So last Sunday we were at church, which was a trifle unusual in that such an event has not really taken place that often since, um, let’s see…plus one…carry the five…well, let’s just say that to accurately gauge it you’d need a unit of measurement greater than one year, but less than a quarter of a century.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve avoided all things spiritual for that time; just the opposite, in fact. I take very seriously the Biblical example of Jacob wrestling with the angel until he received a blessing, as well as the command to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”; I’ve been doing that ever since my first consciousness of the Divine. My path has evolved through many different phases and forms over the years : raised Baptist; attended a non-denominational church in high school; experienced a brief dalliance with the Methodists in college; converted to Catholicism in graduate school; worked through A Course In Miracles in my early 30s.
My husband is what’s known as a “cradle Catholic”, and even though now if I had to pick an official label for myself I’d probably choose that of “spiritual but not religious”, it’s important for us to share a spiritual aspect to our marriage. Right now what that looks like for us is attending mass which is fine, because I can figure out a way to participate on my own terms, in a way that fits who I am now (as I always do).
So we were at church and the Gospel reading was the parable of The Prodigal Son, which is perhaps not my favorite story because, OH HI UNCOMFORTABLY SIMILAR PERSONAL RESEMBLANCE TO THE ELDER BROTHER CHARACTER.
But the priest giving the homily was really good-smart, sharp, witty, totally my kind of guy. Especially when he broke the passage down to focus on specific words from the original language, and the particular contexts and shades of meaning they added to the passage as a whole (sorry, tiny Grammar Nerd/Literature Major/Word Lover digression there).
So I was really engaged with what he was talking about, how we have all been all the characters in that story at one time or another, and how we can work to become more like the compassionate father, and everything was going so well, and then he said something that made me think A Very Bad Word in my head, which was pretty much the exact, polar opposite of “Christlike”.
I can’t remember his exact words, but it was something along the lines of, “And so if we Catholics go out and act like the arrogant elder brother around Protestants, then they will never realize that they’re off in a distant country, squandering their inheritance on dissolute living.”
Now, let me just stop right here and say that I am all for digging into sacred texts from many different angles and perspectives, to help us better figure out what meaning they might hold for us today. I’m currently learning about the Jewish practice of “midrash” and the Christian practice of “Lectio Divina“, two specific practices to help one engage, deeply and personally, in the interpretation and application of scripture. And of course you know I’m all about spinning stories. But that was a stretch even for me.
In years past I have been known to have what some might call an excessive or, out-of-proportion reaction to statements coming at me from the pulpit with which I take issue (especially at those weddings where they read every single passage in the Bible about how women should submit to their husbands because they are the weaker vessel), but I’ve gotten much better as I’ve gotten older. So this time I limited myself to a sprain-inducing eye roll to my husband, and a tiny cough, and then I started paying attention again.
This was unfortunate, because then I heard him say something like, “And you converts, you know exactly what I’m talking about, because now that you’re here you’re like, ‘Woo hoo, I’m finally in the right place, with all the fatted calves and golden rings! Sweet! Thank God I’m not living in the pig sty of Protestantism anymore!’ ” (OK, that last bit is me paraphrasing, but you get my drift.)
Yes, I converted to Catholicism, but as an expansion of what I believed, not a rejection of everything that had come before.
Unfortunately at that point I still had half a mass to get through, so in order to avoid brooding I naturally had no choice but to start live tweeting the mass in my head (as would you).
Upon the reading of the announcements:
“Oh no! He’s coming to do the announcements, and he has an entire BINDER with him. If you don’t hear from me in the next five hours, send help. #wewillneverescapenow”.
Or, at the conclusion of the call-and-response congregational prayers (Ex.: “For a peaceful resolution to the situation in Syria, let us pray to the Lord”: “Lord, hear our prayer.”), when the priest added, “And Lord, please make sure that all your children gathered here stay until the very end of mass, and don’t leave early”.
Congregational response: “Lord, hear our prayer.”
My response: “Did he just say what I *think* he said?! #ohnohedidnt #yourJediguilttricksdonotworkonme”.
The thing is, I’ve never really been good at being a member of any organized religion (Important Side Note From Jenny’s Inner Rebel: or any organized ANYTHING). I’m not a good follower. My brother and I have talked about this, and he and I agree that back in ancient times we totally would have been one of those solitary mystics who lived in a cave and wandered through the desert pondering the scriptures and experiencing rapturous visions of the Divine (Important Side Note From Jenny’s Inner Hedonist: as long as the cave had air conditioning, wireless Internet, and a down comforter).
OK, so maybe I couldn’t hack the whole desert thing, but I do the best I can to be mindful and intentional in my spiritual development. And maybe one day I can re-imagine my story as some kind of modern-day parable to help inspire the masses.
Then again, maybe not. I’m not sure the world is quite ready for The Gospel According To The Inner World Of Jenny.