“Today, you’re marrying Jesus.” Spoken to me in Kreyol by Granny, my caregiver, those words could only mean one thing: a Haitian First Holy Communion was about to commence. Most Haitian Catholics make a big deal of Communions, and my mother was no exception. On the day of the Sacrament, I wore a brilliant hand-made white dress so intricately detailed with lace, white beads, and chiffon, that it could only appropriately be described as a mini wedding dress. Topped off with a white veil, attached to a crown of flowers, I was the most ornately dressed girl in my Communion class. After the ceremony, my mother threw a party for me at our house. So large was the crowd that preparation of the traditional Haitian dishes that would be served to our guests—lanbi, griyo, diri kole, banan peze, pen patat—began several days in advance. I ran around the yard with the other children, while my parents and their guests talked, laughed, and danced the night away. And because no Haitian Communion celebration is complete without First Holy Communion party favors, the hand-made white-chocolate lollipops (in the shape of the Eucharist, and of praying hands), candy-covered almonds wrapped in squares of white lace, and white lapel pins, all bore a ribbon with my name on it—“My First Holy Communion.” Marrying Jesus, indeed.
Years later, my marriage to Jesus went the way of many American marriages: we separated. The day a Catholic priest advised me, and the congregation of mostly working-class Blacks, that John Kerry’s stem-cell research platform transformed a vote for him into a sin that must be confessed was the last time I set foot in a Catholic church. The day a Baptist pastor running a “New Members” class suggested to the participants (also made up, primarily, of working-class Blacks) that we weren’t meant to enjoy work was the last day I set foot in a Baptist church. The hypocrisy of the former (so, Bush’s death-penalty stance did not similarly convey a disregard for life?), and the classism of the latter (what, only wealthy Whites got to pursue fulfilling careers?) have led me to avoid organized religion in general. I am now, however, the mother of a 7-month old baby; and not to be too cliché, but the development of her spirituality weighs heavily on my soul.
My mother didn’t stop with a First Holy Communion; she enrolled me in religion classes that ultimately led to my making the sacrament of Confirmation. Her persistence ensured not only that I understood the tenets of Christianity, but also that I have a store of beautiful memories associated with Christianity, no matter how estranged I am from the religion today. I remember releasing into an Easter Sunday sky helium balloons, stuffed with scrolls bearing the message: “He Is Risen.” I remember playing hand bells at Christmas; I remember attending midnight mass.
Today, I do not believe in the things that human beings, in our limitations, make God out to be—racist; sexist; homophobic; classist. But I do believe in God, and so it’s important to me that my daughter also develops an understanding of something that is bigger than her; that she cultivates faith in a Higher Power that is guiding her life. The academic in me wants her to have an understanding of the doctrinal underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian religions. The mother in me wants her to develop her own cache of warm memories, reminding her of her special relationship with God. But memories are not reason enough to expose her to those teachings I find so unacceptable in most religious institutions. And so, I find myself unsure of how to proceed. Is it time to join a church, if only for her sake? Will I be cheating my daughter out of important cultural experiences if we don’t return to organized religion? Are there other ways for us to teach her to be grateful for the gift of her life, a gift that surely comes from a Higher Being?
I don’t know how we will answer these questions, or what lies in store for my relationship with Jesus, but like many marriages going through a separation, it’s often the children that provide the motivation for reconciliation.
15 thoughts on “My Marriage To Jesus”
ORJ: Your post gave me goosebumps. Just brilliant! I love that you are asking these questions, and taking spirituality and a connection to God so seriously. We are a multicultural (Iranian & Mexican), multireligious (I’m Baha’i, my husband is Catholic, my father’s ancestors were Muslim and my mother’s were Jewish) household over here. My husband and I both pray with the kids, take them to religious functions and teach them about service, character and spiritual qualities. It has certainly been an experiment! We are trying to trust our internal compasses as we work our way through it, day by day. What we know for sure, though, is that we want our kids to feel connected to God and to human beings through service and love. Very esoteric and not so academic, but doing the best that we can.
Absolutely provocative and honest post.
I go to church for the same reasons that I go to yoga classes rather than do a home practice; for the same reasons I chose to become a formal academic, rather than read books at home by myself. Church for me is a ritual, a place where I go to get a teaching and a bit of guidance straight from a spiritual text. I’ve found a place that is Biblically focused, a place where the Word is put first, above and beyond any man-made construction. I put aside anything that I know isn’t coming out of the Word as a perversion of what’s truth, and I let it go. I’ve prayed for long enough to know that some things cannot be truth, and if they are, they are between God and those people and the rest of us have no business discriminating in any way shape or form cause it’s none of our business. In the same way, I’ve found a yoga studio where the teachings of yoga, that I know through my own learnings over the past 5 years, have been made primary over just the search for a nice body. And I’ve made alliances with two advisors here at school who’s search for academic truth are above and beyond any political or ideological dogma in our discipline.
