Irish Girl in Africa

Irish Girl in Africa

Friday, April 4, 2014


The only real discussion I have had about my faith in God was with my friend Cathal on a twelve hour drive a few years ago. He asked me did I ever pray and I told him yes, and that I had said a little prayer as we had started our long drive on a road dotted with overturned trucks and small children and pigs. It seemed preposterous to him. I wondered if his lack of faith in anything spiritual left any sort of void in his life, but it certainly didn't seem to and I admired his confidence. I'm not sure what I believe in now, but what I don't believe in is the Catholic Church.

This week someone that I love was left feeling judged and humiliated by the church because of a decision that was made in their life. Homosexuality. Abortion. Divorce. Contraception. Equality. How can I justify being a part of a body that makes people feel undignified for any of those things? Thems the rules, they say, so I think it is time to say goodbye to the McDonalds style practicing that I have been doing.

Religion has been in my life in a pretty intense way. In Ethiopia in the early nineties, I went to an American baptist missionary school. Every morning we had to recite a memorised sentence from the bible, a paragraph at the the end of a week and if you could recite the whole section at the end of the year, you won a trophy. Prayer a dozen times a day and reaffirmation of faith at general assembly. The Lord was very present. By the time I went to an Irish convent boarding school at the age of twelve I was like Ned Flanders, so the morning prayers in the chapel before breakfast, meal prayers and nighttime prayers, with habit-wearing nuns came easily.

Priests and nuns have always been in my life. When I meet a really lovely priest (it's very rare to meet a lovely nun) I do not bask in awe of his sacred power but think -what a pity, he would have been a wonderful granddad. Sometimes being with a person with such overwhelming faith makes it seem real. And of course those lovely priests are terribly open minded but it's up to those lads in the Vatican.

It can't go without saying that the way in which many facets of the Church protect and allow corruption and abuse to fester makes me lose respect for the institution. In my professional and personal life I have witnessed the Church allowing people who have openly abused their position or carried out illegal activity to remain in their positions, doling out their judgemental sacred power on their unknowing parishioners and funders.

The thing is, I have had some incredibly special moments in church. Soothing, emotional, moving moments. It does feel good to be part of a community, a tradition, a ritual. I have felt comforted by the confident words of one of those lovely priests when the world outside has been broken. But perhaps it is just the beautiful space, the lighting, the quiet, the song, the soft words, the feeling of belonging to something. I don't actually feel nourished by the eucharist. I don't really know what I am doing when I am lighting a candle for someone. I really struggled to verbalise why I wanted to get married in a Catholic Church to the local priest and to explain to an atheist why I got my children christened.

I think I am better out figuring out my spirituality outside of a church that I do not believe with change and evolve in my lifetime. But what should I teach my children? I got them a Bible because I thought it was time to teach my three year old about spirituality and faith and prayer. I thought that, at least if I teach her this, it will give her an option in the future about what she believes - if I don't teach her anything, I thought she would really struggle to believe in something in the future.

But when I read the stories to her, it seems ridiculous.

Despite having a fairly intense experience of learning the Bible myself, I do not understand the stories and I don't even like the ideas that they might be giving her. Satan vs. Jesus. God making bad things happen because people didn't obey him. If one of my children found such a profound faith in the church that they decided to become a nun or a priest, I would think they were mental instead of being happy that they had found salvation. So, should I read them this Bible? Should I take them to mass? Should they have a communion, a confirmation? Should I give them an opportunity to opt out of something, instead of the unlikely opt in in adult life?

For now, I can't teach them something that I cannot explain with confidence. But maybe somebody or something will change my mind, or theirs.