BY: Janis Gaudelli – “Champion of Truths, Unicorns & AWE-tism”
Disclaimer: Religion is a pretty controversial topic, especially in the current climate. This blog is about my relationship with religion. It is not meant to be divisive in any way. I did not write this to dishonor anyone’s belief system(s) or faith in God. This is the story of a girl who, from a very young age, questioned and struggled with her faith.
I remember it clearly: I was in 3rd grade sitting in religious ed., and my religion teacher, Sister Edith, was sharing a lesson from our workbook about Lent. I asked a question that I still ponder today: “How do we know there is a God if we can’t see him?”
She looked at me, unhappy and a bit taken aback, and responded, “Never mind, God is all around us.”
I remember thinking, as most curious kids do, “what does that mean?”
Then a few other classmates and I looked around, seeing if we could spot this God she spoke of who is all around us. Ha!
I am still that curious little girl questioning the concept of “God.” I have always been in awe of those who just ‘get it’ and believe without a doubt in their minds. Those who speak to him because they believe he can hear them. Those who leave their wants, needs, and decisions in his hands, believing he will provide an answer. Those who live their lives by his word. I struggle with all this, and more. I always have.
I grew up in a traditional Catholic household, where my siblings and I accompanied my parents to church every Sunday. My Dad & Mom were Sacristans, and my Aunt was a former nun teaching in the Catholic school system. We had religious paraphernalia in our house (crucifixes, photos, prayers, bibles, etc.) to showcase our family’s belief system. However, I had the most trouble connecting to it all. I had all these questions and only received empty responses, as if nothing was ever open for debate. I received a lot of the replies like: (the ever-popular) “never mind”, “because that’s the way God wanted it”, “you don’t question God”, and a few others that dismissed my inquiring mind. Those answers didn’t work for me then, and they certainly don’t now. Growing up Catholic, I was asked to follow a belief system I questioned, and why shouldn’t we question something we’re simply curious about?
Therefore, I grew up conflicted about religion. At least, about my religion and my God. I didn’t feel I belonged at mass, and I am sure most kids my age felt the same. I wanted the priest to have it all make sense for the 7-year-old me, the 10-year-old me, the 15-year-old me, the 25-year-old me, and so on. I wanted him to apply what he was reciting from the Bible to modern day. I wanted him to reveal how we could apply these lessons and messages to our own lives. But, instead, I felt like my wants were ignored and talked over, so I became bored and disengaged.
As I got older, my attention veered away from the pontification and I started to take notice of the believers that sat with me. Some followed the word of the lord and lived it authentically, on the daily. While others sat in pews, practicing, accepting and believing, yet once that hour of worship was up, they all went back to being really shitty humans (clergy included).
As religious as my parents were, they didn’t put us in the Catholic School system. But, ironically enough, I attended a Catholic University: Seton Hall University. The lure was anything but religious, in fact, it was almost a deterrent until I met a priest on my school tour who shockingly answered questions. These were straightforward questions, like, “Are the students required to go to church every Sunday?” and “Are Catholic studies part of the curriculum?” One bold rebel asked, “What if we don’t abide by every Catholic principle?”
I expected the priest to reply with some of those canned answers I had heard as a kid: some ‘never minds’, a few ‘that’s the way God wanted it’, etc.
But he surprised me. He replied: “You are not required to go to church” (say what?), “You do not have to study Catholicism as part of your major, but Catholic studies are part of the core curriculum”, “We offer other religion courses aside from Catholicism, it’s your choice.”
His reply to the bold, curious rebel was the clincher, “You’re an adult now, you can make your own decisions and that includes what or who you choose to believe in. And whatever that is, it shouldn’t alter your educational experience here. Any other questions?” After that tour, I returned home and immediately sent in my acceptance letter.
I began to explore my spirituality during my 4-year college career. There was one class that changed my outlook on the whole concept of faith called “World Religions.” We studied belief systems ranging from Buddhism, The Whirling Dervishes, and Hare Krishna, to Jehovah Witness, Baptist, Judaism and a myriad of others. I was fascinated. I talk about that class to this day, and how it changed my perspective on faith. That class allowed me to widen my lens on all these different religions and helped me understand which deity & set of principles I aligned with best. It made me realize that my curiosity was actually celebrated by some of these religions, in which parishioners were empowered to ask questions and obtain the answers needed to grow deeper in their faith.
We were tasked with visiting three services from the religions we covered in class, and I chose a Buddhist temple, a Baptist Church and a Hare Krishna service. During these visits, I was able to compare my Catholic experience with those of three other faiths. Other than beliefs in different Gods and each following a diverse set of rules, I witnessed a difference in the believers at these services. The parishioners were of all ages, all sexualities, and all walks of life. All were engaged, and all were accepted.
I remember coming home at the end of that semester with a new understanding, a new outlook and a greater awareness. I revisited my hometown church and felt the difference, the divide. It was during that visit home that I found myself losing my religion. I realized I couldn’t turn a blind eye to an establishment that drives people out based on personal life choices. I couldn’t be part of a church where females aren’t allowed to profess and lead. I couldn’t believe in an institution that is resistant to change. I couldn’t actively follow the ‘rules’ of authority figures who are committing the most horrific sins – crimes, actually – of mistreating innocent children.
That said, I haven’t aligned with a particular denomination since leaving the Catholic church. Since then, much has transpired in my life that has challenged my faith even more. I still struggle, and maybe I always will, but my credo lies in living a life of kindness and compassion. Nature has become my church; it’s where I retreat to think, confess and work towards betterment. I find spiritual enlightenment in people, places and things that do not judge or discriminate, that just love and accept wholeheartedly with no requirements, qualifiers or decree of feeling ‘less than.’
To me, religion is more than just a collection of beliefs, it’s the fabric of who you are.
My religion is Love.
Janis Gaudelli is The Founder of The Daily Feels. She started this passion project to reveal the magic behind storytelling, and how truth-based narratives bring people together in the most heart-warming of ways. Fascinated by soul, depth, intellect, raw truths and rebellion with a cause. Often captivated by the awe of nature: star gazing, moon manifesting, sunset chasing, waves crashing, crickets singing. Fiercely curious about the inner-workings of the human psyche… she professionally studies human behavior for a living. Forever proud and grateful for being a mom to the force that fuels her life: her 7-year-old son, and greatest professor, Kellan.