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Well that’s very pagan of you

December 11, 2008

What do you all think of the Johnny Appleseed prayer?  Are you familiar with it?  I think saying thanks before a meal is a nice ritual, but who should we be thanking?  Hopefully the person who made the meal.  But, really.  In a grand sense, to whom should the prayer be directed?

My daughter shared with me the song that she sings with her classmates before lunch.  I recognized it as Johnny Appleseed’s prayer which I have vivid memories of singing in kindergarten.  We used to line up single file to walk to the cafeteria and we would sing it on the way down the hall.  But the version my daughter sang wasn’t “Oh, the Lord’s been good to me” like I remember.  Rather she sings, “Oh, the Earth’s been good to me, and so I thank the Earth, for giving me the things I need: the sun and the rain and the apple seed.  The Earth’s been good to me.”  Which is fine, but it makes me think.  The difference in the two versions is profound.

I have this problem when talking to my children about religion because I’m not sure what I believe or what to teach them.  I expected myself to hold firm beliefs before getting to the point where I would need to instill those beliefs in my children.  I bought a nicely illustrated preschool Bible to be able to read stories to them.  I want them to know the stories even if I don’t know whether Christianity is my religion. My daughter really enjoys the preschool Bible.  She also likes to pray before bed and ask for patience and tenderness after thanking God for the people she loves.

My husband and I don’t pray together.  The one time I remember him praying for our family was when I had a D&C in 2002 that made him extremely upset.  We prayed for peace and health and expressed our hope to have children together someday.  When I pray for my husband while he is at work, I am praying to the Lord out of habit.  Sometimes I think saying, “Thank goodness” would be enough.

My little brain with its little faith does not appreciate God’s plan for eternal life.  It’s because I have so much respect for seasons and I fear that we would lose our sense of natural rhythm if we had eternal life.  It makes me cry just thinking about it.  I like having a predictable menstrual cycle and knowing that certain tasks take certain amounts of time.  For example, I loved breastfeeding but often was able to keep going merely because I knew it wouldn’t last.  I knew it was a “season” in my relationship with my children.  What if I had to breastfeed a toddler for thousands of years?  We have such a limited understanding of “perfect” and “paradise” and “forever” it seems.  Knowing that I don’t really understand is what keeps me in a wishy-washy state.

I am still studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses once a week.  Everything that they teach is based in the Bible.  After almost two years of intense study, I can find verses quickly, but I still don’t actually believe.  Some of it resonates with me, but some of does not.  (That’s putting it lightly.)  The women who came to study with me on Tuesday listened to my concerns.  They are encouraging me to share my beliefs with others in the sense of sharing the good news of salvation and grace.  I told them that I couldn’t do that because eternal life doesn’t appeal to me.  I bet they don’t hear that very often.

  1. December 11, 2008 11:55 am

    Interesting commentary! I think it’s important to create your own mosaic of beliefs from many different sources. I’m not big on prayer and God-talk either, but I don’t think that one must be good at those things to be a good Christian… best of luck!

  2. December 11, 2008 1:48 pm

    Interesting FW. I think we all have different levels in our spiritual beliefs and I think many times, people confuse religion with a personal relationship with God. While I can label myself as ‘christian’, I refuse to take it any further than that. I don’t often talk with other ‘christians’ about my relationship with God because I feel it’s none of their business and really, all too often I find myself being judged if I am a ‘good enough’ christian i.e. going to church, prayer, ceremonies. That’s the religion that I think people get caught up in. As if acts determines our faith and not faith alone.

    It is very interesting that you are not looking for everlasting life. I think I understand what you are saying… if we can live forever, what makes this life unique & so preacious? That’s a good question. I suppose the interactions that you have with other people, the difference you make in other’s lives and if you are christian, drawing others towards God and not away.

    I think you’re right, we can’t grasp eternity or paradise with our little pea sized brains. Maybe it’s because we all have our own definition. But I do know that personally, having a relationship with God has brought a peace in my life that I don’t have without him. Wether it’s a delusional one or a real one, it’s still a peace I enjoy and if I end up finding out that the jokes on me, at least I had that during my lifetime.

    I hope you find what you are looking for. I appreciate that you still keep your (and your children’s) options open while you search.

  3. Ciera permalink
    December 11, 2008 2:24 pm

    Actually, regarding your last two sentences, we hear that quite often.

    People tend to think about what their life has been in the past, and the future may look quite grim. But have you really thought about what life could be like for you without sickness, pain, old age and death? That is what is promised to those who will receive everlasting life.

    True, we do not have all the details at this time. But, do we really need them? Just because you did not know what your children would grow up to be or how their lives would proceed, did that prevent you from wanting to have children at all?

    Are there interests you have that you would like to pursue in depth in your life, but “life has other plans” as the saying goes? (Like having the extremely important job of stay at home mom, for instance.) You may not ever be able to accomplish these goals in this short life, but you could pursue whatever you want in a life that’s eternal. For example, you could learn all the languages ever spoken! That would certainly be unrealistic right now, of course, but if you had forever? Think about it.

    For me, having spent most of my life in a very rewarding job (teaching young children), and now dealing with a painful, crippling, and eventually terminal disease, I look forward to the “real life” when I can pursue my love of gardening, dancing, and construction, in addition to numerous other interests.

    For instance, I have only once in this life held a violin in my hand, but I love “old time” music and I hope to one day learn to fiddle with the best of ’em! (And that will take more than just a few years study for me, I’m sure.)

    It is good that you are being truthful about your concerns. I was very skeptical when I studied with the witnesses. In fact, it took many, many years for me to accept some of the beliefs of this organization. (They were so different from what I’d grown up with.) But, I didn’t give up, and in time, things have become clearer. I eventually dedicated my life to Jehovah, and even though there are still things I don’t totally understand, and at times, I still do not feel worthy of Jehovah’s love, it was the best decision of my life!

