I first noticed it right after September 11, 2001. A coworker wanted me to go with her to church the Friday after that terrible Tuesday, as part of the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. I'd been, like everyone else, terribly shaken from the events, and sort of horrified, so I went with her, hoping for solace.
In that dark Catholic church, people wept and prayed, and I could feel my coworker get more peaceful as the service continued.
I felt nothing.
I really wanted relief from my fear and sadness and disbelief during that time, but I did not. Why couldn't I feel what everyone else in there did?
My parents were hippies, and when I was growing up they didn't believe in God. As part of their hippie process, they sent me to an "integrated" school, which by third grade had resulted in me being pretty much the only white kid, and certainly the only moneyed kid. I mean, we weren't rich, but I was the only one walking to school in the Michigan winters with boots on, and a little bag to carry my shoes. The other kids would look at me strangely as I changed into dry shoes. This did not go over well. I'd have hated me, too.
So my parents switched me over to the Lutheran school nearby, and I was just as much a stranger in a strange land there. I was surrounded by solid, midwestern kids of hearty German descent whose families most certainly believed in God. A solid, practical god. The kind of god who'd say, "Zip up your raincoat, eat some schnitzel and get over it." The fact that my hippie parents weren't believers went over as well as my snow boots.
But then a strange thing happened—I started believing in God, too. Only I couldn't tell my parents, because I felt they'd disapprove. You know all those stories people have about their parents making them go to church and they were afraid to tell mom and dad they didn't believe? I was the exact opposite.
After I left that school and went about the business of being a horrific teenager, any religion I had sort of disappeared. It was only after the chips were down, and I was mortified by September 11, did I realize I wanted to believe in something.
I don't know about you. Maybe you're solid as a rock. Maybe you're German and full of no nonsense. But on my insides, I feel about as empty and fluttery as a funnel cake. I don't have any peace. I don't have any assurance that everything's going to be all right. All I have is black coffee, a few cats and some a lot of cynicism.
I can already see the comments to this post. Someone will be all, "THERE IS ONLY ONE ANSWER, AND IT HAPPENS TO BE THE RELIGION I BELIEVE IN!" And see, that right there? Turns me right the hell off. Why do people get so ANGRY about their religion? Believe what you want to believe in, but don't yell at me about it, for heaven's sake.
How do you find a quiet, respectful, loving belief in something without turning into a shrill follower of rules? If you believe in God, you must eschew this group. If you believe in God, you must abstain from this food. If you believe in God, you need to be incredibly smug. None of that remotely seems like it would bring me peace. I don't feel better about the world when I'm feeling better than other people.
I've tried praying, even though I don't know whom I'm praying to. I've tried meditating and often it results in me feeling very itchy. I took a quiz on Beliefnet to see what religion I am, and I am usually a Reformed Jew. I like that. I think I'd make an excellent Jew.
I've also gotten to love some writers who are pretty spiritual: Anne Lamott and Elizabeth Gilbert. Elizabeth Gilbert says to look for God the way a man with his head on fire looks for water. And Anne Lamott, who I love more than anything, said you know you've created God in your own image when God hates all the same people you do.
The point is, they've found something to believe in, and they don't feel like funnel cakes, at least most of the time. If they can do it, I can too.
I just don't know how.