Faith Journey (or: maybe I should have seen this coming sooner)
In some ways, my religious path is a journey that began when I was five years old. During one of his custodial visits, my father was trying to impress his latest feminine conquest. As we were about to eat dinner, to my complete surprise, he announced in his stateliest tone that we would say grace. –And when Dad wants to be stately, he could give Henry VIII and the Archbishop of Canterbury (all holders of the title) a run for their money. It doesn’t matter that he’s got a wide, round almost northern English face like a pancake with a nose stuck to it. When he hits the right tone, you can see the stiff collar and cravat and His Highness is IN the building. I was stunned by the force of his grandeur, and the novelty of the experience, into an awed silence that lasted while Dad intoned a fairly generic grace. When he was done, I found myself quite confused about several matters. At least I knew better than to lead off with asking why he was suddenly involving someone in our meal who usually did not come up unless Dad attached his name to words like ‘dammit.’
“Daddy,” I began, “What about the Goddess of the Harvest?”
My father’s manful attempt to slow his rapid transition from august paterfamilias to landed, clubbed and dumbfounded bluefish must have been impressive. I can still remember a stray, staggering gulp or two and his mouth opening and closing a few times before he managed to respond, “I’m sorry, Honey, what do you mean?”
“Well,” I shrugged “Her name is Demeter. She’s the Goddess of the Harvest and when people were nice to her, she was real happy.”
This made sense, after all. I heard a great deal about the golden rule from both my parents, my maternal grandparents, numerous cousins, aunts and uncles. I knew that if it would make me happy to be praised or thanked surely this nice lady with the long hair who created winter and taught people to farm and harvest would feel that way.
Only a month before this conversation, Lazlo, my boyfriend, yes at age five, with whom I mostly celebrated the relationship by skipping around together during play break, had given me a book of D’Aularies Greek myths for children, which I was well on the way to memorizing. I asked everyone I came across to read to me, and between Lazlo’s father, who taught Classics, my mother, my godmothers and Dad himself, my favorite Goddesses, Demeter and Hestia, kept right in step with Snow White and Cinderella. I also wasn’t quite ready to give up on the idea that if, as Deucalion and Pyrrha had after they escaped the first flood, I threw a handful of rocks over my shoulder then a score, which I assumed meant at least fifty, of little girls would appear. At the time I was an only child. Somehow, despite reading me all these stories for a decent portion of the past thirty days and explaining, occasionally with words like “Goddammit,” that I couldn’t throw rocks around, and teaching me how to pronounce words like “Muse,” Dad had never seen this coming.
Later on, Dad made it very clear (or attempted to) that Demeter and all her kin were as made-up as The Jungle Book and “The Aristocats” and it was not polite to bring them up at grace. That’s really all I remember about that particular evening except that I don’t recall my father yelling at me over it at any time, which makes it a stand-alone incident, with no place in any quantifiable data about our relationship of the next 29 years. That evening did not mark the end of the effects of that little conversation. Relatives on several different generational tiers brought up religion, specifically mine, much more often. Sometimes they expressed a care or concern subtly, confusing me without being hurtful. My tall, gentle, often mischievously smiling grandfather solemnly escorted me to his high bureau, later that summer when my mother and I visited him in upstate New York. He lifted a crucifix down from the dresser’s summit and presented it to me as a gift, telling me what it was in his slightly gravely, dignified voice as if he was explaining the meaning of a statue in his church. This incident occurred between speeches from my mother, her sister and my father on the theme of: “Only funny, silly, stupid people believe in all those other gods!”
The older I grew, the more I found myself questioning; why couldn’t anybody else be right? The more I saw, the more I read or traveled or had to run away from or confront, the more the question changed. When I graduated from college, the question became: was it worth leeching my world of color and connection to the spirit—not to mention the antacid budget that kept climbing; I kid you not, Dear Reader—to pretend my parents and grandparents and the Catholic church were the only religion to get it right if I didn’t believe that? I was long-winded at that age.
How about this instead: Was everybody right? Then the question shifted again, and took the form that started shaping my path long before I realized it: if everybody was right, what should I do?
Ten years or more after the question had shaped itself in that form, I follow the path of a modern Druid. I’m the great granddaughter of Irish Catholic and Jewish immigrants. I was raised primarily Catholic, so there is a story behind this for another day. For now, most of what I try to live by each day is this: The woods are church. That does not mean nobody will bite, track or eat you in church, so be polite and use your brain. Try to live in harmony with your Gods and other people alike, admit it whenever you fail and make amends. I also am a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation where, as a bumper sticker says it better than I ever could: “All my answers are questioned.”