I Look To The Sky by Martha Cecilia Ovadia


I was10298689_10104523891581853_7256973903379376739_n formed by traditions. I was formed by religious rituals. I was a part of a religious community.

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.

a8b6b1111aba5a0ed8a755d4d8cbc990And 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.

-Aaron Freeman.

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.

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Categories: General, Loss, Ritual, Women's Spirituality, Women's Voices

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21 replies

  1. I realized after reading few times, how interesting and important post you had, Very enjoyable!

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  2. Thanks for sharing your sadness and your sense of loss.

    I love your friend’s response.

    To add to it, it is clear that on the level of matter, our environmental “deeds” will continue to influence the world for a long time after we die, and on the level of psyche, our care and lack of care for others will also be “passed on” in love for others on the part those we loved, and unfortunately often in harm to others on the part of those we harmed.

    I also find the term and image Source of Life useful, as in the song and prayer, “As we bless the Source of Life, so we are blessed,” because it can be interpreted on many levels and by people of different religious identities and theologies.

    Finally, I would say that we can create new rituals, but it is not so easy to get new communities together as it was just to show up at church. Sigghhh with you.

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    • Thanks Martha. It seems to me you were over-anchored in the Church. When we face into sadness or loss, it can help to explore new intellectual disciplines, which then encourage new ways being, seeing, living and loving.

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      • Anchor is an understatement :)

        And I agree. I threw myself into my studies (and even added a new discipline in Children’s Literature) and found a new community of sorts that is fleshing me out in ways that I am really proud of (even though that growth is challenging).

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    • Carol, thank you so much for your words of, well, community.

      “To add to it, it is clear that on the level of matter, our environmental “deeds” will continue to influence the world for a long time after we die, and on the level of psyche, our care and lack of care for others will also be “passed on” in love for others on the part those we loved, and unfortunately often in harm to others on the part of those we harmed.”

      This will be added to my fridge tonight. Its such a simple yet profound truth.

      Also, I love that you mention creating new communities. I want to chew on this a bit because like you said, church communities are built in. Building new communities is a risk, a leap, and one that I think is evolving.

      Again, thank you!

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  3. Thank you for sharing your story Martha. If it’s any consolation, you are not alone. Even some of us older folks are “re-doing” our selves. It’s like opening a window and having a tornado blow in, destroying some things, messing up others, leaving us with what seems a wreck to clean up. I think it’s healthy. It shows a willingness to grow out of ritual that no longer fits and to find more authentic ways to express our relationship with the One we call by many names.

    Even within the Roman organization there are scholars stretching out to new understandings. Most of them were pursecuted, silenced, excommunicated by the previous two Popes. But their writings are still around, and in some instances, so are they.

    I believe that as our understanding finds it’s “ground” we will develop new rituals that authentically express our faith and living it. It will happen, not in settled churches, but in small, dynamic communities. Religion, it seems to me, is only the communal expression of our living faith, informed by changing knowledge of science, phychology, social justice, etc.

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    • Barbara,

      Like I told Carol, these comments are full of such wonderful words to surround myself (ourselves) with.

      “Religion, it seems to me, is only the communal expression of our living faith, informed by changing knowledge of science, phychology, social justice, etc.” This is beautiful. It is also a foundation for what I keep trying to define as community and a life well lived and explored.

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  4. Love this essay, Martha. Interesting that it’s posted on Veteran’s Day, a day set aside (in the US) for taking note of those who have “done battle.” Those of us who have been inundated by our religious communities, like soldiers coming “home,” need time and patience to adjust to a difference landscape while developing new perspectives.

    I like your sentence, “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.” Yes, yes, yes. Finding new ways of being and doing, perhaps even using parts of the old foundation (our choice!) takes time. Wishing you all the best.

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    • One of the ex-priest I really admired spoke about PTRD- Post Traumatic Religious Disorder recently and I was caught off guard by how true it rang (even though he was being tongue and cheek) in my life . He spoke about understanding that for some who grew up in very strict religious households it would take years of healing, undoing, and redoing to come to a place of peace and even “neutral”.

      Thank you for your mention of patience. Patience with those going through it, patience with ourselves, and patience with the process. :)

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  5. Thank you for this post. An Episcopal priest’s daughter I literally grew up in the church and heard liturgical language before I could read. So much of your story resounds with mine. I am not sure of what generation you are, but I often ponder my children’s. (They are 28 and 31). They tolerated Quaker Meeting for the cookies afterwards and had some fun at pagan rituals before puberty. But since then they have given anything ritual a wide birth, affectionately dismissing it as being weird, like Mom. I recently attended a roller derby game; my daughter is a bench coach. I was intrigued to discover ritual, community, and good works as part of their culture. My daughter also does other volunteer work. Not so sure if my son has a communal dimension to his life, but he has a loving boyfriend and they always seem to be off celebrating someone’s wedding. As an atheist friend of mine likes to say: “The lordess works in mysterious ways her wonders to perform.” Thanks again for a great post!

