Church on Sunday

“Going to Church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.” – G.K Chesterton. 

I was raised Catholic, as the seasoned reader may already know, and spent about fifteen years in Catholic school, going to church every Sunday with my family and every other Friday with my classmates.  Around age 25, I completely dropped the “act” I’d been running since I was fifteen and first saw the quote above.  I’m not saying that one quote changed my outlook on things…it just gave voice to an opinion I could not find words for. 

I remember being young and telling my Aunt Ka, a Sister of Mercy, that I wanted to get married at the Botanical Gardens because it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.  She told me that I couldn’t, that I was Catholic and therefore had to have a wedding inside a church…I could have the reception outdoors, though, she claimed.

This concept was a hard no for my ten-year-old brain that wanted what it wanted when it wanted it.  I had been taught, almost daily, that God was in every living thing, including trees and grass and sunshine.  So why on earth did I need to CELEBRATE in front of statues of dead people, under a roof made by man?  It was nonsense then; it’s nonsense now.

I had a friend get married a while back and a priest came and did the vows, outdoors.  But it wasn’t an “official” wedding, according to the church.  The priest was just blessing them.  I thought maybe someday I could do something similar to appease my Catholic family…I was not yet telling my mother I was done with the whole shebang.

By the time I did get married, she was well aware of my opinions on the Church, and we butted heads a little.  She wanted some Christianity in the ceremony, and I had to keep reminding her that my husband was not a Christian, and all that would be weird for him.  Not to mention, I wasn’t feeling it either.  In the end, I got married in a little gazebo, outdoors.  The readings were all literary, the music was secular, and the officiant was my uncle who got a license online.  My mother won in the sense that I allowed her to say a prayer before the meal.  I was cool with her doing that because she mentioned Ka, who had passed by that time.  But that was it: one prayer.  That’s all the God I invited.,

But he was there, you see.He was in the trees and sun and grass and breeze.  Nature, that is where I believe God lives.

On Saturday…in the beforetime…I caught a giant fish in the Buffalo Creek.  It was a smallmouth, but there was nothing small about it.  I don’t have a picture.  Mark snapped one, but I accidentally deleted it.  Just believe me when I tell you it was a monster.  I fought the thing, hard…I’ve never really fought my fish before; usually I am far stronger. This guy gave me a run for my money.  When I finally flopped him onto shore, I felt immense pride.  Mark helped me unhook him, and I thanked him for the challenge and sent him back on his way in the stream.  Then I went home, and the world changed.

So, on Sunday, after the events, I was getting a hankering for prayer.  I’ve been arguing with my ancestor’s spirits as of late, over this mess with my mother. One of my favorite authors, Paulo Coelho, said that “Praying is talking to the Universe. Meditation is listening to it.”  So, I figured, why not try a little listening?  I’ve ben talking so damn much.

I went back to where I caught the big fish.  All I caught that day was a pumpkinseed, but it was still worth it to sit there and look and listen.  I saw God all around me, from the fish in the water to the no-see-ums buzzing about to the big tree with all the fishing line and old bobbers caught up in it.  I watched the water of the creek lap upon the rocks and focused on the word “Peace.”  I needed peace.

On the way home, I remembered it was Sunday and thought of church.  I had the same feeling then that I had when I was a child leaving Mass.  Yes, when I was small, I was relieved that the sitting still and being quiet portion of the day was over, but I also always felt that feeling you get when you visit am old friend.  Also, I always kind of felt it hearkened the start of a new, fresh week.  A clean slate.

That’s when I realized: I go to church ALL THE TIME.

Fishing is church for me.  That might sound ridiculous, but where else would I rather be on a Sunday morning? And every time I go, every time, I think of God.  I didn’t even realize it until I examined my thought pattern closely this past week.  I tend to remind myself of God in nature whenever I fish.

Now, no, I no longer believe in a stereotypical Christian God in the sky…I think God is more of a universal fabric, with an understanding that we have not yet evolved to know.  Yet…I find God in the sky, because I find him in the earth, too.

