A Dream

For Patience:

Shortly before my official conversion (i.e., baptism) I had a dream that I will not be able to describe well here. But I hope that Patience at least will understand!

In my dream, I was lying in the dust outside of a large dome. It was clear that I was outcast, bereft, lying not just on the ground, but in the dirt. I was low, abandoned.  Jesus came out from the dome, lifted me up, and welcomed me into the dome, which was filled with people, and brought me to God.

And that was it. 

But there it was. Jesus had reconciled me to God and to that communion of saints collected there. He was my ticket in. I was dirty and disheveled, hardly fit for company, and he escorted me in like a cherished and long-sought-for friend.

It was a dream that meant a lot to me, one of those dreams that is so vivid that it feels very real. I am not one to believe in messages in dreams, but I still take comfort in this one (and a few others I could mention at another time). I know this sounds like a bad picture book, but it did not feel like one!

Published in: on December 8, 2008 at 10:03 pm  Comments (1)  

In the Face of Grief

I attended a funeral this weekend, for the wife of a lay leader in our parish. I didn’t know her personally, though I knew her husband and sons to be bright, kind, and generous, which obviously speaks well of the woman of the house. The tender of the garden, as Fr. described her in the homily.

Our big cathedral-style church was packed front to back. This family was loved. Yet looking at a husband standing alone, two not-grown young men who watched their mother waste away from an aggressive cancer, so many of us were overcome with grief and sorrow. There is nothing to do to take away that sadness, to mitigate that loss. Rejoicing for someone who believed with all her heart that she was going “to a better place,” as she said often before she died, doesn’t fill the hole left among us.

As we sang the litany of the saints, I appreciated that part of the liturgy anew. At times during that litany I have felt great peace, a strong sense of being securely part of an eternal and beautiful web of space and time. (OK, clearly words are failing me here. It’s hard to describe that feeling.) But during this funeral, I felt very deeply how much our human community needs prayers. Full of sadness that can’t be removed, questions that can’t be answered, and a certainty of repeated losses that can’t be prevented, all we can do is be humble and ask for the prayers of those who know more clearly than we on earth ever can, that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things will be well.” (Julian of Norwich)

Now Mary Ellen has joined their number. As her sister said, she now has “the world’s best guardian angel.”

Published in: on February 11, 2008 at 12:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Whither the Subtitle

Why “As Catholic As I Wanna Be . . . ” ?
1. When I first thought to myself, hey, I might like to blog about religion and spirituality, I was feeling a little defiant. I am in a mixed-faith marriage (i.e., faith + no-faith), and sometimes I feel a little constrained when The Domestic Church is a central part of Catholic life. I have some friends who are anti-Catholic. Enough said on that. So I liked the idea of having a ready place to talk about things on my mind, and hang any of those people in my life who weren’t buying it.

2. I belong to a fairly middle-of-the-road parish. We are a mixed bag, politically, though probably lean more liberal than conservative. I have friends of both parties who are active in the parish, and I think they all seem to be at home there.

Theologically and liturgically, again, we’re a mixed bag. But I like what our former director of liturgy encouraged us to do — take part in all that the Roman Catholic Church has to offer. Sure, there are folks in the parish who would never touch a rosary — too old-school — but others who lead family rosary during Lent. We’ve expanded our time for Adoration of the Eucharist during the week. We have a significant section of Boomers who freak out whenever the guitars are missing from Mass, but we also have chant and songs in Latin. The basement of our church was as plain as a concecrated worship space could be (we no longer use it because it was not accessible to anyone not good with stairs), but our main worship space is filled with statues, old-style confessionals, and a Mary chapel.

When I say I’m Catholic as I wanna be, I mean I’m not giving up traditional Catholic practices because some people associate them with unhealthy aspects of the church. We can study the saints in our homeschool, we can learn to pray the rosary, we can go to confession — and we can participate in Centering Prayer and walk a labyrinth. Our tradition is so rich, and I’m blessed as an adult convert that I can approach it without the negative connotations some lifelong older Catholics feel.

3. At the same time, I tire of the phrase “Cafeteria Catholic.” I hear that and I hear, “I am the judge of all things Catholic; differ from me at your peril.” It’s not clear to me why people even give energy to this kind of activity. Have they erased all occasions from sin in their own lives, taken care of all the hunger and homelessness in their own communities, and rooted out all instances of pride, greed, and sloth in their own hearts? What happened to that thing about not removing the mote from someone else’s eye before getting the log out of your own?

