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Moving operations

Posted on 2013.02.24 at 23:22
To follow up on my previous post (of four months ago!), I have posted a few entries at a new blog, Episcolic:

http://episcolic.wordpress.com/

Come see me there?


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Conundrum

Posted on 2012.08.14 at 22:52
So obviously I post here pretty rarely.

Tonight, I spent a couple of hours composing two rants about gay-marriage-related current events, and I posted them on my Facebook. I do not normally do that kind of thing on Facebook because Facebook doesn't seem like the right forum for that; LJ does. But I haven't posted that kind of thing on LJ because the conversations about these events aren't going on at LJ, at least as far as I can see, because I also read LJ pretty rarely. I wanted to post my rants as part of the conversations about these events, so I posted on Facebook.

It felt good getting that stuff off my chest! And one of my friends said, "You should start a blog."

But I have a blog: this one! And now I kind of want to think about blogging the kind of stuff like I posted tonight. But I'm not sure I want to post it here.

I never really considered this blog "private" since it's on the Internet. But I also have declined to post the link on my Facebook, because there is a lot of personal gut-spilling on here, and there are a lot of people on my Facebook that I wouldn't have added to LJ or given my URL back in the days before Facebook. Facebook is just a different animal. I mean, do I really want my co-workers reading about my religious struggles, or watching my mom die? And some people on my Facebook have been mentioned on my LJ, with or without their real names.

Yeah, as I type this, I'm realizing that if I want to have a blog I'll connect to Facebook, which is kind of like my "real life," it can't be this one. Unless I just friends-lock everything before today. That kind of makes me sad, though. I've had this LJ for ten years! I never wanted to have more than one blog, and if I start a new one, this one will be even more neglected than before.


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Things, they are a-changing.

Posted on 2012.07.01 at 20:40
Current Mood: contentcontent
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My life is so different now than it was just a year ago.

1. I've been going to my Episcopal parish for just about a year, and I "joined" it, and I like it. Meanwhile, the Catholics do more to to irk me at every turn. And yet, what I feel about the Catholics is more the annoyance of an outsider than the despair I imagine I would feel as an insider. If all this business with the HHS mandate were going on while I were sitting in the pew, I don't know what I would do.

2. I got a new position and promotion at my job, and I really like it!

3. Lee got laid off, making me the sole breadwinner, and he is staying at home with the kids for the summer. He is trying to start his own business repairing and selling musical instruments. To that end, he rents a booth at the flea market every weekend. He has been building an inventory and is starting to get rolling now.

4. I am raising chickens, a pasttime I never seriously considered until a short time before I went out and bought some chicks in early June.

5. I have a 1964 Dodge Dart in my car port that we have been working to restore since last August. See #3 to know why that project is stalled right now, but it won't be forever. Having an awesome 1960s car is a long-time desire of mine, and it's going to come to pass, however slowly.

I did not see any of this coming, but it's all really nice.


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May 20

Posted on 2012.05.29 at 18:36
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So May 20 was the other day. I did it. I re-affirmed my baptismal vows. In a fairly large group of people being confirmed, I was the only re-affirmer, which kind of emphasized again the... unnecessaryness of re-affirming. As Jason asked me when I told him via text that I was planning to re-affirm, "Had you rescinded them at some point?"

Nope.

The week before, I got a call from the parish from a woman asking me my maiden name, because she was having trouble locating my "letter" at the parish where I was confirmed in 1995. The week after, I received a letter (probably a form) from the priest that they had received my letter of transfer, and now I was "officially" (quotations marks his) a member of the parish. It didn't have anything to do with the re-affirmation; it was simply an administrative task. A checkbox going next to my name in a computer. The sacraments are long finished; the choices are old and dusty.

When the parish newsletter came out last week with the list of those who joined the church on May 20, my name wasn't even on the list. But Lee's was! He was confirmed that day. Another way that events have played out in unexpected but welcome ways.


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the Keys to the Kingdom

Posted on 2012.04.25 at 19:26
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Expanding further on the theme of reaffirming my baptismal vows on May 20, and that not actually being an act that would make me not a Catholic, I figured out something else interesting this week: I may not ever have actually stopped being an Episcopalian. We discussed confirmation in the inquirer's class on Sunday, and NG told us that when you are confirmed, your name is put on the books. Then when you move, the parish that confirmed you forwards your letter.

