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Archive for the ‘faith matters’ Category

Things are unfair, y’all.

A month ago, I posted about a family preparing to lose their son to a rare form of cancer, which had invaded his brain.  And as a month has gone by, the parents are still preparing themselves for this horrible thing.  Which is worse, a young person dying quickly, or a young person dying slowly?  Is there not grief and agony either way?

A little closer to home, a family in Spawn’s school is reeling from grief today, for much the same reason.  And as much as the first story stabs at my heart, this one is particularly painful because of the proximity.  And because I am trying to find the words to help Spawn understand why and how an 11-year-old boy can die from a brain tumor.  The how part is actually pretty easy, because hard facts and science are on my side.  The why is much trickier, particularly since it involves the inconsistencies endemic to theology — why does God let these things happen, isn’t God in the miracles business, doesn’t God have the power to do anything He wants, etc.

And we go to a Catholic school.  I am ill-equipped for this.  Someone call a priest, stat!

I can talk about the family in the first story with some objectivity, since what I know is derived from information posted on Facebook.  I don’t personally know them.  But objectivity flies out the window in this second case, because this boy was in the grade below Spawn, he had triplet siblings, Spawn knows the family, I sent Spawn’s hand-me-downs to the family when the kids were babies.  How can I be objective about this?

In the midst of the regular chaos that reigns at our house most days, I’ve stopped numerous times and thought about that family, what their house must feel like right now.  I’ve reached out and hugged my kid, tightly, even though we’re at the point where all that mushy stuff is pretty much verboten.  Spawn has allowed it.  I suspect the kid needs it as much as I do.

I can pretty well say that in the grand scheme of things, it matters very little that I’m late on my car payment, that Spawn has a D in Spelling, that my house is a wreck, and that we’re nearly out of toilet paper.  All of these things will get resolved one way or another, and will likely reoccur.

I keep thinking there is a lesson in all of this, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you what it is right now.

— Mox

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Ever since my husband and I arrived at full communion with Rome, I have had to deal with an entity that I did not expect to have to deal with, ever.  That entity is the ghost of my grandmother, who seems to be residing in my father’s body.

Just a few months prior to my husband and I (and my mother) going through the RCIA program, my father participated in a program called Catholics Returning Home.  This program is designed for people who have fallen away from the Church and would like to get back in, but don’t know how exactly to do it.  My father stopped going to church right about the time my grandfather passed away, and thusly I stopped going, too.  My mother then took over and took me to her Protestant church, and for 35 years my father was content to read the Sunday funnies while my mother and I went to her church.

Needless to say, my grandmother was not happy about any of this.  If there were anyone who was ever Catholic with a capital C, it was my grandmother.  Though I was bringing up the rear of a long line of grandchildren (24 of us to be exact), I was the only one not being Raised In The Church, and that didn’t set well with her.  Other than my baptism, which gave me what I jokingly refer to as a Catholic soul, I didn’t participate in any of the other rites of passage that my cousins did.  Of course she dumped all over my mom for this, since dumping all over my dad wasn’t an option, though he was the one who walked away from raising me in The Faith.

This all sounds incredibly quaint and medieval, I know.  The world pre-Vatican II was pretty divisive, from what I gather.

At any rate, fast forward 35-ish years and my father has suddenly been called into action by none other than his darling grandchild, the beloved Spawn, who after three years at Catholic school decided that being Catholic was the way to go.  Both of my grandparents were long gone, and the issues my dad had with the Church seemed to be unimportant in retrospect, and so he went to the Catholics Returning Home program to get his halo polished.

And he has been in church most every Sunday since.  My grandmother would be so proud.

But heaven forbid I don’t go to church once in a while.

Lots of things have changed over the years, but it’s true what they say — raise a child up in the way you want him to go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.  Never mind the fact that every time Mary Helen chides me for not being in church, the number 35 comes to mind.  And it’s not that I miss church all that often.  But once in a while it just ain’t happening.  And when that happens, I catch hell.

I had zero relationship with my grandmother growing up, and to have this sort of attitude flung at me now, as an adult, it’s a little irritating.  Mary Helen was a tough customer on the subject of religion, and not what you’d call a warm and fuzzy lady in all the other areas of life.  The woman’s been gone for nearly 25 years and I damn sure don’t want a relationship with her now.

Mostly I ignore it when Mary Helen comes calling, but every now and again it gets under my skin.

 

 

— Mox

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Is good for the soul.

I haven’t said much about it here, publicly, but for the past seven months I have been preparing to join the Catholic Church.  I’ve written a few posts but haven’t published them because they felt too personal.  My husband and my mother are also on this journey.  It’s been interesting.  This has been a long road and a complicated story, but suffice it to say that I feel a genuine comfort in the Catholic faith that I did not feel in the church I was raised in. 

