This, I Believe

In response to reading David Copperfield, yesterday, a deep conversation ensued about dreams, spirits, souls and beliefs. A student said to me, “Mrs. Carbone, can I ask you a question?” Which seemed like a rhetorical question because I encourage them always to ask me anything– to provide a forum for them to work out their thinking in hopes of formulating ideas. “Of course,” is what I responded to her. She added, “Well, I hope this won’t come off as judgmental or too personal, but I’ve gathered from different things you’ve said throughout the year, and I know you don’t like to impose your thoughts on us, but… [stammer, pause] Are you Buddhist?” I laughed. Certainly not at her, at the question, the idea, the thought. My knee-jerk response was, “I am many things. I don’t subscribe to one denomination. I couldn’t classify my beliefs like that. Instead they are a culmination of what I’ve learned and experienced along the way.” Others piped in & asked why she thought so and, to that, she responded that Buddhism is very centered with the self versus a God, that the central belief is one is in charge of their own destiny and can learn what that is by looking within.
The conversation moved in many directions, all centering on beliefs, and moving away from the text. I shared some experiences; students shared some experiences. While one of my jobs is to retain focus on a given day’s lesson, there are teachable moments which I believe a teacher would be remiss in ignoring. This was such a topic. Even if a student didn’t agree w/ or share the beliefs discussed, he/she could be enlightened by hearing about them, and they were. I know this because, after the conversation ended, as a class, when the bell was about to ring, the conversation continued as small groups formed. Every single student continued to expound upon and debate the topic.
The conversation remained with me for the rest of the day– to the point where I came home and looked up Buddhism. I found a chart that compared the major religious beliefs. I was not surprised to find that some of my belief align with Buddhist philosophies, but more so New Age beliefs.
This has been an aspect of my life that I’ve given serious consideration to since I took my first religious class in college–it’s been a process, not one that I feel I have exactly arrived at a conclusion about, but the more I experience the more I come to a knowing of what I do and do not believe.
I was born and baptized a Catholic, inheriting that from my mother. I was confirmed a Protestant, because my father refused to attend my mother’s church, so she compromised by taking us to his. I began the path of my New Age beliefs as the result of several life experiences, reading of Jane Roberts, Edgar Cayce and Brian Weiss, primarily, attending the Whole Life Expo, participating in mediations, past life regressions and readings with mediums and psychics. I have dabbled in Rune Cards and Tarot, researched astrology, chakras, and crystals.
When my children were born, I was confused and felt the necessity to provide them with a religious foundation. My husband was raised a Catholic; he’d attended Catholic school from kindergarten to 10th grade, and he wanted nothing more to do with religion. We baptized our first two children Catholic (at the church where we married because it was important to my mother-in-law), we baptized our third in a Congregational Church, which we had joined after attending a few services, then quit because we decided to allow our children to choose their own religion when they are ready. I have wavered from feeling that was the right decision, not wanting to impose our beliefs on them as we felt our parents did with us, to feeling guilty about not giving them organized religion. They have been to church on several occasions, I have told them frequently if they wanted to attend, I’d be happy to take them, I read a children’s Bible with each of them and shared my beliefs as they became old enough to comprehend them. Two of my three children believe in God and spirituality; one claims to be atheist, but I think he’s more agnostic– only time will tell.

I have 6 stories to share:

Story 1)
On & off, I kept a dream journal. I’d wake up, sometimes in the middle of the night or sometimes in the morning, and record my dreams as I recalled them. They were always seemingly obscure and disjointed– until I went back to them some time later and realized that most of them I could make sense of (but only, always, in retrospect)– I learned I was working out my reality in my dreams, preparing myself in a sense.
DREAM: my long time friend Maria (whose weddings we were both in & we knew each other’s families well) called me on the phone to tell me her sister-in-law’s baby had died and they needed to go down there (to Virginia, if I remember correctly) for Thanksgiving. She said she felt funny because she was pregnant and her sister-in-law had just lost her baby.
REALITY: (2 years later) It’s a week after Thanksgiving when Maria calls me (she is pregnant with twins and I am pregnant with my youngest daughter), she tells me Holly’s son (her nephew) died of an aneurism.

