My decades old paste-in recipe book is a timeline of what families used to eat back in the days before Master Chef and Asian cooking. Flicking through it in a what will I cook foray, I came across a recipe for ginger cake, written on blue note paper in my mother’s elegant handwriting.
Not for the first time a childhood memory had snuck into my adult life and I wanted to roll back time and recapture whatever it was that I remembered.
I recall it as a Sunday night treat, gingery with a filling of whipped cream. So I assembled the ingredients and baked it, anticipating a return to my childhood delight. Either my memory was at fault or my taste buds are more sophisticated these days, but with the first bite I knew without a doubt that this cake definitely didn’t measure up to my expectations. The whipped cream was the best of it. The cake itself was heavy, verging on doughy and the ginger had no palpable zing.
Once again I was being reminded that childhood memories need to be explored from an adult perspective. As we get older we leave behind childish beliefs and perceptions, things like the tooth fairy, Father Christmas and how long summer used to be, and what God looks like.
Someone has said that religious faith is like chicken pox – if you stay around it long enough you’ll catch it. The faith of ‘cradle catholics’ is usually piggybacked on to that of parents, grandparents and religious education teachers, especially in the primary school years. The inference being that faith, once ‘caught’ in childhood, sets one up for life. That seems to be the reasoning behind the Australian catholic focus on catholic schools.
Faith is a complex reality. There is religious faith – a formal set of beliefs, teachings and a moral code centered in the institutional Church. Then there is the living faith of people whose daily lives reflect the teachings of Jesus, the communities called ‘the faithful’. Lastly, there is the personal faith of each and every one of us, as we recognise and respond to the mysterious presence of God in our lives.
I believe it’s religiously healthy, even essential, to question the way early religious ‘conditioning’ sometimes substitutes religious practices and traditions for the deep truths implicit in doctrines such as resurrection, sacraments, prayer and scripture. The way children express their religious faith can be quite touching, but as they move through adolescence, into middle age and even beyond, it needs to be explored and appropriated in an adult way.
When this doesn’t happen, when religious education stops at First Communion and Confirmation, or never moves beyond the end of secondary school, then we risk becoming a Church of religiously illiterate Catholics.
This concerns me.
My experience in areas of adult religious education has shown me that people have within themselves the religious truths that will enrich their lives, but lack the language and the opportunity to talk about them from an adult perspective.
The Catholic Church in Australia needs to find ways that enable people to name, claim and proclaim the sacred in the ordinary of their lives ways that are more adult and family-friendly. There will need to be an increase in the number of lay people permitted to participate in the 2020 Australian Catholic Plenary Council, if this is to ever happen.
I have no doubt that my child-self enjoyed that ginger cake all those Sunday nights long ago, but along with my shape my food tastes have broadened and deepened over the years.
So has my faith.
Judith Scully (www.judithscully.com.au)