Morning Prayers service with speaker Madeline Lear '17, Harvard College. Photo by Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications
A reading from “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman:
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
I’ve always believed in God.
My parents believe in God, too. My mom was raised Christian, my dad, Jewish, though they would call themselves “spiritual but not religious.”
And so I wasn’t raised with any kind of formal religion. And so religion, then, felt foreign. While I know my parents only meant well in wanting me to figure things out for myself, the effect it had on me was as if I had been raised vegan and then told to choose for myself whether or not I wanted to eat meat. Whenever I would enter a church, my body kind of rejected it. Talk of suffering and sin and Jesus freaked me out. It was easy to conflate organized religion with intolerance and strictness and negativity.
That was, until I started studying nuns. Now most people usually respond to hearing that with images of the sound of music. When Prof. Laurel Ulrich first taught me about American Catholic sisters, I thought of submissive women praying in a corner.
It didn’t take long to figure out I was so wrong, that really thousands of Catholic sisters in the U.S. were empowered by and used their faith to build some of the country’s most successful education and hospital systems.
And so my assumptions about sisters were wrong, and I started questioning my fear of organized religion, and even started going to churches.
Then last summer, I injured my back and had to take the semester off. Stuck at home, I turned to my thesis, which is about an order of Catholic sisters. Away from school and with a chance to breathe, my faith and questions were growing. I worked in the sisters’ archive and started sitting in on their prayers. And while their prayers were meaningful, something didn’t feel quite right. I couldn’t get that inherent aversion to religious language out of my body. Without knowing enough about the theology of the prayers, a lot of it sounded like guilt and punishment. But I had a feeling that I was missing something.
So I kept trying different masses wherever I could. And then…I found it. On a Sunday morning last fall, I walked into St. Monica’s Catholic Church, where else but my hometown of secular liberal Los Angeles. And I thought to myself, “there is no way this is a Catholic Church.”
It was warm, and the pews were packed, and the music was alive and everyone was just so happy to be there. There were more women on stage than men, altar girls abounded, and the spirit of the place was just love. It wasn’t overly serious or intense or formal, it was just love. And I thought to myself, “this, this is where I find my God.”
And so my prayer today is a wish that anyone who feels alienated from their faith or is struggling to find meaning, call it God, call it whatever you want, that we find it, or at the very least that we keep looking. Thank you.