Story 2)
I had a great, great aunt & uncle in a nursing home not far from where we lived. I always thought it was so sweet that they were able to go to a nursing home together. While I was not especially close to them, I was aware they were there. It was a place we’d drive by often. One day, while driving by with my mom on our way to lunch, I ask my mother, “When did Uncle Dick die?” My mother, visually shocked and dismayed at my question, replied, “he didn’t. Why would you ask that?” I responded that I thought I’d heard someone tell me that.
The very next day, we received a phone call from my grandmother sharing the news that the day before Uncle Dick passed away. When my mother asked what time, she replied 1:00.
I learned that souls are intuitive.

Story 3)
I had been sick with a head cold and was taking Nyquil. I went to bed, fell quickly and soundly to sleep. I recognized that I was still asleep when I found myself outside my body in the corner of the room looking down upon myself. When I became consciously aware of this, I scared my soul back into my body, and felt a longing sense of wanting to experience that again.
I learned the body and soul is separate.

Story 4)
My son, Tyler, had been very close to his paternal grandmother, who had recently died of cancer. We were in Tyler’s room, laying on his bed before bedtime. Our nightly ritual was to read a book, say his prayers aloud. After he said, “God bless grandma Mo,” I asked him if he missed her. He replied (kind of in astonishment), “No, I see her every night.” I asked, “You do?”– an open ended question probing for clarification. He said, as he pointed to the ceiling, “Yes, don’t you see her up there? She’s with all the pretty white ladies dancing.”
I learned that children are intuitive.

Story 5)
When Tyler was around the same age as the last story, he said to me, “Mom, do you think you’ll be my mom in my next life?” This came as a shock to me because I had never discussed my beliefs to or in front of Tyler. I said, “I don’t know Tyler. I hope so.” He replied, “I hope so too.”
I learned that children are cognizant of their spiritual selves and have come to know that it’s a gift that becomes unlearned by environment and society.
I was reminded, when he asked me this question, about a story I’d heard about a man who overheard his 4 year old daughter whispering to her newborn brother in his crib at night. He heard her say, “Do you remember God? Because I’m starting to forget him.”

Story 6)
A friend had recently lost her mom and there was a medium, Suzanne Northrop, speaking at a local conference center. She asked me to attend with her. I’d seen John Edward twice in such forums, and while interesting, had never been “read,” while I have known people who have been “read” by him. So, I agreed to go along, not with any preconceived expectations, just as an act of friendship and something I would at the very least find interesting. We sat in the third row from the front in the center of three sections. Suzanne would move around the room, calling out details she was receiving from the spirits, and she asked for us to raise our hand if she was stating something that resonated with us. So about mid-way through the reading she said, “A child is coming to me. This child’s death was untimely.” Two women, one in front of me and one to the right of me raised their hands. She probed them. One of them was of no connection, the other was just simply that he was “opening the door,” as she put it, “for another child’s spirit to come through.” She continued, “This child is showing me the piecing together of clothes.” My senses were heightened, while unexpected, this was a detail I could connect with, “… as in sewing, ” she continued. I raised my hand. As she approached me, she said, “but this is not your child.” I nodded. It was then, I knew. “What is the piecing together of clothes?” she asked– to which I responded, “I made a quilt of her clothes.” “Yes,” she smiled, acknowledging I was the one this spirit was coming through for. “And she is the daughter of your friend?” I nodded again. “She’s telling me she’s grateful that you did this for her mother and sister and her mother is grateful too. She’s telling me she died unexpectedly and it was hard for everyone, but she wants everyone to know she’s okay.” Jamie had died in a fire at 9 years old; she’d been the daughter of my childhood friend, Renee, and a friend to my children. Before her death, Renee had given me Jamie’s hand-me-downs for Alexa, who was still too small for them. After her death, I’d found them, not being able to give them away and feeling funny about having Alexa wear them, I decided to make a quilt– which I’d never done before– for Renee’s new baby out of her older sister’s clothes, the sister she would never know. Suzanne Northrop continued, “She’s telling me you and her mother have been out of touch and you need to reconnect because you will need each other.”
When I returned home, I called Renee immediately to relay the information I’d received and share my experience with her. She appreciated the call, and told me she didn’t believe in “all of that,” but my story was causing her to rethink her stance. “I’d like to believe it’s true,” she said.
About a year later, I received a call from Renee at 11:30 p.m. She asked me if I was sitting down because she’d just a few minutes before heard on the news that our close friend, Donna, had been tragically killed in a car accident earlier that day. Renee reminded me of my reading with Suzanne Northrop, stating, “This is what she meant. Now I believe.”
I have learned that the spirits in our physical lives don’t leave us until we are ready to let them go, and, along with God, they help guide us.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I believe in the power of belief. I believe in a deity, a divine spirit– which I call God. I’m not sure it’s the same God as the Catholics believe in because I do not believe in original sin or hell. I believe in an afterlife (heaven– a utopia, one that is different for each soul). A soul travels through lives in search of IT’s (because I believe we can be reincarnated into different genders based on the reality we need to create) ultimate state of grace. Through each life, we are working on creating our divine reality as we move through achieving the seven virtues (and yes, I believe in the polar extremes of the virtues, but I would not refer to them as sin– they are necessary to experience in order to embody the virtues). I believe we travel with soul mates, those who serve different purposes in different lives. I do not believe in organized religion, though I respect that some people do. I believe in spirituality– about being in touch with your higher spirit as a guide and all other spirits who help guide you (angels and soul mates who may/may not be in heaven). I do not believe in destiny in the sense that it is fixed and created for us by God, but rather that we create our destiny and can alter our destiny with God as a guide. I believe in karma and the power of positive thinking and energy. I believe we create our own realities, and I question the realities I create every day looking for an opportunity to learn from each of them. I believe in acting virtuous and moral and just in all we try to do, and when we can’t or don’t– that is a red flag to me that alerts me to the opportunity for growth. I believe the old souls of the world are closer to attaining their state of grace than the souls who are not self aware or act immoral or unjust. I believe in the power of belief.

