was brought up believing. A tiny, skinny stripling soul, too small to see over the back of the next pew without standing on the kneeler. I believed in an immense, overwhelming, more terrible than lovable heavenly "Father." And a human spawn of that Parent, come to earth to suffer worse pain and degradation than I would ever fear to endure; that I might, upon drawing my last earthly breath, be allowed the slimmest of opportunities to float into that Heavenly Presence. And be reunited with all of my dear departed family members. And perhaps my late cat, though the jury was still out as to whether Rusty would be permitted at that big reunion in the sky.

Catholic dogma sat heavily on the shoulders of an anti-establishment high school hippie. The rituals became meaningless, the words, incantations; mystical chants. Say these words, go through these motions, and you will be saved. From what? To what? I walked away. But I never stopped believing, In the Big Guy in the sky who was ready with the carrot if you were good, and the thunderbolt if you stepped seriously out of line.

Then, there was the "born again" experience in the eighties. When, by God, if words were going to come out of my mouth, they were going to really mean something. If I was going to go through motions, they would come from the heart. God became my Dad, and Jesus my brother, and all my fellow pew warmers were my litter-mates in the Lord. Until, deeper into that life, I realized that these folks, with their direct line to the Almighty, were as wicked as the raw unwashed. Only they were "forgiven." There was no evil they couldn't at least give a trial run. Just to make sure the Lord was as good as his Word.

And, thus, agnostic. But why "sadly?" Because it is sad to realize that what I had once embraced as the greatest truth might turn out to be the greatest fiction. To suspect that perhaps mankind created God in its own image and likeness, rather than the other way around. To perceive that God could be the code that society long ago dreamed up to keep itself from descending into utter self-serving chaos; and yet be, at the same time, the great club by which we enforce the rule of the dominant. My consuming dilemma over the last ten years has been how to discern between the spirituality of a Creator, and the manufacture of spirituality. I've seen plenty of the latter...cannot be absolutely certain I have ever experienced the former. Sad. I feel like I've lost an innocence that so many people blissfully retain. Like I've learned a secret that I would have been much happier not knowing.

So, what can "Thanksgiving" mean to an agnostic? If you don't believe in God, to whom do you give thanks? It's funny. Some things are so indelibly written on the heart, a lifetime of experience cannot erase them. There are times when little prayers still spring to my mind, unbidden. I've learned to bat away the "help me" pleas.  I figure if there is a God, it certainly wouldn't do for me to turn to Him only in desperation. I know I don't like hearing from relatives who only call when they need something...

But, I do not stifle spontaneous offerings of thanks. Overflows of gratitude due the Creator; the Universe; that Force inconceivably greater than myself from which beauty, balance, harmony and goodness flow. Music, the night sky, laughter, a mate's embrace...things so transcendent they simply cannot be cosmic accidents, deserve acknowledgment and celebration. It's such a natural thing...a silent "Thank you" formed in an awestruck, humble heart. It doesn't seem to matter that my head is not entirely convinced there is a "you" to thank. My heart is pretty sure there is.


  1. I too have wrestled about being a Catholic.  I embraced the Christian Church type thing they have here. I marveled at how different it was than our mass experience of rituals and mystery (faith). In time we will know the truth.

  2. Your heart usually knows.

  3. Oh, Lisa, trust your heart. You're a believer with the honesty to say you're not sure what you "know" and don't. (At least from my point of view.) Personally, I think that anyone who thinks they know exactly what Deity is like has committed a sin of pride and arrogance and has lost what few clues they might have had. Institutionalized religion can mess with people's heads.  That's not to say it's a bad thing, but it can be used harmfully.  So go with what's in your heart, set all dogma aside and relish those moments when that something indefinably greater seems so immediate.  I'm reminded of that Sheri Hostetler poem I posted, the lines about finally losing God and then finding God in a pot of geraniums and everywhere else.  Love to you, my friend.

