How do you raise spiritual, moral children without religion?

Both my children were baptized Catholic in a beautiful ceremony full of rituals and blessings, as my husband and I were decades earlier. However, this initiation full of both traditions and superstitions, felt more like a placeholder than a forever commitment. While I believe in the communal benefits of a church, I do not believe in organized religion.

Growing up, I enjoyed Catechism classes and devotionally read my grandfather’s old prayer book. I never enjoyed, though, sitting in church. It seemed more of an hour of mental discipline than spiritual awakening. For one hour each Sunday, I would try to contain my natural propensity to fidget and roam and to stave off boredom. It seemed so passive.

As I grew older, I became more resentful of the role of women, the discrimination of homosexuals, and the history of corruption and violence. I remember my first college philosophy class and how existentialism spoke to me, how we can self-create and regulate our own reality and find eternal life through the legacy of our actions. Every action becomes weighed then and no slate can be wiped clean simply by asking for forgiveness.

I feel every step of my spiritual journey, which continues, was important. So how do I start off my own children in a way that feels honest? Inevitability, as citizens of a predominantly Christian culture, they are already aware of the concepts of God, Jesus, heaven, and hell. However, they do not all quite make sense and they have endless questions. Today, my son asked why the devil is evil? I had no ready answer. I ended up explaining how the world is full of opposing forces. However, my six year old was not ready for an epistemological discussion of dualisms. I then, and I regret this, discussed how you could not have superheroes without villains. Is it blasphemous to discuss God as the ultimate superhero?

More than anything I want my children to understand that people hold a variety of beliefs and that anything is possible. I want them to believe in something, but I do not want to dictate, or have a specific book or religion dictate, the tenets of that belief. How do we begin?



Work and Self Worth

In my second day off between semesters, fresh from a retirement party, I cannot help but think of the role work plays in our sense of worth. I found myself revisiting and playing with a poem I started about my father, who believes fervently in a hard day’s work and told me often when I did not want to do a task, “Think about how good you will feel when it is done.” The underlying message being our value comes from that which we do. I’ve lately come to classify him as an existential Catholic who believes we insert ourselves into the world first by baptism and then by deed.

We stood into the wind, already sweating underneath our dusty caps,

socks staining against the dirt gathered in the bottom of our sneakers.

The bean leaves ripple, showing their pale underbelly,

as the spindles whip shapes into the sky

My father grips a hoe with his big knuckled, turgid veined fist,

hands it to me and tells me where to begin.

“Think about how good you will feel when it is done.”

We crack the topsoil and sink our footprints into the loam,

Walking miles, scouring, our heads pendulum swinging side to side

I pull two-handed the embedded ragweeds, velvetleafs

We shake the clumps of dirt from their greedy roots

Until the soil sticks to our slick forearms, embeds under fingernails,

clings to the hair of our nostrils, and grits between my teeth.

“Think about how good you will feel when it is done.”

The lesson slides down my throat, as I tip the icy thermos,

lifts perspired threads of hair and fabric as I lean

into the rushing air from the back of the truck bed

and think of the crisp line formations of the crops