Where do you find God?

Anyway…that’s just the thoughts running around in my head right now.  That’s all for today.  Happy Thursday!

Resurrection

So, the other day, Kevin sent me this photo:

Creepy right?  Well, what if I tell you this is the whole photo:

Creepier.  Why?  Those are Cardinals.  This is the Vatican.

Created in 1977 by sculptor Pericle Fazzini, this work of art is in the Paul VI Audience Hall, where the Pope does his daily blessing if it’s raining in the square.  This is the backdrop, a giant bronze statue called “The Resurrection.”

It is supposed to be a vision of Jesus resurrecting in the Second Coming, from the ashes of a nuclear crater in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It took me a few to wrap my head around all this, honestly.  Ok, I can buy that the Vatican wanted to have a sculpture depicting the resurrection; that hardly seems news.  But then, there’s the nuclear attack thing…this was commissioned during the Cold War, so I understand the threat of nuclear attack then.  Sadly, this is truly just as strong today as it was once, thanks to a certain Euro-Asian country with an itchy trigger finger.  So, I enjoy the concept of Jesus coming at the “end of the world” to rise up and save humanity…y’know, as art.  But then there’s the fact it’s in the Garden of Gethsemane…and I truly am not sure why.  All the info I found told me that Fazzini chose it because it was Jesus’ last place of prayerful reflection.  Ok…now I understand the piece.  What do I not understand?

Why is this in the Vatican?  It seems so much better suited for MOMA, in my mind.  It reminds me of that old Sesame Street game: one of these things is not like the others.  This is a sad, apocalyptic depiction of Christ, and while it is meant to be hopeful, I’m sorry…I just do not get that vibe.  And honestly, I don’t want to.  I think the feelings I get from this piece, such as fear, sadness, and devastation, resonate more with its features than hope.  But what do I know?  I’m not art scholar.

I just know I’ve been thinking about this piece for days.  I went to do the research this morning and also found one of my favorite things: a conspiracy theory!!  Lots of people think it’s actually a statue of Baphomet, the goat-headed demon worshipped by the Knights Templar.  Others think the whole thing is about the devil, because of the serpentine structuring.  My favorite brand of conspiracy theory is the Catholic Church kind.  Do you know why?  Because their theories have a terrible track record of actually being true.

Anyway.  I just wanted to share this with you so it can take up space in your brain the way it has been in mine.  Enjoy this image and information, and as always…

Happy Thursday. 

Lenten Sacrifice

I haven’t sat down at my computer since Thursday.  The kids were here so no work was done, and I’m pretty sure one of the kiddos broke my desk chair.  Awesome.

Yesterday, I had a panic attack.  It was around 1030pm and I could not fall asleep.  Both Mark and I had big days ahead, and I was very hungry all of a sudden.  I went in search of a snack and couldn’t find anything suitable, and suddenly, I was crying.  By the time I walked out to the living room, I was hyperventilating.  By the time Mark woke up and realized I was in panic mode, my heart started beating out of my chest, and my whole body ached.  Mark ran to find my Xanax and I took it and did some breathing exercises. 

Why was I panicking?  Couldn’t tell you, in the moment.  I thought maybe it was just stress over the fact that I couldn’t sleep when I knew I had to be up before 6am, but it really wasn’t that.  It wasn’t even the lack of snacks. It was just that I suddenly had this very childlike anger about not getting what I want.

Due to various circumstance, I have been sacrificing many things I want.  From writing advancement costs to large household purchases to simple everyday pleasures, I have said no.  And then, at 1130pm, when all I want is a couple Cheese Doodles and a good night’s sleep, the universe denies me this modest act?!  I don’t know; I just snapped. 

It’s not that I really mind, you see.  I am sacrificing for a greater goal, and that is just fine with me…most days.  But some days, my inner 6-year-old comes out and throws a hissy fit.  I just want what I want when I want it!