I already knew that, but for the first time, it occurred to me to ask if that means I would have a "letter" at the Episcopal parish where I was confirmed back in 1995, before I became a Catholic. NG said he thought so; there's no reason I wouldn't. They might have to go look in some archive for it, but it should be there.

I do not know why this never occurred to me before, in particular back when I was going to Holy Comforter in New Orleans and discussing the possibility of switching back. Back then, and until these last couple of months, my having become a Catholic seemed so earth-shattering an action that I assumed it must have severed all bonds with the Anglican communion. Also, I had my friends at Holy Comforter who had gone back and forth through Catholic and Episcopal receptions more than once; I thought that's how it was. And Fred seemed to think I would need to make some profession of something in order to really serve as the alternate for our parish at the Convention. But maybe that wasn't correct. Maybe all I needed was to get my letter transferred.

So... more and more, it seems like it doesn't matter to anyone what I do on May 20. The Catholics don't seem to care; they'll hear my confession any time, and I'll be back among the ranks. And the Episcopalians don't seem to care; they'll transfer my letter to CC either way, and then I'm official.

If my understanding of all of this is correct, it's kind of funny. All of this anguish, for all of these years, and I've actually already made the decisions I've been agonizing about. It's done! This feels like in the Nields song: "I had the keys to the kingdom all the time."

I wonder whose religion I can join next? :-P

This realization, of course, was marked by an epic dream having to do wtih Fr. D and Fr. Super-Newb from SP's Catholic, and behaving crazy and weird around them, and then being consoled and accepted by them.


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More.

Posted on 2012.03.31 at 22:32
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Crazy meds can mess with your dreams. My crazy meds seem to have made my dreams more vivid, or at least made me remember more details of them. I've always had pretty vivid dreams, but not often dreams that seemed to relate to anything specific that I was going through. That's why I have a "dreams" tag on my LJ; I would write down dreams that seemed Important. Nowadays, I have dreams all the time about priests and religion, and while they definitely leave an impression on me (sometimes for a few days after), they are so common that they don't seem worth writing about.

But I do want to document this one from a week or two ago. It had to do with Harry Potter. At CC, we have been doing a series this Lent about Biblical themes in the Harry Potter series. It's been fun. So the dream I had started with me and Lee and some others hanging out with Harry Potter. He was about to go fight Voldemort, and we were supposed to wait a certain amount of time or something before going to check on him or doing some important action. But we kind of fell asleep on the job. We were playing cards and relaxing, and all of a sudden we realized that Harry Potter had been gone a really long time, and whoops! we should probably be helping him. But when we went to check things out, we were too late. Voldemort and defeated Harry Potter. Because of us.

Later in the dream, and somehow as a result of Harry Potter having been defeated by Voldemort, the Catholic Church also defeated the Episcopal Church. This was apparent when my dream self and Lee attempted to go to CC, and instead of finding our usual priest there, Fr Perez (uber Catholic!) was there. He was running the show and had a bunch of acolyte minions guarding the gate. Neal from CC was also there, and someone was barring him from leading the service, and he vowed that he would go into hiding with the Episcopalians and continue the church underground. People were being forced to become Catholics, though there was still a thin line of freedom for those who wanted to leave to the Episcopal ghettos, as long as they would leave immediately and not return.

Lee and I took our family and fled to the Episcopal ghetto.





Concerning May 20, I think that presenting myself to the bishop and reaffirming my baptismal vows may be my best hope for solving this ongoing Catholic/Episcopal crisis. I already know how I feel on this side of doing it; how will I feel on the other side? Maybe it will be a big relief, and I will wonder why I didn't do it years ago. Maybe it won't feel like anything changed at all, especially since now I know that it won't necessarily make me not Catholic. Does that mean I'll have, like, dual citizenship? If I do this, then I will have a "letter" in the Episcopal Church, and any time I change Episcopal parishes, all I will have to do is make sure my letter follows me. Then I will be considered an Episcopalian in good standing and will be able to vote for vestry members and stuff. But I might still be able to just stroll over to St. P's, make a confession, and go back to Mass. It might be slightly more complicated than that, but maybe not.

Anyway. The point is that if I do this, it is reversible. I can change my mind back. So maybe the best thing is to do it and see what it's like, to see if it's as terrifying as I think it will be. And take it from there.


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Coming out of isolation

Posted on 2012.03.28 at 13:17
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Started May 12, 2012. Continued over days and days, until today, thanks to computer issues.

