What I Believe and Why, Part 1

comments 27
Reflections

I’ve decided to embark on a series of posts in which I explore what I believe, and why, and in which I will do my best to make an honest accounting of my perspectives on things, as well as describe the experiences that have led to the formation and solidification of particular views to which I ascribe. I’ve had a number of discussions with bloggers online in which I’ve attempted to offer what I feel is, in some ways, a unique viewpoint, but it is simply too difficult to offer much in a few comments to a particular post. So I thought it may be interesting to take a somewhat more thoughtful look at where I am, and how I’ve gotten there.

At the time of my conception my parents were Catholic. I believe that my mother was involved in a Cursillo group, which I do not know much about, other than to say that I sense it is a somewhat mystical and perhaps marginalized movement within the church to transcend rote dogma and morality, and focus on the sanctity of personhood, and of living a life of Love. My father grew up in a small town in rural Nebraska in which the church served as far more than an instrument of morality; it was the communication network that stitched the farming community together, one of the primary means by which persons in a small community understood the needs of others and how best to meet them, and so it was at least in part an aspect of citizenry almost. The church provided aid to those who needed it, linked those who could afford to help with those who needed it, and provided a certain global orientation to the community that kept folks rowing in a common direction.

I offer this to note that I was born into a Christian family, but also to note that it was a unique one. My mother could not have children after nearly dying when I was born, and my parents chose to adopt to expand our family. One of my sisters is an African American from a family in Ohio that likely had been on welfare for multiple generations. My other sister is from South Korea, and her mother was a pianist who for various social pressures could not keep a child. So we were a family of many races, and we lived in the deep south of the United States, in Alabama, from when I was a first grader until I graduated from college. As a child you think what you know is perfectly normal, but we were far from it.

So the idea of God was present in my life from my earliest memories. I have memories of being a three year old and saying nighttime prayers with my father in which I was encouraged to ask the guardian angels to position themselves around the house. I always asked that one take a station on the roof, one occupy the backyard, and one keep an eye on the front door. I also asked how they could be protecting other people, too, if they were at our house, and was told that angels can be everywhere they are needed, and they can answer everyone’s prayers at once. I thought that was pretty awesome. I never felt awkward asking for their guardianship after that. It felt pretty natural, like hanging out with friends.

Three decades later when my wife and I were take a tai chi class together, in a private session with the instructor, the instructor said to me once, “There is a really big angel who is near you often. He has a big sword. He watches over you.” I was an adult of close to thirty years old at the time, and it was one of those unsolicited moments when time collapses, and of course, I felt it was one of those angels I had spoken to every night when I was little. Since my name is Michael, I always felt a kindredness with Archangel Michael, but who is to say? Is this real? My tai chi teacher didn’t know anything about me when she offered this vision of hers. We’d never talked about angels, and I seldom thought about them save for certain times when I was in difficulty and remembered the idea of asking for help. I thought it was interesting, though, that this person would come up with this out of the blue.

When I was probably seven or eight years old I was in the car once, riding somewhere with my mother, when I asked: would God really send people to hell? She immediately told me no. God would never do that. God loves every person, she said, and she felt that human beings often projected their fears and judgments onto God, and that the church had many ideas inside of it that were flat out wrong. So I learned from an early age to think for myself, and that it was okay to question anything I was told and to square it with the findings of my own heart. I learned that some Christians have a very simplistic view of things—e.g. they believe the Bible literally—and there are other Christians who don’t believe that at all.

My parents chose to send me to Catholic grade school for most of my elementary education, although I did spent three or four years in public schools as well. They felt that the quality of education in the Catholic schools was good, and it was important to them that I learn the Christian catechism, even though I wasn’t obligated to believe in particular ideas that did not square with the idea of a loving God.

When I was in the eighth grade, Catholic children spent the year preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation, which is when you make a decision to affirm your upbringing and say that, yes, you would like to be a member of the Catholic church. My father told me I didn’t have to do it and that it was important that I truly felt within my own heart it was something I wanted to do. He felt that really it was probably too early in my life to make a decision like that, so he wanted me to know that he and my mother wouldn’t put pressure on me to move forward. But I thought about it a little, and I felt I wanted to do it. I think he was glad of my choice, and of course there was an unspoken pressure. It was one of those moments when I wasn’t certain I wanted to be Catholic, per se, but I did want to commit to being connected to a loving God somehow. So it was a choice that I made.

That said, I never enjoyed going to church each Sunday. As soon as I left for college, and was living more or less on my own, I chose not to attend mass anymore, but I did continue to yearn for a deeper understanding of what it meant to be a human being, in a world supposedly created by a loving God.

I had many, many questions. Of course I did, I was a physics major.

