Myfanwy Collins: Giving my Son the Tools of Faith

A mother tries to teach her son about faith beyond religion.

Posted Mar 23, 2012

Guest essay by MyFanwy Collins, author of ECHOLOCATION

In my dark moments, in bed when everyone else is asleep, wide awake and fearful, I worry about my belief or lack thereof. I worry that I have not more firmly established my spiritual path. I worry for my child that I have not provided him with a good enough foundation upon which to build his own path. I do not want to prescribe his belief system but I do want to give him tools so that he might choose his own way.

But at night, in the dark, I worry.
Ten years ago, I carried a box of my mother's ashes home on the plane from Florida to Massachusetts. I took them in a backpack out to the beach but they did not belong to the ocean. I kept them in a corner hutch I had inherited from her. I kept them there for years. Once in a while I opened the door to the hutch and touched the box, the thought of its contents heavy on me. The contents tethered me to sadness.

Five years ago, in a natural place that is sacred to me, I opened the box and the bag within and touched my mother's ashes for the first time. They were heavier, coarser, than I had imagined they would be. I let the ashes fly out into the air.

I said to the water and the mountains and the sky, "Here is my heart."

When I let go of my mother's ashes, I opened my body up so that it might grow a child. Three months after letting go, I found out that I was pregnant.

My husband was at work and unreachable in those first moments. I was overjoyed and terrified. I wanted my mother to hold my hand and tell me it was all right and that I could care for this baby and bring up this child.

I walked out into the yard and looked up at the sky. I was alone. I put a hand on my belly and I felt my mother and father passing through me. I was carrying them forward.

I was a creator.

The larger my child grew within me, the more alone I felt. I retreated into my mantra: Nature is my god. Nature is my church. Nature is my heaven.

I not only wanted something to believe in; I needed it.
My godparents gave me an illustrated children's bible as a gift for my First Holy Communion. I loved the stories and the pictures that went with them. I also intuitively felt that the stories were not meant to represent reality; rather they were allegory. They were metaphor. Even then, I believed more firmly in the power of language than I did in Jesus Christ.

Wait. That is not entirely true. I did believe in Jesus as a man and I ached over his story, ending as sadly as it did in brutality, but I did not fully believe that he was part of what my then church called God.

It is even possible that I did not believe in God.
Some of my earliest childhood memories are of brutality and fear. On Sundays we went to church. I watched my parents pray and ask forgiveness and accept the body and the blood of Christ into their mouths.

As a family, I don't remember that we talked that much about God, though we spent a lot of time in nature. My father taught us how to paddle a canoe, how to fish. He took us skiing and hiking. My mother taught us how to draw and paint and read.

After my father died and the church disappointed my mother, she broken-heartedly gave up on the church and so we were left to find our own spiritual paths.

While other members of my family found their way back to our childhood church as adults, I have not. What is within me does not connect with the church of my youth, and yet as a mother, I seek a place to bring my son to teach him about the greater, spiritual world around him.

I do believe he is already closer to this spiritual world as a child than I am as an adult and I want to help him to keep that conduit open. I remember myself at his age of four telling my family that I remembered before I was born. At the time I truly believed in what I said. I told them that I spoke to God before I was born. At some point I stopped believing my own story.

There are also the questions my son asks which often leave me breathless and fumbling. The most difficult to answer is what happens to us after we die. Recently, after our dog died, we told him that our soul goes to Heaven. It was a comfort for all of us to think of our friend's soul someplace safe and friendly. We told our son that our dog with be with my mother. That pleased him.

Do not mistake me. I do want to believe in an afterlife. I am desperate to wholeheartedly believe that our energy is not gone after we cease to exist on this earth.

I struggle. I pray.

I do pray. Every day, several times a day, I get on my knees and I pray. I offer up my gratitude and I pray for guidance and help. I pray to something I call god, but I don't know what that god is yet. The word is convenient and it is lodged in my subconscious and my language-based mind as a truth.

Here is what I know: there is an energy within me and an energy outside of me that is god. I have come to pray to this god as my comfort. The place where I feel most closely linked to my god is in nature. Nature is forever part of my god, my being. And like nature, my belief system, then, is constantly in transition. Dying off and regenerating, at one with the seasons.
I wonder if I would have come to this realization had I not spent at least part of my childhood in church. I wonder if my child needs church.
On the Sunday before Easter, we took my son to church. He was excited to go but I was nervous. I worried that something would be said that would confuse him.

There I sat with my family in the beautiful old church, listening to the offering of music, hearing the words. We could give our son these moments and these tools so that when he seeks out his spiritual path, he will have these stones, along with those we provide him, to path his way.
As the service kept on, I found myself missing a sense of connection. There was no moment of epiphany. I was disappointed that we had not found our place.
We have not yet settled on whether or not church is a necessity for our son's spiritual path. It's been a process for my husband and me to decide what it is we want to give our son in terms of his spirituality. What we do know: There must be words with which we agree. There must be music we love. There must be inclusiveness and an appreciation for nature and humanity.

No matter what, we will give him the tools he needs so that he can pull himself up. And so that, in his moments of crisis, he will never be alone.

Myfanwy Collins lives in Massachusetts with her husband and son. Her work has been published in The Kenyon Review, AGNI, Cream City Review,Quick Fiction, and Potomac Review. ECHOLOCATION is her first novel. A collection of her short fiction, I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND, is forthcoming from from PANK Little Books in August 2012.