I believe we are all born intuitive, spiritual beings, and if you are aware of that and open to your spirituality, your consciousness will allow such experiences to emerge. Every day, life is about learning, about becoming a better you than you were the day before. It’s about loving yourself and others. I find comfort in the fact that this life may not be IT, and if and when it is, I believe I will be peacefully existing as a soul in the ever after.

The Big Religion Chart

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UM: finding my religion…

At first, it appeared that it was a matter of chance that we drove by and that Daddy decided to stop. He swung our oldPlymouthwagon, tan with burn marks on the front seat from Daddy’s own carelessness, into the parking lot. He told us in his deep, stoic voice to wait for him as we already had scrambled out of the car. We rarely attended church, once a month perhaps; that was after it took Mom three weeks to convince him to go. But then, Pastor Sanderson needed a contractor to build an addition on the church for nursery andBibleSchoolclasses. The congregation had grown so fast. I don’t know if it was Daddy’s workmanship, price or simply his genealogy that got him the job. Twenty five years before, his father, who was very active in the church, befriended a young minister, and, when it came time to build his own church, he chose my grandfather, an established and reputable contractor in the area, for the job. Hence,ChristLutheranChurchbecame mine by inheritance. Then, I believed one inherited religion, and it just stuck whether you liked it or not. It was black and white; just like you were born the color you were born, and you had no other choice than to die that way.

We stopped before the large, heavy and dark doors like little soldiers obeying their sergeant. On the other side of them was the foyer, large and spacious, so Pastor Sanderson could greet his parishioners after each Sunday service. One Sunday, right there in the foyer, Mr. Polk approached Daddy. He was a nice man and a regular churchgoer, very active like I surmised my grandfather to have been. “So, Don, will we see you at church more these days. What’s it been, three weeks in a row? I bet you feel God’s more apt to be on your side with this project if you’re here more often.” He chuckled and shook Daddy’s hand. I was so embarrassed. Fourteen and impressionable, I thought, God, everybody knows we miss church so much. I thought it was just myBibleSchoolteacher who took attendance each Sunday before the service. Then, attending church wasn’t a matter of celebrating God – it was more about what others thought about me. That was really my religion then. Daddy opened a thick, mahogany door. The four of us entered together and then him.

“Don,” my mother exclaimed. Tears welled up in her eyes. She was staring at a plaque, right there, shiny and new, about eight by twelve in size with shiny gold letters. It was a plaque dedicating the church to my grandfather, Gustave William Norman, in big letters for all of the parishioners to see.

