Last week I celebrated Epiphany on January 6. On the 7th, I took Christmas down. But my Wise Men and their camels and gifts made it to my manger scene in good time. They arrived on the 4th! Must have been great travelling this year.
Epiphany — our young priest tried to explain it Sunday. That’s the day we officially celebrated the feast at church. He [Baby Priest] took the “Tell all the World” approach to Epiphany. Me? I’m more of the “Aha!” as the definition of epiphany type person. But, I can see clearly that the story of the Wise Men clearly tells us that God’s love not only extends to all, but you just can’t control who will pay attention and recognise it. These Wise Men came across the desert because they saw the light and followed it. They weren’t God Chosen Jews — not when they started the journey and not when they returned home. They didn’t take on the trappings of the Jewish religion as far as I can tell.
Our current pastor is a very young priest. He wears a cassock. I do feel for him being thrown into this job. I tell myself he’s young. My epiphany when listening to him this week was that he longs for a magical perfect past that never existed. In many ways, I think that’s what so many “traditionalists” long for. They wish for a time of innocence when there were rules, and they felt quite safe. They wish to go back to a time before their personal age of reason (not before The Age of Reason).
When they speak of this magic past, everything is peaceful and good. Like so many in my generation, that would mean perhaps the 1950s. Ozzy and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, Andy Griffith. Those TV shows represent an idealized past sold to use by Mad Men and their advertising.
But let’s look closer. Yes, for Catholics this was pre-Vatican II. Everybody (ok, maybe every Catholic) was told what to think, what movies and books were acceptable and the clergy was on a pedestal. It was quite safe and predictable. Except it wasn’t. It was the McCarthy era. Any sex abuse by clergy (Catholic or Protestant) was covered up and/or dismissed. There was the growing threat of nuclear war. It was illegal to be homosexual – or to act on those inclinations. There was redlining that kept a part of our population down and out. And what about overt discrimination based on color or sex or religion that kept children from getting equal education. It was perfect in the US and many other countries if you happened to be white and male (oh, and cisgendered).
Even my father, who was forward thinking enough to work out how my mother would have her own credit history, etc, tried to steer me toward being a legal secretary (maybe today a paralegal) instead of an attorney. Not that I was interested in either. But, I’m sure he would have thought it more appropriate for me to think nursing instead of being a doctor. (Again, not my path. I thought large animal Veterinarian was a good idea).
I never shared a classroom with a black student until I was in high school. I remember white and colored water fountains and separate entrances to movie theaters.
This mythical past just wasn’t.
Or go back further into this magic, traditional past with Latin masses and the altar turned so that the priest’s back was to the congregation, and the word from Rome was not questioned (out loud). If it was so perfect, why was there a Vatican II in the first place?
My guess is that the Church herself reached an “age of reason” where she had to look at herself and take responsibility. That She had to be open to the Epiphany and see/accept that there are many ways to God, and many ways to experience God, and many ways to share God’s love.
Some mornings I just have to give up and get up. Most times, I can let the thoughts roll on by after considering them. I always think I’ll remember the insights when I get up. Alas, it seems that this is one of those days to get up and make notes of all those deep down things that showed up.
A couple of Sundays ago, our young, wet behind the ears priest reflected on the parable of the mustard seed. He caught me short when he started with the idea of faith as all the information about what we [Catholic Christians] say we believe. I thinking “What?” The Catechism, the specifics, all the tenets of the Faith, etc… okay, I guess that is a definition of faith. I, however, think of those things as Religion.
So, I was relieved as he moved on to the idea of faith as trust. Now, we are getting somewhere. Faith is a belief, a trust in something or someone. All those rules, and statements, etc are maybe the result or the revelation of how faith has impacted our lives. Looking beyond the surface and accepting what is often hard to see and trust.
All of this led me to thinking about scrapbooking layouts revealing the image beyond surface. Yes, I know this seems a leap here. But stay with me. Just for a minute. Thanks.
Of late I have been digging into some digital scrapbooking layouts where there is a textured background, but another image is revealed in part. Hard to describe in words, but maybe an image would help:
All that pretty pinky base, and low and behold, sunrise at the beach is partially revealed, with birds laid on top, and a 3 frames to focus one’s attention. In many ways this is how faith works, especially if one practices contemplation. The details of the what lies beyond begin to be revealed.