    No one can tell you what to believe or what to do with your life. But, as I see it, Jehovah and Jesus, are holding out a precious gift to you, but it’s up to you to accept it, and if you eventually do, you (and your family) will be forever grateful.

    Just my 2 cents worth…

  4. December 11, 2008 4:33 pm

    I’m going to chime in as a pagan – I don’t consider myself a member of any organized faith, though I DO appreciate the basic tenets of love and compassion – and say how much I respect the honesty of these musings. Questions of faith are – and by rights SHOULD be – deeply personal things. One of the reasons that I don’t associate with organized religions is because, in my experience, they tend to take a far more rigid approach – your faith isn’t just YOURS, it should be everyone else’s, too. I can’t hold with that.

    Despite how I might come across to some, I have a deep and abiding respect for what other people believe. What I do not respect, however, are those who use their faith to pressure, shame, intimidate, or coerce others. If someone want to take the Eucharist or chant mantras or roll out a prayer rug or light a candle or climb a mountain, I say please do, but also, please, use faith to find and nurture the good in oneself, and in others.

    Finally (though you didn’t ask me), I would have no issue with the child coming home from (public?) school with a modified version of the song. It’s inclusive, it carries a similar tone of gratitude and reverence, and it doesn’t offend those who, like you, might still be struggling with where they are on the continuum of faith. That, and it honors the separation of church and state.

  5. Shawn Holland permalink
    December 11, 2008 6:30 pm

    “I told them that I couldn’t do that because eternal life doesn’t appeal to me.”

    Eternal life does not appeal to you??? That is strange.

    You would actually pick the day that you would die?

    You think that this life if long enough? Considering that we spend one third sleeping, one third working.

  6. December 12, 2008 8:59 am

    I don’t think that version of the song is any less religious than singing it with the correct lyrics. Absent religion, the earth is capable of neither kindness nor reception of gratitude.

  7. December 12, 2008 9:12 am

    Eternal Life …

    Although I have heard the phrase often I am not sure I understand the concept. If one is granted eternal life, are they “frozen” in time? Do they exist as an infant, a teen, a young adult, a mature person, and elder? Or, are they born, grow as we understand aging in our simple terms, only to progress to sentient dust?

    With eternal life there is no “old age” or “death” as those terms would be an emphatic oxymoron to the idea. Without a definition of “eternal life” how can one choose it?

  8. December 12, 2008 10:03 am

    Wow, fascinating discussion. I am not sure I had ever considered the thought about eternal life not being ‘appealing.’ My reaction is a contemplative ‘huh.’ I will probably continue to think about this all day… I respect your willingness to study and learn and work to create your own set of beliefs and I would also encourage a patience with yourself. A good friend once told me when I was bemoaning existential questions that I should learn to ‘love the question’ and not worry about THE answer. I still wonder what the heck she meant.

    I admire your being able to teach your children about different religions over none at all. Explore it together.

  9. evenshine permalink
    December 12, 2008 11:22 am

    Interesting post, and I’m glad you’re at least open to study on the issue.
    Eternal life means many things for many people. Who would not choose to be eternally happy, contented, and loved? The JW vision of eternal life is an interesting one, but not Biblical, so if you’re using the Bible as your guide, you may run into some contradictions.
    My best to you in your search!

  10. December 13, 2008 7:31 pm

    Wow, FW! I just ran into this post of yours. I am so glad to see you interested in talking about it and having an discussion here about it. Many people just won’t talk about it.

    I have to say that I don’t believe in religion at all. I believe that I have a personal relationship with my Lord and savior. I do read the bible and I do believe what it says. I also know that people interpet the bible in different ways! We pray before we eat most of the time and we direct our pray to our Lord and savior. It does say in the bible that we are Sojourners here.

    Anyway, I hope all is well for you!!

  11. December 14, 2008 11:33 am

    Wow, this is a really interesting post, I read it because it has the word PAGAN in the title, but you have really made me think about things, yes, I too would like my children to know the bible stories, but for me they will be like any other fairy story, the song of the woods and rivers and spring and summer rings much louder in my ears. This to me is a kind of religion, though religion is nowhere near the word I need to describe it – ‘Everything’ maybe nearer to the truth.

    How can the difference between the two versions of the prayer be so profound? Surely the Lord is a way that that Christians access God and surely the Earth is just another form of god/goddess to pagans? Do you feel there to be such a difference, isn’t it just that us humans have given this thing a different label? Is it not really when you get down to the basics the same thing – like Christmas, hasn’t it been rehashed from a pagan celebration, the rebirth of the sun at midwinter?
    I love the idea of the Johnny Appleseed prayer, how lovely, perhaps this is something that we can incorporate into our mealtime ritual. I think the word Earth much more appropriate than Lord, because the word Earth encompasses so much more, and something a child can really relate to.

  12. December 18, 2008 10:41 pm

    I “saw” a lot of myself in this post. I also don’t find the idea of eternal life to be appealing. What’s the point of existing forever? I also have very little faith in anything – secular or religious.

    Good for you for having the courage to admit your true feelings to your study group!

  13. December 19, 2008 7:35 am

    I always love your honesty about your religious search. My sister-in-law said something similar about her children (i.e. what to teach them when she doesn’t believe) and I suggested children remember rituals of the family, religious or not. So, as you say, in each season, the end of year holidays, springtime renewal, times of the year have food and events you give them—you already, I’m sure, give them. My athiest English professor stepfather always used to say everyone should know the Bible if they are going to read English literature. Those stories are part of our culture. They can be taught literally or taught metaphorically, but they are as essential to cultural knowledge as Zeus and Hera and Johnny Appleseed.

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