“Pastor called me today to let me know he was doing this. He suggested we take a ride by. They’re going to announce it at the service this Sunday, but he wanted us to see it first. That’s not all,” he added and began walking toward the church.

It was such an eerie feeling to be there at night with no one else in the building. Just us alone with God, I remember thinking. At the back of the church was a tiered area for the choir and the organist. I was in the junior choir for about a year before I realized I didn’t have much singing ability. I decided to try it upon my mother’s suggestion. Besides, I liked dressing up in the white robes with the royal blue collars. But the thing that really attracted me most about it was the daughter of the organist and our teacher. She had just become MissConnecticut. Her name was Mary. She was bea-u-ti-ful—long, brown hair, piercing brown eyes, a ski-jump nose, high cheek bones, and she was just as sweet as she was stunning. She was the whole parishes’ shining star. Her voice sounded like an angel’s when she would sing her solo on Sunday mornings. I longed to be as beautiful and to have a voice that brought people to tears as hers did. That was the closest I had appreciated my church and my religion in my whole young life. Wanting to be like Mary was the first holy thing I could identify with; she was about being beautiful on the inside and out.

The second was the crush I had on Craig, a year older than me, a boy in my youth group. I only agreed to continue going to youth group because I had become friends with Craig and Gary. In fact, I don’t recall a thing we did in youth group except me looking at Craig and the three of us cheating on our confirmation exam. Pastor Sanderson had given out the exams, and we began penciling in our answers rapidly (the first of the multi-hour grueling tests in my life). I remember bubbling in responses that I thought made sense, all the while realizing I had not paid sufficient attention in Bible school, nor had I read the Bible as carefully as I should have. Pastor Sanderson had an appointment mid-test, so his daughter, Karen, just a few years our senior, came in to proctor. I’m not sure who whispered the first question to her, but my ears peeled open to listen to her response. Eventually, she was spewing answers at us. I realized it was wrong, but I thought it couldn’t be a sin, for the Pastor’s daughter was just as if not more guilty than we. Back then, I feared God. I teetered between the fear of the unknown and the Catholic guilt my mother didn’t lose from her own childhood. With the help of Karen, the three of us passed, and we were, indeed, confirmed. The real right of passage of that experience for me was the power to decide when I would and would not be attending church. My parent’s rule was and had always been that they would decide when and if we’d be attending church on a Sunday until we were old enough to make that decision for ourselves, and that would be once we made the sacrament of confirmation. I so confirmed that Confirmation day would be my last day of attending Sunday mass for anything other than a wedding, a funeral or a baptism. And, thus, my decision stuck, that is, until I had children of my own.

We waited at the end of the aisle: me, my sister and my brother. I was awestruck by the lighting. The pulpit was lit by a golden light and candles. It was the most peaceful the church had ever been for me. We watched my father move up to the altar. He stepped up onto the altar. I wasn’t sure if that was acceptable or not, for I had only seen Pastor Sanderson on the altar behind the pulpit. The altar had three tiers. The bottom was where the parishioners would kneel before the railing to accept communion. The next tier had two podiums where guest readers would read from, and Pastor Sanderson would talk about community events from. The top tier is where the pulpit was located, a long, high mahogany table where an enormous Bible sat on a pedestal along with the blood and body of Christ. My father walked up to that table and stood in front of the sculpture of Jesus hanging on the cross which hung from the back wall. Meanwhile, Debbie and Michael were giggling and fiddling. My mother held onto to Michael’s hand and tugged it to shush him. Beneath the golden light, my father folded over the cover of the Bible. What he did next, I will not forget as long as I live; he covered his face with his hand and sobbed aloud. It was the first time I’d seen my father cry. I don’t remember as much what the inscription read, as we did eventually join him on the pulpit and my mother read it aloud to us. It was some kind words about my grandfather, a man who just seemed to pass from my life like a casual friend who moved away.

Religion was defined for me on that day as a love so deep within one’s heart that it never passes; one that lives inside forever. My sense of religion has taken many shapes since then. In college, when I was finding myself, I took a Literature of the New Testament course; I learned more about my religion in that literature course than I had in six years of Bible school atChristLutheranChurch. Of course, I believe that in order to understand and accept religion, one has to be ready.

