Tuesday, April 17, 2007

On prayer

I consider myself a cultural Catholic. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic schools my whole life (including college), and have a specific devotion to Catholic schools, particularly those that serve inner-city youth. But, I’ve actually never been a particularly religious person. I’ve long since stopped going to church (actually, as soon as I didn’t have to anymore, I stopped), and I can’t say that I have a strong sense of faith.

I know that sounds counterintuitive: how could I spend all that time in religious schools without being dogmatically Catholic? It’s actually not as antithetical as it sounds. I actually love Catholic schools, despite my questions about the church. I love their focus on values and on treating everyone with mutual respect. I love their focus on social justice—something about which I feel really strongly. I love that they are small, and it is essentially impossible to be anonymous in them. I love the feeling of community they provide that goes well beyond the schoolhouse walls.

To be sure, I’m certain that not every Catholic school in the county is like this. But mine were. I actually transferred to the local public high school my sophomore year because they had more robust advanced honors and AP course choices, and I thought I’d get a better education there. And, I probably technically would have. But there is so much more to education that book learning, and the Catholic high school was such a better fit for me personally that I transferred back. It was, in every sense of the word, a community.

And, that’s what drew me to work in Catholic education after college (though I no longer do). I think community and social justice are an essential part of education, and was extremely fortunate to work in two different schools that had a very clear sense of community and shared responsibility. And, I was very fortunate to have worked at a school comprised of people who had a wonderful sense of selflessness and humility. The high school where I taught, which served inner-city and suburban poor and minority youth, the vast majority of whom were not Catholic, was probably the best place I’ve ever worked. In fact, in the years since I’ve left, I’ve never found another community that is as cohesive and positive as that school was.

I attribute this to several things. First, the people were fabulous. Fun, funny, energetic. Some of them remain some of the closest friends. Second, the principal. He was also fabulous and probably the best boss I’ve ever had. And he brought a wonderful sense of calm and commitment that rubbed off on everyone he met.

But, I think for me personally, one of the things that really forced me out of my comfort zone and made me really grow as a person was being surrounded by a group of people my age who had such unassuming faith and spirituality. Most of the so-called religious people I had met up to that point were outlandishly pious or judgmental. But the teachers I worked with were thoughtful and deeply spiritual, but so wonderfully open minded. They had strong beliefs, but always questioned those beliefs. They were always searching for a deeper understand of teachings and beliefs of the church, and they worked tirelessly to live what they believed.

I always admired their ability to so openly grapple with their relationship with God and to put their faith in the power of prayer. To them, prayer was both a way to deepen their relationship with God, but was also meditative. It gave them a chance to reflect and re-center themselves. Up to that point, I had thought of prayer as this kind of stilted process that relied mainly on the recitation of memorized lines. These teachers showed me that, to them, that wasn’t prayer at all. To them, the main reason to recite the formal prayers—which they didn’t do all that often—was that citing something that you’ve memorized and recited so many times is in and of itself meditative. It becomes like a mantra that helps you clear your head and refocus your energy.

I found this to be a transformative way to look at prayer—one that was so much less repetitive and so much more powerful.

Yet, because I’m fairly stoic, while I’d admired the relationship my friends had with prayer, I never felt that I was able to get there. I’m a cynic, after all. And, type-A at that. Much as I’ve always wanted to become a zen-like spiritual person, I’ve never quite been able to. (I’ve actually tried meditation, and my mind always races too much. Nice.)

Lately, though, with everything we’re going through with IF and beginning to grapple with some pretty tough decisions, I’ve been pining for that sense of community and spirituality. Mostly because I’m losing faith in our bodies and in western medicine, and because of that, I wish that I had my faith to fall back on.

And, from reading many blogs, I can tell that many of you have a sense of spirituality and do have a relationship with prayer. I admire that. But for me, I feel like developing one now would be, I don’t know, childish or hypocritical. How typical: to turn to prayer after being gone for so long just because you want something. (I realize that’s not how it works, it’s just all part of my struggle right now.)

So, yesterday, I called in the troops. All evidence in this blog to the contrary, I don’t talk about IF that much. Or really ever irl. I am proud to a fault, and I am uncomfortable showing vulnerability. And, I hate it when people pity me. So, I don’t talk about IF much because I don’t know anyone (other than hubby, of course, whom I do talk to) who can really empathize. So, instead of trying to explain the unexplainable, and instead of feeling like I have to constantly put on a brave face, I avoid the topic. But yesterday, when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed, I finally got up the nerve to email my parents and ask them to pray for us.

