so remember how i went to church last year before advent and had that great “hooray, i’m catholic!” moment? i bet you’re wondering what happened next, aren’t you?
the answer, sadly, is: nothing.
didn’t go back, didn’t give anything up for lent, nadda. work/life has gotten so tiring/crazy that i haven’t really had the urge. oh sure, around 11:30 on sunday i think “i probably should have gone. i didn’t do anything useful with this time anyway” but never enough to actually do something about.
this past week, some friends came into town. one of them is catholic and made plans to visit her old church, the church i went to past november, and sing in the choir (the choir of 3 when she was there that is still the choir of 3 when she is there–do a tenor and an alto a choir make? i really don’t think so :). i had debated back and forth going with her, but going with her brought into play potential awkward social situations that i wasn’t ready for. i knew deep down that saturday night i would chicken out and she’d be on her own. she had a broken foot, however, and while she didn’t necessarily need help getting around and driving, it was always welcome. saturday afternoon, as i was driving home on a near-empty tank of gas in the only car she could drive, i realized i had 2 options: get gas now, or get gas with her on the way to church. as cowardly as i am, i’m not going to make crutches-girl get her own gas, ever, much less on her pokey way to pray. my solution was obvious: get gas now. :)
fortunately, everyone was at the gas station, and in my way, so i said “f*ck it. i’ll just go to church.”
we came in from a side-entrance and early enough that the place was pretty empty, so after situating her with the rest of the choir, i took my seat. after looking around at the growing congregation, i realized i forgot that there was a little booklet (missalette?) that i’m supposed to pick up at the door so i can follow along with the parts of the mass that change. when i went back out to pick it up, they weren’t in an obvious place and there were people kind of everywhere, with other things to do (not quite angry!jesus at the temple, but certainly there). so i just kind of spun around in a helpless circle for a moment until someone said “are you looking for a booklet, hon?” and i said blushing and quite relieved, “yes. thank you.” then i took a book and blushed some more and said, “i don’t do this very often.” and she smiled and said, “well, we’re glad to have you.”
and i believed her, and that was cool.
then the actual mass began. i was dismayed that since it’s lent, all the songs i like to sing are unsung because they’re happy and jubilant and lent is a time for quiet, but since i couldnâ€™t really do anything about that (except come back during easter where itâ€™s all jubilant all the time), i let it go.
thatâ€™s when things started to go weird on me.
over the past couple of years, when i was able to be really connected to my meditation practices, i’d get this sort of different-conscious feeling.
as an angry anti-catholic that was forced to go to mass as a highschool/college student, i was a passive participant. i stood/sat/knelt when i needed to, but there was no talking, no all-group-prayer-ing, and certainly no signs of the cross. it took a while to learn to resist the impulses, but eventually i got it down.
sunday, however, when my hand twitched to cross myself, i let it. and something marvelous occurred to me.
before, i stopped crossing myself because i wasn’t sure i bought into the holy trinity thing, and because i was irritated that so many people around me were sheep, blindly following, saying, doing when they really didn’t think about it. the hypocracy of other parishioners was why i left. which is silly really, since who cares about them? but anyway.
sunday, it hit me that while there are 100 different historical, symbolic reasons for why it’s done, there was one that never occurred to me. you do it because it’s a signal to the rest of you that you’re in church. it’s like stretching before you run, or tuning your instrument before you play. and for me, personally, who cares what the others think and do, everything that happens during a mass can keep me in that beautiful open moment that i can occasionally achieve during meditation, just as easily as staring at a candle flame, or focusing on my breathing, or any other “trick” i’d learned to focus. for me, it’s this odd combination of being both more and less aware of what’s going on around. everything is extra still. it’s…indescribable, really, unless you’ve been there, but it’s pretty nifty feeling. sunday i discovered that if i let it, signs of the cross, “mindless” responses, kneeling, sitting, standing, it can all be used to help sustain that moment.
and that is so very cool.
it kept going, too. when we hit the nicene creed, i thought “you can’t say this. this is a statement of beliefs, most of which you either flat out don’t agree with, or are very skeptical of. you probably don’t even know it anymore. you’d have to read it from that booklet, and that’s pretty lame, so stand here and be quiet like you always do and try not to let them creep you out too much.” but a little, growing voice from either deep within or far beyond said, “just act as if and see what happens.”
so i did.
and it reinforced what i’d felt earlier. the words don’t have to be important. i’ve chanted nonsense, or something i came up with over and over again while meditating because it distracts a few senses and keeps them from pulling me out of focus. the creed had the potential to be the exact same thing. and it was. bonus cool: i could only follow when i wasn’t thinking about it. the minute i paid attention to the fact that i was saying it, or tried to figure out what was coming next, i dropped both the words and that cool buzzing feeling.
it didn’t stop there though.
when it came time for intercessions, and i was deep in the buzzing stage of being un/aware of everything around me, an unbidden thought came to the surface again:
: you should pray for nancy
:: i don’t believe in praying for things like that. you know that.
: yeah. i know. you should pray for her anyway.
:: no. it’s not my place to ask for anything.
: fine. don’t pray. just open your mind and flood it with images of nancy and allow all the grief to bleed out of you and add it to the pain that’s leaking out of everyone around you right now.
:: but that’s … praying…. kinda…only not asking for anything so it doesn’t bother me and is actually quite a good feeling.
: (you’re welcome)
are you getting tired of hearing how cool this all is? too bad, cuz i’m still. not. done. yet.
i just cannot do it yet, and it’s because to me, that’s it. when i take communion, i can’t pretend i’m here on the sidelines. a portion of me feels like i should have announce myself first. like i need to ask someone’s permission to partake after denouncing the whole thing (and taking communion in other churches) for 10+ years. even though the rest of me says that’s a silly thing, i’m still nervous about it. i’m worried i won’t do it right. i’m worried that lightning will strike me down when i get up there (okay, not really, but kinda). as i was loosing my faith (before i became super angry) i felt uncomfortable partaking because it felt wrong and disrespectful. it is the only part of the mass that doesn’t pass my “you’re doing it for yourself, forget the rest of them” hurdle. this is a very big deal, so i must treat it accordingly.
the thing is, not taking communion makes it awkward. i have to get up anyway, and step out into the aisle so that others can get by and it draws attention to me (even if it’s only the attention of 6 people) and makes me uncomfortable. and i hate that. having to deal with communion has actually kept me away before.
“not wanting to be in the way is not a valid reason to get communion,” a voice told me. and i agreed.
and then it happened again.
after the lamb of god (or, the “agnus dei” since we were singing in latin), we say “lord, i am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and i shall be healed.”
now, to me, this was one of the squicky parts of the mass: i’m not worthy? please! i’ve sat through all of this and i’m in control of my faith and i say i’m worthy so i’m worthy, so who are you to tell me to say i’m not, stupid church.
this time, i said the words, but what i heard in my head was “these are great words because they turn you completely over to the experience you’re enjoying so much and there will come a time when you’ll say these words, and you’ll know it’s time to go for communion. it may happen next week, it may not happen for years, it may not even happen, but if it does, this will be the moment, so you no longer need to worry about when/how you’ll know.”
i didn’t take communion, but i did have a pretty powerful experience, and aside from a few moments in st. patrick’s cathedral in ny when we visited it a few years ago (no mass), it’s the only time i’ve felt like that within a church.
i was worried that i would lose the connection i get in ritual i create for myself when i came back to ritual created by others.
not so worried anymore.