Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Journey into My Crisis of Faith

I attended an Episcopal church service on Sunday.  I'm using the words "Crisis of Faith" in my title, because that's how my well-meaning friends at St Francis will refer to it.  I prefer to think of it as an evolution.  At any rate, this was a baby step at best.  I can't desert my choir right before Lent and Easter, and I certainly can't make any decisions based on one service at one church.  But, I feel the need to document this for reference purposes, if nothing else.

My list of Pros and Cons.  Note that some of these pertain to the denomination as a whole, while others are particular to this one church.


- Warm welcome at the door of the church.  The greeter actually greeted.  Warmly. Which leads me to my next point..

-  The church was warm.  I noticed immediately that nobody inside had their coat on.  In all fairness, it was a smaller church and, therefor, easier to heat.  As far back as childhood, I have been mystified by the Catholic habit of leaving one's coat on throughout Mass.  I asked my mother once "does everyone leave their coat on so that they can leave as quickly as possible when Mass has ended?"   I won't describe her response, but rest assured, it involved pain.  I used to think it was because there was no place to hang a coat.  But in this Episcopal church, I saw many people place their coats next to themselves in the pew.  So, I'm still left to wonder - why leave your coat on inside for almost an hour?   Is it the lack of heat or the lack of a coat room or the lack of something else?

- Music was very traditional.  This is totally about personal preference, of course.  I absolutely detest most of the music found in the standard Catholic missalette.   When I attempt to sing it, I feel as though I could have written all of the songs in my living room on one slow Saturday night.    Most of the Episcopal hymns were sight-readable, but very old school in feel.   The choir was not spectacular, but they enhanced the service adequately.  The congregation sang.   I won't go into the significance of this, except to say that St. Francis parishioners have a rep for singing, but they were mute compared to this group.

- The homily was amazing (yes, they are called homilies still, by the Episcopalians).  Intelligent and powerful without being bombastic or judgmental.   And it left me with something to think about.  I can't remember the last time I could say the same thing after Mass.

- Blessings.   There was a lot of specific blessings and intentions going on.  Prayers for:  people with birthdays and anniversaries, the ill, the recently deceased, other churches in the area-of all denominations, new babies, this, that and the other - all of them listed by name.   People celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries were invited to the front of the church for a special blessing.  As a first-timer, I felt as though I was getting to know these people through this ritual.  I found it to be very welcoming and appealing.


 -only one, really.  There was (in no particular order):  the Book of Common Prayer, the hymnal, and the program (given out by the friendly Greeters).  At any particular time, I found myself juggling books in the pew.  Some of the BCP material was duplicated in the program, the actual readings from the Bible were in the program, sometimes the program contained only a reference to a page number in the BCP.    I can only assume that I would get better at it with practice, but on this particular occasion, it felt quite awkward, and I couldn't help but feel vindicated for occasionally laughing at people who found the Mass to be confusing to follow.

Other observations:

 - Communion - received while kneeling at a communion rail!  I was quite taken aback at this, seeing as how I've been Catholic my entire life and have never received Communion at a rail.  I don't have any real feelings one way or another about this, except that I was startled, and if I was trying to be low-key, kneeling at a rail in front of the entire congregation was not the way to go about it.

 - Sunday School - takes place during the service, and at a certain point in the service, the kids and parents come up from the basement and join the service in progress.  At Mass, I've seen a "Children's Liturgy", but this was slightly different, as it was referred to as "Sunday School" and the parents had the option of participating with their kids (and most of them did).   What went on down in the basement, I have no idea.  I was relieved while they came upstairs, because I had been starting to think that there were no members under the age of 40.

So, these were the major points of interest.  The sense of warmth and humanity that I gleaned from my initial research was definitely played out during this particular service.   I chose not to go to the coffee hour that took place after the service.  It didn't seen appropriate somehow, seeing as how I'm still in my discovery phase of this decision, and I was't ready to engage in conversations that might lead to questions.  My final impression of this church: the woman sitting to my left turned to me after the service had concluded and informed me that I needed to be in the choir.  I smiled and thanked her....... oh Lord, if she only knew.....  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Step One - A Question of Why

I am finally taking a big step this weekend.   I've thought and dreamed about it for a few years now.  I guess I was waiting for the final straw or whatever.   I've had to trust myself enough to know that I would recognize the time when it came.   It has come.

Tomorrow morning, I will attend church service.     That's right.  Service.  Not Mass.  I am a bit scared, to be honest.  I realize that I am not the first nor will I be the last disenchanted Catholic to walk through the doors of an Episcopal Church.   But I know that every experience is unique and I know that this not a lark for me.