27 Comments

  1. Hi Michael,
    I am loving this series already and highly anticipate Part 2! You are an extraordinary being who is living an extraordinary. life. One could say the details are simply details, but the writer in me really enjoys these details. Thanks for sharing your “backstory” here.

    peace, Linda

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thank you, Linda! It is enjoyable to write nonfiction sometimes, too, and to delve a little into oneself. It is surprising what you find sometimes! I’m a little curious myself to see what comes of focusing awareness on this, and while I haven’t spoken much about what I believe so far, I’ve tried to make the backstory apparent, since it is all part of it…

      Peace to you, my friend.
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  2. i’m touched by your capacity to look
    so deeply at your roots of family & religion, Michael!
    seems there is comfort & curiosity
    along this jeweled journey!
    gives me food for thought
    to look at my roots, again
    in the quiet privacy
    of my own meditation 🙂

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thank you, David. I really appreciate it. There is no better way to reflect on one’s experiences than in the quiet abode of one’s meditation. There are things I wish to say that I’m not sure I can say in any other way than this, so we’ll see where it goes!

      Blessings
      Michael

      Like

  3. A really lovely piece, Michael — heartfelt, candid — and I look forward to reading more of the series in weeks to come. You haven’t said what you believe yet, and I’m wondering if you’re rather like me and don’t believe in anything much at all. I think things, provisionally, and imbue those thoughts with a greater or lesser degree of trust, but belief takes thought onto terrain where perhaps it might be considered to be trespassing — that of unshakeable certainty. There, the thought seems to become synonymous with the object it attaches to. I don’t think I can grant thought that kind of transformative power. Anyway, a lovely piece, and as I said, I’ll await with interest to read of your beliefs, your unshakeable certainties, if any. With love, Hariod.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Hello Hariod,

      Thank you very much for the kind words, and the interesting reply, which I am reflecting upon here. I suspect you are correct–there are things I think–but I do think there is something of which we partake that is not accessed so much by the logic of thought as the directness of experience perhaps. Something you and I have talked about many times before, and it seems there is, or at least can be, a certainty concerning that. Concerning what, right? I don’t know. A certainty concerning nothing at all perhaps… 🙂

      With love to you, too–
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s an interesting question, what do I believe in, what am I totally certain of? I don’t mean the obviously verifiable things, like whether unicorns exist — that’s just stuff we can all agree upon. You mean belief as regards things that aren’t universally verifiable, I suppose, and there it becomes an interesting question. What do I believe in that others cannot necessarily verify for themselves? And as they cannot, why am I so convinced of the matter; is that justified, and if so, how so?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Like Linda, I appreciate your backstory, especially seeing the roots of your open minded spiritual quest. Angels, nor religion were ever discussed in our family. I went to a Methodist Church as a child, but dropped out in high school.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks, Brad. I’m so glad you enjoyed it and I hope at the end of the day, or the series, it is helpful. I never knew all that much about the Methodist Church, to be honest. I thought most Baptist churches were much more fundamentalist in their teaching than the Catholic church, and that the Methodist community was somewhere in the middle, but I have no idea actually!

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  5. an especially moving post, Michael. Loving, powerful, evocative snapshots of concrete experiences. For as long as I can remember, you have always expressed the truth of our roots being above – unity, communion, love, deep power and peace. Thank you for the continued unfurling reflections here!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Lanessa. My pleasure. I’m surprised people have been so moved by it, but it just kind of popped up as the thing to do when I was sitting at the keyboard. You’ve always been a good friend, and make it easy to be myself around. 🙂

      Peace
      Michael

      Like

  6. Hi Michael,
    I remember you sharing some of these beautiful details about your family and upbringing – and, I love seeing them again! You are an amazing person, no doubt! Exploring this topic of beliefs must be fun for you; at least in part, as you seem to enjoy sharing a bit about yourself so openly here. What makes you ‘you’ is your awesomeness – and that is something that I do not have words for. You engage us so beautifully in your journey in the ways that you share your life, and/or your works. I feel like I’ve gotten to “know” you through your heart. Looking forward to this series!
    Much Love,
    Ka

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Ka,

      You sense a lot from a few words, and I think I have that happen sometimes in your posts. I think some connection emerges from this relatedness we’ve had of sharing writing and responses. It’s like working something between your hands to make it supple, or release its scent, and then you start to get the fuller picture. This was by no means a lobby for awesomeness, but I take your meaning with real appreciation for the intangible unique something we each embody and offer to one another when we speak from the heart. You’re amazing, too, Ka. Thank you so much for making this connection.

      With Love
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I was raised Catholic as well, and well remember the catechism classes and Confirmation ceremony. Many of the conversations in those classes were as mind blowing to my young mind as any I later had. I’ve long left many aspects of that worldview behind, but it left an indelible imprint on my psyche. I suspect it does for anyone brought up in that tradition. In my case, most of it happened in the 70s, in the wake of Vatican II, which I suspect gave me a more liberal version than most Catholics received before or after that period.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Interesting. I only have conscious memory of things beginning in the early 80’s and never really experienced mass in Latin so can only imagine what a revolution that time would have been, particularly for people who had experienced mass one way, and then experienced such a transformation. My kindergarten teacher wore a habit and gave us a pretty good dose of holy fire if we colored outside the lines, but we got through it somehow. Certainly anything we are taught as children leaves a big impression I think.

