Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lenten Ruminations and Devotions

I am not too active "in the [Catholic] Church" anymore, but it used to play a very important and defining role in my life. Most of my dearest friends I met through church retreats and volunteer opportunities organized by my favorite parish. I grew to appreciate and cherish the divinity and dignity inherent of every living thing, largely through my friendship with Father R. He taught me and our community so much. This man is a wonderful leader and represents the followers of Christ that I can admire. (If you've ever seen The Laramie Project, then you've seen a small glimpse into what a fine man he is.) He voiced his opposition to the hypocrisies in the Church while respecting it as his own community. That is not an easy task.

I miss the community intensely. Eventually, I found I was crying through Mass a few too many times, enraged and heartbroken by the hypocrisies and hatred that too often prevailed. You can probably guess what bothers me the most: not welcoming gays and lesbians as fully divine members of the community, turning "our" backs on divorced individuals and families, refusing to recognize that women are capable and inspirational members of the Church who would be a remarkable addition to the priesthood, etc. Basically, I've been a total (and happy) pain in the butt of every priest and nun I've known since high school.

I struggled with my relationship with the Church mightily. If I were truly a member of the community and took that membership and its accompanying responsibility seriously, shouldn't I stay and work to bring about the changes I think "The Church" so desperately needs to be more like Christ? I suppose I am just not strong enough for the fight. After years of internal conflict, I finally stopped attending Mass. I am not always at ease with this, but I wasn't always at ease with attending, either.

I suppose part of why I am not fit for the battle is I never really bought into everything the Church said. I wasn't never really, oh, fundamental about my faith, for lack of an articulate explanation. The Church has many hard and fast rules that I always interpretted as suggestions. (Cafeteria Catholic, anyone?) Parables and readings and spiritual studies always seemed to me to represent ideas and considerations to facilitate an active spiritual journey. I didn't see those as actual, immediate answers. I never took any of it literally. I even struggle with whether or not I actually believe in a literal sense either Jesus Christ the Man or Jesus Christ the God . I always have--and still do--believe in Jesus in a spiritual way. In a connected way. In a divine way. I could go on and on, trying to articulate this, but clearly it is beyond my means. Maybe in another post some day.

All of this leads me to how I am feeling about today: Ash Wednesday. This used to be a powerful symbol for me, and in many ways it still is. I still chose to observe this devotion, though its meaning for me is still ambivalent. Right now, for me, it is a time to do the hard work of engaging my faith, of examining what I do in my life that keeps me from Christ. (And for me, Christ is found in/is every human being, and when I really think about it, every living thing in our system. I think of Christ as our unconditional connection, through grace, with every living thing and God. But, anyway....) Also, what do I do in my life that keeps others from Christ? How do I hinder their faith journeys, rather than nourish it? (In whatever form, vocabulary, etc. those journeys may be.)

So, along with giving up soda for Lent, (as usual! When I think of a soda I'll remind myself of Jesus, or whatever they taught us in CCD classes) I've decided to meditate daily. I am hoping to develope a habit of quietness, where I can look for and find my demons in an environment of peach and grace. I am hoping to train myself not to react to these demons, but rather draw them out and face them. And maybe reconnect with whatever my faith is again.

Oh, and I will also work on The Thesis for at least three nights a week. Bah.

Now for the fun part! Do you observe Lent? What are your plans for the next 40 days?


This post turned out to be much heavier than I'd planned. Obviously, I've decided to throw it out there anyway. I am struggling with how to articulate much of what is bouncing around my head, so please bear with me.


  1. This is a very interesting and genuine post. I am not the least bit religious, and I'm technically Jewish anyway, so I am not a Lent person at all. But these struggles are so interesting and I would imagine that I would have similar struggles if I were Catholic.

    I think you've taken a lot of really interesting things away from this internal struggle you've had with the church. It sounds like a lot of what you've learned from that has been very good for you. So I don't want to take away from that with this next opinion, but I do want to say that I don't think any one person is "strong enough" to take on the struggles you list with the Catholic church. It is not a struggle that can be won by an individual. I don't know if it's a struggle that can be won at all, by any number of individuals. The Church's very firm stance on those issues seems (to me) to push back against individuals to define their discordant views on the issues in terms of their own struggle.

    What I'm trying to say is that since the Church doesn't seem like it will back down, the conflict you feel becomes a personal conflict. That you've grown and understood and challenged yourself to explore those issues further speaks volumes for you and your own strong moral ethic. But it doesn't mean that you should chastise yourself for not being strong enough to fight back.

  2. My personal belief is that church is a form of meditation, so I think you're on to something there.

    I have never observed lent though I grew up catholic for years. I would probably give up oreos for it, but I think I have little control of the situation. They seem to pop into my mouth without my even thinking about it.

  3. Jess, you are very sweet. I appreciate it.

    I still daydream about organizing a revolution, though. But maybe that is because I positively ITCH FOR REVOLUTION everywhere. ;-)


    Note to all: Say what you want! I feel like this should be an open space for discussion, ranting, spouting off, whatever -- if it so lends itself to that. If not, eh. Please just be courteous in your sharing. Being a Meany, rather than thoughtfully opinionated, will get you deleted.