For a while, I considered myself a New Age hippy. I joined a SETH group on Prodigy (the web before the World Wide Web). There were four of us who formed a cyberspace chat group: me, Phyllis fromNew York, Marla fromCalifornia, andGaryfromChicago. We came to know each other very well. At first, we had Jane Roberts channeling SETH in common. We also moved into the realm of Edgar Cayce and Shirley Maclaine among others. I got to meet the ladies of the SETH group when I invited Marla to come stay with me for a weekend (talk about faith), so we could attend The Whole Life Expo inNew Yorkwith Phyllis. I didn’t realize at the time how special that time together was. We had our auras read and met world renowned psychics like Brian Weiss and Ken Eagle Feather; I also learned what chakras are and the different energies of different kinds of stones. Once, Phyllis, an astrologist herself who has gone on to write several astrology books, did my astrological chart. Past life regressions, dreams, reincarnations, psychics, tarot card readers, runes, rising signs all became part of my new vocabulary. It was a very heady time for me trying to figure out how all of this fit into the religion I had grown up on. I managed, over time, to find myself in all of that: to invest in my own beliefs.

Experiences like this one made me believe that we are intuitive selves. My mother and I were on our way to lunch, something we did on very few occasions—meeting to go out for lunch. We happened to be passing by the Masonic Home, an assisted living home for the elderly. My great Uncle Dick and Aunt Marie lived there together. I remember thinking it so sweet that they were able to retire to a nursing home together. As we passed, I turned to my mother and asked, “Mom, when did Uncle Dick pass away?” She looked at me, awestruck and replied, “Uncle Dick didn’t pass away. Where did you get that from?” I explained that I thought I had heard someone tell me such. The very next day, my grandmother called to tell my mother that Uncle Dick had passed the day before. When my mother asked what time, my grandmother responded at1 p.m.

My son, Tyler, has given me insight into the existence of angels in our lives, or spirits who we love that have passed and are watching out for us. Children are said to be very intuitive until we teach them not to be, and I have listened.

The first piece of evidence. Some time after my mother-in-law’s passing, whenTylerwas about four and a half year’s old, we were laying in bed at night saying our prayers, a nightly ritual. After he said, “God blessGrandmaMo,” I asked, “Tyler, do you miss Grandma Mo?” He said, “No, mommy.” I prodded further and asked him why he didn’t miss her. He said, “because I see her all the time, can’t you see her up there,” pointing towards the ceiling, “she’s with all the pretty white ladies dancing and laughing.”

Since, I have learned to be aware of the angels in my life. On one such occasion, my car nearly missed being in the midst of a head-on collision with a mac truck and another car traveling behind me. I watched it in slow motion from my rear view mirror, where the face of my maternal grandfather appeared. Another, more recently, happened when I felt a presence over my shoulder. When I turned to look it seemed that I watch it disappear, but I felt my grandmother. On another occasion, I sniffed the scent of her talcum powder pass before my nose as I was working in my office when no one else was even home.

My grandmother has spoken to me, too, through the medium Suzane Northrop. She mentioned things no one else but my grandmother could have known like the way she wore babushkas to cover her wig, so it wouldn’t fly away in the wind, and that we baked ham pie and Pinole cookies together over the holidays, or the fact that I inherited her rosary beads and had one more made from the flowers I ordered for her funeral.

Tyler, the old soul amongst my children, asked me as a young boy, much before I had even had a conversation with him about reincarnation or afterlife, asked me if in the next life I would be his mother again.

I witnessed my first act of God when my grandfather passed. He had been fighting cancer for over two years, much of that time, I helped my grandmother care for him. I stayed up with her during the night while she tended to him, I held a bowl for him to spit the endless stream of yellow bile after his chemo treatments, I wiped his behind after my grandmother had given him an enema because he had been backed up for days. I held her hand, cold and wrinkled, when she tried so hard to cry, to let it out, she said the tears had all dried up. We’d been through a lot. I was sleeping at her apartment when she got the call from Hospice (he had just agreed to be admitted the day before) that the time was near. We met my mother and my uncle there. We flanked around him in a circle, holding each other, holding him. I found myself mustering up the courage to be strong for my mother and grandmother. We whispered to him to let go, that we’d be okay. For hours, endless hours, we remained by his side. And suddenly, he breathed deeply in, a breath so strong, unlike the labored ones that had come before it, and that was it. He never exhaled. I felt his soul rise from his body at the moment.

