|Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona, AZ|
Annually, there was a church picnic to attend. Most of my spiritual socializing happened after church, as my parents would catch up with other parents/adults they'd only see weekly. Church was a place that was safe, where I worshipped with my friends. Catholic school wasn't something my parents could afford, so I was public school educated. My formal religious education started when I was 7 years old. I can still recall that late May day in 1972 when I made my first communion. I wore a short, white dress that had a chiffon overlay. I was adorned with white, lace anklets, white patent leather shoes and little white gloves. My first communion head piece made me feel like a mini-bride, or princess of the church. It was just myself on the alter, and one other little girl. After making our first communion, we were greeted by the congregation. We stood on either side of the Priest. Nowadays, entire classes of children make their first communion. I attended catechism along side peers who were my church family. After catechism, there were confirmation classes to attend. My confirmation discussion class was very small, just a half dozen of us. Today, I still have a few of those friends in my life. Clearly, the Catholic church influenced my becoming who I am.
Right now, I find myself wondering where does my heart belong? Is the Catholic church still right for me, or have my beliefs changed? Do I believe in the rigidity of the Catholic church, or more in the ideology of belonging to a church? I know I have become a more aware, spiritual being as I have aged. My life experiences have been anything but rigid or predictable, and they have influenced my thoughts.
On February 12, I sat in church and listened to the words being spoken. I felt I was being spoken to directly and I can't shake the feeling I received from the message that day. I felt a pain in my religious being; as if a nail was being hammered into the coffin of my soul closing me off from the church. I was made to feel that I was a sinner and beyond redemption. The gospel reading dictated what was being preached. Rationally, I know the gospel is a group of words from a very long time ago. Surely humanity has grown and changed in it's beliefs? Yet in 2017, many churches continue to read old words, and repeat history. I suppose that is to be expected because the old words in bibles, etc have given so many comfort, and a certain amount of wisdom. There are lessons to be taken from history. Sometimes, history keeps people bound to old ways. Change is not encouraged. For me, the effects from that Sunday are making me rethink what having religion in my life means. More precisely, what the Catholic faith means to me. The full gospel reading was Matthew 5: 17-37. What struck me first, were the words spoken on the alter that morning to start mass...'you should strive to: "be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."' (Matthew 4:48)
When I hear the words 'be perfect', I feel that means you need to live up to some set standards that have been defined by someone else. My history has shown me that I cannot be someone else's idea of perfect. I feel I'm being set up to fail.
The second thing that caused me pause, was how much of a misfit I feel in my own church. I truly feel like an outcast. Matthew 5:32 "But I say this to you, everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of illicit marriage, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
As those words were read, I felt a bright, scarlet A was suddenly floating over my head, and I was sure all could see it glowing. How can I even think of being perfect in the church's eyes? Those exact words are in the bible. Written when?, but spoken today...in 2017.
When I returned to the Catholic church several years ago, I returned after spending years feeling I was disappointing my mom. I was married in the Catholic church, but I didn't raise my children to be Catholics. Their father was not and I thought I could raise my children to be good Christians who understand there is more than one way to worship, to love and to care for all. I believe in my heart I have been successful in achieving this goal. But in the rest of my history, my mom first told me when she found out I wasn't attending church at all, "any church would be better than no church" in my kids life. I agreed. So I chose the church that my husband attended. The pleaser in me wanted to make everyone happy. The church that we attended, I found inspiring. I became an active member. It was a Christian based church - Geist Christian Church, Disciples of Christ. I recall one time asking my mom if she would buy a raffle ticket for our church hog roast. She told me she wasn't into supporting other religions. Ouch. Later in my child raising years, my mom told me she felt she was going to Hell because she failed as a mother. Enter Catholic guilt. "Two of my three children didn't turn out Catholic," my mother told me. My response was she still had a chance with her youngest child. My sister is the reason my mom went to Heaven. Not my brother, and certainly not me. My returning to the Catholic church was after my mom died. I'm not sure I even believe in Heaven or Hell. I'm more of the kind who believes spirits are all around us. I do believe my mom was at peace when she passed away. She was an incredibly, wonderful soul and I'm sure she found her place in Heaven. Maybe my returning to church was to appease God on her behalf. I know I did find comfort in the rituals and routine of church. It was something familiar that I returned to. Maybe I needed that familiarity to help get through the challenges in my life that would soon follow.
I tried to talk with one of the priests early in my deteriorating marriage, my husband had made it clear we were not something he wanted any more. The priest told me he could see there was still love in my heart for my husband. He told me I would find a way to make it work out. He said all would be fine.
Months later, I tried attending an over 50's group potluck at church. I was looking for support. When I walked into the potluck, I realized it was not billed accurately. It was really a couples group. They said "everyone was welcomed", but it was a couples group, and I was clearly the odd man out. Call me Esther. Upon first walking in, I was asked if I was really over 50. When I jokingly said, "do you need to see my drivers license," I was told yes. I laughed uncomfortably, but did not reveal my license. Minutes later I met the Deacon. His first question was, "Where is your husband?" I felt like a leper. There were single women there, but they had lost their husbands to death. They were to be pitied. They were accepted. I understand that being divorced in the Catholic church means something very different in the church doctrine versus in the congregation. The Catholic church offered me no support through my divorce. There was a divorce support group offered at another Christian based church in town. I reached out, and I went there. I attended two rounds of a 13-week program. During those 26 weeks, my eyes were opened a little. But I told myself, you're Catholic. That's your home. That's where you belong.
