A good man, father, husband and community member lost his life last week. He was killed by someone who's mental problems turned him into a monster. His last words--the words that, as his priest said at his funeral, resulted in his dying a "martyr's death" were, "I'm Catholic." The gunman had asked him, "what's your religion." The priest then asked his congregation, "how many of you could answer such a question?"
I had heard about this question right after I heard the identity of the victim. The disbelief of who and how felt like a stomach punch. And interspersed with all the thoughts of this loss and his family, I wondered what I would have answered. It's easy to say, "well....I'm not really into any organized religion..." when you're having a beer with friends, but what would the answer be if the questioner were pointing a gun to my head?
When I honestly answered that question--placing myself in that tense situation, my one-word answer would most likely have been "nothing." Nothing. Is that the truth?
Liz Caile was a writer who raised her children in a cabin on Sugarloaf. She was wise and funny and I felt lucky to know her. A book of her stories was published after she died, and in one she talked about religion and how she found her's in the wilderness. Her church was the Earth--literally. She loved to walk and hike, "I pray with my feet, " she said. I've always loved that.
Another writer friend, Peter Mayer, wrote a song called "Holy Now". He writes about how now, as a grown man, he's able to see that the miracle is that anything is here at all-- that everything is Holy.
This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
--From Holy Now by Peter Mayer
I wasn't raised with religion. I grew up in a small farming town, and Sundays were days to get a lot of work done, since we didn't have school, and my dad wasn't at work. Every once in a while, I'd ask my mom to let me go to church with the neighbors. Their oldest son, Donald, was my age, and he got to ring the bell at the start of the service. If I went with them he'd let me take turns with him, pulling a thick rope that went up into the second story and the belfry. That, and the part after the service where we went downstairs and ate cookies while the grownups talked were the best parts of church.
I still don't go to church. I always hope that by volunteering in my community, but helping when I can, by living low on the food chain, and by taking care, I'm living a good life, which is what religion teaches--in various forms. I am constantly awed by what I find just outside my door, by how much humans can endure, by beautiful words, music, art.
Until I truly believe in something else, and I am searching-- I hope that my answer to that question, "what's your religion?" would have been, "Everything".