Is the Roman Catholic Church so weak that it cannot withstand a little disagreement — even what might look like “disobedience”? Is that how we parent — expect perfection and eager, instant cooperation or you’re out on your ear? When I started poking around the popular Catholic blogs, I was shocked and more than a little depressed by the snide attitude many self-proclaimed Orthodox Catholics (and I don’t mean neoTraditionalists) took towards fellow Catholics who, say, allowed altar girls, liked hymns by certain modern composers, had questions about whether Cardinal Ratzinger would be a good pope, etc. (FWIW, I think many of those who had questions have been pleasantly surprised — if not consistently pleased.)

It’s pretty clear that to those folks I’m a mere shadow of a Catholic. But hey, screw them, right? I’m Catholic As I Wanna Be. And to me, that means giving up on pretending to know the right answers. If the Buddhist-loving poet-priest Thomas Merton is not a True Catholic, I don’t know who is, and this is what he says:

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

– Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”

Assorted Thoughts on Community

When I first joined the Church, I had a friend who said he assumed I was doing it for the community. I laughed -community is my least favorite part of church. As I said then, “People — whose bright idea was that?”

I generally like people — I like my family, I like my friends — but something about church community brings out the misanthrope in me. This morning I was getting ready to go to church, debating again whether I should seek another parish, because I have some very mixed feelings about the “community” at our current parish.

Talking to myself in my mind, I thought, “If I wanted to see another self-satisfied, perpetually complaining liberal prig, I’d look in the mirror.” And, “I get so tired of people who equate ‘community’ with a religiously tinged country club.” And, “I worked my ass off for this parish and I can’t even get a hello from some of these people.”

Another day, for good measure, I suppose I could throw in, “I feel most connected to God when I’m alone.”

Long before I converted, however, I came to understand the Buddhist concept of the three jewels: Buddha (Buddha nature or enlightened mind), Dharma (teachings), and Sangha (the community of practitioners). The popular American conception of Buddhism is the solitary meditator, achieving a state of perfect calm in silence, alone, without distraction. But this is incomplete at best. Consider how the Buddhist monk who is most popular in America, Thich Nhat Hanh, once described his work:

Our practice as a monk is not only to improve the quality of a person, but also to improve the quality of the life of a community. Community building, sangha building, is our true practice. And without a community, your practice cannot be strong enough. That is why it’s not true that Buddhism only offers a practice for individuals. Everything you can achieve as an individual can profit our community and our nation.

Buddhist meditation often focuses not on personal enlightement, but on all sentient beings, because suffering and happiness are not personal possessions. Their existence is felt by a community.

These are Christian ideas as well, but perhaps after growing up in a Christian culture, I did not really experience the truth of them until I saw them in a new light.

It is quite true that for myself, like many, it is easiest to experience the presence of God when I am alone. That is why the practice of community — of Church — is necessary. Because it is not easy, yet it is essential.

It is easy to love my children when they are asleep and cute. It is harder to act and feel loving when they are loud and stubborn — but that’s what I keep trying to do. It is easy to fall in love; it is hard to act and feel loving with the person who has been making fun of your taste in music, messing up the kitchen, and sometimes lying or saying unkind things to you for 15 years — yet that is the goal.

Solitary spirituality allows me to maintain the illusion of my separateness — from there I can judge everyone who is trying to practice community and screwing it up miserably. Solitary spiritual practice — without the counterpart of community — allows me to buff, shine, and gloss my selfinmage, which feels great! Community spiritual practice sands down that smooth finish, and that often feels unpleasant.

Christmas homilies often talk about the Incarnation as God coming to earth to be joined to all the mess that is humanness. Community spiritual practice is the same: I join myself to all those things I’d rather think I’m separate from, and in so doing open myself to God-in-all-things, or the birth of Christ in me.

Not that these thoughts add up to anything new, but they can at least remind me why I need to go back next week.

Published in: on December 30, 2007 at 1:48 pm  Comments (1)  

Patron Saint of SBY

Thanks for visiting SBY — where I get the thoughts that have been buzzing around my brain into the computer and out of my mind.

The Patron Saint of SBY is St . John of the Cross, and from him I take this prayer:

My God, you will not take away what you have given me
in your only son, Jesus Christ.
In him, you have given me all that I desire.
You will, therefore, no longer delay —
and this is my joy —
provided that I wait for you.
So, my heart, why do you delay?
Why do you procrastinate?
From this moment on you can love your God!
Mine are the heavens,
mine is the earth and mine the peoples;
mine are the just and mine are the sinners;
mine are the angels;
mine is the mother of God —
God himself is mine, for me —
for mine is Christ
and everything is for me.
What do you ask, what do you see, my soul?
Everything is for you and everything is yours!
Do not think of yourself as little
nor pay attention to the scraps that fall
from the table of your Father.
Rise on the great day
and take your glory in his!
Hide yourself in it
and be joyful;
everything which your heart desires
shall be yours.

Published in: on March 19, 2007 at 3:53 pm  Leave a Comment