So I’ve been having some issues. The religious variety, of course, but things have reached all new, bizarre levels of weirdness. I have wanted to write about it as the events progressed, but there were two problems: one, my computer has this problem where the screen blinks on and off from time to time for no apparent reason. Two, I have written about my religious issues to death. It feels ingenuine to continue to grapple with the same stupid issues in this public forum. But doing so often makes me feel better, and the computer is acting okay tonight. And I don’t think this forum is as public now as it used to be. So I guess I’ll give it a go.

It started in January. I had been rolling along, going to my Episcopal parish, CC, feeling good about things, taking it slow, thinking about enrolling in the Inquirer’s class in the spring. And then… I think I had the ole Catholic radio on one day, and I heard someone say the word “confession,” and I was flooded with all these intense emotions. Like desperation and longing.

Lee and Penelope were going to be going to Oklahoma, leaving me and Atticus behind, and I saw an opportunity to go to Mass at SP’s, my Catholic parish. It could just be my secret; no one would have to know. I could go on Saturday morning and never miss a beat at CC, and I wouldn’t have to tell Lee if I didn’t want to. It could just be a little visit. No big.

I didn’t feel good about it. I didn’t really want to go. I felt compelled to go. I didn’t have any positive emotions about going; I felt like I needed a fix.

So I went. And I didn’t feel good about it! All the way there, in the car and walking up the steps, I kept thinking, “I don’t want to do this.” I sat in a pew and thought, “I don’t want to be here.” After Mass began, I felt miserable the whole time. And Atticus is not at a good age for churchgoing, so I had to chase him down the aisle at one point and drag him into the cry room for the remainder. And for the rest of the day, I felt horribly, despondently, hopelessly depressed. I slumped back on the couch, feeling barely able to move my limbs, and played back-to-back cartoons for Atticus.

The experience was similar to back in late 2004, when I had the Christmas Catholic Relapse. I remember then that I would find excuses to secretly go to Catholic Masses or confessions, because I felt a strong drive to do it but didn’t want to admit to people that I did. Except this time, the compulsion to go was stronger, as was my own paradoxical desire not to do that which I felt driven to do. And this time, the end result was total misery; at least before, I enjoyed some sort of high.

Not long after that, as the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade approached (always a miserable time of year to be a Catholic for me), Fr. Super-Newb made some topical posts on Facebook that got under my skin. And then the hotly controversial HHS mandate thing hit the news.

Like most people, I learned that this thing existed and what it meant as the controversy unfolded. It took some time to learn what exactly the exceptions were that were already written into the rule. In the meantime, Fr. Super-Newb and Fr. D posted a number of articles relating to the matter--including, I believe, one of those cut-and-paste messages form the bishop--along with their commentary. And others posted their comments, which were exclusively outraged. Some called for Catholic hospitals to close their doors rather than follow this mandate. I engaged a little as the lone voice protesting that I find it far more scandalous to consider shutting down operations that do the good work of the church than to submit to the mandate, especially when numerous Catholic organizations already supply contraceptives to their employees.

In one particular instance, which was near the beginning of things and before the President announced the accommodations he was willing to make, Fr. D complained that SP’s wouldn’t be exempt from the rule. I engaged in this discussion and went back and forth with him a couple of times. He and others were complaining that the church and school wouldn’t be exempt, but it seemed to me that they would be, and nobody could find the specific wording of the thing. It was a totally civilized conversation, not petty and not flamey. But it made me feel argumentative, and I stewed about the issue for a little while after leaving my computer. When I returned an hour or two later, I was ready to keep arguing, and I had some pithy point to make. But Fr. D had sent me a private Facebook message.

I do appreciate you encouraging me look this stuff up because I need to be able to discuss it intelligently, and like you I want primary sources. I do wish you would come talk to me sometime. We have known each other maybe 11 or 12 years. I understand the difficulty of trying to reconcile things in our mind, heart, and spirit. I miss you, and care very much about your and your family. Fr D


This? Caused me to burst into tears and weep openly for a good five minutes. On one hand, I felt touched that he had any idea who I was. I mean, yeah, I have known him for a long time, and I have talked to him privately before. But we don’t know each other well, and he knows so many people, and he has seemed difficult to engage with to me in recent years. On the other hand, the tension between feeling touched that Fr D knows who I am and cares about me, and being put off by the Catholics’ public remarks about Roe v. Wade and the HHS mandate, sort of blew my mind. Again I wondered, when would this agony come to a resolution?

