Thursday, August 20, 2009


As a parent, I have taken my children to various protestant churches, hoping to find a fit for our family, a spiritual foundation that will serve my kids well in life. If nothing else, a point of reference for them to pursue whatever religious beliefs they may have as adults. The problem is, despite the 12 churches within three miles of my house, none of them fit. The ones that were initially relaxing to me had objectionable messages ("never question authority" - I'll get into that one later). The ones that weren't objectionable didn't speak to my soul at all (Lutheran chants - I know that's the wrong word). The churches that had great music and traditional songs ("How Great Thou Art" and "Amazing Grace") spoke inappropriately with children in the room about sex and outted Santa Claus.

I've had an interest in Eastern philospophy since college when I read "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg. I've recently decided to live a double life if not a schizophrenic one and be a writer as well as a programmer. So I've returned to my favorite writing guru, Natalie, who I believe is a Jewish woman turned Buddhist. She practices writing as one practices zazen, Buddhist mediation. I fully believe her writing process works for two reasons. One is that I have nearly finished the first draft of a children's story that I actually think is good (I usually think my creative writing is crap, which up until now is true for the most part). Secondly, my husband and kids noticed how happy I am since I started writing. I remember something in Goldberg's book that writers who are not writing are not happy - they may be depressed or partaking in drugs or alcohol or just miserable. And you don't have to write to be a writer. It's the thing where some of us need to let loose the stuff that floats around our minds. Programming sure as hell doesn't purge it.

To pursue Buddhism, I did a Google search for Buddhist churches in my area. There is one 30+ minutes south and one that's an hour north of my home. There's no service - you learn to practice mediation. They lock you in for an hour where you sit quietly. Sounds reasonable except for the posture you are expected to sit in and the thing where a locked door with strangers around me may well send me into a panic attack. I don't mind locking the door myself, but would really like the option to leave at will. So I decided to study Buddhism at home and one day brave out to the Buddhist temple for some additional training and insight. I bought a copy of "The Three Pillars of Zen" by Philip Kapleau that says it's the best book in English written on Zen Buddhism. It does seem to be the best book out there that I've found but it is a difficult read nonetheless.

To complicate my quest for spirituality, we have threatened my daughter with Catholic high school. Not because she's doing badly - the public school in our area which is supposed to be the best of the best isn't all that great in my opinion (moms in the neighborhood get very mad if I assert that idea, which is a story for another day). One of the Catholic schools in our area seems to be a great fit for my daughter. It's pricey, but still less than high quality preschool, which I managed to pay for as a single mom before I got remarried. If I'm willing to pay for preschool, it seems logical to pay for a high quality high school.

The issue, however, is that no churches have stuck to us. That is only a problem because my daughter has to declare a religion on her application. I told her that she has the choice. We could go Lutheran - my husband's mother's family was Lutheran and he attended a Lutheran elementary school. One of the Lutheran churches we attended had a creepy dude in charge of the older children's Sunday School program. The other one had services in a basketball court, which was very distracting to me. I told her I would suck it up for her and attend willingly if that's where she wanted to go.

I did not want to take her to my family's church. I was raised Church of Christ in a very short-lived way. My parents got divorced when I was six. My mother had been a Sunday school teacher up until that point. She got mad at the religious people telling her she was sinful to get divorced and walked away. I still attended church sometimes but found the sermons to be anti-women. My daughter agreed with that.

She said she made her decision. She wanted to go to church with her best friend who attended a contemporary non-denominational or maybe Baptist church that was nearby. I agreed and looked up the service times for the next morning. We slept in and missed the service. She agreed to have some quiet Buddhist meditation with me in our garden while pulling weeds. It was a very wonderful, peaceful, spiritual morning. We were quiet, then we talked. Some of our daisies fell over so my daughter cut them and put them in vases for two of our neighbors who were surely at church while we were communing with God in our garden.

That was the day that I found a deeper sense of happiness in my heart and the day I started writing again.

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