So for me, I’m able to use Church simply as one part of my spiritual practice, the part that each week just gives me a needed boost. Without it, knowing me, I wouldn’t do it. Just like I need yoga classes to do yoga, and I need academic classes to read academic books, I need Church to remind me to stay plugged into God. Not everyone needs that. But I am also very mindful, remembering the recent scandal in the Church, that I am going to renew each week, my connection to Jesus and God, not necessarily my connection to the people in the sanctuary. I have many good friends who are also members of the Church, but they would be my friends Christian or not. Church for me is simply a time of weekly learning and healing and undivided time with God, just a part of my weekly schedule.
The children also know it as a part of their weekly schedule, something that I hope to instill in them as their time each week to be renewed in Christ, and then to expand it each day as they say their prayers each evening. We also talk about God and Jesus during the day, and we read the Bible some nights when they ask to do so. But Church I think starts to establish the weekly ritual, and starts to instill the teachings. Along with being a solid role model, that’s the way we’ve decided to go.
I agree that sometimes you have to be discerning enough to recognize dogma, and rise above it for your own spiritual development. It just got to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore. I mean, I can’t be sitting in the pew, and listen to the preacher talk about gays going to hell. I have gay friends, some of them close (that sounded so cliche! ha). I wouldn’t appreciate it if they just ignored not only when a pastor said that Blacks were going to hell, but when the church made it a cornerstone of their belief system.
Maybe it’s me, but at some point, the dogma takes me out of the space where I’m just praising, or thanking God. I start looking around, wondering who is buying this stuff, and thinking about how it’s affecting their life. When I sat in that new members’ class, and the pastor said we just weren’t meant to enjoy work, of course it didn’t affect ME. I was an Ivy League college student–I’d practically been force-fed the idea that I was ENTITLED to a long, successful, and fulfilling career that would make the best use of my talents. But I’m looking around the room, and it mattered to the other new members. They weren’t getting the opportunities I was getting; they weren’t getting affirmed like I was. Were all these talented working-class people going to let their talents go to waste, or never pursue a dream, because the pastor found some biblical backing for the reason why they didn’t like their jobs? Given their economic backgrounds, the answer is, unfortunately, yes. I just can’t be a part of that, no matter how much the ritual of church nourishes me spiritually. And practically, I can’t run around trying to un-do the lessons that my daughter will errantly learn in the church. Then again, the whole point of my post was to consider what I could tolerate if I thought it was important enough for my child’s development…
@ Nazie: thank you! What a rich cultural and religious background you have! I spoke at length once with a colleague who was of the Baha’i faith. I remember thinking, “now THAT’S a religion I could get down with.” I was particularly struck by the Baha’i acknowledgment that no religion has the monopoly on the truth, or the way (correct me if my understanding is incorrect). I know it’s blasphemous to say, but I’m not sure I believe that Jesus was anything more than a prophet. Dang, it’s hard for me to even write that; I’m afraid the roof is going to cave in on me right now…
OK….so i’m biased cause i’m your sister….and unchallenged cause i’m not a mother…BUT…Awesome post dear sister! it took me back to parts of our childhood that were fun, and cool and in a simple way had deep meaning….to bad organizied religion has ruined alot of that….alas, you will find your own way and so will my niece….as long as she knows right from wrong, all people are god’s people…the good, the bad, the very bad….all here to teach us about ourselves and about othe world…give respect and get respect…stand up for those who can not…one day others will stand for her….
Is it just me or did this post make anyone else hungry for Haitien food???…maybe it’s just me 🙂
Excellent! Keep the posts coming!
My father is atheist, my mother is Christian, and in my house growing up, my father won. I didn’t celebrate Christmas (the only thing I think ever really mattered to me as a child), go to church regularly or pray with few exceptions, to the latter two only.
When I first felt the power of any spiritual beings it was soon after my grandmother passed in 2002 and I got this sense that there were angels, suddenly, in my life. I accepted Christ in my mother’s church a few years later (a church that became her home not long after her children left home). I think that the best thing my father knew to do for his children was to let them grow older and make their own decisions about their faith, or lack thereof. It is not the only sustainable model, but it is/was an important one for me.
I guess I am my father’s child. I talk to my kids occasionally about Christ, and pray for them more frequently then I pray with them. I have only ever taken my oldest to church with me when we were going at my mom’s request. And the one time recently I took my daughter to church with me she tried to out-praise the pastor. Neither one of us have been back 🙂
I agree with you – I don’t think you can totally ignore dogma that is at complete odds to what you know morally to be truth. The church I attend is full of well-off folk – so that stuff about not being fulfilled in your work – I’ve never heard that before! There is no preaching about being satisfied with your lot in life – we pray for people who are out of work, or needing financial help. Same with homosexuality – if it was an overt teaching against it, I couldn’t go there. But it’s not, and so I do. I think because it’s the Bay Area, it’s not going to be overt if it wants to be a popular church. There are many gay members of the church, and I know that biblically, the church is going to fall on the “being gay is a sin” side. But it’s not a central teaching of the church, and for better or worse, it’s something that I can put to the side. But not everyone can.