I did make an appointment and go in to see him. I told him I thought I needed to leave the Catholic Church. I explained about how so much that comes from the mouths of those who represent the church, whether officially and unofficially, is utterly offensive to me. I explained that I tried for a long time to live-and-let-live with that stuff and remain in the church, but for a long time now, practicing my faith has been utter misery. I told him about the Mass I attended in January. I told him that was how every Mass was in the months before I stopped attending last summer. I told him I knew some of this was in my mind, and some of it had to do with my foundation in the church that started with the cult of Fr Perez, but even as I am able to intellectualize this, the feelings and pain are unshakable. Like a thing that is on my back that I can’t get away from.

I told him how happy I am when I go to my Episcopal parish, how much I love the Episcopal church and how Lee goes with me and might even join the church. He would never participate like that in Catholicism; never. But I told him how while I don’t believe that Episcopalians go to hell just for being Episcopalian, I worry that if I became an Episcopalian, I would go to hell. Because I know better. I found the truth; to leave the church would be to reject the truth and, thereby, reject God.

Fr D talked about interpretation: how the idea that salvation does not exist “outside the church” relies on how one interprets “church.” I argued that some things, maybe most things, are not really up for interpretation, because the Catholic church has an inches-thick catechism and reams and reams of church documents which explain everything to the letter, and you can read it right there in black and white. But he countered that even as I read, I am interpreting what I read through a lens of how I understand the church, and that lens was shaped from its inception by Fr Perez.

Fr D told me that whenever people who went to Fr Perez’s old parish come into Fr D’s office, women in particular, they are very “screwed up.”

With tears on my face and having just talked about the Catholic church being an inescapable entity, as if a thing that clings to my body, I couldn’t really argue with that.

He said he thought it was significant that Lee would go with me to the Episcopal church. He said he hated to think of me torturing myself by going to Mass.

He said he thought I should go to the Episcopal church. And he said he didn’t think that would make me go to hell.

I made him say it again: “You really don’t think I’ll go to hell?”

“No.”

I said, what if I come to the end of my life, and I want a Catholic priest? He said that if he is still around, I can call him; it doesn’t matter how long it has been. I can call any Catholic priest. He says it is one of their highest honors to be with people in their final hours.

Anyway. That’s about all there is to rehash about that.

Afterwards, I felt deeply thoughtful. I spent the rest of the day pondering my Catholic formation and how it may shape the way I currently approach faith, even after so many years have passed and I’ve had so many other, broader experiences.

And I continued to feel depressed, anxious, and confused. I couldn’t stop ruminating about these issues; the thoughts intruded on my daily existence.

Around this time, I started smoking again, after stopping since last summer. I also went back to my doctor and complained about the anxiety. We had previously increased my dosage of Zoloft because it hadn’t seemed to be working as well as it used to. Now, we added Buspar, which is, I believe, kind of the one-and-only medication that you take daily for anxiety (unlike the benzodiazepams, which you take as-needed). But Buspar made me itch and break out in hives, so a few days in, we discontinued it and the Zoloft and started me on Paxil. And the doctor (really, she is an ARNP or a PA at my primary physician’s practice) told me she wanted me to make an appointment with a psychiatrist.

So I did that. Meanwhile, Dr. Google and I decided that I have a personality disorder. Specifically, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, which differs from OCD in that you don’t necessarily have the rituals and the cleaning and the counting and stuff, but you are prone to worry and obsess and may have a difficult time making decisions because of over thinking. I also read that people with OCPD may actually be untidy, because when they set out to do a chore or finish a project, they map out all the things they need to do to get the thing done exactly right. If it isn’t possible to do it exactly right, they may never get started. All of these things sound just like me!

This seemed like a revelation. If I could get diagnosed with a personality disorder, then maybe I wouldn’t actually need to take daily medication. I could get into counseling, figure out what is real and what is OCPD, and maybe take a benzo if I feel the crazy coming on. I considered asking Fr D to be my counselor, because he told me at our meeting that he is a licensed mental health counselor. When I’ve been in counseling in the past, I’ve had trouble connecting to therapists, but I felt like Fr D understood me when I was talking to him. I trust him. And I wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining my background as well as specifics about Catholicism and Anglicanism the way I might with a counselor who didn’t already know about that stuff.

