There is no secret that at times in my life, I have struggled with my faith. I make no excuses or apologies for it and at the same time I am not one to be angry at God, nor am I cynical towards those who are unwavering in their faith. In fact, except for the ones who are clearly in the “blind faith category” who dwell in the “fire and brimstone”department, I really admire people who have a strong connection with God or Yahweh, Jah, Allah, etc., you know, the people where their faith just flows through and out of them. They are people at peace who have the utmost patience for the trials and tribulations of life.
I share a difficult life with my family. It’s not a bad life and we are generally happy but we are pretty much always “on”, even on vacation and shit is just never easy in any aspect of our lives and I suppose the good out of this all is that we take nothing for granted. All Tom and I ever wanted were love and happiness and happy, healthy and independent children. I was happy to just sail under the radar with very little drama but as fate would have it, our life together turned out to be absolutely 100 percent on the radar every day, pretty much all the time and there is not a day when something is not an obstacle. In spite of a textbook pregnancy, one of our boys has autism and that is the constant difficulty we live through each and every day. I remember one New Year’s Eve when Adam, our firstborn was about to have his first birthday. I woke up to find Dick Clark”s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve Countdown watching me and I remember looking over to where Tom was on the computer and listening to the baby monitor that was broadcasting the little sniffs and snorts of my almost 1 year old as he slept. This is far too perfect, I remember thinking, as I looked about our cozy Montreal apartment. When will the other shoe drop? Well, shortly after that, it dropped 30 feet from the sky like a cement block when Adam was diagnosed with autism and pretty much everything from that time on was not simple, but it is the life we have and it has shown me just how remarkable my family is; shown me just what we can do when we put out minds to it and think outside every damn box we have found ourselves in. We are the most resilient and brave people I know. This family has had more downs and laterals and back pedals than ups but my oh my, are the ups ever so sweet. My children (with a special nod to Adam) have accomplished things I could only imagine and admire and everything they have achieved has been done in spite of the walls we have come up against time and again.
Have I been angry and frustrated by my life? Yes. Have I wondered “why me?…why us?” Absolutely. I was raised to be a good Catholic girl. I prayed and I went to church and I trusted that my prayer and faith would be there for me and boost me in my times of strife or even shield me from terrible things. Did I wonder what I did to offend the almighty when I led the same kind of faithful life as my cousins? Of course, I did. I just didn’t understand why my child was chosen to be the one with autism and that kind of thinking puts you in a tail spin I cannot even begin to describe.
So with regards to my faith, I have gone through times when I felt sorry for myself and decided my family and I were betrayed by God but I never felt punished and I will explain why shortly. I have gone through times when I have taken a deep breath and re-grouped and made a concerted effort to devoted prayer. I have had periods when I have gone to mass without fail (pretty much during my boys’ childhood) and I have periods when I just don’t want to set foot in a Church. However, in spite of my struggles with this faith of mine, I passed on what I had learned as a child through my young adult life as a Roman Catholic to my sons. You can call me hypocrite, but one can certainly pass on and explain the meaning of doctrine and catechism to children so that they understand what lessons their religion is trying to teach them. It is much like explaining to them what a passage from a book they are reading means. During their childhood, they learned the Mass. Adam loved the music and loved to read out the prayers and learned many of them by heart in spite of his autism and he got many positive things out of having to sit fairly quietly in a church for an hour each week. Both boys prepared for and made First Communion ( which I think Adam perceives as a snack break – but whatever – he likes going to church most times) and right after his First Communion, Logan decided to be an altar server and did so for about 5 years. They both chose to make Confirmation as Adam decided he wanted to continue going to mass and enjoying the aspects of it he preferred and Logan wanted to continue his Catholic faith into his adult life. While Adam prays by rote, Logan is a very spiritual person and while he does not really like going to church all the time, he does pray …A LOT. They both go to Catholic schools and actively and voluntarily participate in many activities and outings that involve Catholicism. I just did not see a reason to dash their feelings about their religion because of my own waxing and waning faith. They (especially Logan) deserved to be taught about being Catholic and about God in a way that will allow them to understand why it is they choose to have this connection in their lives and to be honest, if religion can teach them to be loving, kind, selfless and understanding, it isn’t a horrible thing for them to be involved in it.