Being honest, I have not felt like there is a place for me at my church. I do see familiar faces when I enter the sanctuary. There are 'regulars' I sit near, greet and know by name. Many families and couples fill the pews around me. I have enjoyed the ritual and routine of church. As I rediscovered my love for music, singing the traditional songs at mass has also been nice. There is comfort in knowing the routine, and in knowing the expectations. Is familiarity what I am looking for? Or am I looking for acceptance?
The old school mentality in the Catholic church cannot live forever, can it? Surly the unrealistic demands on the rest of society will fade and change as the population demographic changes. I do not think I can wait for the church to catch up to me. My church is physically hurting my soul. Maybe the message that followed the gospel reading that morning was one of acceptance and change. Honestly, I was trying to stay focused on keeping my silent tears at bay so I didn't fully hear what was being said. I was really sure my scarlet A was now attached to a large arrow pointing directly at my head. Right here, it was saying. Adulteress. Right here. I know I didn't do anything wrong. But I am divorced and attending church. I do not have plans to get my marriage annulled. I was married for a long time. I made a commitment, and was honoring it. I didn't make a mistake. My children were created out of love, even if it was only love on my end. I will not make them bastards, as my grandmother, rest her soul, would tell me they will become if I annul my marriage. In the back of my head, I faintly heard the homily preaching family values. It is important for core family values to remain strong in the Catholic church. I understand their position. Families need safe places they can go, as families. But, I am divorced. Yes, I heard something mentioned about gay marriages now to consider. The rest of what I heard was delivered without the conviction that love is love, or that we should love and accept one another. And not once was it said that we are perfect just as we are.
What I am realizing about myself is that I am not only discovering who it is that makes up me in my emotional life, or discovering who I am physically. I am also discovering whom I am in my spiritual life. This transformation I am going through is truly a complete transformation.
Spiritually, I think it's time for me to step away from my Catholic roots, at least for now. I cannot attend a church that continues to endorse old norms. I cannot attend a church that doesn't nourish me. I cannot attend a church that hasn't changed as I have changed. I cannot attend a church that doesn't grow. I am perfectly me. I'll admit, I don't quite see it yet, but I am. I am a divorced person who is still capable of love, and tolerance, and acceptance, and who needs a church who preaches the same, while being able to nourish my soul. I need a church who doesn't belittle her flock, but instead builds them up and makes a difference in this world. We only have a short time on this planet. I need to feel I am making a difference. I don't need to feel that I am less than acceptable.
Change may be good, but change IS hard. It's hard to break from the familiar and go to the unknown. I've spent the past several years charting a new course for myself. I didn't expect to be alone. This has been hard, but it has also been good. I wake each day feeling rested, happy, and grateful for another day on this wonderful planet.
Not too long ago, this was not how I woke up. I used to wake up being anxious. I silently wondered what would I do today that was wrong? I went to sleep each night feeling I needed to stay on a certain amount of the bed, not make any noises, and control all else. Literally I needed to control ALL ELSE..things beyond my control: water dripping from the faucet, a dog barking at night. As I closed my eyes to sleep, I would silently cry and wonder what was wrong with me? I would physically lay on my stomach and tuck my right hand between the mattress and the box spring. If during my slumber, I inadvertently rolled over my two foot limit (I sleep in a queen sized bed), I was shaken awake and told my offense. If the toilet was stuck and running a little or a faucet was dripping, I was shaken awake and asked, "don't you hear that?" If the dog was barking at something out in the back yard at night and I didn't hear it, I was hostilely told "That god dammed dog was barking again last night. I can't believe you didn't hear him." And if W happened to be barking before I fell asleep, I knew I needed to go and try to hush him. If I didn't, the passive aggressive mannerisms, heavier than necessary footsteps to the basement and back, reminded me that I was at fault, yet again. Behind closed doors. Emotional abuse. Unseen by all, but felt deeply by those in it's path. I am learning to let this go. I am learning to recognize the patterns and put myself first. I have felt crazy, but I am not.
Again, change is hard. Initially, I knew the crazy in my life, I knew my place, and I thought I knew how to manage it all. I was willing to sacrifice to keep things as status quo. I hadn't realized there might be something different out in the world, or that the different might be something even better. Daily I prove to myself, that I am capable of surviving the challenges and changes that fill my life. I am not only surviving, but I am healing and happier. Maybe it's time for me to reevaluate the place a church holds in my heart. If I have been able to experience such positives in one area of my life...maybe I can feel those positive in other areas too? Hm.
|Chapel of the Holy Cross, top side, Sedona, AZ|
Maybe it's time I stop trying to fit myself into defined, and confining boxes.
Ed Sheeran came out with his third album yesterday. It's called Divide and I am overdosing on it. I currently have his songs "What do I know?" and "Save Myself" on repeat.
From the wisdom of Ed...
"Remember life is more than fitting in your jeans, its
Love and Understanding, postivity.
Love can change the world in a moment,
But what do I know."
Maybe I need to go to the church of Ed Sheeran for awhile. :)
I know I do need to allow myself to fall in love, completely, with all I do.
...."And before I love someone else, I've got to love myself"
eating, praying and still learning to loving this person who is me.
When I first wrote this pots, I was listening to the music of Amos Lee, from his album Spirit.
My editing music has been from Divide, by Ed Sheeran.
And, although it's a tad sacrilegious...SNC singing "Take Me to Church".
Humor has a place in my soul.
The power of words through lyrics
and help me dream.