The other acts of God quite obviously came with the birth of each of my children. I remember thinking when my eldest, Ryan, was born that here we all were in this room (the nurses, the doctor, Anthony, the baby and me) all experiencing the same act, but differently. Each of us endured a completely different experience. For the nurses and the doctor, it was a day in the life of a job. For Anthony, it was about awaiting the birth of his first child while witnessing his wife going through a great amount of pain to deliver him. For me, it was terror and joy, pain and anticipation, equally and all rolled up in one. For Ryan, it was a rush of fluid and movement, then light and cold, and who knows what more?

I often come back to that moment and all of the moments that have followed in each of my children’s lives, and I ask, “How could anyone conceive of a child and not believe in God?”

Anthony and I married as Catholics. Pastor Sanderson was supposed to perform the ceremony, too, but he said he had forgotten and double-booked (chances are he was back in rehab for alcoholism). Anthony grew up two houses from the neighborhood church, and, coupled with having attended Catholic school for ten years, his family practiced religion much more routinely than mine. At that point, however, I had learned the differences in the Catholic and Protestant religions, a fundamental difference being the Protestants do not believe in original sin; therefore, there is no confession in a protestant church. I decided not to accept communion as a protest to the Catholic belief in original sin. At one point, my mother-in-law refused to come to our wedding unless our ceremony offered communion; I compromised and asked the priest to make communion available at the rehearsal for anyone who wanted it. Secondly, the money rolling in and out of that church became very apparent to me during the pre-Cana process. We were told to buy a certain size of flower arrangement, so they could be seen well from the back of the church, and the caveat that we had to leave them there for mass on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Also that we needed to rent a runner made of material versus plastic because the plastic one looked too cheap for their church. And lastly, the thing that really put me over the edge was the fee, not the donation, for getting married (much higher than some of the other churches because they had just put in a state- of- the- art organ and were saving for an elevator).

I baptized my boys Catholic in the same church we were married in simply because we didn’t decide what to do about church and religion in our family, at that point. After we moved into our house inCheshire, we decided to make a decision about belonging to a church. We chose theFirstChurchon the green. It is quaint, understated, and Congregationalist (a form of the protestant religion). Our daughter, Alexa, was baptized there. Although, we intended to attend on, at least, a semi-regular basis, life took over. Well, we allowed it to. I think my husband was so entrenched in religion his whole life that he has rebelled. I felt I wasn’t getting his support coupled with not being sure of shoving religion down my children’s throats at a young age, as I felt at the time, was the way I wanted them to find themselves in religion. So, in hindsight, I’m not sure that we did the right thing by not bringing our children up in an organized religion. I have made it a point to talk them about religion and God and the Bible, to say prayers at night and in times of need with them, and to show them I believe by my actions. Only time will tell. Perhaps this is one of the ways we will have scarred our children, but we won’t find out until they are too old for us to do anything about it. I have told them, if at any time they want to attend any kind of church, I will take them; not one of them has asked.

I believe religion is something that is part of each of us, not something we necessarily have to practice by attending bible school or mass. Some need organized religion, and this is where these things have their places. I believe in God, and that we, with God, create our destiny—our perfect state of grace, and I believe we may need to incarnate ourselves many times before we achieve it. I believe in soul mates, those who travel with us through lives, and angels, some of our soul mates who look out for us on earth when they have gone before us. I believe that there was a Jesus; I believe he was the son of God, just as we all are the children of God. I believe the Bible is symbolic of the way we should and should not live our lives. I believe the church is a place of wisdom and peace and spirituality.  I cannot pass an old church without wanting to go inside. Once I am inside, I light at least one candle for those in need. The architecture of some churches I’ve been in from Westminster Abbey to The Cathedral of Notre Dame speaks volumes of voices that live within their walls. I find myself mesmerized by the candlelight and the stained glass, the sculptures, the statues the catacombs. I feel completely at peace in these places of worship; I can hear the voices of those who have passed who whisper the miracle of God in my ear. And each time I pass ChristLutheranChurch, a small protestant and modern, brick church, I cannot help but see my father’s tears and remember the first time I contemplated religion.