All of what I have recorded in this entry so far took place within a month or so. It was a really weird, really difficult, really crazy month. When Lee was gone, I would text him that my crazy was bothering me or that I thought I might be losing it. He actually asked me if he needed to come home early from working out of town. (He didn’t; didn’t need to, and didn’t do it.)

After a little while on the Paxil, I started feeling more even again. Not so crazy. The Month of Madness seemed kind of like a weird dream.

Then earlier this month, another episode. We were invited to a birthday party on a Sunday, and it would conflict with going to CC on our usual schedule. I tried to think of how I could manage Sunday school (I did enroll in the Inquirer’s Class) and church and birthday party all in the same weekend. But CC doesn’t have, and most Episcopal churches don’t have, a Saturday or Sunday evening service. Most Catholic churches do. So that’s when I considered going to Sunday school at CC, going to the birthday party, and going to Mass at St P’s on Saturday or Sunday evening.

As soon as this possibility entered my mind, the crazy started to seep in, like smoke entering a room through the crack under the door. Those compulsive thoughts started up: “I have an excuse to go to St P’s. I want to go! It’s just because of scheduling; nothing more, really!” I even started to feel a sick craving for the crazy.

I wrote to two friends about this, who had two rather opposed responses. One said it didn’t sound like a good idea right now given the crazy and given my craving for the crazy. The other said that if I felt inclined to go, then it may be something I should face.

These opposing responses rather reflected the struggle in my mind. I grappled over it for several hours. Whenever I considered going to St P’s, it felt wholly and completely negative. It did not feel like an invitation from God; in fact, it felt like a temptation from the devil. I mean, if God is not a god of confusion, and if the evil one seeks to fill our hearts and minds with fear and anything else that will crowd out our acceptance of God’s love and peace, then how could feeling pulled to do something that would make me lose more of my marbles be from anything other than Satan? (Unless it’s just, you know, my crazy brain. Also a possibility.) I’m not talking about doing something that would be boring or unpleasant or annoying. I’m talking about doing something that I did only two months before that sparked a prolonged bout of crazy. Real, change-crazy-meds-twice-and-start-smoking-again crazy.

I resisted. I decided to go to CC as usual, go to Sunday school, go to church, leave right after communion to get out of there early, and get to the birthday party late. Simple, and not crazy-inducing. And it worked out fine.

Two days ago, I finally saw the psychiatrist. Getting a first-time appointment takes forever! Woe to you if you are really facing psychosis or something. By the time I got to this appointment, I was feeling much less crazy, much more clear-headed. I was able to describe what I’m going through simply and without crying (which I was sure I was going to do). The psychiatrist does not think that I have a personality disorder (which, whew!), but she does think I have something on the anxiety disorder spectrum. She is tapering me off of Paxil and starting me on Effexor. I asked her if she thought I could come off of daily meds and just take something for acute anxiety, because I really feel like I might have been able to head things off at the beginning of January if I could have just calmed myself at the start. But she doesn’t think benzoes are a good idea for me, “because you’re young,” she said, and they are habit-forming. Maybe if I can get evened out on Effexor (or something else if that doesn’t work) and be in a good place mentally for a year or so, then we can talk about going off of meds. And at this point, I’m fine with that.

The Inquirer’s class at CC is really nice. Some of it is a review of stuff I already knew; some of it is new and interesting and pleasant. During last Sunday’s discussion, the rector gave us all a copy of a resolution from the 1988 Episcopal General Convention which lays out the Episcopal Church’s stance on abortion. I do not think I realized such a thing existed, and reading it, I got a little teary-eyed. The rector asked us what we thought, and I replied, “It’s perfect.” It’s pretty much exactly what I already believe about abortion. It differs from Catholicism’s teachings on abortion in some significant ways. And nowadays, Catholicism is nothing if it isn’t what it believes about abortion.

The Inquirer’s Class is meant to educate people about the Episcopal Church, where it came from, what it’s doing, and so on, with the end being that those who want to join the church may do so. It’s similar to RCIA for Catholics. On a Sunday at the end, the Bishop will come, and those who have not yet been confirmed will be confirmed, and those who are confirmed in some other faith will be received into the Episcopal Church, and those who are already confirmed as Episcopalians but who have been away or for some other reason just desire it will reaffirm their baptismal vows. The day this is happening at CC is May 20.

