by Brian Thornton
I believe in God.
I am deeply suspicious of organized religion.
I do not consider the two notions in any way contradictory.
I have always viewed my believer friends who participate regularly in religious services with admiration. I have also admired the principled stands of any number of nonbeliever
friends. Their conviction is also a source of inspiration to me.
I find both of their brands of faith inspiring, if not contagious.
And although I've witnessed first-hand what a comfort both the ritual and the message of their particular creeds can be for them, I'm not sure that I've ever had much insight into the actuality of it. I've never found it particularly tangible, for lack of a better term.
I think this is in no small part due to the fact that I was born in 1965, and am in so many ways typical of my generation (Let's forgo the "x", okay? Doug Coupland never spoke either to or for me.)
I mean, I came of age when religion began to be a factor in the political life of the republic on a scale unseen since believers helped bring about Prohibition, or, on the other side of the coin, the Civil Rights Movement. Words like "Moral Majority" were bandied about during my adolescence, with both sides of any given social/moral issue increasingly intolerant of the views of their opposite numbers.
Is it any wonder folks like me just wanted to be left alone?
Couple the above background with a brief membership in a charismatic nondenominational Christian church (during my teen years) and a foray into the possibility of conversion while an undergrad at a Catholic university (it ended badly- I was "strongly discouraged" from going through with it by the powers that were who ran the program. Apparently I asked too many questions.). To say that I from that point forward I have always looked askance at organized religion would be an understatement.
And yet there have been moments.
I'd like to lay out the most recent of them.
As I mentioned in my last blog post, a very dear friend of mine was recently diagnosed with inoperable cancer. I said at the time that she would be lucky if she lasted through the week.
She died that Sunday.
Last weekend I attended her funeral.
This wonderful lady, 79 when she passed away, was one of the people I was referencing above when I talked admiringly about belief. She was a decades-long parishioner of a little Episcopal church down in Tacoma's north end. In fact, she was a volunteer who traveled around to members of the church who were shut-ins because of health problems. She'd perform the service with them, pray with them, worship with them.
And when she spoke of the experience, she just glowed.
But my friend Pat did that a lot. She was easily one of the kindest folks I've ever met. She just loved people. And they loved her back.
And at bottom, the reason was her faith. At least that's what she told me.
When I went to her funeral I got one of those rare glimpses I mentioned above- a glimmer of what it must have felt like for Pat to be a member of that congregation. To worship in that tiny, freezing little stone church.
The place was packed. Pat had a lot of friends. All of her family were there.
Her daughter gave a moving eulogy. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. It was all the more poignant because she managed to invoke so many memories of her unforgettable mother. And she did so in the same way her mother had lived her life.
With grace, intelligence, and sly wit.
For a moment there, I wasn't on the outside, looking in. For a moment there, I understood what it felt like to belong.
We were, all of us, joined there in a communion of grief.
And for a flash, I saw how it worked. For a bit I got an inkling of what Pat got out of the whole deal.
And I am still gob-smacked by it.
As I said above, I'm deeply suspicious of organized religion.
But now, more than ever, I understand the impulse of so many in trying times and in good times, to seek it out.
And I have the memory of my dear, departed friend Pat, to thank for that.
Thanks for that last life lesson, Old Friend.