Welcome to my latest installment about why I love religion. Maybe it's because religion gets a bad name a lot of times, so I feel the need to defend it. Or I feel the need to be contrary. It's one or the other.
(Note: If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, this is probably just a rehash of what I've already written, so you can move on if you'd like. I say it's "probably" a rehash, because I went back to check some old posts, but I got bored looking for them after 2 minutes and gave up.)
Here's the thing, I know a lot of people that say "It's not about a religion. It's about a relationship." Usually they mean it's a relationship with just them and Jesus. I got all fired up again after I heard Jason Gray's "More Like Falling In Love" on the radio the other day. This song and I have an interesting relationship. There's something about it that I enjoy listening to, but I also realize that if I took these words at face value, I might be without either a religion or a relationship by now. Don't blame the song, though. It is just a concise expression of a very common attitude in American Christianity in general; one that I hear from Protestants and Catholics alike.
Give me rules, I will break them
Show me lines, I will cross them
Is that what religion is to you? Rules, lines in the sand? Well, no wonder you hate it.
I need more than a truth to believe,
I need a truth that lives, moves and breathes
To sweep me off my feet...
I was right there with him for the first two lines, but that last one lost me. That last one is the kind of thing I'm talking about...
It's gotta be more like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance
Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It's like I'm falling, oh
It's like I'm falling in love
And it goes on, more of the same. The thing is, I don't wholly disagree with him. It is about relationship. It is about being in love and realizing that the truth that you cling to is not some idea or concept, but rather the very Person that you long for with all your heart. That part is all true.
It's the part where he (again, he speaking for a prevalent attitude) wants to rip religion away from the picture, as if it were a separate thing. To me, there is not a distinction between the religion and the relationship. To me, religion is not rules and regulation. It is relationship. There are rules, but I think boundaries are a good thing. (Tell me, which kids feel more secure and loved, those who have boundaries at home, or those that are allowed to run wild?*)
If following God is not about relationship with Him, it's a pretty useless thing, full of guilt trips and baggage. So in that sense, Mr. Gray is correct. However, when God leaves suddenly things are a little different. There is no feeling, no sense of Him anywhere. If I had been convinced that following God was a matter of being swept off my feet, I don't know where that would have left me. Nowhere good, probably. As it is, I may not know how to find Him. I may not know how to make the numbness go away. I may not get any answers, but I know where to look.
It is in the rules. Particularly the rule about going to church on Sunday. I praise God for that rule, because I needed it to get me to Mass, and I need Mass.
It is in the liturgy. That public form of worship, where I can unite myself with others who are going through similar and wildly different things, but we are all there united with Christ.
It is in the creed. Standing up and affirming that I believe what I cannot feel or know at this moment.
Religion is what gave structure to my relationship and that structure was all I had to hold onto sometimes. So, Mr. Gray, I need a truth that lives, moves and breathes as well. But I need to lose my heart and give my allegiance. I need to fall in love and have something to believe in, something concrete and structured. I can't do one without the other and still make it through. My hope and prayer is that all of the people that have such a wonderful understanding of how important a relationship with God is, will also come to understand how religion can be an enrichment of that relationship and give it a depth and foundation that can make the relationship last, even when the going is tough.
I know that everyone's faith walk is different, and some people have been greatly harmed by the misuse of religion. I pray for their healing, and I think that it's a good thing if they focus more on the relationship aspect than the structure. In my case, it is because of religion and the mystical Body of Christ that I have any faith left right now.
*Religious rules, like discipline at home are a good thing, but both can be used improperly. For the sake of this post, let's assume that we are talking about healthy boundaries and not rigorous and harsh imposition of rules.