I don’t know if this feeling triggered my attack, but I’m guessing.  It’s how I felt in the moment when I started to cry, and I think it just snowballed from there.

I am remembering school today, because right about now we would be working on our Lent assignments, always the same every year: what are you giving up for Jesus?  I was typically urged to give up sweets, because I was fat in the 90s…before the rest of America caught up.  I knew one girl whose whole household gave up television.  I thought that was some serious commitment on their parents’ part.  Then, on Ash Wednesday we would read our little essays about sacrifice and get ashes on our foreheads and have fish for dinner.

So, if you’re a constant reader than you know I quit Catholicism some time ago, but all this stuff?  The sacrifice and the no meat and such?  Indoctrination, baby.  I can’t not think about it once Mardi Gras rolls around (which I would much rather celebrate.)

Sometimes, even as an ex-Cath, I think of some sacrifice to make during Lent.  Something small…or something nice to do for someone else maybe.  Not this year.  I’m not giving anything up, because I have been sacrificing for a very long time now.  This year I am going to reap some benefits, damnit.

Mark and I both started new jobs, so we are extremely hopeful life is about to change up real fast.  I can feel it coming, I’ve had some very prophetic dreams, and I have been told that I’m a little bit psychic (by a psychic, no less.)  So, I am currently confident in a quick end to the sacrifice.

Though, let’s be real…how quick?  Probably six weeks.  Let’s circle back at Easter.

Winter Solstice

Let’s see how many words I can do before my pinky gives up.

There’s this popular thread on Twitter right now from a Muslim man who is stuck here due to the pandemic and celebrating his first Christmas.  He had some observations.  It was really interesting and amusing to me.  Then I read a blog by a Muslim woman who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but loves everything about it.  Also fun, because she’s from Britain. and they have a few different things going on than us Yanks. Then I texted Sahar, my Muslim best friend, and asked what her deal was with Christmas…she always celebrated, as it turns out, so she wasn’t particularly useful to the conversation.  (Sorry, chica.)

Anyway, this got me thinking, as things do.  I grew up in a mostly white, mostly Christian community.  Christmas was a given, in every single way.  Here are some totally normal things from childhood: dragging an actual real tree into your house.  Staying perfectly still while dressed as Mary during a live nativity scene.  Knocking on doors and singing at people.  Accepting cookies from damn near strangers. 

All totally normal.

Now, I myself have always loved the topic of religion in every form, and I absorb material about world religions.  Each concept fascinates me.  But I wasn’t exposed to much growing up where I did.  I knew one Jewish girl-and she was a friend of a friend.  That’s how hard it was to come by a non-Christian.  And Muslim?  Forget it.  Title of first Muslim I knew goes to Sahar at age 16…only 2 years after I learned what a Muslim even was.

Totally normal thing from my childhood: not telling your kid other religions exist.

Now, Jews I knew, without knowing them.  I got pretty much every bible story ingrained in me from the time I was born, and Jews were featured prominently.  As a child, I thought they were kind of our allies…brothers and sisters who worshipped the same God, but held differing beliefs over who His Son was.  I thought this was a sensible disagreement.  I remember some kids being all “Jews killed Jesus!” and I never understood that line of thinking because did not Jesus say “forgive them, for they know not what they do?”  So, as a Christian, shouldn’t you just…do what he said?

In Religion class one year (because that was a totally normal thing: 40 minutes of bible study each day for a 1st grader,) we learned about Chanukah.  It seemed so fun!  Candles, and a game called dreidel, and 8 FLIPPING DAYS of presents.  I liked the story about the oil in the lamp, too, so I didn’t really get why we Christians weren’t doing Chanukah.

This kicked off that world-religion love, but my favorite part has always been other religious (and cultural) holidays.  My favorites are the Hindu’s Diwali and the El Dia de los Muertos for Spanish-Catholics. 

Then, high school, and Sahar, and a whole world of culture and art and religion and food that was hidden from me.  Wow.