While I was inundated with catechism from the age of about 6, (I remember the blue and then the green paperback text/workbook from my grade school days) and I could recite every prayer and knew how to say the Rosary and knew the format of the mass and all the responses and when to genuflect and when to bow and kneel and stand, Adam and Logan were taught about it differently. Having started off in the public school system, then home schooled, then having a stint in private school, I taught them about God and religion. I explained what Christmas and Easter were in a way they could understand. I never told them when they did something wrong that it was a sin because I dwell mostly on the positive side of religion and I took the misunderstood “fear” out of God-faring. I did not want to brain wash them but rather teach them about what religion should stand for and show them how many people are able to draw strength and courage from their faith and maybe they would be able to as well. I have always been honest with them, even when the question of my own faith arose and even now in adolescence, when Adam prefers not to work at sitting still for an hour, or Logan sours about faith when things don’t always go his way, I still am honest in the way I teach them and encourage them to sort through what it is that has put them off.
Now, here is my explanation about why I never felt punished by God. In all my struggles and heartache as a mother that came along with raising Adam and going to battle and getting through days when I would rather hide under my bed, I have at times felt betrayed or overlooked by God. However I am smart enough to know never to say if there was a God, or if God was so good there would be no pain or illness or suffering. God is not a magician. He cannot be blamed for everything bad. As humans we have done our share of nonsense that jeopardizes our health and well being. God does not make us eat poorly, be reckless or spend more than we can afford. God does not put the cigarettes in our mouth, pills under our tongue or shoot needles in our veins or put the cigarettes in our mouths. Sometimes we do stupid things and sometimes things just happen and they are not nice, or fair or good …that’s life. Everybody’s got something and we just have to deal with it the best we can and everyone has a choice to do something intelligent or something idiotic. I suppose where my skepticism lies and my wavering faith occurs is the justification of a god. Is there an entity or force out there (or up there as you know, we’ve been taught that heaven is up and hell is down) that creates a path for us? Or is it simply fate? Looking at our lives, I see things happening in blocks or stages and the next two stages that occur have different outcomes and the journey of life is really dictated by the choices we make and how we react to various situations. For instance, along the lines of my previous piece about proverbial doors opening and closing along the path of our lives, I see Tom’s opportunity to accept a job in Calgary back in 2002 as one which led to us being in the best possible place to have Adam diagnosed and treated in the early years of his autism. However, had we bought a house in Lasalle, Quebec, I would have still gotten Adam diagnosed and would still have read to him and constantly talked to him and home schooled him….I would have done nothing differently. I would have still moved mountains to get him the funding he needed and honestly all the challenges we faced with him anywhere we lived would have been the same. So in my mind I am not sure if God had anything to do with the different opportunities that were presented to us because we decided to either take advantage of them or not.
I also don’t believe that you can pray to God to have conditions or diseases cured or taken away. The human mind and body is unique to each person and you are either susceptible to certain things or not. You can’t put that onus on God to perform miracles just because you prayed for him to do so. My father smoked most of his life. He got cancer and he died. It was not God’s fault and there was no reason to pray for a miracle. He had a deadly disease and he died. I miss him and I remember him mostly in the good times and sometimes I remember him sick and I remember him lying in a coffin but that hurt and pain was not caused by God. God didn’t make Adam autistic and neither did I. For crying out loud, how many babies are born condition and illness free to mothers who smoked and ate poorly during their pregnancy? I was so careful with everything I did and consumed while I was pregnant that there is not way Adam should be inflicted with this puzzling and difficult neurological condition that he will have for the rest of his life. But… as he has and will continue to do, he will learn with lots of support and encouragement to cope with this world and to handle his sensory needs to live his life to the fullest.
I don’t believe in blaming God; I don’t believe he is a puppeteer and I don’t believe in outlandishly praising him or scandalously cursing him. The stories of miracles are difficult for me to believe because I was not there to see the Red Sea part or witness Noah hustle each gender of every species of animal onto an arc. What I do believe is the history of my religion. I believe there was man who walked the earth and he was a good man. I believe he had a vision and a plan to share that was based on everyone showing love for one another. I believe he saw that kindness and compassion were the keys for human co-existence and that greed and slack morals were the things that could tear us apart. I believe that people knew that he was right and that his idea of us being responsible for ourselves and our actions was one that was complex and difficult. I believe people choose the wrong things because it is easier to not have accountability and easier to be selfish and greedy than it is to give of ourselves, our money and our time. I believe the bible and various other books of worship and religious history are filled with brilliant and worthwhile messages we could apply to our lives but we must learn to read between the lines and look for the underlying meaning of the words and not take them literally.
