Religion is contentious and comforting at the same time. But what is at the core? A belief in a higher power and the role that this higher power has in our lives, in the lives of others, the role it has or does not have in governments, and the role it has in nature.
Religion is both organized and personal. How individual beliefs play out run the gamut from Mother Teresa to suicide bombers.
My father was Roman Catholic, my mother Episcopalian. In today’s world, there is considered to be very little difference between the two. However, when my parents married in 1941, the two religions were worlds apart. There was a battle between my parents once their children were born. My older brothers were baptized and raised as Episcopalians. I was baptized and raised as a Roman Catholic. When I was little and questioned this, my parents said that to have the sons go to church with their mother and to have the daughter go to church with her father helped forge a deeper bond with the opposite gender parent. I bought this explanation.
But obviously, that was not what happened. What happened was that my father gave in for the first two kids, but told my mother when she was pregnant with me, that if this baby was not baptized Roman Catholic, their marriage would be over. A serious threat in 1953 when divorce was practically unheard of, and totally unheard of in their circle of friends. My mother caved in. And, when you think about it, this was all crazy because divorce would have been considered a sin by my father.
While all of this religious chaos was swirling around our house completely unbeknownst to me, I developed a belief in God and the power of prayer grew within me. As a child, I was learning the concepts of right and wrong. My wrongs had to be confessed to a priest once a month whether I liked it or not. But I could rarely think of anything that I had done wrong. Our family was a military family and strict was the order of the day. We didn’t even “back talk” our parents because punishment was certain. And my idea of wrongs committed that would be worthy of confession when I was young were based on the 10 Commandments, which I kind of understood. And I certainly hadn’t killed anyone.
So I would make things up so I would have something to confess. No clue that lying probably wasn’t what God had in mind. I remember being in the confessional and telling the priest that I stole a slice of American Cheese. Which I hadn’t. And taking a slice of cheese from the refrigerator would have been totally fine with my parents.
The priest laughed. He stifled it immediately, but I guess he couldn’t help himself. I probably had to say “two Our Fathers and one Hail Mary.” Phew, my duty was done for another month.
And then I began to pray in earnest. I would say the default standards of the Our Fathers and the Hail Marys, but I learned that I could talk to God directly and feel comfort and guidance. But, of course, I couldn’t actually talk to God, so I wrote him mental letters. “Dear God, please make my parents stop fighting. Love, Barb” or “Dear God, don’t let Russia attack us. Love, Barb” or “Dear God, I’m sorry I hurt my friend’s feelings. Love, Barb.” I wasn’t sure if I had a direct pipeline to God, or if Angels were waiting around like heavenly mailmen to deliver my prayers, but I knew my prayers were getting to the right place. To this day I pray as if I’m writing a letter.
I guess that’s just ingrained in me.
I started saying the Rosary at a young age. Then totally forgot about it. I was going to church sporadically once I was out of college. The Rosary represented the church and not my faith. It’s funny, as I’m writing this I just realized that I don’t remember, if I ever knew, why it’s called the Rosary. I’m looking that up as soon as I’m done with this article. Maybe God is rapping his knuckles on my head saying “Helloooo why haven’t you thought of this before.” Or maybe not.
Now, praying the Rosary at night is a form of mediation for me, coupled with faith that God is hearing it. The Rosary no longer = Catholic Church. Now the Rosary = Faith in God.
When I say the Rosary, I start out with my letter (of course). “Dear God, these prayers are for so-and-so. Please help cure her cancer.” And sometimes it’s “Dear God, please help me let go of these feelings of anger.” Each time, I have a mental picture or vision of Mary wrapping her cloak around the person for whom I am praying, enveloping this person in a cocoon of prayer. And I believe that God must see that.
I don’t kneel by my bed; I don’t often use the actual beads. I usually say the Rosary in bed, before I go to sleep, mentally counting off the prayers, or if I get distracted and my mind wanders, I use my fingers. And always fall asleep before the Rosary is done. I don’t think that God penalizes based on number of prayers completed.
In 1985, God steered me towards sobriety. More like pushed me with brute force towards sobriety. Since then, the Serenity Prayer has special significance and has helped me enormously.
My story of prayer.