It’s so funny to think that once upon a time my friend Meg told me her friend was Jewish and I thought “gee, that’s really neat.”

Today is the Winter Solstice.  It really kicks off the holiday, in my opinion, which should not be celebrated for a whole month and a half (says she who put the tree up early this year.)  My friend nick celebrates today, as he is Wiccan, despite being raised in the exact same Catholic classroom as me.  When he told me his intentions to leave the church, I was still very much in it and was concerned for his immortal soul and whatnot.  Now that I’ve managed to wash most of that Catholicism out of my hair, I can see with a much clearer eye that he went to what practices spoke to him, and that’s awesome and empowering.  So today is his “Christmas,” so to speak, and I keep him very close to my heart on the first night of Winter, even though we are literally a country apart. 

I don’t say Merry Christmas unless I know that person is Christian; I say Happy Holidays.  You can call me a liberal hippie all you want.  But there’s like a dozen holidays in December alone, and even though Christmas is the loudest solo artist out there, it’s not the only voice in the choir.

Now, I don’t know what Christmas Eve is looking like, so I may or not blog on Thursday.  If I do not, then a very Happy Holiday to you and yours, whatever it is you are celebrating.

Oh oh oh!  To my atheist friends: hope you have a chill Friday.

787 words…a little better, day by day.

Happy Easter

Today I write on a Saturday, because that eye surgery I previously mentioned was held over until this Monday.  I have been tasked with one mission this week, and that is to not get sick.  So far, so good.

I don’t go in for much at Easter because while I like free chocolate from my Momma I also dislike religion in general.  I spent the morning watching yet another cult documentary and realized that a lot of the feelings these people had are feelings I myself have had as a member of the Catholic church.  I can see too many parallels, and it upsets me.  Especially with the pomp and circumstance of my youth that was Easter week.

It would start on Palm Sunday when we would HAVE to go to church early to get our palms and have them blessed, and then they asked a bunch of children armed with branches to sit still and stay quiet for an hour.  I don’t know how we did it.

Then came Holy Thursday, which is when Jesus got together with his buddies and had a little Eucharist.  This is followed by Good Friday, a day in which we would not eat meat, nor do anything during the hours of noon and three, because Jesus is on the cross.  Early morning was usually taken over by the Stations of the Cross, which is like a really, really boring art exhibit.  Actually, I’ve been to some with no art, just markers, which just makes it boring storytelling.  I mean, I know what happens.  He falls.  He gets up.  He falls again.  It’s all very repetitive.  By the time they put the spear in his side I was thinking less about the sacrifice of Jesus and more about what’s for lunch.

Tuna, naturally.

Holy Saturday was always kind of a pain because you’re just waiting for Jesus to pop out and give you a chocolate bunny.  At least that’s how my young self understood it.  When I got older and started finding cracks in Catholicism, I became obsessed with the Easter story because Mary Magdelene was in it, and I am of the belief that she was Jesus’ wife.  Easter has as much to do with chocolate bunnies as it does the resurrection of a Messiah.  Which is very little, because we all know Easter is a pagan holiday centered around an equinox, just like Christmas.  And that’s what I like to think about on this “holy” day.

I like to think about life starting anew. About second chances.  About turning over new leaves and starting fresh.  That’s my idea of Easter; the world is becoming new again and so should you.  And for the religious folk, you can’t argue that that’s not what Jesus wants for you, to shed your dead weight and be the best you can be.  We may have different opinions about the symbolisms of the holiday, but we can at least agree that growth and renewal is always welcome.

Now, it’s Sunday.  I had a lovely brunch at my mother’s house with the family, and it looks like my tummy plans on digesting everything properly, which means I will be go for surgery in the morning.  I am a little nervous, mainly that something will go wrong, not of the surgery itself.  The very worst-case scenario is a situation I have been in before, so I know that I will be okay, but I don’t want to have to go through it again.   I’m also nervous that their nurses won’t find a vein, because I am like a Where’s Waldo book in that department.  Here’s hoping that I get a nurse who has the golden touch, like those troopers in the ER at Mercy.  Soon I will see the world clearly again, and I cannot wait.  All the more reason to be excited for the renewal that comes with springtime.  Anyhoo…happy Easter.