What is my God? or yours?
Onward marched my random thoughts. All the way to remembering a meme (okay, a quote) I saw yesterday attributed to GK Chesterton.
Once [you] abolish God, the Government becomes God. Whenever the people do not believe in something beyond the world, they will worship the world.
OK. I find it difficult to accept words themselves without considering who is passing them on. In this case, I know the person posting is pretty much a right wing, don’t take away my gasoline/diesel vehicle or my guns type who is seems pretty sure that financial success or failure is due entirely to how hard you try. So, I have issues because of the source. I fully agree that we will believe in something, and that something becomes our God. I find it hard to take these sorts of things without a large grain of salt because I believe I understand that the words mean something quite different to me than they do to the poster. I see the poster’s God being Self, Self Reliance, Guns, Stability. I see the warning to check what/who is my God. Is it security? Is it being right? That’s on me — to take inventory and have a good long, honest look at myself.
So, give me the grace to see unexpected good in unexpected people, and to be able to tell them so.
I sometimes reflect on those times I have known the presence of God in an almost tangible way.
I envy those who remember childhood as a time of safety, innocence and carefree fun. I seek to remember the times I felt that way. Then those feelings of uncertainty, insecurity, fear and just general discomfort arise and run amok over me. My mother once told me she thought me very shy, despite the fact I talked a lot (got teased about it) and I think I was rather outgoing. She once asked me why I always wanted to do things that I was not really good at (mostly athletic/physical pursuits) — implying, correctly, that I seemed disinterested in things where I could excel (intellectual/academic).
In high school I reached a point where I decided that I had to choose: to actually be a Christian or to admit I didn’t believe it and walk away. I had to get off of that fence. It was a pointed picket fence, painted white, in my mind. Coming from the South and good Calvinist roots, I feared blowing off the God of the churches I knew, I didn’t want to go to hell, etc. So, I chose the all-in route. I became some form of “Jesus freak” as it were. Of course, I missed the entire point of the Gospel. I took a rather judgmental approach to life and others. I am sorry for the pain I caused during this part of my journey.
This was an essential step it seems. To decide. To step out. To take a stand. Maybe right choice, wrong reasons. What is clear to me now is that it was more fear driven than anything else. Typical me. At least I was reaching out in some way.
On my religious/faith journey I came to the [Roman] Catholic Church by a crooked path. My first experiences of church were in the Southern Baptist Church (grandparents) and the Presbyterian Church. Both of Calvinist roots. From there I wandered into non-denominational groups as well as Pentecostal churches (I remember the Assembly of God and Church of God); I tried out Bible study with a local Church of Christ. Oh, and then the Methodist Student Center in college alongside the Catholic Student Center.
Ah! 1970s Catholics: people of community and faith who also enjoyed a party, some dancing, a few beers (especially green beer on St. Patrick’s Day) all while exhibiting a deep and abiding faith and dedication to the church (and mass). A new world.
Which leads me to a second moment of decision, under a fig tree. Yeah, I know — the story of Nathaniel is not lost on me.
Sitting under the fig tree that at one time graced the backyard of St. Michael’s church (founded as Sacred Heart Church), I heard the Lord say “You are going to be Catholic.” My response was similar to Moses when he tried to convince God that he wasn’t the right person to lead the Hebrews. In Moses’ words: “Not me, take Aaron!” As a lifelong protestant Christian, this was some serious stuff. (Thoughts here: I’m not becoming some damn Papist… you’re asking me to give up my identity! This is like leaving the church.) Nevermind that I was already starting to go to daily mass, did music for Sunday mass and generally hung out primarily Catholic college students.
God calls. And, in the end, I became a part of the Roman Catholic communion. It took 2 full rounds of Inquiry classes (now morphed into RCIA), and having to convince a priest (or 2) and a couple of nuns that this was the right move. I fully understand their concerns, but I also have learned that God draws straight with crooked lines (was that Vincent de Paul who said that?).
Fast forward past college graduation, grad school, marriage and becoming a mother. Fast forward through moving back to Auburn. Much frustration and probably some depression. A sense of inner deadness.