I just read that Robin Williams, himself an Episcopalian, jokes about the Episcopal Church being "Catholic Lite" - all the structure with half the guilt.   Based on research, I think it goes much deeper. It is a very structured denomination.  Ritualistic.  If you want proof, try attending an Evensong Service - or better yet, try being an active participant in one.  Having sung in the chorus at three Evensong Services -one being at the Washington National Cathedral, no less, I knew that I was hooked on this denomination.   The difference between the the rituals of the Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church can be boiled down to one word - harmony.  When I hear the Episcopal prayers, I am immediately struck by how they are almost all about harmony.   There is a rhythm to their psalms that is calming.  There is a feeling of acceptance in their words and actions.   I began to think that I might really be able to "have my cake and eat it too."   Catholic Lite - No.   Catholic - New and Improved - Yes.

My research tells me that the Episcopal Church is not afraid to question itself or its principles.  In fact its entire history in North America is one of evolution.   I believe this to be possible due to its identification with the common man.   This denomination has proven (at least to me) that ritual beauty can coexist with empathy and self-evaluation.  All is not lost when a change in official position takes place.  In words and in actions, it is a mainstream Protestant denomination steeped in tradition that is not afraid to learn, grow and change with the times.

These are all aspects of the Episcopal Church that are sadly lacking in the Catholic Church.    I have been searching for them, and the best case scenario I could find was the case of the Catholic Pastor who looks the other way at the lifestyle of the Gay Music Director - "he's the best organist we've ever had, so we'll ignore the fact that we don't condone his lifestyle, would never marry him and his partner and generally believe that he's going to Hell."   Over 90% of married Catholics use artificial contraception to control the size of their families.  Maybe because deep down, we know that God gave us intelligence and free will in order to have dominion over the other creatures of the Earth.  "Be fruitful and multiply" does not mean "Multiply like rabbits".     Then there is the question of abortion.  The Episcopal position on abortion:   "While the Episcopal Church recognizes a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy, the church condones abortion only in cases of rape or incest, cases in which a mother’s physical or mental health is at risk, or cases involving fetal abnormalities. The church forbids “abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection or any reason of mere convenience.”"   Well, I feel as though I could have written this myself.   Humanity.   Sense and feel the humanity in this statement.  Feel the recognition of the trials of living across all strata of our civilization.  I sense that this was written by people who might try to walk a mile in the shoes of their faithful.

The bottom line for me is that hoping that my parish will always employ a progressive pastor is no longer good enough.  The monsignor at my church gives a homily at least once a year about "Cafeteria Plan Catholics".   I can hear his voice.   "Cafeteria Plan Catholics are ones who want to pick and choose the rules that suit them and their lifestyle.  This is not good enough.  A true Catholic sees his or her religion as an "all or nothing" proposition, and that is the only way to live a truly Catholic life."   Well, guess what?  He's dead on.  So, I am choosing not to sit in his pew and hear this message again.

Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Writing about Writing

First, for all of you followers who aren't from my hometown area -  I submitting "On Turning 50" to my local newspaper, and they published it last weekend.

That post was not like most of my others.  It was sort of comical but really meant to be inspirational to women of all ages.  Most of the responses I've received were very positive, particularly from the men.  Which really confirms what I've thought all along, that men want to have an affair or a one-night stand with one sort of woman, but they want to share their lives with an entirely different sort of woman.  But...... also that most men would like their wives to make some sort of effort to maintain their vitality, be it mentally, physically or both!  This, of course, is a two-way street.  But that's a topic for another day.

I knew that I was risking alienation from the grey hairs.  Only one person actually expressed a bit of resentment regarding my views on grey-haired women, and I know her well enough to know that her nose was a lot more out of joint than she was willing to express to my face.  I suppose, if pressed, my response would be that if you truly believe that grey or salt and pepper hair is your best look, then that's fine and you should own that.   But if your hair is this way because you aren't interested in how you look and don't feel like taking the time to change it, then that's an entirely different matter.  And don't complain about or resent younger-looking women or the men who like them.

Positives:   Two of my clients responded (both men...).  One of them wanted my autograph!  The other one told me that I should be an advice columnist.  That one really made me laugh.  Very few people who actually know me are even remotely interested in my opinion or my advice......  so maybe strangers would be........??    My  employer loved it.   My sister in Kentucky plastered it on her Facebook timeline.  I've received random Facebook messages from people who looked me up to tell me how much they liked it.   I've now given no less than four lectures on the topic of  "What, exactly, are 'Mom jeans'?".  I see it as a public service.