For me, because I am baptized and have already been confirmed (twice! First as an Episcopalian, and then again as a Catholic), if I choose to go forward on May 20, I will reaffirm my baptismal vows. Fr D rather recommended I not do this, even as he suggested I continue attending the Episcopal church, but he also said he did not think that the words I would say in reaffirmation would necessarily remove me from the Catholic Church. In other words, if I decided to come back, I would not necessarily have to go through RCIA again and have the whole rigmarole, which is part of my anxiety about considering doing this. In reading the reaffirmation ceremony in the Book of Common Prayer, I see that in no way would I be renouncing the Catholic Church or even pledging allegiance to the Episcopal Church. I’m renewing my baptismal vows, which I have done plenty of times before, at Easter time or when someone else was being baptized.

But doing it would still be a significant symbol for me (obviously, as all these years of agony show). And at this moment, I think I want to do it. Lee says he may want to as well. I told him, and I have told others, that I am not making up my mind or making any promises yet. I have until May 20. I may not know for sure that I will do it until that day, until I am actually standing in front of the Bishop.

I kind of think I will do it, but it may depend on my crazy. It may depend on my Effexor. It may depend on the weather or the radio or how well I sleep the night before. I guess I’ll know in two more months.

And if I don’t do it then, there’s always next year.


angel light

Grace

Posted on 2011.12.12 at 23:53
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I've been pondering grace a lot lately. I'm not really sure I know exactly what that is. As a theological concept, it seems tougher to grasp than, say, faith, hope, or charity. Grace. Hm.

As I was pondering grace recently, a thought popped into my mind: when will I be ready to accept God's grace? It seems as if God's grace is always there, extended to me; I'm the one who won't receive it. When will I be ready? What am I waiting for? This thought revisits me again and again like a gentle nudge.

I attended an Advent half-day silent retreat last weekend with the centering prayer group in our area, held at the Episcopal church I've been attending. I found it very beneficial. We had two centering prayer sessions, then Lectio Divina, then a period for personal reflection, then another session of centering prayer, then lunch. The "sacred word" I chose to focus on during centering prayer as I tried to clear my mind was grace.

The scripture we meditated on during Lectio Divina was Isaiah 40:3-5:
A voice cries out: "in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."


During the period of personal reflection, we had the opportunity to walk a labyrinth that had been set up in the parish hall. I had not thought I wanted to participate in that; it sounded boring, and it was supposed to take 30-40 minutes to do. Bah, too long. But with the reading about making straight a path for the Lord, and realizing I don't have opportunities to walk a labyrinth every day, I decided to give it a try.

The labyrinth was painted on a large canvas cloth that covered about a third of the large parish hall floor. It was surrounded by candles, and a woman played a harp beside it--lovely. The labyrinth was a replica of what I now know is the labyrinth on the floor of Chartres, pictured here:


When I came into the parish hall, I was still undecided on whether I would do the labyrinth or not, but the harpist was playing "I Love You, Lord," which struck me as being personally significant because of some reference I made to it in my teenage diary and reread recently. That ended up being the only piece she played that was familiar to me at all, but it seemed like a good "sign." So I took off my shoes and approached a music stand that sat next to the entrance and had a sheet explaining how to do the labyrinth.

The instructions explained that the labyrinth contained one path, which led to the center, and once you reach the center, you exit out the way you came. I didn't realize that about it. You make a choice to enter the labyrinth, to begin a journey, and as you walk, you meditate. You let go on anxieties and leave them behind. When you reach the center, you can pause to pray. When you leave, you go out the way you came, and you pray to hold onto whatever peace or insight you gained on the journey in.

So I watched the individuals who had started the walk ahead of me. There were several, and varying points on the labyrinth, on the journey. Then I chose to begin the journey as well.
As I walked, I thought about the path, how it was anything but straight, but some portions were much more winding than others. The whole path is already laid out, from start to finish, and all you have to do to get to the center is persist. Along the walk, you find yourself at varying degrees of distance from the center; sometimes you are right next to it but not yet there. At a certain point, you are right back by the start of the whole thing, and it appears you are no closer to the destination than you were at the beginning. And then, just a few steps later, you are rounding the bend and reaching the center.

I have spent a lot of time feeling as if I am stuck at a starting point, unable to get anywhere, and making no progress. So those moments in the labyrinth when I noticed with some despair that I was back at the beginning of the maze, then realized that in fact I was only moments from the apex... got my attention.

In the labyrinth, I thought about grace. When will I be ready? What am I waiting for?

