Personal Theology – Anne Graham

My Journey to becoming a Unitarian

My first introduction to religion was probably around two and a half years, my grandmother having been given custody of my two sisters and myself, was horrified that we hadn’t been baptized, and in her fervor almost had the priest drown us in holy water to wash away all the unholy breaths we must have taken since we were born.

My Irish Catholic grandmother was a religious fanatic, so I was brought up in an over zealous household, with holy water fonts at each door of the house and holy pictures on all the walls. We never read a book not approved of by the Catholic church and went to a Catholic school. The teachers were, of course nuns.

So it is not at all surprising that after completing my schooling I ended up as a nun in one of the strictest Monastic orders in England. The Canonesses Regular of the Mercy of Jesus of the Order of St. Augustine.

This was a semi contemplative order with recital of the Divine Office four times a day. Also due to the monastic influence it was an enclosed order, meaning once you had entered you could never leave the grounds of the convent you had joined.

Having been totally immersed in R.C. Catholicism from an early age, I fitted well into the community. I loved singing the Divine Office, the quietude, the fact that at last I felt I belonged somewhere. Having been abandoned by my birth parents, I truly believed that in a spiritual way God was my Father and Mary my Mother.

So at the beginning, even though the life was hard, I loved the life. We rose at 5:30 every morning, no talking except one hour a day, when we had ‘recreation’ but were guided to speak only of spiritual things – nothing personal, and not to have any ‘particular friendships’ meaning don’t sit next to anyone you really like!! We worked hard all day usually at manual work, were tired and hungry most of the time and lonely.

I was content and happy with the life until the Mother Superior started to single me out for more penances and more humiliations than the others. Even the day of my clothing – which was supposed to be the happiest day of my spiritual life, she chastised me harshly for going to see my Grandmother in a public room, even though I didn’t even know that as a white novice I was now to be secluded in the convent, I still don’t know whether she did these things because she thought highly of me, or that she didn’t like me – No such emotions were ever expressed, one had to judge by actions.

My life from then on was harsh, I was told that what my Superior said and did to me was the will of God, so I stopped thinking of him as my kind father and took it that he was displeased with me and only wanted more sufferings, and pain from me. The Superior also separated me from the rest of the noviciate for a small infraction of the rule. Six years of this treatment and I knew I had to leave as I was growing very close to breaking point.

After leaving the convent I had a lot of doubts about my faith but continued going to church. I got married, sent my children to the Catholic school but started to tell them as they grew older what my own thoughts were about the different things they were being taught. I remember one time my son came home with a picture he had been told to draw of the crucifixion. I sent an angry note back saying if Christ had died for us in these times would they have pictures of a gas chamber or electric chair? When the children got old enough I stopped going to church, it was much too painful to go and fight internally with every word being said in the pulpit, and I knew I didn’t support most of the beliefs demanded by the Church.

However I did miss the spiritual time on Sundays just to keep track of where I was going and trying to practice some type of spiritual life, knowing there was something there but not the God as described in the bible or in the Convent.

Much later around 1990 a friend asked me to go with him to a Unitarian gathering on a Sunday. He had been asked to address the community and said he needed support. This was in Belleville, at a local community centre. We walked in and there was music playing everyone was chatting and laughing, and this was the start of the service! The coffee and food was offered at the end of the service. I thought to myself – this is what I am looking for, a community of real people!

I started attending regularly, loved the principles and the idea I could think for myself, believe what I believed and be accepted anyway. This in a nutshell is why I love being a Unitarian:

Just because I don’t believe in the God of the bible doesn’t mean I don’t believe in something – it could be Universal Consciousness, or some universal scientific unknown thing that joins all sentient beings together, but there is something beyond human understanding at this time, that exists.

This thing that makes my heart almost burst with happiness, when out in nature and hear the birds singing and water running and surrounded by trees. Drumming and music give me this same feeling of connection, to be totally enveloped in the beat, the rhythm – all the players united by one consciousness.

My poetry also gives me the gift of sharing my feelings, my deeper understandings. Because of my narrow early education and trauma, I used to have trouble with verbal communication. Now my poetry enables me to more easily share feelings etc., and I enjoy the interaction with others this facilitates.

This happens also on Sundays and any of our gatherings, when I am among our community and we all join hands and feel our oneness.

I have felt alone in the worse times of my life and I don’t want to ever want feel so alone again.

This is why I am a Unitarian.