We are approaching Holy Week and as such the reception into the church, and there is one tiny little thing that we must do beforehand. 

Confession. 

When Spawn did First Confession last year, the kid was nervous.  What sins an eight-year-old has to confess, I don’t know.  Can’t be too many, and can’t be too bad.  I pish-toshed about it, to myself, and after First Communion I didn’t think any further about it. 

But now.  Now the shoe is on the other foot, now isn’t it? 

To call what I am feeling “nervous” isn’t really accurate.  I’m not nervous.  I’m… concerned.  Concerned that I won’t have anything to confess. 

I’m trying not to get all hung up on the mechanics of the thing, though having a script would be helpful.  What I know of confession wouldn’t fit on the head of a pin.  I am not by habit a guilty person.  I don’t feel the need to unburden myself too often.  Things that a cradle Catholic would confess to, I’m all, pfft

So I am in the unusual and unfamiliar position of looking for something to confess. 

I mean, I don’t currently have something that is eating away at me.  Recent history isn’t bringing anything up that I haven’t already worked through and made peace with.  How far back do I need to reach?  Because I can think of several things in my 42 years that I’m not particularly proud of, but in the spirit of “it is what it is” I don’t see the sense in digging up bones. 

Being raised Protestant has not prepared me for this. 

I’ve got a week to come up with something.  Maybe I need to confess that I can’t think of anything to confess. 

— Mox

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Weekend recap.

The one thing I was grinding my teeth about for the weekend — Thanksgiving dinner with the inlaws, two hours away — was effectively voided when Spawn began throwing up on Thanksgiving morning.  Yay stomach virus. 

When you make plans to drive two hours away for a meal, you tend to not have a whole lot in the way of groceries in the house.  Our Thanksgiving was something of a catch-as-catch-can affair, and frankly that suited me just fine.  I found a box of stuffing in the pantry, my husband had already deep-fried a turkey to take with us on our trip, and I made jello for Spawn — it was a definite downmarket holiday this year.  I seized the opportunity of a rainy cold day, a kid sacked out in front of the TV in jammies, and a grinchy mood to tackle the front closet.  Items deemed of no further use were kicked out, some destined for the consignment shop and others set aside for St. Vincent de Paul. 

What was I thankful for this Thanksgiving?  The unexpected gift of a day more or less to myself. 

By Friday Spawn was for all intents and purposes back to normal, and agitating for Christmas decorating to begin.  Ordinarily I am something of a mutterer when it comes to a full-scale attack on Christmas decor when the turkey is barely cold, but I bought a new tree this year and was anxious to get it assembled.  Nothing like a new toy, you know.  Our old tree had suffered the slings and arrows of cats climbing its branches and the rough handling of a spouse squashing it unceremoniously into a storage space, and quite frankly I was tired of having to wire the thing back together every year.  This year I also purchased a storage bag that (supposedly) takes some of the angst out of storing an assembled tree, which we will see if the claim holds after the holidays are over. 

I went nowhere near a shopping center the entire weekend.  I do not love a bargain so much as to fight that maddening crowd. 

Sunday was something of a banner as I, my husband, and my mother (among others) were treated to the Rite of Acceptance into the Catholic church.  Just the knowledge that my father and other various assembled family members were somewhat teary-eyed over the sight was enough for me.  The journey has had some moments of profound rightness for me thus far.  I’m still sorting things out, though.  I haven’t mentioned much of it here because it’s been so intensely personal and private that I can’t articulate it well.  Suffice it to say that it’s been a long time coming. 

After four days of sleeping as late as I liked, this morning was pretty shrill.  I suppose I should continue to be thankful to have a job (such as it is) and that the job I have has been easy on the nerves today. 

 

— Mox

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The RCIA, to exact. 

In truth, this has been a long time in coming.  My uncle passed away in 1998 and my experience with that event, or rather feeling the lack of community with my own family during that time — that was the beginning of it. 

It took a lot of things to get me to this point. 

Last night was our second class, and we discussed the journey.  All my years of sitting in innumerable English Lit classes paid off, because I could very clearly see the parallels Father was drawing between Exodus and the more immediate, mundane journeys we all make. 

Then the question was posed: where are you in your journey?  Are you just setting out, are you in the wilderness, or are you arriving? 

I’m in the wilderness. 

No, really.  I am, like Tolstoy in his autobiography, in the forest.  Nothing but trees, and when I climb a tree to get a better vantage point, all I see is more trees. 

I suppose I could draw a parallel myself between the 40 years Israel wandered in the desert, and the fact that I am in my 40s.  Hmmm.  Bears study. 