I found myself asking, "Is this okay? Is this okay?" It seemed that it was. I thought about God saying, "Come on. Just come. Come to me." And I thought, "Okay. Is that okay? Is this really okay?"

I really liked the labyrinth.

After that, I also went to "pray through an icon," one of the Archangel Gabriel, which was set up in the chapel. There were little handouts available about how to pray through an icon. One of the points of preparation suggested, "pray that you might release whatever distances you from your desire to be nearer to God." In a heartbeat, I thought, "fear." Fear is what distances me from my desire to be nearer to God. I prayed to release that.

The final centering prayer session was a bit of a wash, I'll admit. By that time, I was a little meditated out, and I wound up opening my eyes and looking at everyone else, all with eyes closed. But I felt good and at peace. I felt like I was ready, or I wanted to be ready, to accept God's grace. And maybe that meant that also I could be ready to join the Episcopalians.

That night, as I lay in bed and looked at my phone, I browsed labyrinth-themed jewelry on ebay (scrolling past a surprising number of David Bowie themed items). Then I went to sleep.

Of course, my subconscious could not allow me to get through the night feeling peaceful. I dreamed that my old boss, Pam, was telling me sternly that I must not leave Catholicism. She chided me that I knew better, that I promised never to leave. I woke up in the middle of the night after that dream and felt uneasy. When I went back to sleep, I think I dreamed of more people representing Catholicism, warning me against any intentions I might have of leaving the Church.

For most of the next day, Sunday, these dreams were forgotten to me. Sunday night, I dreamed again. Here is what I wrote to Jason this morning:
You were in my crazy dream again. You and I and Atticus were visiting Greg and Jennifer Willits of the Rosary Army podcast (and, more recently, of a new Catholic sitcom called Mass Confusion). There were many disconnected elements to the dream: my clothes didn't fit, and I realized it was because I was in my resurrected body, so I was taller. I kept having to change clothes in the same room as you while you looked away. Atticus had a poopy diaper, and you changed him. I couldn't keep track of all of our trash all over the Willitses' house, and I left embarrassed because of the mess. You were there with me all the time, mostly keeping off to the side and observing. You were concerned, I could tell. There was a backstory to your concern that my dream self remembered, having to do with the Catholic/Episcopalian stuff, but there was not any sort of overt discussion in the dream, either between you and me or between me and the Willitses. We hung around for a long time, and it was you who finally said it was time to go, and you packed up the car while I said goodbye. You were supposed to grab my iPod on the way out, but I realized you had forgotten it, so I went back in for it. I told Jennifer I was sorry for spilling juice on her floor; she was friendly and gracious, and we parted on a friendly note.


As I was writing that email to Jason, something in the retelling stuck out to me that had not made an impression in my first ruminations: Jason was the one who told me it was time to go.

Jason wrote me back:

Your psyche is continuing the discussion, if only in symbols. I think I may be an abstraction of your own personal Catholicism, whereas the Wilitses represent the external influence of those not intimately connected with you. 


Yes. But furthermore, Jason is my originating tie to Catholicism. Whatever it is that he represents--in my dreams, in my subconscious mind--is one of the strongest objectors to my pursuing salvation outside of the Roman Catholic Church. Not actual Jason; that understanding of salvation that is fleshed out so often in dream-Jason. This is why it is significant that he was the one in the dream who got up off the Willitses' couch and said, "It's time to go. I'll pack our stuff. Meet me at the car in 5 minutes." I hadn't been sure when it would be appropriate to leave, and I was glad he initiated the departure. There were no hard feelings.

It's past time for bed. We shall see if the battle will wage on in my dreams tonight.


Wiggyicon

Panic

Posted on 2011.11.16 at 21:42
Current Mood: nervousnervous
Tags:
Fr. Super-Newb sent me a Facebook message 3 1/2 weeks ago.

Hey Jessica, super official message via Facebook. I was just wondering how you have been doing--I hope great! God bless you and have a great day.

This filled me with panic. I get updates from Facebook in my email, and I read this one on my phone as I was leaving the kids' fall festival at school. I immediately felt like I had been caught, that the jig was up. Someone noticed I wasn't keeping Catholic. Guilt! Panic!

I waited a few hours before responding, mulling over exactly what I should say, and then I wrote this:

Thanks for writing! I am doing well, and I hope you are, too.

You may have noticed my absence from St. P's [his parish--Catholic] over the last several months. I have been attending CC [Episcopal] and considering becoming an Episcopalian again. I haven't made any decisions yet, but I am really enjoying CC, and there is a lot I like about Anglicanism. So we'll see.

