My cousin Dean wrote a book on religion and biology. He says our family is “Ethnically Protestant.” I think of us more as having been raised “Aesthetically Protestant.” We only celebrated Christmas and Easter and it always involved decorating the house and having new clothes. Oh, I was sent to Sunday school for a couple of years when I was about five or six, and I can remember being told that the bells would ring at midnight on Christmas Eve if Jesus loved me. That was about the extent of my religious upbringing.
Spirituality was another issue.
My mother owned a girls’ camp in northern Wisconsin, 60 acres bordering on the Nicolet National Forest. I spent every summer at camp from the time I was 2 until I was 16. Every Sunday evening, we girls and counselors would file two by two through the silver birch trees down to a small point of land that jutted out onto the lake. There we’d sit on logs and my mother would read to us from Kahlil Gibran or some other poet she loved. There was probably a mention of God, I don’t remember. I do remember the sound of the waves from Lake Sawyer gently lapping on the shore. The campers were Protestant, Catholic, Jew, and nonbeliever, so the service, as such, was very nondenominational. It certainly never felt like church. But it made me feel like I was part of a greater whole, and was profoundly spiritual.
Other nights there would be campfires, singing, midnight swims under the full moon, sleeping out under the stars – a magical mixture of female companionship, ritual and nature. One of my favorite things was an overnight where we would sleep in individual World War II surplus jungle hammocks strung between trees, with the rain beating a rhythm on my canvas awning. Fifty-three years later, I still love to sleep to the sound of rain.
I spent every summer for 14 years living in a tent in the heart of the forest, surrounded by strong, competent women and by girls who wanted to be just like them.
That was my religion.