Stay tuned. 

 

— Mox

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I’ve been steadily working my way through a stack of books on my bedside table, in anticipation of that stack growing once Spawn’s school has its’ used book sale.  (Which I signed up to work, sorting books.  First look, first purchase.  I’m no dummy.)  It’s a variety of tomes, from fiction to fluff to scientific research, to spirituality to classics.  I’m not kidding when I tell you that I kill at Trivial Pursuit.  I’m well-read but socially awkward. 

I’m currently reading a book on faith entitled Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott.  I’ve read several of her books and while I don’t always agree with her personal politics, I do enjoy the way she turns a phrase and I don’t feel like she’s pushing an agenda at me.  I’ve spent months trying to wrap my head around my own thoughts on faith, sorting out what’s mine and what’s been planted there by others.  It’s a tedious process.  But I think it’s very necessary. 

I also think this might be the shape my midlife crisis is taking.  That, however, remains to be seen.  I could still go wild and get several tattoos and piercings.  There’s still time. 

The book is a collection of essays that revolve in some way around the central theme of grace and how it applies to life in the trenches, which is where we all spend most of our time, anyway.  One essay in particular struck me, and, because yesterday was a particularly trying day on several fronts, moved me to tears, just a little.  In the essay, Lamott relates a story about a horrible fight with her teenaged son, and the way she was able to power through it via grace and forgiveness.  (Read the essay here, if you’d like.) 

Though Spawn is nowhere near a teenager right now, the kid does show me a glimpse now and then of the teenager that is likely to come.  I can see some hard, hard days ahead.  Lamott’s willingness to let “…the Spirit to help me forgive myself, and for Sam and I to forgive each other…” sort of pushed open a door inside me, just a little bit.  And it was a door I didn’t realize was there, a door marked “forgiving myself.” 

Most of us are pretty good at forgiving ourselves when it comes to the little things in life, the indiscretions related to using our credit cards a bit too often, or eating that piece of chocolate cake, or sort of coasting through that stop sign.  And we label that “forgiveness” when what it really is is rationalization.  When it comes to forgiving ourselves for the really heinous stuff, we don’t have a clue to go about it. 

The notion of forgiving myself for the really dumb stuff I’ve done and continue to do as a parent was like a revelation for me.  It was what one of my old college professors liked to call an “aha! moment”.  I can actually forgive myself?  I know that Spawn loves me, and that I love Spawn.  In some ways we’re miles ahead of other parent-child relationships just because of that simple, unquestioning love between us.  But forgiveness?  Right now it’s an easy thing for Spawn to forgive me, because the kid’s 8 and at 8 you have more capacity for such things.  At 41 your capacity is diminished, and quite possibly dried up when it comes to forgiving yourself. 

So this is something I am having to add to my mind-twisting rumination on faith.  Stay tuned. 

 

— Mox

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Giving up.

Today, for those of you either blissfully unaware or willfully ignoring it, is Ash Wednesday.  Go to church, ashes on your forehead, etc. and so on.  It is the beginning of the Lenten season. 

Not all Christian faith traditions participate in Lent in the same way.  You may not know much about it, and so I am here to help.  I am so helpful: 

Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock. Lent originated in the very earliest days of the Church as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days. All churches that have a continuous history extending before AD 1500 observe Lent. The ancient church that wrote, collected, canonized, and propagated the New Testament also observed Lent, believing it to be a commandment from the apostles. (See The Apostolic Constitutions, Book V, Section III.)

(From Ken Collins’ very informative and excellent website.)

I was raised in a faith tradition that did not encourage its’ members to “give up something for Lent” although we did observe Lent.  It has only been in the past decade or so that the church that I was raised in began to encourage fasting as part of the Lenten experience.  Every year I’ve given something up for Lent, and it’s felt like a melding of my Catholic soul with my Protestant body. 

Over the years I have given up things for Lent, and it’s been an opportunity to break a dependence I’ve formed and also a way to reset my circuits.  Things I have given up for Lent in the past include:

  • cokes
  • caffeine
  • coffee
  • chocolate
  • alcohol
  • shopping
  • swearing
  • sweets in general
  • cokes, coffee, alcohol, AND chocolate (I was really ambitious that year) (notice that I did not give up swearing that year)

By far my old standby has been chocolate. It’s a go-to for me, a default setting when I have trouble deciding what to give up.  It’s what I’ve decided to give up this year.  Again. 

There is a candy dish on my desk, right now, as I type this.  It is filled with chocolate.  The temptation is there, folks.  I’ll be a sweating, shaking, quivering mass this time next week. 

 

— Mox

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