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  6. Elizabeth! Always lovely to “see you”. I am actually in between your kids age. I am 29. I am finding that there are smaller communities (anything from sports to alliances to good coworkers) that offer up that sense of community. And funny you mention weddings– I always look around when my friends and I are celebrating things (weddings, a dissertation, a new puppy) and feel this sense of calm: this is my life. This is my chosen community. I have had a hand at building this. It *is* good.

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  7. Thank you, Martha, for this poignant post. As you say, freedom is “exhilarating but terrifying.” And as I show in your case, sometimes very lonely. Almost all of the losses you list are based in the loss of community. I felt that way for many years after I left my Calvinist church. What has worked for me for the last 27 years has been Unitarian Universalism. Although this denomination has its historical roots in Protestantism, it is now an umbrella for spiritual seekers of many stripes. We have no dogma, but we have a wonderful, socially progressive community to which both my atheist husband and my (Wiccan) self can ascribe.

    When you lamented the loss of “singing praise,” I thought of the earth-centered chanting group we had at First Unitarian, where we sang the praises of Mother Earth and Her daughters. When you spoke of missing the “communal aspect of service,” I thought of my Unitarian neighborhood group and how we prepare supper for the homeless shelter. When you spoke of missing comforting words in the time of grief, I thought of the many memorial services I have attended (and also performed) at First Unitarian Society and the words of comfort and support offered by the ministers (and sometimes me) that come from secular and sacred — but not doctrinaire — sources. I believe that many of your generation would feel comfortable in my community, both religiously and in terms of social justice. And I could imagine the wonderful words at the end of your post being used at a memorial service in my church.

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    • Nancy, thank you so much for your kind post. It means so much to ime to have the support of the wonderful FAR community, including you. I love the idea of Earth-centered praise. My whole face lit up! How beautiful.

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  8. Thank you for this, Martha. My 95-year-old father (a WWII veteran) passed away peacefully on Tuesday – Veterans Day, as I held his hand. I, too, gave up my religion years ago, and sometimes miss those sources of comfort, but friends and family help, and I think of him as having returned to wherever he was before he was born. His memory lives on in the hearts and minds of those who knew him. He had a long and good life. I’ll miss him. He’s just “less orderly” now! :-)

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    • Katherine,

      I am so sorry for your loss. How beautiful your image of “returning to where he was before”. I just love it.

      Also, the idea of just “being less orderly” brings me such joy. It is just a beautiful image of those that have left us.

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  9. Hello. I realize I’m stumbling upon this blog post much later than it was written. I just wanted to say that I really respect your perspective and empathize that your religious experience was so unfavorable. I noticed reading your post that you never mentioned missing the relationship with Christ, and I’m curious if you ever had one during your Catholic days? I admit I’m a Protestant, and as such believe that the failure of most religions is the emphasis on ritual and not on relationship. From your post it seems to be your perspective as well? It seems like the rituals you were doing, were doing nothing at creating a real relationship with Christ, so how could they really ever be anything more than surface level human created acts. For me personally it’s only my relationship with Christ that gets me thru. I held my father’s hand when, at the age of 59 he took his last breaths after fighting cancer for over 10 years off and on. This was a moment that crippled me with fear for months leading up to it – I would pray in tears, “please God, don’t take him. I don’t think I can handle losing him.” And yet in that moment an unbelievable peace beyond understanding washed over me and I just knew in that moment it was his time and I was somehow at peace with it. Because God answered my prayers by showing me “I” couldn’t handle it – but He could hold my hand and get me thru it because He never leaves us. No ritual could have gotten me thru that; only the tangible real love of a Savior.
    Sorry, I’m not really sure what the point of my comment is :) Your words just struck me as the sad out working of religious rituals that lose sight of our relationship with God.

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  10. Martha, Thank you for your well thought out and well written post. I lost my 17 year old son seven weeks ago (very unexpectedly). Like you, I never truly felt comfortable with my religious upbringing. Having grown up in a time when you would be shunned if you didn’t share your communities belief’s, it took me several years to become comfortable and confident in my own view of the world which did not require all of the belief’s dictated by religious dogma.

    None the less, right now, in my grief and sorrow… my ‘ghosts’ actually bring me some comfort. As I sit here listening to Christmas songs of old (praising the Lord, etc, etc), I feel the spirit of compassion and hope for the world and everyone in it. My ghosts are kind to me. My child has returned to the glorious comfort of the Universe in which we all live. Though I harbor no belief in an afterlife as I was taught as a child, in my mind, my son will always be my beloved angel.

    I know that I will be able to, one day in the future, go outside and look up at the sky and think… what a beautiful and wonderful world. All is as it should be.

    Once again, thank you for your post!!

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