Divorce is never easy, especially on the children. As a child of divorce, or so I had always heard, you try to please one parent and then the other, always wanted to love and be loved by both, and not wanting to have to choose, which one is better–but always being put in the position of being asked to do so.
When the Protestant Reformation happened and Luther’s rules were posted on walls throughout England, people picked sides. You either love mom or you love dad–mother church or father (of Protestantism) Luther. Sitting in the courthouse before God, children were given the option to choose only one parent for custody. There were those that were dedicated to their Mother and the certainty and regimen she provided under her wings, others were exuberant over the way Dad was shaking things up and making everyone look at things with new eyes.
I see some Christians today becoming curious about the “Father” or the “Mother” they never knew. So, what happens to kids where one parent has soul spiritual custody, and what would shared custody look like?
When I joined my Episcopal church, having been a previously baptized, confessed, and confirmed Catholic, according to the rules of the Anglican communion all I had to do was “reaffirm” my dedication to God and church. My husband, a Protestant by birth, had to be newly confirmed, which was equally interesting to me.
I found this form of Protestantism fascinating–both retaining many rituals and forms of the church of my birth, while adding some new rituals, methods, and perspectives. I enjoyed some of the unique qualities which varied both from the Catholic and Protestant experiences of my past: having female pastors, providing Communion to anyone who came to church, and equanimity towards congregants of all genders and sexual orientations. Having married a Protestant man, devout to his own history, we had felt the Episcopal church was a wonderful bridge between Mother and Father into, almost, a joint custody situation. But technically dad was our primary caregiver–if anyone asked.
Recently, I began reading the spiritual autobiography, Vida (Life), by my namesake, Teresa of Avila, and stumbled on a witty and honest memoir of devotion, My Life with the Saints by James Martin, SJ, a Jesuit priest and writer/editor for “America” magazine. I began to fall back in love my “faith of origin”, Catholicism, with the adoration of a child, but the insight of age. I loved how both these eloquent writers had loved their own faith, their spiritual practices, and were able to be humble and bold within the tradition of their birth. I was beginning to love my Mother in new and beautiful ways, the way you love a parent with maturity and a hint of nostalgia–you miss the way she smells and walks and speaks to you in only the way a mother can.
After a couple decades of adolescence and early adulthood where I couldn’t even look at her, it was a surprise as much to me as anyone that I was falling back in love with my metaphorical mother of Catholicism. I had spent much of my life, like any angry teenager walking ten steps ahead of her, arms folded, head down and if anyone asked I’d say: “Her? No, I’m not even with her.”
I find myself now stuck in a surprising position, where I love both halves of my parentage and in a crisis of (external) faith. Is it possible in a divorced system of Christianity to love and be loyal to both Mother and Father? Or is there impending rejection by trying to ask each of them to understand why I must love the other? Can I be a practicing “Episcop-Atholic” in a segregated earthly kingdom?
For about six years I have been a practitioner and teacher of contemplative prayer, which is naturally a great blend of ancient and contemporary experience. Tuesdays I lead a contemplative prayer practice at my Episcopal Church and Thursdays I practice with a group at the Sisters of the Cenacle (an order of nuns from the lineage of Therese of Liseux). On Wednesdays my husband and I lead a group of 20′s and 30′s spiritual seekers from a variety of Christian “faiths of origin” where we discuss the beauty of what mom and dad have to offer.
I think God can be found anywhere we are fully present and devoted to worshiping and loving Him. I think Jesus is found as much in feeding the poor in income and in spirit, as it can be in pews or chairs of a formal church of any kind. I also believe we have to have methods and practices to access the God-in-us. Our faith practices and rituals become a language we speak in communion with God. I believe I can love both my parents, Mother church and the lineage of (father) Luther, and that loving both has helped me to discover and rediscover God in new and ever-evolving depth.
I am becoming an increasingly more devoted Christian; with every new layer of faith I unfold, an even brighter eruption of love for Christ blossoms. That love deepens in both the church family I was born into and that which I “reaffirmed” after marriage. I am no longer ashamed of walking down the street with my mom, and I am happy to walk between her and my dad, through life. What I call myself religiously is only relevant in that it helps others to see me clearly, understand the language of my heart, and read the process of unfolding God in my soul.
The words that best describe that internal journey to an external world, today, is Episcop-Atholic. So, that is what I am calling it–even if, for now, no one else does. Wee should all be allowed to appreciate and love both the parents of our faith. Shouldn’t we?