All I can say is be careful with what you ask for. In the confessional, trying to get past the dead feeling, my ask was to “widen the parameters” — I guess that was a cry to help be open up and look closely at where I was. Be brave. It was a time where I truly felt Jesus in the room. I felt I could reach out and touch Him. And, my world went upside down, inside out — a swiftly tilting planet as it were.
I wish I could say it was the beginning of a time of smiles and joy and more. Not so much. Confronting oneself is not an easy task. It was at times quite painful. I shut down many things that I couldn’t handle. But I found someone inside that I finally liked.
Not long after, I felt the wrath of an ultra-conservative group within the parish enabled by a new priest. Another call, another step. Another process.
One Saturday evening I took myself to a new and strange [to me] parish. Small space. The original Catholic church in the county. No music beyond the priest leading singing acapella. Music has always been an important part of liturgy to me. And yet, it was right. I went up to communion. When I returned to my seat, I promise you, it seemed to me that Jesus was waiting. I sat down and it felt like an arm was around my shoulder and a voice whispered in my ear: “Welcome home.”
It took another 18 months to completely move into this new home. It took a long penance where the music I led at mass was a prayer for those who I felt persecuted me. This time it seems I lost my parish and found my church. That Church is much, much larger than a parish. But this move was one done in love, not fear.
Themes I notice: sitting (sitting on a fence, sitting under a fig tree, sitting in a confessional, sitting in a pew); loss; stepping out;
Art: listening and entering into a place where the muse (or the Holy Spirit) can speak to me with a vision that needs to be passed on, or at least given form be it in color, dance, music or some other manifestation
Craft: the means by which art is brought to life; the techniques and knowledge of how to “make it so””
I work at Craft. I work at technique, or programming, or color palette, or efficiency. But, it is hollow when I don’t seem to be able to hear The Voice, or my voice. And that is frustrating to me. I come closer to this in music and dance than in those things that I work at. I’m an ok singer, and ok guitarist, and ok (maybe not even ok) dancer. But, those actions are almost always where I go beyond and tap into something bigger. In some ways this blog is way to give voice to those stirrings of creativity I sometimes experience. I could spend more time on the craft of writing, but then I’m not sure that’s the point.
Maybe in the new year of 2020 I can take the time to get in touch, to enter through the eye of the needle and find the great beyond that needs expression. Letting go is not easy. But, maybe that’s just what I need to do.
I know I have a problem — I like to play versions of Angry Birds, Candy Crush and Words with Friends. I can get absorbed. I can use it to back off from the world (I’m a bit of an introvert and sometimes I do need to retreat).
That said, there are lessons to be learned from games. This morning’s “Aha!” is focus on the goal and let go of the unnecessary things — in games and in life. Were those 2 angry Red Birds that got left behind when all the bubbles tumbled down past an opened lock necessary to accomplish the goal? Uh — no, it turns out. But, I like using all of my special Red Birds (and Yellow Birds) and I didn’t get to make things explode with the 2 that got left behind! Let it go! They were distractions. Unnecessary to completing the goal.
And so with life. Sometimes I don’t want to give up my anger, my hurt, my sense of righteous indignation. I mean, that’s like letting the other guy win, right? Maybe not. Maybe it is necessary to leave these things on the table and walk away. Of course, I have to actually own the hurt, anger, frustration before I can actually lay it down and leave it on the table. I must admit that this person did indeed cause me a lot of pain and grief. I have to look at the present, and try not to let it be colored so intensely by the past. If he wants to converse with me now, and pretend it never happened, well — what am I losing by being present in the present and relaxing? I don’t forget exactly and I am cautious around him. But, not letting go (not forgiving) is really only hurting me it seems.
It’s hard to figure out sometimes why I hang on to some things: be they hurts or old tech, clothes that don’t fit or that I wouldn’t wear even if they did, photos that are out of focus and need to be deleted. I just found a Garmin, an iPod mini and a Fitbit in a drawer. All dead as doornails. Why do I keep them? I let negative reactions keep me from making contact with others. How are these things advancing me toward seeing/loving with God’s eyes? Hanging on to those clothes is a bit of hanging on to a past version of me.