I know it sounds ridiculous: why the hell would that have been hard? I why would you have emailed? Well, for so many reasons. First, because I’m not sure where I stand with this whole prayer/faith thing. And because we’re Irish Catholic and by nature not very demonstrative. But mostly, because to ask for prayers was to finally admit that we’re getting to the point where I need to put some of this in someone else’s hands. That I need help sorting it all out. That, on some level, I need to let go.

To be sure, I need to face and make the tough decisions. But, I need to realize that there are some things that are out of my control. And, if I can’t let go of those things, I’m in for an even longer, harder ride than I’ve had so far.

So, on some level, I think emailing my parents was my way of letting go of some of the things I can’t control.

But, true to my stoicism, I ended the note to my parents by saying, “I don’t really want to talk about this. Any of it really. I just need to know that there are people helping us put our faith in God. Because as you know, mine is tenuous at best.”

And I got the most wonderful note back from my dad—a note that really reminded me how lucky I am on so many levels, and that, no matter how low I feel, we really need not face this alone:

First, I don’t consider your note the least bit sappy, or hypocritical or anything like that.

Second, although I’m not at all sure that my prayers would have any more influence than your own (I consider you a very good person….. with probably greater “pull” upstairs than I) …. I certainly will pray for you both in this matter, etc, as suggested . And this should not be a surprise for you ….. I already have been.

Third, I am very proud of you for asking this (I know it is not easy, for lots of reasons….).

Fourth – I actually had been thinking of asking whether you had considered steps of your own in this direction (prayer, etc.) …. but did not for three reasons: First, I assumed you already were. Second, although I never hesitate to say prayers, etc., asking for things for me, mom, you, Billy, etc. – I also realize that doing so doesn’t always guarantee results (nor should it; I think that Truman Capote had some insight on his side in saying that more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones. And I also think that sometimes the answer comes in ways you can’t appreciate until much later…). Third reason: I could easily see the reaction to such a suggestion being negative – seeing it as an attempt to take advantage of a difficult personal situation to try and impose my own preferences.

Thank you for asking. I feel very fortunate to have a daughter with such a wonderful sense of what’s important and such a good approach to such matters. My prayers will include acknowledging how blessed we are no matter what the future brings. Consider me “signed up”!

(No further discussion required, but I am always available! Difficult enough for you guys to deal with this, and to make this request.)




Carrie said...

Wow....Your Dad's letter made me cry. You are lucky, at least in some respects. No doubts.

Reproductive Jeans said...

Beautiful letter...so wonderful to have that!!!!

Mary Ellen and Steve said...

That was a beautiful letter. How wonderful that you have such a supportive dad.

Bumble said...

Carrie took the words right out of my mounth. What a wonderful special father you have. (And I'll pray for you too - not that I have much pull upstairs but God is used to me asking for babies ;-)

serenity said...

Wow. Crying here too. I love your dad's response here.

Dianne/Flutter said...

Your father's letter - hand to heart - beautiful.

About prayer. In my own experience, it was an event that made me realize that I needed to "Let go and Let God" or at least try. Well after I got mad and refused to pray :) for several years.

Your relationship with God is a journey. Remember that, there will be times when everything is great and other times it will suck. And he can handle the suckiness. At least that is what I tell myself.

If you ever want to know - email me and I will share my faith journey with you.

Kristen said...

What a sweet letter. You really are lucky to have a father who "gets it". So many IFers have parents who don't.

My Type-A side wants to control everything and have a say in my destiny. I have also had to learn to let go and put my Faith in a higher power. Of course, I still struggle with that. I have to keep my Type-A side ball-gagged at times. I totally understand the difficulty in putting this in God's hands.

Adrienne said...

Your dad is amazing.

Tam said...

That was really sweet, if it's any consolation, we are all praying for you too. Good luck with this next cycle, IUI do work - they have to otherwise they wouldn't do them. Try and have faith, I know it's hard, I felt the same. Once you've had it, you may feel better. Thinking of you xxx

Becks said...

That was lovely...it made me cry too. You Dad is obviously a wonderful prceptive man and I do hope his prayers work for you. Sending hugs from me x

Sarah said...

oh what a wonderful letter. so happy for you that you have that.