Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Catalytic Conversions

I married into a Catholic family. I really didn't want to have anything to do with that aspect of my husband; I guess I sort of believed that it wouldn't matter in the long run. Aside from wanting our future children to attend parochial schools, he was Catholic in name only, voluntarily attending Mass only on Easter & Christmas. He created a whole points system for rules of attendance and rule-following...it was funny/totally juvenile and ridiculous. But then, after our first daughter was born, I felt like I should join in on the foolishness...or at least try to get a grasp on what exactly 'it' was.

I was raised in a John Lennon no-religion "God is Love and Love is all you need" house. I was never baptised, we never went to church, though there were vague references to God and Jesus (as far as my mother was concerned, Jesus was the messiah of parking spots and when Mom found a good one was about the only time his name was praised). I formed my beliefs from what my mother talked about - her ideas about reincarnation and karma and being that God was indeed a loving God there was no hell all made sense to me, so I took many of them, including a general discomfort with the G & J-words, as my own. So it was really, really weird when I started attending Catechism classes. There was a TON of Jesus to contend with. And God, and the Holy Spirit (fave) and so many rules. So many rules of what was okay when and what was never okay and what would be eternally damning you and who could do what and who couldn't do what and man, they were not into gender equality AT ALL. I mean, Mary, yes - I will give big points for giving Mary such an important place in the Church, but for the average woman, meh. Women cannot be ordained in the Catholic Church, and I was very disappointed to find out that being a nun isn't given nearly the same respect, nor considered a sacrament, the way being a priest is. That was one of my biggest sticking points with the Church - that and 2) that clergy could not marry/were to be celibate for life & 3) their stance on homosexuality. These things all made me sad. [note: now, I'm just talking rules and bylaws here. The history of the church is often horrifying in & of itself, but if I can put grievancese aside and love America, I can do the same & love Catholicism, too.] I was willing to swallow the virgin birth idea and transubstantiation, but the amount of things that had to be repressed to be a leader in this religion made was really a bummer. Regardless, I kind of fell in love with Catholicism. The cathedrals and stained glass were gorgeous, Mass was a beautiful ceremony - I actually liked that it was always the exact same formula, the singing was lovely and the community was amazing. And I couldn't take communion until my process was through, so I felt like I was becoming part of a quasi-exclusive club. Plus, 80% of our friends were Catholic and I loved how excited people were about my 'becoming' a member, too. That an embarssing thing to admit but, I said it. Peer pressure.

So I let all my objections with the Church go and accepted that Christ had died for me and was thinking of me when he died on the cross, and that every time I sinned I was retroactively causing him more pain on said cross (that's a lie. I never thought that part was true). I also accepted that water could be holy and so, too, could a chapel full of people singing the same songs and reciting the same prayers at the same time all over the world. There was beauty in these centuries-old rituals and no matter what sticking points I had, I couldn't deny 2000 years of tradition. That I wanted to be a part of it felt natural to me, even if many of its guidelines didn't. The night I was to be accepted into the Church, I was nervous like I hadn't been in years. Like first date nervous with someone you really, really liked, but you were afraid might see through you and then not like you anymore? Remember that kind of butterfly feeling? It was palpable. And I remember Barry holding my hand in the car - I can still see his big freckled hand, blonde hairs reflecting in the sun, on top of mine, gently squeezing reassurance into my hand.

I was pregnant, huge, in this white robe, up in front of a church full of people on Easter eve, and scared that the man on the crucifix would shake his head at me and the priest wouldn't talk to me and I would be excommunicated with out ever being communed in. But it didn't happen like that at all. It was beautiful. I later described it my to aunt as feeling even more intense and communal than my wedding (and my wedding really was the best day of my life) - there was such electricity in the parish, but the warmest, most loving electricity you could imagine. I felt like every one of those people was singing because they wanted me to hear those words. It was truly and thankfully, a fully spiritual experience. I felt wonderful. It was like a high that lasted for days. How the hell do you explain that? Was it a funneling of the energy of everyone there into me that took me so heartily up to cloud 9? Or was it something even bigger than that?

I was so happy. I was truly so full of grace for 6 days and I will never forget what happened on the 7th day because of the immediate guilt that racked my heart and knocked me right back down to the ground. It was evening time and I was coming home, alone, and as I pulled into our driveway I saw a man rummaging through our trash can. I guess I wasn't paying attention or he was at an invisible angle to me, but when I saw him he was so close to the car he scared the shit out of me and I called Barry to ask him to come outside and shoo the man away. I rolled down my window and I immediately began yelling [this was my primary learned form of defense when we lived in that house] at this poor man. I think we must have just had something stolen from one of our cars because I was very pissed and very defensive of my driveway space/trashcan. Barry came outside and sent the man away and I felt this rush of awful, awful guilt at having yelled at a homeless man for going through my garbage. That fear and anger were my first reaction and not pity and help - how awfully narcisstic and cruel. I am shaking my head as I type this. I am still, three years later, so disappointed in myself. I still carry that guilt.

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