Life jacket or liberation?

To the editor:

Many people have been hurt by religion, and while I understand their pain, belonging to a faith community has some significant benefits.

Religion, for some, is like a life jacket for non-swimmers-their faith is in the floatation device, and without it they flail about in water that seems to be pulling them down. But when we learn to trust the water to hold us up, we relax and learn to paddle about. We are liberated from our fear. Some people go to church for regular swimming lessons.

People who look upward together have a unique and powerful bond; we may not know each other well, but we share the experience of reverence, gratitude, praise and service. I know I must answer the biggest questions about life’s meaning for myself, but the church experience keeps me wrestling with them, week after week.

I took my children to church because I wanted them to be familiar with the good Bible stories, to resist the temptations of our innate selfishness and materialistic culture, and to be part of an outward-facing community. They played various roles in Christmas programs, and now it’s delightful to watch other people’s children wear those lamb costumes.

A large part of our worship is gratitude, a good habit that leads to generosity and outreach. We also do a lot of singing, and the old hymns connect me to people who shared the same hopes and dreams in ages past. And when we need support, our collective energy is a powerful antidote to loneliness and despair.

I have spent a lot of time in the woods, where I have experienced “the peace that passes all understanding,” and yet there is something powerful about a community of faith. Love of God and neighbor (even our enemies) requires action. We humans are a prickly animal, but I enjoy the challenge of a church where I can practice saying “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” to people who believe in the power of love.

Although not a Catholic, I am inspired and challenged by the policies of Pope Francis, and I am hopeful that many people who have been wounded by rigid religion will think again about participating in a faith community that exercises our spirits and helps us swim through the unknown waters that lie ahead.

Carolyn Peterson