I no longer have traditions. I no longer have religious rituals. I am no longer part of a religious community.
I constantly have to tell myself the “no longers” when I feel the echos and ghosts of my past creeping up behind me, reminding me of not only who I was, but who I no longer am.
I sometimes whisper to my husband, “I sleep with ghosts…”
I do not just sleep with ghosts. I wake with ghosts. I sometimes even feel like a ghost. Why?
For me, the act of being Catholic was very much a part of my be-ing. To no longer have Catholicism as part of my be-ing leaves me feeling haunted.
My normal schedule when I was 21 looked like this:
6:00 am: Morning Prayer (Liturgy of the Hours)
7:oo am: Daily Mass, rosary
12:00 pm: Meet people at our church hall (the youth room) to then go to lunch (where we would do midday prayers before eating)
5 pm: sometimes mass again
7 pm: adoration, rosary, and then evening prayer with praise and worship
If it was Saturday or Sunday, it was even more intense (because I was not in classes).
When I was an active Catholic, I had a very distinct language for everything. I had a ritual for all occasions. I was an integral part of a community with very defined roles. I do not have these things anymore and navigating without them has been exhilarating but terrifying.
Nothing has been more freeing than shedding the religion that I never truly felt comfortable with. I have mentioned in other posts that my shedding was a process–a combination of studying theology mixed with disillusionment with my own institution. What still surprises me is how unprepared I was for the shedding process. I thought I could just say, “Bye!” and be done with my religious upbringing and baggage.
Funny, I could easier learn to fly.
My generation, more than any before it, is no longer seeking a different religious answer when it walks away from the tradition it grew up with. It is increasingly seeking no religious answer at all. Spirituality? Maybe. But these shifts in religiosity do not leave us ghost free (look at how many of us end up with religion degrees).
I still sometimes want to run to adoration (this is where Catholics sit in contemplation with the Eucharist) when I have an awful day. I miss the accompanied solitude of the adoration chapels that use to be my fortresses. I miss journaling in private, a way of getting my thoughts out. I now go to parks or on hikes to seek the same peace. I journal as much as I can–but I get distracted by the beauty outdoors.
I still sometimes miss seeing bible verses on my fridge that would remind me that things would be ok or even those that would remind me to get to it. I now write out quotes from great minds (its lovely to have so many women’s voices on my fridge now) and surround myself with them. I also remind myself that it is OK to ask for verbal praise or encouragement from the people around me. I am enough. I am worthy. I can ask for things.
I miss singing praise. I miss getting lost in gratitude. I have yet to figure out the underlying hurt here, but honestly maybe it was my love of the communal aspect of praise and worship mixed with the sheer beauty of voices rising up in song. If I am being honest, I also really just loved singing and this type of singing felt so important compared to me singing Taylor Swift in my car.
I miss the communal aspect of service. I used to volunteer at a Trinitarian mission in Alabama that I still love dearly. Doing community work is one of the few aspects of my old life that still feels like a part of me. When I go to a soup kitchen, planned parenthood, or an animal rescue to donate my time, it brings me peace to know that it was always about the person/community in front of me, not the deity watching over my service. Here I realize that not everything was lost. There are pieces of me that are still here that I do not need to feel conflicted about. Here I find peace.
I miss words and promises in times of grief. We have had dark days recently as a human community. The world is full of bloodshed and there are so many innocents dead. Disease is everywhere. Injustice floods our streets. In my own family there is sadness and death at our door. I do not have words to comfort anyone. We only have each other.
I think about rituals/practices/community/texts for my generation often. Pew forum has studies showing that my generation is increasingly becoming less and less affiliated with religion. But where does that leave us when it comes to ritual? What texts will we turn to down the road for celebrating happiness or sorrow? What will our communities look like 20, 50, 100, 200 years from now?
Recently, I mentioned to a friend how my grandmother is very sick, and I wonder how I will bridge my grief of losing her with my mother (she is very religious) when the time comes. Words about heaven will offer me no comfort. Words about God’s will are meaningless to me. What do I have?
My friend was very kind and acknowledged that navigating these moments would be hard, particularly in the context of family settings, but that navigating in kindness would never steer me in the wrong direction. She said she would send me something, however, that might comfort me in my private grieving when the time came. I was so moved by her email message that I thought I would share it with you. One of the things I used to love about praise and worship was how full of imagery the language was. Her email hit that same note for me. I do not know what the future holds for people like me–for those of us who are increasingly walking away from religious traditions and having to forge our own paths, but I am hopeful.
Sent to me by a very kind friend:
The Physicist’s Eulogy
You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.
Martha Cecilia Ovadia is an Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Student in Feminist Theology and Children’s Literature at Claremont Graduate University. She holds a MA in Religion, Ethics and Culture, focusing on Catholic Sexual Ethics and a BA in Religious Studies. She has written extensively on Revisionist Catholic Theology and has dedicated quite a bit of her studies to her very special interest: Harry Potter. Her proposed dissertation is on feminist writers and emerging young adult dystopian literature. She currently works with academic journals in the publishing industry in Los Angeles. When she is not working on her dissertation or editing journals, she can be found working on her debut novel or cuddling her two ferocious Pomeranians.