Good Friday

I do not consider myself a religious person, but rather a spiritual one. I started life being baptized Catholic, and by the church’s standards that means I am always Catholic. I went to Catholic school my entire life. My aunt was a Sister of Mercy and my mother herself was a former nun. Simply put, there was no escaping the Catholic church for me, and of course I believed everything I was taught at a young age. Some bits started to trouble me as I got older. It began at ten, when my church finally allowed girl altar servers and I realized that women could not be priests. It progressed at seventeen, as I was told during a homily that my friend Sahar would not be in heaven, as she was Muslim. Or my friend Mike, for that matter, who was gay. It ended at my sister’s First Communion when I was in my early 20s, and prior to the ceremony, as families were gathering in the church and greeting each other, the priest came out and actually yelled at us, citing that God could only be heard in silence. This was supposed to be a joyful celebration, and Mass had not even started. I consider this to be the straw that broke the Catholic camel’s back.

Now, I’ve always been open to other religions. So far as branches of Christianity go, I attended several youth groups as a child, and none of them were Catholic. I went to a Lutheran one, a Born-Again one, and a Baptist one, the latter being my favorite and the one I stuck with longest. I knew the Baptists weren’t for me in the same way I knew the Catholics probably weren’t, but their focus on Jesus was something I was not finding at my school, where they were already indoctrinating us with church dogma. I found a deeper connection to God through them and am eternally grateful. Also, this taught me that there were options.

When we learned about world religions, which was quite progressive for a Catholic school. I was enthralled. I found Buddhism and Hinduism to be the most interesting, with Islam a close second. I also looked at them through the same lens I had examined Catholicism, finding the bits I liked and felt were true to my core, and dismissing the parts I found to be out of date or restricting to the global community. I developed an interest in cults that I carry with me today. Seriously, one of my dream jobs is to be one of those people that pull others from cults and deprogram them. I find peoples blind faith to be fascinating. I studied other religions on my own time, learning about different world religions and specifically the assorted Christian sects. I have never found a “church” for me, and I don’t expect to, and so I make my own religion, my own set of morals and beliefs, and I have felt closer to God in this time than I ever did when I was younger.

I write all this because it is Good Friday. This is probably the one day a year I hold with some reverence. Christmas does not remind me of Jesus anymore, but rather the friends and family that we love and want to spend our time with. Easter makes me think of the rebirth of our planet, as spring pokes its head out from the ground. But Good Friday makes me think of all those years of Catholicism.

When I was young we had a tradition. My mother and I would go over to her friend Patty’s church for Stations of the Cross. Afterwards we would go to Patty’s for lunch, and then we had to play quietly from noon until three. Her sons would listen to the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack; her daughter and I usually hid in her room, biding our time. Afterwards we would usually dye Easter eggs, and then head home. It was a day I looked forward to, despite the church-going and the having to be quiet while Jesus died. I still think of Patty and her family every Good Friday, and I probably always will.

One year M asked me what the deal was with it, and I whipped out a Bible and gave a short lesson. They’re unbaptized and attend church on occasion, but don’t go to religion class or anything, so I was happy to oblige his questions. The four of them sat rapt as I explained how Jesus was persecuted and crucified, in the kid-friendly way I used when I taught religious education classes. They thought it was a good story I thought that was the best I could hope for.

In some ways Good Friday is like New Years Eve for me. It’s two days before Easter, and I see Easter as the real beginning of the year, when everything starts anew, but Good Friday is it a solemn and spiritual day for me. Not how it used to be, but it holds a remembrance of the life I used to live, and I choose to remember the best parts in that moment. Whatever your spiritual leanings as an adult, it is the experiences of your childhood that shape you, and this is the day I remember that.

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