I also don’t believe any religion has a monopoly on truth; I think God loves all of us too much to make such a deal-breaking decision. Why would he do that? He made us all so diverse, I figured he made many paths for us to find him. Jesus happens to resonate with me, but I don’t expect him to resonate with everyone. Yoga is a spiritual practice for me. I’m sure many Christians would not understand that.
I applaud you for voicing that you may believe that Jesus was one of several prophets. I used to believe that, and while I don’t anymore, I remember being really scared to have that thought. But the world didn’t fall apart. I’m actually reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity right now, and he says, somewhat passingly, that a person who has been going to church who honestly realizes that he may not believe anymore might be closer to God and the spirit to Christ than he ever has before. But maybe Christianity is not the path for you or your family. I think it’s just as important to be seeking. The real problem most likely occurs when you stop looking.
Although I think it comes down to what feels right in your heart. I grew up feeling like something was missing. We didn’t go to church, but now I know that I have such a spiritual leaning that I really could have used that as a child. So it’s hard to know whether to put it in your kids or not, and let them, as Tanji said, find it as adults. I cried hard everytime I entered a church as a child; I still do today. That’s kinda how I know that church is the right place for me because I have this spiritual event every time I’m there. I don’t know that it’s right for my kids, cause they aren’t me, but that’s just how it is with parenting. They come along for the ride.
Great point, Toya, about a church reflecting the composition of its membership. That’s part of what bothers me about religious institutions in general: you get different lessons depending on who’s doing the teaching, and who’s doing the listening. I think that church in Philly had good intentions: they believed they had to teach some of their members about economic responsibility and fiscal security; sometimes, you gotta go to work, even if you don’t want to! But I picked that one incident as a representation of all the “lessons” that make me raise my eyebrows. I know the black Church is easy to pick on, but there are quite a few lessons that are given at black churches that I think tend to reaffirm social and economic inequality. And don’t get me started on Catholic churches.
@Mich: thank you, sister! You know I love flattery! 😉 To what extent do your religious experiences overlap with cultural experiences? You were feted Haitian-style for your Communion as well; was that more a cultural experience, or a religious experience for you?
@Toya: another friend also recommended Mere Christianity. *sigh* I’ll just add it to the ever growing list of books I will apparently never get to before this baby graduates from high school. Honestly, I don’t know how you have any time to read for leisure at all…
Well time for leisure I think has to do with my approach to both academia and motherhood, which deserves a post all to itself…
This was such a great post and so in line with my experiences as well.
What happened with me is that one day, G came home and right before dinner he said “Wait mommy!! Have to pray” and he puts his hands together and bow his head and begins moving his mouth, mumbling gibberish. I was like “Whoa, where’d you learn that from?” And he said “Grandma” (his day care provider).
That rattled me a bit because if any one should teach my kid about anything spiritual or religious, it should be me, right? So I was a tad bothered by both the fact that she had taught him to pray without asking my permission and the fact that I had not introduced my son to anything remotely religious or spiritual up until that point in his life.
And how do I teach my son MY beliefs? That all religions are great, no one is more wrong than the other, that the Bible is a book of contradictions written by men aiming to create a tool of social control, that everything is about faith, not logic or proof, that mommy is scared of NOT believing, and has her bouts?
I dont want to expose him to that confusion, but I feel like I should be doing SOMEthing right?
Love your description of the Bible, Benee!
Just to play devil’s advocate (but not really cause I really don’t agree that the Bible is solely a tool of social control, lol) ALL spiritual texts are contradictory on the surface. I don’t think spirituality is supposed to make sense upon a surface reading, without contemplation, without contextual grounding, sometimes without reading the text in the language in which it was written. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is contradictory if you fail to study it, and put it into practice to see how the contradictions are resolved in practice. I don’t think the Bible, or any spiritual ext is meant to only be read; it is meant to be lived.
I also think that without actually reading it and studying it, one can’t really say WHAT it is, only what one THINKS it is. Have y’all read the Bible, studied it, tried to live what it says? Perhaps not, because you have a bias. I can understand it – I’m not going to read Hitler’s work and say I don’t know it’s evil because I haven’t read it. But perhaps once you get to know people that you can be reasonably sure aren’t being socially controlled by religion – I hope that I am a model of that – perhaps giving it a read, or any spiritual text, even one that seems a bit shady, will be worth it, to discuss with others when things seem shady or wrong or contradictory. I plan to read all the major religion’s text during my lifetime – it’s on my bucket list. I’m not intimidated by what I might find – I might even find something really special.
When attending a Baptist church for the first time, I was struck by the emphasis on the word in service. Catholics don’t open the Bible at church. It’s a worship and ritual practice, and specific readings from the Bible are selected based on the day of the year. But preparing for the Sacraments is no joke, and I’ve done plenty of Bible reading and studying in almost 10 years of religion classes. It might be that some people have a bias based on what they haven’t read. But I have a bias based on what I have…
I, too, have a bias based on what I have read.