My grandmother came from a great big, French-Canadian, Catholic family and ran with a boisterous, giggling group of sisters throughout her 96 years on this planet. When my grandfather, who could be a bit of a curmudgeon, retired, she felt her wings had been clipped. He insisted on being part of the gang when the sisters went shopping or gathered to play cards. “T’ain’t no fun anymore,” she’d say. Joyful outings with the girls became something else entirely to her.
It was a great burst of freedom for Gramma when my grandfather was hired for a consulting gig in India. He would be gone for a couple weeks. She dropped him off at the airport the morning of his trip, and she excitedly met up with her sisters later that day for a girls’ trip to Atlantic City. When they were in line to board the bus, however, a blood vessel burst in her right eye. This moved her anticipated lodging that night from New Jersey to the hospital, and left her permanently blinded her on that side.
The story she told for the rest of her days, the tale we heard repeated so often was this: God punished her for being happy my grandfather was away.
In her mind, in her own understanding of her relationship with the Divine, joy was met with retribution. It breaks my heart still.
There was a story from earlier in her life about a photo she captured of lightning. She claimed these bolts formed a perfect image of an angry God pointing at her saying, “You! Sinner!” I can still picture the expression on her face as she told this tale. She meant it.
I loved my grandmother fiercely. She was fun, hilarious, and clever. She was also stricken with such a guilt-infused sense of low self worth. It was sad and confusing, and I felt helpless. I don’t believe she could ever view herself with the same deep love and compassion her kids and grandkids felt for her.
Like all things family, her myths penetrated to my core. Yes, I could muster moral outrage at the fusion of her deep faith with awful scars; but I also took some of it on.
Some of us are raised in traditions that say you are here and God is over there, that teach that “sins” will be met with punishment and that you are just one very human foible away from a fall from grace. It can be a struggle to release ourselves from that paradigm.
My own upbringing reinforced those fears. In first grade, when Sister Mary Ellen left the class alone while she went down the hall to fetch something, she would say, “I am leaving the room, but you had better behave because Jesus is watching.” Yikes! So many religious conventions are taught through the lens of fear with supposed mandates from a punishing God. It is a potent drug.
I could rant with stories like this for hours, and, as I write this, I realize some of my furious indignation with the whole process reflects my fear as much as anything else. What if my rejection of these harsh interpretations of the Divine was wrong? What would happen then? It is as though my anger was the rocket fuel that had propelled me out of that orbit.
By my teens, I cast my search wider for answers. On my first trip to an ashram, I marveled at clerics in festive orange rather than spooky black. As I studied other systems of belief in college, I marveled at how freeing some of the ideas felt. When I learned meditation, I discovered a peace and an expansiveness that blew open my anticipation of what a spiritually-focused life could mean.
I have spent much of my life re-learning God. I still have these magical moments of great clarity when I remember I am loved and, in this very moment, I am perfect. Not the ego-laden style of perfection, but the simply perfect sort of perfect. It’s nice.
When I stumbled onto the teachings of The Guides, it fit exactly into the place I had arrived. It all met me where I was, and never, not once, have I heard I could mess it up. That, more than anything, validated for me that I had found a path worth exploring.
I know I can practice, work to refine my relationship with spirit, and be in a lovely alignment with the Universe, all at the same time. It has taken me a lifetime to get here, and I am sure I cannot even imagine the lessons that lie ahead. I hope you, too, have found great peace in this work.
Word I Am Word