Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image by: Pexels.com
I’m watching ‘Greenleaf’ on Netflix these days (well, every other weekend or so now school has started again.) It tells the story of a family running a large church in Memphis. Apart from the great acting and interesting plot lines, it also reminded me of the allure of organized religion. There are so many advantages to being part of a church community.
Organized religion, be it Christianity or Islam or…, has created a space for matters of the soul. It’s a place where you go to ponder the questions of life: Why are we here? What does it mean to be a good human being? And of course: What comes after? Religions traditionally try to answer these questions in very similar ways, echoing much of what scientists have found to be our innate moral compas. But they do more. They create a framework for celebrating certain moments in life, such as birth or marriage, or create rituals that bring communities together in grief. In church you can, ideally, feel supported in all the difficult stages of your life.
Religion in itself is also a great comfort. As a young child, my belief in God helped me feel less alone. It made me feel loved, always, no matter where I was. God exudes a perfect, unconditional love that no human being could ever show, because we are all, in some way or another, struggling.
In my teenage years, my experience of God and the spiritual world became much more personalized. I sensed beings around me, communicated with them, often retreated in my own world. But somewhere around the time when I turned 18 of 19, things started to shift.
As I went through university, I came across books and information that pointed toward the dark sides of organized religion: the acts of unimaginable horror justified by the Bible; the fear that is imprinted on children using images of hell; the exclusion of certain groups or people based on religion,… The list is long. It was enough for me to turn 180 degrees and become a hardcore atheist for the next 15 years. I even wrote my thesis on debates between Richard Dawkins and religious leaders.
It wasn’t until I found myself in a major crisis in my life that, little by little, I rediscovered my experience of the world beyond the material. I bumped into things I couldn’t explain in a scientific way. I reexperienced that glorious sense of wonder and amazement at the natural world. And, yes, I again met that feeling of unconditional love that permeates everything.
Alongside my, mostly quiet, rediscovery of my own spirituality, my daughter has completely embraced the concept of God. As a 6 year old girl, she would ask me:
“Mama, does God exist?”
“Hm, I don’t know. Can you see God?”
“No, I can’t”
“Can you hear God?”
She shook her head.
“Well, can you feel God?”
“Yes! I can feel God”
“Where do you feel that?”
She put her hand on her heart. “Here Mama”.
“Okay, so what else can you feel there?”
“I can feel love there”
“Well, maybe that’s what God is”
I still don’t quite know where I land, though I’m getting clearer over time. I still love walking into churches, even though I’m horrified at some aspects. I still have that sense of awe when I look at nature, even though I’m confident in the scientific theory of evolution. I like to keep my heart and mind open for what comes to find me, and trust, have faith, that it will be right for me.