Well, this all got me to thinking about writing in general.  All sorts of writing - blogs, columns, essays, and even e-mails.    Every time you compose something, you are taking a risk and putting yourself out there.   Nonverbal communication can be a land mine field.   The reader's interpretation of the written word is influenced by so many things.   When you are reading something, and you are "in the moment", your interpretation of the writer's intent could be very different than if you were to read it for the first time a week later.    The writer has to be prepared for the world of interpretations that await us - and we need very much to tell ourselves that there are no "wrong" interpretations.   "There is no Right or Wrong.  There is only Opinion."    Even those closest to us may have a reaction that catches us off guard and may be a pleasant or unpleasant surprise.   This really does apply to e-mails as much as anything else.   I find that my life these days hinges on the hundreds of e-mails that I send and receive each week - business and personal.  Nothing can ruin the day so much as an e-mail that is not interpreted the way we might have wanted when we composed it or an e-mail we receive that hits us like a ton of bricks.    And once you've put it out there, there's no going back.  It's interesting that we usually have to rescue an e-mail gone wrong by (OMG!!!!!) talking.    And I think.. "why not just talk in the first place?"   But there is something about the convenience of writing and the creativity and flexibility of writing that makes it more appealing.   We think that we can get our points across and express ourselves better.  Most of the time, this is true ..... except, of course, when it's not.

So, I guess there has to be a bit of bravery involved when you become published.    And these days, we are all "published" to a certain extent.  You are taking a risk every time your piece appears in the local newspaper.  Every time you post a blog entry.  Every time you hit the "send" button on an e-mail.   Some people think it's a sign of cowardice to "hide behind your typewriter" (see .... saying "hide behind your keyboard" doesn't sound right ...) as opposed to opening your mouth and letting the words fall out (have I mentioned how sick I am of that song?).   I don't agree.  The way I see it, the only coward is the one who does neither.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Remembering the Journey

Sometimes we find ourselves flailing.  We struggle to recognize our own identity.  Who am I?  What do I stand for?  Have I lost myself in my efforts to make more of myself than I really am?  Right now, I need more than anything to remember what I used to be and I've become, because if I lose it, I'm afraid that it will be gone forever.

We all evolve as our lives morph and change.   Circumstances can make us say and do things that are uncharacteristic of what we believe ourselves to be, so now I need a reminder of my journey.  This is a piece that I wrote in 2010.  It was published.  I still believe it to be true.  I have to.  I just simply have to.


"He was an influential man." What springs to mind when we hear that statement -- a politician or the president of a large corporation? Or perhaps a famous actor, singer or sports figure? What is it that drives us to look beyond our own surroundings to find inspiration in the life of another? How many of us have lived our entire lives having never experienced the impact of a truly influential person?
Perhaps many of us are so busy waiting for popular culture to meet this need that we do not recognize these people when they are right before our eyes. Miriam-Webster defines influence as "the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command."
It seems to me that cultural heroes in our society can never truly influence us in any meaningful way, because they exhibit an exertion of force in everything they do for the singular purpose of commanding our attention.
At the relatively young age of 45, it seemed that my life had become stagnant and purposeless. I was forced to find new employment, abandoning close to 19 years of achievement and strong emotional ties. I did have one beloved pastime, but even in that arena I was beginning to feel like my road had run its course.
I was questioning my role in every aspect of my life, including my marriage. In the simplest terms possible, I felt totally and utterly useless. I had created quite a pity party for myself and it was a party of one. I was in serious need of some positive influence.
There are people who walk quietly into our lives and influence us simply by being themselves. So it was with the person who shook me out of my doldrums. This person was a combination of work ethic, intelligence and generosity that grabbed my attention and spoke to my heart. And, for reasons beyond my understanding, she came into my world and saw something in me that very few others had ever seen. She never gave up on me, even though I had essentially abandoned myself. It was this tenacious influence that led me to my quintessential, Oprah Winfrey "aha" moment. It was, quite simply, the moment that changed my life.
I realized how incredibly lucky I was to be surrounded by the most amazing people who continue to influence me every day. From the woman who faces devastating health issues in her family and the loss of a child yet still manages to be a ray of sunshine in the lives of her friends, to the many cancer survivors I know who have gone through their ordeals with quiet faith and dignity.
I've observed a woman who overcame a potentially life-threatening condition while steadfastly coming to work with a smile on her face each day, and my own husband who works harder than anyone I know and would help out someone in a jam without hesitation. And most amazing to me is our daughter, who is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.
As we face the struggles of everyday life, there will be times when we doubt or question ourselves and feel despair beyond our ability to cope. I have come to understand that the key to overcoming that despair may just be finding the strength to look beyond our own needs and seek out the everyday heroes surrounding us to make their life force a part of our own. Only then can we say that we have truly been influenced. 
So there you have it.   I spent 45 years, 25 adult years, never knowing how to find the humanity in my fellow human beings.  Once my eyes were opened, the world was changed for me.   My worst fear is that circumstances will lead me backward.  That unhappy, self-centered, judgmental person is dead to me and must remain dead.  If we don't remember history, we are doomed to repeat it.  If we don't honor our journeys, then they are meaningless.