  4. Penny - giving up anything that involves chocolate is so hard, and in my case, is often a lost cause!

  5. P.S. Penny - LIVING MEDITATION AS COMMUNITY. There is something awesome to think about...

  6. Cafeteria Catholic. Totally. It seems like people get all indignant about picking and choosing, but I don't see the problem with it. LIFE is about picking and choosing what feels right to us. My choices aren't any less valid than the choices of the people who Make the Rules.

    I grew up with a mom who was a total Catholic Church Lady, but doesn't believe in a lot of the things the church teaches. She once explained it to me by saying that for her Catholic is more like a cultural heritage (like Jewish) than a strict set of beliefs.

  7. Tessie - I feel the same way as your mom! I don't think I could ever say I am not Catholic, because I just can't give up the cultural aspect of it. Hence, why I still light candles, go to Rosaries, still watch with anticipation to see if black smoke or white smoke rises from the Vatican when the elect a new Pope. (Oh, how I hope we will be watching for smoke soon...Creepy Pope needs to be "called Home" soon...)

  8. Not Catholic and not religious at all, but it's interesting to hear your take on Lent, since I don't know much about it.

    I will be giving up nothing. However, I WILL be working on my goals of running more and eating out less.

  9. I probably won't do anything different for Lent- I grew up Protestant and we never gave anything up, traditionally. Also I feel a little too sad and teetery right now to abandon chocolate or coffee! Maybe I could give up, say, exercise? No?
    Anyways, I really love this post. I've been thinking SO MUCH lately about what I REALLY believe in terms of taking the Bible literally. Sometimes I wonder about it all, but so much of it resonates with me at a spiritual level that I believe there is truth there, that much I can say. Whether it is all ACTUAL HISTORIC FACT and without human error, that's something I cannot unequivocally attest to, but I can attest to the fact that it helps me. A lot.
    I feel so much frustration with organized religion, too, and yet there's such a community there that I would never want to break off and just go meditate by myself in the forest instead of attending church. I think part of what Paul taught in the epistles is that the church is flawed, just as the human race is, but we stick with it, just as a family sticks together. I think you do a great job of articulating that struggle and balance of being true to yourself and also wanting to stay connected to your faith in a community.
    Sorry for the novel there.

  10. I grew up going to a Protestant church. My parents were quite involved in the running of the church, serving on various boards and committees, but were always pretty cool about how involved (or uninvolved) we as children were. We went to Sunday School, but could skip it if we were invited to a sleepover on Saturday night. It was our choice whether or not we participated in the youth group or the junior choir.

    The church environment itself never felt heavy-handed or restrictive. The teachings seemed to be more about how to live a fulfilling and charitable life rather than a list of rules. It is a community that still makes a fuss over me when I return at Christmas with my own kids, just as they did when I was a kid or when I had a weekend home from university.

    As such, I have never had any kind of internal struggle with my religion. As far as religions go, it's pretty easy to take.

    Also, I don't have to give up anything for lent. Although, one year I did give up elevators "for lent", in solidarity with my Catholic friend.

  11. i grew up with two lapsed catholics for parents, which translated into a complete a-religious household. we've never celebrated lent; xmas was when santa came, not jesus.

    i like hearing about people's struggles like these, though. it's easy to sort of write off catholics as those close-minded folks who care too much about who gets married to whom, so i really like hearing that there are so many religious people who maybe take some of these proclamations with a grain of salt.

  12. I grew up in the Catholic church, my brothersw were altar servers (girls not allowed in the 70's) and was one of the "lucky" CCD kids who got out of the New York Public School system an hour early on Thursday afternoons in order to attend. As I grew up, I grew out of it. My daughter brought me back to it because of her Catholic School attendance. Although, I walked out in October 2004, when the church commanded (basically) its priests to forgo that weekend's sermon in order to preach against gay marriage... I got up, mid sermon, and left. I have never been back. Now, given my current circumstances, I am rather conflicted. It is very difficult at this point, to believe in a "kind and merciful" God who has a plan for us all. Because this plan for me sucks. I'm basically floating around at this point. Great post though. It's good to get deep now and again.

  13. Great post. I totally agree with you with your issues with the church. I wish people would be more Christ-like and less "religious". That is what your post conveyed to me, so I hope that is what you meant.

    I was raised pentacostal, and lent was not stressed to us. So I haven't much for plans in the next 40 days. Except I have been feeling a need to connect with some deeper meaning lately.

  14. I've (we've) been thinking a lot of religion and spirituality lately. I even started attending our local Unitarian church, and I am really enjoying it simply for the benefits of feeling some deeper meaning to life, relationships and a sense of community. I was not raised religious, and sometimes I really feel like I missed out on a community and a feeling of belonging. Brett was raised (as stated above) in a very strict church, so basically we're coming from two extremes trying to meet somewhere in the middle.

    At any rate. Terrific post about a difficult topic to express. Getting my head around God, religion, spirituality, well, it's tough.

  15. Wow. I am SO FAR BEHIND in reading and commenting on posts in my reader that I am just now getting to this, and it's MARCH! Anyway, I gave up caffeine, which I needed to do anyway since it's exacerbating weird heartbeats, so maybe it doesn't really count, oh and I so totally cheated today anyway, and once I cheat at Lent it's all over.

    Fascinating post, by the way. I love reading about people's thoughts on religion.


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