By Kimberley Moran
I was baptized at St. James Church on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, the child of a Jewish father and an Episcopalian mother who took charge of the religious portion of our upbringing. I went to all the confirmation classes and participated in an eighth-grade weekend trip where I snuck into the minister’s office and stole Eucharist wine. Despite my fall from grace, I was anointed an official Episcopalian that year.
But we rarely went back to church outside of Easter and Christmas, and I missed it. In my chaotic home life, church had been predictably comforting.
The biggest problem with being an Episcopalian, for me, was that I simply didn’t believe. I absolutely do not believe that a God exists. I think Jesus is a lovely example of how we should all behave, and as an avid reader I consider the Bible a great piece of literature – nothing more. When I was attending church services, I remember thinking other people didn’t believe either. They were good at the rituals of the services, but none of them seemed to have internalized what they preached. Even the minister seemed to be more interested in his six o’clock cocktail.
But the comforting feeling was one I desperately wanted. And so my search began – first for me and, later, for my children.
In my 20s and 30s, I investigated nearly every religion. I showed up at places of worship or purchased cassettes and books. I literally challenged believers to “go ahead and convert me.”
At 20, when on spring break, I spent eight hours one day at the Church of Latter-day Saints in Los Angeles. It was huge and imposing and they showed movie-long versions of people doing amazing things in the name of Christ. I cried through the movies, but when it came down to the explanation for how to get to heaven, I balked, unable to wrap my head around the idea that, as I understood the message, there was little to no chance for redemption for those who had made some pretty terrible choices in life. It’s entirely possible that in one day at a mere 20 years of age, I misunderstood things.
At 23, I drove across the country with audio tapes of inspirational author Marianne Williamson and the book “A Course in Miracles,” feeling empowered and in tune with myself. This didn’t stick, though, and I wondered later if it was really the freedom and power of the open road that had moved me.
At 25, I went back to an Episcopal church, in Boston this time, to take adult classes, but I just didn’t believe. I read everything I could get my hands on about religion, but I read it with the passive interest of an onlooker.
At 27, I spent a scary morning at the Church of Scientology in Boston where I sat in a pitch-dark room and watched a movie about L. Ron Hubbard. Not for me.
At 30, I talked to a priest about Catholicism after having read an article about “the one true religion.” Interestingly enough, he felt I should stick with being Episcopal.
At 32, I went to temple in Houston to see if I could invoke my father’s side of myself. Being a Jew really appealed to my intellectual side, but I knew my mother would never forgive me, and that weighed heavily on me.
So at 39, when my children were born, I wondered what to do with the religious portion of their upbringing.
My husband was raised Catholic, but we weren’t allowed to marry in a Catholic church because he had been married before. I didn’t want him to get an annulment because I didn’t understand how it could be possible or acceptable to erase the value of his first marriage and two children. So we were married by a notary public in a beautiful ceremony in an 18th-century house. We wrote our own vows, which I chose from some aspects of Marianne Williamson’s writings. She still moved me.
After very little thought, I told my husband that I had always loved my early years in the Episcopal church, so we had our children baptized there. But I could never bring myself to take them on Sundays, thus ending any kind of childhood memories of religion they might have engendered.
Now at 10 and 12, with more life experience and literature under their feet, my children are searching for something. They know what religion is, but not what they believe.
We have an open communication policy in our family. They ask me question after question about what people believe. About how people could have let Hitler do the things he did. About why there are bombings that kill people because of what they believe. They want to make sense of their world, as I have tried my whole life to make sense of mine.
I recently wrote a book about using mantras to help you through parenthood. When I tell people this, I see them wondering if I am Zen or otherwise religious. Perhaps mantras are the soothing tools I’ve developed for parenting because I couldn’t find a religion that made sense to me. They help. When I say things to myself like “Begin with the End in Mind” or “Seek to Understand,” I put myself squarely in the role of choice-maker. I try not to let the stress of parenting whisk me out of control. I write down what I believe about life and share that with my children.
At 49, I want my children to begin to make choices about religion and spirituality for themselves, so I offered up church as an option – at first only on Christmas, in a quaint church in the mountains where we spend the holidays. My son wants more.
He wants to join church groups like his friends do. My daughter likes the comfort of knowing I’m with her, so she only goes when I do. Connections are the networks that humans share. I have learned to find those in other ways, but I can’t help but wonder if my children will find the lost key that lets them in.
I am not afraid my children will find religion. I see how happy it makes so many people. I think I am more afraid that, like their mother, they will not, and that this will be the great disappointment of their lives.
Kimberley Moran is an author, teacher, editor and parent. Her new book, “Hacking Parenthood: 10 Mantras You Can Use Daily to Reduce the Stress of Parenting” (November 2017) can be found at parentmantras.com. Follow her @kimberleygmoran.