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11 December 2007

Reflections on faith

I've been doing the RCIA (Rites of Catholic Initiation for Adults) for about two months now, and I can honestly say that this is something that I am passionate about and am looking forward to continuing. That should be obvious at this point given that I participate in the Rite of Acceptance a few weeks ago, but my feelings about the process have only deepened and strengthened. I've found solace and comfort in the Church, something that I have lacked for a very long time.

For those of you who don't know, my interest in religion ended abruptly in the 11th grade. Two friends of mine were taken from their home and brutally murdered. No one could answer my questions on faith and how God would allow such horrible things to happen to such young and innocent girls. The ministers and people of faith that I spoke to at the time provided cookie-cutter answers like, "God has a greater plan for them," and "God doesn't make evil happen. But they are with Him now." This provided me with no solace and only added to my frustration. Subconsciously, I gave up. In the 11 (almost twelve) years since that happened, I had attended church perhaps a dozen times and most of those times were out of common courtesy to others. My heart was never in it. I found it too difficult to let down this wall that I had built around my soul to protect me from such violences against my spirit. I wasn't a bad person during this time. I was the same old me. I wasn't kicking puppies or beating children or robbing banks. I just chose to believe in myself and not some higher power. I doubted that God existed and, if he did exist, that He even cared about what happened here on Earth. My thoughts centered on the fact that we are all here on our own with no intervention. People can chose to be moral, or they can chose to be amoral. I fully believed that an individual gets where they want in life through their own hard work and determination, with no help from any divine being. Granted, this has made me a bit more selfish and proud, but I was by no means a "bad" person in the traditional sense of the word.

Turns out, the Catholics have a term for this. Many saints have also gone through the "Dark Night of the Soul." Both Mother Teresa and her namesake Saint Therese of Lisieux went through similar experiences when they questioned God's presence in their lives. According to the Catholics, the Dark Night of the Soul is actually a blessing and a test of one's faith. I guess that this would be true since it has brought me to the Church and renewed my spiritual life. Since beginning to explore Catholicism and its tenets, I find that I have become more centered and calm. I've established a nightly routine; Each night right when I get into bed, I first write in a journal that is dedicated "soul"ly to commentary and exploration of my faith experiences each day. I also record my individual prayers for each day so I can look back and see areas over which I pray often or not enough. After my journal, I pray the Rosary and say my individual prayers. After my prayers, I read a bit from the book on Mother Teresa's life (focusing mainly on her experiences in Calcutta). It may be pure coincidence or pure exhaustion, but, on nights when I perform this ritual, I sleep better that I ever have before. I wake up feeling focused and relaxed and ready for the day. The ritual provides me with a time to center myself (and I know I've used that term already, but I cannot think of how else to describe it) and focus on introspection.

I spoke with The Fox recently about the need to carve out time in each day to allow for meditation and tranquility. I never before realized how important that time is until I forced myself to do it every day. At first, it was a bit of a hassle to make sure I reserved an hour each day to devote to nothing but religious and spiritual pursuits. I mean, as a grad student and an adult, I have a million things to do each day. I work two to three jobs on any given day, I study for exams (or, at least, I should), I have housework and The Beast to take care of, and so many other things that cross my plate. But, once I forced myself to crawl into bed, turn on the classical music, and perform my nightly ritual, it became the part of my day I look forward to the most. It is the one hour in my day that is peaceful and calm. No distractions. No noises. No thinking about grades and papers and exams and money and physical ailments and general worries. These last minutes I spend every day really prepare me to face the next day and provide me with moments to just be quiet and alone. Before now, I never really thought about how much one needs a time like this, but now I cannot see how I got this far in life without my nightly meditations.

It's funny though because I can see a distinct difference in my every-day activities as a result of this faith. As some of you may know, I am a rather impulsive and "spirited" young lady. Hey, I come from the North, and we are an aggressive and assertive people. For example, I readily admit that I have road rage. Bad. In fact, even The Boy has commented on my lack of patience when driving. I'm not one of those crazy drivers who weaves in out of traffic and endangers others, but I normally have no patience for stupidity (like the lack of directionals, going too slow in the fast lane ... you know). Well, last night, as I was driving home from Job #2 at around 6:00pm, there was traffic mayhem on Battleground. People all around me were honking their horns and yelling out the window. I stopped and thought, "Hey, that's what I normally do. That is how I normally respond." And, without foresight or intention, I said aloud, "People, relax. It's just traffic." Yes, those words actually left my mouth. MY mouth. Shocking, I know. But that is what I am talking about. My normal rash and impulsive responses to life's little curve balls have totally changed. I find myself being more patient and understanding of the people I formerly thought "stupid" and "obnoxious." Of course, I am not completely reformed because that Northern blood runs deep, but I do see a identifiable change in myself.

I also find it funny that much of academia lacks religion. So many professors that I have encountered (not all, mind you, but many) have no spiritual or religious beliefs. They consider themselves atheist or agnostic. In our field, so much of the literature incorporates elements of faith. It seem counterintuitive that those people teaching the literature lack faith. I'm not passing judgment, but it does seem peculiar. It is almost like a belief in a higher power is a sign of weakness and ignorance in the world of academia. After all, there is no "proof" for such beings, and the world of intellectuals strongly discourages blind faith. I'm not sure where I am going with this, but it is something that I have been ruminating over the past few weeks. Why is there such a lack of religiosity in higher education? I'm not saying that those in higher ed should be forcing their faith upon their students, but it seems interesting that it is rarely or never present or discussed. Hmmm ...

This is where I am right now. I like the path that I am on, and I plan to continue along it for some time to come. I feel more content and more at peace with myself and the world around me. And, surprisingly, life seems to suck a little less.

And, thanks, MealyMel. It means a lot to me to know that you are proud of me. You are definitely invited to my Easter service and the party to commence afterwards. I love you!
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