  4. Lisa,

    I can identify with 98% of what you have written here in your usual articulate and intellectual style. It's a style that I envy, having not being edumacated myself, and one that I totally respect.

    Therefore, I respect your doubts completely.

    Catholicism has done great damage to many people, including myself, and unfortunately the whole overwhelming fear factor attached to Catholicism turns off the most once fervent souls.

    I feel extremely blessed to have been party throughout my life to random miracles- things that I simply cannot explain. Those miracles have convinced me that there is a beautiful loving god that is responsible for  those things that you mentioned in your last paragraph and more. In truth, if I thought there wasn't, I'd be a different person than I am today, and that person would be someone I would not like ar all.

    So I try to the best of my ability to live my life according to the golden rule, because as C.S. Lewis described in 'Mere Christianity'...the concept of good and bad had to come from somewhere.

    Is it a struggle? Always... but it's a better choice for me than the alternatives.


  5. this:
    To suspect that perhaps mankind created God in its own image and likeness, rather than the other way around.

    and this:
    My heart is pretty sure there is.

    tells me that your heart is right......there is a God-shaped hole there that man can not fill and the bogus of other people can never fill.  People, by their very nature, are bound to disappoint us.  It is just how it is.  Sad yes.  But what I see in these lines is hope.

    I am an eternal optimist.

    I see only hope.

    All my love.

  6.   I enjoyed reading this.  Well thought out, and beautifully written.
    As a former Catholic school girl, and one who spent most of her life sticking to the Catholic rules, I can certainly relate.  When I was young, I bought all of it hook, line, and sinker.  And spent most of my youth scared to death that my fate was to burn in hell.  A sad state to be in, as a child.  After growing up and going through some bad experiences that I guess I expected to be ' rescued' from, I turned away from the church, and pretty much from God.  But I still believed.
       The problem for me, wasn't really about faith, as much as it was about religion.  I have spent much time in the last few years trying to get a handle on this whole thing.  My conclusion ?  That there IS a God, and that he is a supremely loving and forgiving one.  I no longer subscribe to the theory that God is waiting for us to trip.  No .... my belief is that he is patiently waiting for us to pick ourselves up and move forward, taking our newly learned lessons with us.  
        I am a much better person with this new way of thinking.  I now honor God out of love, and not fear.   Thanks, Tina

  7. Just had to add a comment to your journal... Iam a Catholic today as well as when I was little and graduated from a Catholic grade school and all the years in between. The churches teachings have changed a lot as you would know if you stayed.... it seems it changed as I was ready for the changes and we now believe in a kinder and gentler God. A Loving God.... :) Sandra

  8. I always call myself a cheerful agnostic.  I'm a CSI fan, too (I saw you reference that show in one of your entries)...anyway, I got an even better description from William Peterson (the wonderful Grissom), who said, "I'm a believer...I believe in God...just not in religion".  That's pretty much me.  

    Thanks for another terrific entry; I always enjoy reading what you've written, and you write beautifully.


  9. Wow!  I sure am glad I asked you to explain that one. I absolutely love your writing style. You pieced this together brilliantly. I can certainly understand the sadness from innocence lost; but in losing that innocence you gained a greater--and in my opinion much more valuable--wisdom and insight. Afterall, it might be wonderful to still believe in Santa Claus after all these years, but there is something satisfying in unraveling the truth along the way.

    By the way, I sure am glad you're back.


  10. Lisa, I truly enjoyed reading this.  When I go to 'church,' I drive out to the beach and watch the sun set across the Gulf of Mexico.  There's my God, and it's so cool that I finally figured out how I can go directly to him without the static interference of a bunch of noisy authorities on Him.  Pretty much when you come to discover the man-made dogma surrounding what was once a very natural experience, it spells the death sentence for organized religion.  I believe God IS nature.  I just wanted to share this with you because you often write about your experiences in nature, and I'm fairly certain that there's something spiritually uplifting there for you.  Well, let yourself be lifted, with the soaring 'possible' eagle.  Wendy