stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
THE THINGS I KEPT WHILE LOSING MY RELIGION
space
The church was my whole life - and in my mother's eyes, literally so - and losing that was painful. But some things, such as the magical thinking of faith, are primal
space
By GAIL GALLANT
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Saturday, April 20, 2019 – Page O1

Author of The Changeling: A Memoir of My Death and Rebirth, My Haunted Childhood, and My Education in Sainthood and Sin

As a child, I remember my siblings and I squinting in the Easter morning sun wearing our very best spring outfits, and piling into the family car to head off to St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church. Easter couldn't hold a candle to Christmas for sheer mania, but it had its own sense of joy. Easter meant much more to me than the waxy, milk-chocolate moulds of rabbits and eggs lying in wait for our return from church.

That was when an all-powerful, all-loving God ruled the world. He was grey-haired and bearded and softly draped in winter white, the compassionate father of a billion children. He saw their tears and heard their cries.

My mother's included. She had lost a baby girl named Gail in a car accident, and when I was born the following year, she believed I was God's answer to her prayers. I was her dead baby, brought back to life. And so I believed it, too. Then, as a young adult, I began the protracted and painful ordeal of losing my religion. In the process, I almost lost myself.

People lose their religion for so many reasons. Perhaps they become too clever or cynical. Or maybe too scientific or rational.

Or simply too honest and disappointed. Eventually, the idea of an all-powerful, all-loving God who sometimes acts in the personal lives of some folks - but not others - just stopped making moral sense to me.

If you find that you can no longer believe in the God of your childhood, your whole religious tradition can become collateral damage. Losing all those trappings of your faith can leave you feeling even more bereft. What some people miss most is the sense of a community, the familiar faces, the subtle smiles and nods at church service and the bake sales. For others, it's the hymns, the candles and statues, the rituals and sacraments and scripture.

The hardest part for me was not being able to pray. I could no longer pray for a favour, for a miracle, for a sign, for guidance, for a cure, for strength. Not for myself or for my loved ones or even for the planet. I missed being able to make that most private appeal directly to God, or in my Catholic case, to God, Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary or any of those specialist saints. Not only begging, pleading, "pretty-please" prayers for anything from small favours to life-saving rescue, but also prayers of gratitude.

I still find myself wanting to send a prayer, say a prayer or, everybody's favourite, offer up "thoughts and prayers," but it's awkward now. If there is no God to pray to, praying feels dishonest, like wanting to have your cake and eat it, too.

But there is one territory of my religious past that I haven't quite relinquished. I could survive losing God and my church, but I didn't want to lose all that accompanying supernaturalism, or as some would call it, magical thinking. Who can blame me?

For instance, miracles. What's not to love about a miracle? Who doesn't want to experience the wonder of seeing the rules of gravity bent, of physics defied, of mathematics broken? Like feeding a crowd with only two loaves and five fish. Who doesn't want that magical cure that contradicts medical science? Is there anything as inspirational, as lifealtering, as a miracle? It reassures the discouraged masses that there is still something unpredictable and unfathomable about life, even at its most bleak.

We all hope for a miracle. I know I do.

As well, I like the idea of having a little supernatural input regarding life's decisions.

As a child, I used to look to the sky for signs and omens all the time. I still pay attention. Some decisions are simply too important to leave to mortal judgment, any more than to the toss of a coin, and guessing makes me nervous. There is something so appealing about a helpful hint, a nudge in the right direction or a little warning about what lies ahead.

The trouble is, when I was young, I lived in a world crowded with invisible people, not only God and Jesus and Mary and the saints, but a host of angels, too.

And then of course there were the people you knew who had died and were now in heaven. It really adds up. On a bad day, these invisible persons could be looking down on you, shaking their heads disapprovingly. On a good day, they might be standing by you in the midst of some difficulty, offering invisible support.

Either way, I was never alone.

Now, those invisible people don't exist for me any more. Well, with one exception. I still have a thing for the presence of the dead, the lingering souls of the dearly departed. The belief in ghosts is ancient and universal, so I'm in good company. I haven't encountered a ghost face to face yet - but I'm always on the lookout.

Then there are all those magic charms that I can't seem to manage without. I grew up surrounded by icons, statues, holy medals, rosary beads and scapulars, and it's something I continue to indulge in, in my own way. Don't even ask how many objects I discreetly carry around in my purse on an average day. (The old dog tag of my beloved Irish wolfhound, a Blessed Virgin Mary medal that belonged to my mother, my son's baby teeth, to name only a few.) They all mean something to me, and I feel safer keeping them close.

I know I said I can no longer bring myself to pray, but there's one exception there, too. You could say it's my mantra. Of all the pantheon of Catholic characters, Mary is the one who still has a hold on me. Mostly in the form of that little prayer that I used to repeat some 50 times while saying the rosary. I recite the Hail Mary in my head in lieu of counting sheep on sleepless nights. It can calm me down when my stress or fear gets out of hand, especially if I slow down my breathing as I pray. It works well during airplane turbulence, too.

I wear these traces of my childhood faith like scar tissue, and they have a stubborn resiliency I've learned to appreciate. But maybe that's because they're older than Jesus. Prayer, after all, is primal. As ancient as human culture, it springs from poetry and meditation and dance. Even an atheist should be able to get away with occasional therapeutic recitation.

And perhaps praying can sometimes have an effect that goes beyond therapy. Don't ask me how or why, but it worked for my mother, didn't it?


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main William_Johnson Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page