What (and Who) Defines…

What (and Who) Defines Us

I left the church when I was twelve,
my teachers unable to give me answers
that satisfied -- why this Catholic religion,
rather than another? Why suffering?

My parents still go to church; to keep
the peace, I go with them on occasion.
At midnight mass on Christmas, I raise
my voice in song, taking pleasure
in ritual, in beauty, and the communion
of souls gathered together. Though I
cannot bring myself to take Communion.

Now I raise children. Without gods, try
to answer their questions; it's not easy.
It would be simpler if we'd been raised
as whirling dervishes -- go out and dance,
spin and spin and lose yourself in motion;
perhaps you will find answers.

It is tempting to blame religion
when extremists rain fire down
on fragile human bodies. I need no god,
desire none; it is hard to see what good
religion does that might counter
the brutalities it inspires.

Yet we are all asking questions,
aren't we? Why was this person
taken from me, and why must I end
some day, and what, if anything,
comes after? How can I be good,
and why should I be, when they have
taken what is mine, and hurt me so?

It is unbearable, the thought that my child
will be gone, someday, that this bright spark
will be simply snuffed out. And if I seek
my answers in song, in dance, in wind
and water and the silence of trees,
in the slow movement of stars, and
the everyday miracle of cells dividing...

...so might others seek answers
in more structured form, in a church
or temple or mosque, coming together
to hear the wisdom of centuries,
the collective struggle to answer
unanswerable, urgent, questions.

An agnostic, almost atheist, I can
still say -- this is what religion is for.


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