No religion preaches violence and cruelty. Misinterpretation of good words have proven to be so dangerous, especially to impressionable minds. I believe that those in religious authority have a responsibility to explain the word of God properly and to live a life that reflects the goodness they preach. I am dying to be moved by a proper sermon. I was tired of being part of a religious community with members who only reach out to the causes that are comfortable to them. For almost 10 years, my boys and I have attended the same church. For almost 10 years the congregation has seen Adam and his oddities and must have noticed when (2 years ago when puberty hit) Logan and I went to church alone. Never once in 2 years did anyone, including our priest and deacon ask where he was or if something was wrong. They used to chat with us all the time and then when he was obviously absent, they were silent. My mother said it is not my faith in God that is uncertain, it is my faith in those who dare represent him in the church and do a poor job of it. Perhaps she is right. There are at least 3 autistic kids in our parish and while there were at one time special masses for families like ours no one else from the parish ever came, only the families and their guests. There were more people turned out to have their pets, hockey sticks and motorcycles blessed than there were at the mass for families with autistic children. No one wants to get involved with these strange creatures we call our children. The ironic thing is that most of the people in Adam’s lifetime (in all the places we have lived) who volunteered their time to work with Adam were not religious people. Some were spiritual and not linked to any one religion yet all of them had one thing in common – they all wanted to help Adam out of the goodness of their hearts. Were they sent by God? Hmm…not sure about that. I think our paths crossed because I was purposefully looking for a staff of people who were willing to help him reach the next levels of his development. That was the human kindness that was overflowing onto my family and it didn’t come from my church community.
In my quest to find the answers to my questions about this faith of mine, I get chills thinking of the days when I lived in Montreal in walking distance to the Oratoire de Sainte Joseph. I remember putting baby Adam in the stroller and walking up the hill that led to the old sacristy and boarding house of Brother Andre who was the parish priest all those years ago. I remember the smell of the place, the walls etched in history and the “candle room” as Tom used to call it,
which was so inviting in the cooler months because of the warmth of hundreds of burning candles lit by the faithful from all around the world. You could feel the strength of their faith and the belief that their intentions would be granted and I too, was part of that crowd. I lit my candle for the safety ofmy family members and the health and well being of my new baby. Hmm…ironic as it seems now, I am glad I lit a candle every time I visited the Oratory. Back then, I suppose with no knowledge of what was to come, my faith stood firm and this beautiful house of God brought me such peace. I attended mass there often and albeit celebrated in French, (some of which I did not understand) I remember being moved to tears by the sheer beauty of the ritual of the mass. I wish I could feel that again. Maybe I need to visit my old Montreal neighbourhood.
For now, I am enjoying my return to simple silent prayers of thanks that I say randomly throughout my day after what seemed to be an natural hiatus from going to mass or even praying. The words didn’t come for a while but now they are back and it is well with me. I think I will make good on the promise to myself to go to the Oratory again …sooner rather than later…It’s never a bad thing to shake it up from time to time and get out of the town where I live.
I suppose in this year before I turn 50, as I look inward and reflect on my adult life, where I have been, all that has happened and where I hope to go, it was logical that I would look at my stance with my faith and my relationship with God and religion. I think in the grand scheme of things humans are very small and there is so much that is greater than us. The universe is infinite and maybe there is a God out there and there is a heaven and a hell and maybe we are arrogant enough to think that we are the only form of life in the universe….there are no answers to the things we don’t know now and may never know, but what we need to do is find peace in whatever we do and believe and maybe one day there will be peace wherever we go. In questioning my ideas about God and faith and circumstance, I struggled with my stance on it all but I was never lost or angry or condemning. I think I was maybe in a transition stage of some sort where I pitted what I knew and what I had experienced against what I had been taught, I think I can describe myself as spiritual and hopeful because I do take responsibility for righting the wrongs in my life by being proactive, doing my best and never giving up …because with the reality of my life…how can I? I cannot control everything and some things I have to leave up to chance or sometimes God. And while I have been known to say novenas in my time, I like my quiet connection with my faith and the prayers that leave my lips as whispers to God. I may have halted the subscription from time to time but I never stopped believing in the content and so with regards to this faith of mine, as I approach 50…I am finding I am at peace with myself .