Passing faith onto my children has been exceedingly tricky for me. I was brought up in a very strict version of the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic religion. In this religion, all thoughts and actions were codified as either venial or mortal sins. Any attempts to identify one’s own actions as good were, in themselves, sins of pride. It is difficult to guide a family when one is prostrate before an all powerful, all-knowing presence who seeks to keep us groveling on the ground in absolute obsequiousness.
It was made even more complicated by the birth of my son. At what age was I supposed to start believing him to be a man, with authority over me?
In my religion, we were taught that we were to be able to choose our own actions, according to the laws of the church, no later than the age of eight. My son was told by his father that he was too old to be told what to do as soon as he reached this benchmark. The men in our families began sparring with him as if he was an adult male animal that they had to bring down. There was no scripture telling me how to protect him from the predators in his own tribe.
My daughter was told to shun me as a shameful woman even before I was divorced by her father. This, too, was in keeping with the beliefs of my parents’ religion than any woman who, by her mere physical presence created lust in the hearts of men, was somehow responsible for the sins of the men. My ancestral religion was clearly not the answer to passing on any faith that would support my mission as a mother of both a daughter and a son.
I began studying alternatives to the Roman Catholic religion, thinking that all faith was based on religion. All of the Judeo-Christian religions that I tried seemed to be based on the same moral code of groveling before a gruesome god. I could not see introducing my children to the same bonds of abject fear that had ruled me all my life.
I distilled what I saw as the message of the ministry of the man called Jesus into a few kernels, easily digestible by even a three-year-old. Basically, I began with faith in the intrinsic goodness of my two children. The first two rules were, “Don’t hurt yourself.” and, “Don’t hurt other people.” I had faith in their intellects and ability to reason. As they grew, I encouraged them to question me on my authority, but to do so with respect. I, in turn, thought about their questions and answered them with equal respect for their need to know the reasons for my rules. When they began to be faced with navigating the world outside my protective presence, I had faith in their fairness. I admonished them to be responsible, productive citizens of their communities.
My faith is in the Sacred Spirit that is in all of the universe. Full humans are able to freely exercise and grow their sacred spirits, and to share their sacredness with others. What a tragedy that we reduce, and often kill completely, this Sacred Spirit by instilling fear. My mission as a mother was to protect these seeds of the most sacred of the manifestations of divinity before they were born and until they could walk away on their own to “go forth, be fruitful, and multiply” the goodness (god-ness?) of the universe.