One of the things that I am learning about being married to someone of a different culture is that the small differences between you culturally can almost be a bigger deal than the big things. It’s funny how that works: you get over the big things pretty quickly, but the stuff that you thought wouldn’t matter that much slowly begins to, well, matter. Take, for instance, religion. John is Catholic, I am Christian. Not that different, right? After all, we both believe in God, we have the same reference point for creation, the fundamentals are in alignment. But there are some real differences in our beliefs also. In spite of those differences, though, we are two people who know how to get along and we quickly found a happy medium. After all, church is church and God is God.
But then we had Leila and broader questions popped up. Should she be baptized by one church or both? Her Catholic church godparents have to be Catholic? What if my choice for a godparent isn’t Catholic? What if I’m not Catholic? What does that make me? Does she pray to God or to Peter, Paul, Mary and Joseph? How do I ask these questions without offending John? How does he stand his ground without offending me? An easy answer is still nowehere in sight. And while we try to figure our stuff out, Leila has started figuring things out for herself. Before I know it, she is differentiating between “Mommy’s church” and “Our (read her and John’s) church”. All of this leaves me mulling a much bigger question: where am I in all of this?
It’s a selfish question, really. My mother says as long as she believes in God she’s fine. But I associate my relationship with God with my relationship with my mother. After all, she dragged me to church, Sunday School and VBS (Vacation Bible School) religiously (pun fully intended). She helped me memorize Bible verses for summer camp, she slammed me in the youth choir that taught me songs whose lyrics would pull me through life’s toughest times. Being spiritual without being dogmatic, knowing the word for myself, appreciating a well-timed Bible verse, being able to praise without making a spectacle, recognizing the difference between Christians and “Christians”, seeing God everywhere and in all things (including other religions), all this I learned from watching my mother. My relationship with God is defined, in large part, though my relationship with my mom. Simply put, God reminds me of my mommy, and my mommy reminds me of God.
Now if Leila develops that with John, I think that is a beautiful, beautiful thing. But on this east coast, so far away from the only five other people I call my family and in a neighborhood with approximately only three African-American women to speak of (including me), Leila’s only reference point for me, is…me. To the extent that I do not clearly define myself to my baby, do I, in some strange way, disappear? And heaven forbid anything happen to me, what left around my baby would make her think of me?
I guess what I am realizing is that in many ways, we are defined not as much by what we believe, but more by what we practice. Religion creates the many of the traditions that are the very fabric of the ties that bind. And what I have come to realize is that when you feel so far away from all that you are, strengthening that fabric becomes very, very important. So last night, when Leila finished a prayer with “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…” and the sign of the cross, both against and compelled by my better judgement, I corrected her. “When you go to church across the street, you can say that when you pray”, I said, “but in the house we just say, ‘In Jesus’ name, Amen'”. I’m so conflicted here. I don’t want to confuse my baby, but I don’t want to disappear to her either. What I believe matters too, even if it’s not that different from what’s all around her, right? God, this is hard! What would Jesus do? It’s just so hard to know…