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.