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I also enjoyed reading this, Michael, and looking forward for the continuation. I never realized you grew up in the south, I imagined you as a New Englander. 🙂 Coming from Catholic family as well, it is interesting for me to see the paths people had taken, the questions they asked, the journeys they embarked on. Thank you for sharing your stories, and have fun reminiscing!

    Peace and Love,
    Kristina

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Kristina. Yes I grew up in Alabama–mostly. I crossed a creek once and stepped down about two feet from a copperhead snake, and the one or two times it snowed my parents knew to stay off the roads and hope nobody got seriously injured. Our next door neighbor–who was one of those rough and tumble tough guys–got his truck stuck in the culvert that crossed his front yard with one inch of snow on the road, and a high school buddy and I were up in my sister’s bedroom howling. The next guy came over with his truck, and he got stuck, too! In fairness the ground was just the right temperature for the snow to melt and freeze and become quite slick, but it was an amazing display of three hundred horespower vehicles destroying landscaping. And yes it is really interesting to see the journeys various people have taken. For sure.

      Peace and Love to you, too,
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

      • Good stories, Michael, made me laugh visualizing those monster trucks. Would love to hear more of your stories from Alabama. I also giggled reading your responses to Ka, on “lobby for awesomeness”, and on coloring outside the lines, and your response to Alison, how the description of an atheist frightened you. 🙂 Too funny. I cannot help but remember how the world seemed split in two when I was a child: the school telling me that religion (in our case monolithic all across the country – Roman Catholics) is brainwashing of the masses, and the church telling me that the Communist-controlled school is the brainwashing of the masses! Ha! At that point, you realize that just about every adult is insane. 🙂
        So, as a kid, you never got to play in the snow much? And make snow angels?

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Beautifully written, and very enjoyable Michael 💛 I love the Physics Major ending. I’m even more curious now to see what unfolds. Thank you for this xo

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Val. I’m curious, too. This was one of those pieces that just showed up and flung itself onto the page, so we’ll see how it goes next time out! Glad you enjoyed it!

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says

    I love how eclectic your family is. So interesting.
    A lot of Catholics I have known had a not so loving experience with it. I’m glad yours was guided toward love, and the experience of your own heart.
    I grew up Episcopalian, and it was the same for me, as far as being taught that God is Love. I never had pressure to believe a certain way either, but chose confirmation when I was 12. Of course, that was the 60’s, so I soon spread my wings and explored more metaphysical things.
    Thank you for sharing the “back story,” and like the others, I am very interested to see what came next.
    Physics….always stayed away from that until seeing the movie What the Bleep do We Know? That opened up a whole new aspect of physics. I think I got turned off to it early because two things of different weights supposedly hit the ground at the same time. And planes need cool air, not hot to lift them. It was always so counter intuitive. I’m glad that it caused you to question; and look where you are today. Like Ka said, awesomeness!

    Peace,
    Mary

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Mary. I always thought the Episcopal church was one closest to the Catholic church, as far as other denominations went. I think maybe it was a little more open and loving as you say. I think being taught that love is the center, and what conflicts with love may be an erroneous interpretation or assumption, is so important. Otherwise, it becomes this game of needing to force oneself to believe in a certain darkness.

      I always loved physics because I just think it’s amazing how nature works. The precision and reliability and order to it all is breathtaking. And also I like the counter intuitive part in a way. Because so often wisdom arrives in counter intuitive ways, too. I think part of critical thinking is to turn a thing inside out and look at it, and see if that is just a valid interpretation as the other way, and then it gets pretty interesting!

      Peace and Love
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh I just love reading about your life, getting to know you a little better. My childhood household was quite opposite to yours. My parents were atheists, and had no belief in or interest in the spiritual. Nevertheless I too grew into adulthood yearning “for a deeper understanding of what it meant to be a human being, in a world supposedly created by a loving God”. I guess if that’s the path it doesn’t matter what your childhood background, but I’m delighted to know a little more of yours.
    Alison

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Alison. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I remember asking my parents what an atheist was when I was little, and I’m pretty sure the answer frightened me. But thankfully I was able to see deeper into it. When faced with nothing but a panoply of judgmental and close-minded gods, atheism makes a great deal of sense. But I also think it’s interesting the way our own hearts guide us along our way. You’re right–there is a beginning, and then there is what arise within us and we have little choice but to follow it…

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Michael! This is some beautiful and for me, some heavy stuff, don’t know why, it just is. I hope you don’t mind if I, for this moment, am the shy kid at the back of the class that is afraid to ask questions or to provide feedback (my dog, ate my feedback is my defence). I am, however that shy kid, that is sitting back and taking it all in, in my own way and feeling…ummm… enchanted?
    Peace, Harlon

    Liked by 2 people

    • All good, Harlon! So glad you enjoyed it, and the last thing this is is class. If you enjoyed the view, I’m honored and please. I’ve been reading more non-fiction from time to time as I’ve gotten my hands on more literary journals, and it is interesting to read about people’s lives. It certainly provides plenty of material! Ha! Hope you are well and relaxing peacefully back there!

      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

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