Human beings are moved by authentic emotional sharing, not stoic perfectionism. -Mastin Kipp
What if she laughs? I can already see the smirk forming at the edge of her mouth. I imagine the eyes forcing themselves to look at me straight instead of rolling up towards the heavens. I hear the sigh stuck in her throat as she sits there listening to me talk about my latest practice.
Of course, this is all in my head, as most things are. I timidly post my prayers and affirmations all day long with a mix of pride and fear. Pride in that I’m actually standing up for something, and fearful of what people will think or say.
My sole experience with spirituality and faith was through Catholicism. My parents and most of my extended family were and are strictly Catholic and I was raised to follow the rites and holidays accordingly.
Things worked pretty much like clockwork and it was easy to follow as a kid. Church on Sundays. Religion class every Tuesday after school at the parish. Rosary with the family every night. No meat Fridays during Lent. Midnight mass for Christmas. I recited the prayers by rote and each mass went like a checklist in terms of events. By the time we got to the Eucharist, I knew we were nearing the end. Another twenty minutes and we were back home having lunch.
I describe it this way not to criticize the faith or demean the church but to illustrate the way I approached religion during that time. It was routine and comforting in its rhythm since I knew what to expect. But I didn’t question it. I didn’t dig deeper to see what those prayers meant as I recited them with everyone else. I didn’t connect spiritually as I shared in the bread and wine.
As I got older, the rituals faded and the traditions with it. By the time I got to college, I’d turned my back on all of it and decided Catholicism, and religion in general, was just not for me. God? Eh, I had other things to worry about.
All the experiences I’ve lived through since then has led me to a new phase of inquiry and in some ways, a discovery of faith for the first time in my life. I find myself seeking comfort in faith and finding clarity in the practice of meditation. It took me some time to admit this to myself, but I recently realized that a lot of the deep meditation I’ve actively pursued these last few months are prayers.
That word used to freak me out. Prayers? Nah, that’s not what I’m doing. But then I figured out that it doesn’t matter what I’m calling any of it. Inner Guide, or God, or -ing, or guru, or priest. Just like it doesn’t matter what faith others follow in their lives and that I shouldn’t judge them based on that choice. What matters is that there’s faith in something that brings love and peace both within and without.
I can’t really articulate just how hugely important it is for me to make that statement. That I can sit here and give faith that much significance when in the past, I avoided discussion of faith, and in fact, have gotten into heated arguments or just walked out of a room with others who wanted to share their faith with me. I realize now that I misunderstood the intentions. Moreover, I can relate to that need to share, because that’s what I’m doing now, in my own way.
And this is where the fear kicks in, because there is nothing scarier than standing up in front of the universe and expressing my deepest thoughts for all to hear. I have an appreciation for that freedom of expression, and it humbles me when I take the moment to write or speak about my faith and my struggles to practice what I believe on a daily basis.
The thing is, when we take the big step of opening ourselves up to the world, we also invite criticism and judgement. The reality is, not everyone is going to love what I have to say or agree with me. There are as many haters out there as there are lovers, and they can be just as vocal about their views. And worst of all, those views can easily trump the love and encouragement that’s being offered in spades.
I have yet to experience any real backlash to anything I’ve shared, and I’m grateful for that. But I’m not naive. I accept that one day I’ll say something that someone won’t agree with and they’ll feel obliged to let me know that in a very not-nice way. That day will undoubtedly suck.
The amazing part here though, is that I’m standing up for something that I’m deeply passionate about, and no one can take that away from me. I realize that I’m taking the harder path by choosing to vocalize what’s important to me, and that it’s much easier to stand back, make jokes, and criticize. I know that because I’ve been on the other side and I know that my actions were motivated by fear since I didn’t take the time to try to understand.
Let me offer up a piece of advice. The next time you read a blog post, newspaper article, a Facebook status update, a tweet, or listen to someone speak their faith or passion in a way that doesn’t make sense to you or seems silly, just stop. Take a minute to stop and listen. Don’t judge or point fingers. Look at the source and see where that person may be coming from. Applaud their effort for having the courage to voice their opinions, even in this day and age when EVERYONE is expressing themselves one way or another.
Most of all, consider where your knee-jerk negative reaction may be coming from and address the source of your criticism. Maybe there’s something there that has more to do with you then the person expressing the thought.
Be compassionate, be gracious, be sensitive, but mostly be honest with yourselves. It’s what we writers are doing each time we sit down and share our stories.