A Vietnamese woman once placed her small warm hand on my then pregnant belly and said, "You have girl." I believed her, because she was so different from me, at a time when I didn't want to be me. I believed her because we were standing in her element, fresh figs in a bamboo bowl, unsweetened green tea in a cup, other Vietnamese women softly clucking in what was for this Texas girl, a foreign tongue. I believed because she believed.
A doctor who had a reputation for incompetence once stopped me at work to say that my neck must be hurting because of the fixed tilt of my head. He was right, and the pain was intense. He took the time to walk me upstairs to his office, help me onto an examination table, and spend a half hour trying different neck collars to find the perfect fit. His attention was thoughtful, slow and methodical, sweetly paternal. He seemed to care about me in that moment despite all the other things he could have been doing, should have been doing, and this made me trust him, maybe even believe in him.
Two women visited me in the hospital while I labored with my fourth child, two complete strangers. They came to pray for me. I'll never know if it was their practice to visit all maternity patients, or only those who, for whatever reason, were laboring alone (my husband could not be with me at the time because we had no one to watch our two year old). As I sat in an uncomfortable birthing chair the women prayed the Lord's Prayer, each holding one of my hands. I felt embarrassed for crying, but the tears were unstoppable. These women had been unexpected, their maternal kindness filling my deepest need which was, simply, to know that I wasn't alone.
What do these instances have in common? Is it vulnerability, pain, fear and uncertainty? Is it gentle touch, intimate attention, that others had intuited a need or question that I hadn't articulated? These were people I didn't know well, might never see again, adding a rare ephemeral quality which focused the moment.
In all three instances and many others like them, I trusted someone, at least for a moment. But I wasn't required to invest long term trust. These were very low risk exchanges. I would lose nothing for trusting these people. A gender guess, a non-invasive medical prop and sincere prayer weren't going to kill or bankrupt anybody.
But what about riskier types of trust? How do we discern the trustworthy from the predators, the otherworldly wise from the out-of-this-world crazy? In many cases, we don't have to. When a psychic tells us we'll travel the world and meet Prince Charming in the next six months, it's no big deal. But what about when large sums of money are involved, or our basic human rights, or even the long term future of our souls?
While we're busy worrying about GMOs, irregular moles and holes in the ozone layer, we're told this life is nothing compared to eternity. We keep on paying on our mortgages, sending our kids to college, flossing and planning for retirement, despite this life being just a Pinto compared to the Cadillac that follows -- if we're good, a relative term.
But I trip over this part about the after life, especially after working in the medical field for so long. Death is real, life is real, and both can get ugly. And I've never heard from those who landed in any hereafter.
I admit that I'm an SNSB, a Special Needs Spiritual Being. I'm a mess when it comes to religion and faith. Call it my "cross to bear". I've had holy water poured on me by well-meaning Christians. Some wearing giant diamond Jesus pins have prayed over me outside busy shopping strips, prayed that my former husband, a cheating, gambling, drug-addicted abuser would return to me because "marriage is a sacrament, and what God has joined together..."
So many have worried over the fate of my soul, all because I struggle with reconciling the reality of the every day with resurrections and virgin births. There seems to be such a chasm between the Catholic church and what looks like the real world to me. Is real so wrong? Is God so picky about where and with whom He works? The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a THICK book. Add the THICK Bible to that. I get lost in all those words, in what reads like both a taunting riddle and a legal summons.
I need simple. I need Bible Braille and a seeing-eye dog for the many busy contradictory intersections. I need extra time on tests, miracles, signs, SIGNS, SIGNS!!! Something like a bubbling brook that gurgles, The confusion is theirs. The barriers and strictures are man made. Relax. I'm everywhere...------>And would God actually speak this, our human language? Or would it more likely be Math? Or visual images? Or the patterns in music? Why would God limit communication to only words, or rely solely on them to reach each one of us? Some can't read. Some aren't allowed to go to school to learn. Some will never see a Bible nor have the freedom to choose a religion.
And another thing, Why is God a He? The apologists say that women can not be priests because Jesus, the first priest, was a man. In other words, because Jesus had a penis.
My minds gets stuck in loops when I try to make sense of everything. It goes something like this:
The Catholic church states that abortion is wrong because of the sanctity of life, but says that capital punishment is right because the guilty must be punished, the worst guilt punishable by death, guilt decided by a jury of fallible humans. The church says that killing the guilty is sanctioned by God (in the Old Testament at least), because it's written in the Bible by men who heard God's voice or had visions, and those visions or auditory hallucinations were different then than they are now, um, because those people weren't crazy like we'd assume in modern times. Anyway, the whole point of religion is giving our lives over to God, to Christ, who died for our sins, though we're still sinners, but he died to save us, to save us from death, though we die anyway, so rather we're saved from eternal damnation in Hell, Hell being either a hot fire or merely a separation from God, at least more of a separation that we already experience when worshiping a silent invisible being. So Heaven is our goal, which is either gold and pearls or a mental state of union with God, sort of like we have now on a good day. And Heaven exists because the Bible says it does, a book written by men only, the same men who thought the earth was the flat center of the universe.
Pope Francis gives me hope. I've considered writing him a letter, but the last time I wrote to a Pope (Benedict), he quit.
In our everyday lives we are advised to check the accuracy of our purchase receipts, to read the fine print of contracts and other complex legal documents, to ask questions, dig deeper, follow our instincts. But religion says the opposite, that no matter what, we are to fall into faith, forget logic, forget ourselves and all that is "secular". We're told to simply trust the mystery.
But there's a big difference between a mystery and a puzzle. A puzzle has pieces. We can find the pieces, solve the puzzle. A mystery is elusive, baffling, confusing. And I know one thing for sure, especially since the Affordable Healthcare Act became a reality: There's money in confusion.
My brain can not reconcile these things. And my common sense will not let me make that leap of faith. As a child it was easy to believe, just as believing in Santa was easy. But I'm no longer a child.
I'll let a soft-spoken woman predict the sex of my unborn child in broken English. I can temporarily have faith in a doctor I wouldn't let operate on my dog while he makes a benign attempt to soothe a pain in my neck. I can sit with those who wish to pray over me when I am afraid and lonely, even though prayer is an odd practice if God's will, which is always aligned with our best interests, can not be altered.
But I can't take the biggest leap of all, that giant ten meter dive, complete with divine rotations and impossible flips without making even the tiniest splash. I can't because I don't know what I'm diving for, believing the impossible for, suspending disbelief for, and I simply can't comprehend ambiguous unproven consequences or trust that there's even water in the pool.
You're diving for eternal salvation... Salvation from what? From the wages of sin... Which are? Death... We still die. Your body dies... Exactly. But your soul goes on to be with the Lord... What's a soul? Your spirit... Which goes where? To Heaven... Which is where? Where God is... Which is where? In too beautiful a place for our feeble minds to comprehend...just trust that God is with you, that you are not alone. Have faith.
For now I have no choice but to be still, at least until the water rises up to meet me.