Facebook is about as official as it gets!

I wondered what he would say in reply, when he might reply. And he ended up not replying at all.

But the anxiety I felt in response to his message has not fully left me. Things had been going pretty well until that point: I had canceled my membership at St. P's so that I would stop receiving offering envelopes and newsletters. The person on the phone who took my request to take my name off the books did not question me. I had been going to the adult Sunday school class at CC, the theme of which (Hell, from an Episcopalian--ie, not terrifying--perspective) seemed especially suited to me. People at CC are starting to recognize us and say hello. Everything was feeling quite comfortable and usual, progressing at an even pace. And now, things are confusing and nerve-wracking again, packed with shrill questioning. First, the message from Fr. Super-Newb. Then, I started letting myself switch the radio dial to AM and the Catholic channel again. Then, these feelings of self-doubt started following me to church again. And now, even as I write this, there is a pit in my stomach, and I feel nervous.

Listening to Catholic radio--that is a negative, self-destructive, self-injurious behavior for me, and I should not let myself do it. It is almost a patholigical action. I know it will hurt me, but I do it anyway; I almost can't stop myself.

Why should it be that way? What is the matter with me that just hearing the voice of Mother Angelica for a few minutes actually unravels my sense of well-being? Why should listening to ads for local parish suppers cause me to question my decisions and my motivations for coming to those decisions?

Stepping back from all of this, it really all seems quite disordered and possibly delusional. The Catholic radio thing is a side effect, but of what? I need to understand this about myself. If I can figure out why I am this way, or what made me this way, or where this all comes from, then maybe I can fix it. Until I can fix it--whatever it is--I will always be in this limbo. This panic will always be somewhere below the surface. I will waste the rest of my life on this question of whether I should be a Catholic or an Episcopalian, when I know there is so much more I am meant to do.


pray

Moments that mean something

Posted on 2011.10.21 at 21:01
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Tags: ,
October 20, 2011
8:10 pm

You know those moments that startle you? Where you’re going about your business, doing your thing, and suddenly you’re struck by significance in something insignificant. It feels like something critical is being imparted to you, and you have to seal it in your memory.

I.
I was in eleventh grade when I met Jason and became interested in Catholicism via Jason’s conversion. We sat together in physics class, and I spent far more time contemplating the Catholic Church than I did studying physics. But I experienced a fair amount of inner turmoil in coming to the decision to convert, myself. I had rather recently become confirmed in my denomination of origin, the Episcopal Church, and while I had chosen to do that spontaneously, of my own free will, and willingly undertook my studies toward that end, I had somehow not approached that decision in the same way I would later approach Catholicism. Learning about Rome made my Episcopal faith feel incomplete. Hence the conversion.

But before I got that point, there was the turmoil. There were some other kids in our class who occasionally participated in these Catholic/Episcopalian/whatever discussions. There were actually several belonging to each sect. During the turmoil, I wrote in my diary the following documentation of a moment that seemed very much like it must have meant something important:

11/12/96
I AM A SLACKER. [I think this refers to the fact that I’m journaling during physics class instead of paying attention or doing my work.]
Anyways. OK, I have to tell you about this, it’s weird. I’m sitting here in physics and I notice that, at the next table, all the Episcopalians are wearing red, and all the Catholics are wearing blue. And, across from me, Jason, a Catholic is wearing blue. What am I wearing? Plaid. Plaid with red and blue in it. That is so weird.
I almost wore a red shirt today. I don’t even own any blue shirts.


This moment seemed important at the time, important enough to write down. And while I have not thought about this in years, for some reason, it came back to me recently. I went and found my old diary so I could read the entry exactly as I wrote it.

It’s kind of dorky, but it seems like that moment was more prophetic than I even tried to make it be. Fifteen years later, I know that I eventually did become a Catholic, that I have gone back and forth between the Catholics and the Episcopalians to varying degrees more times than I can remember, and that the which-one-do-I-choose puzzle has become the laughably persistent and over-arching theme in my spiritual life. If Catholics are blue (the color associated with Mary) and Episcopalians are red, then I am undeniably red-and-blue plaid. These churches tangle around me in impossible knots. They have never blended; I’m not purple. I’m plaid. The colors are distinct but woven together. To unwind them would be to destroy the shirt. I almost chose red, but instead I chose plaid. I could not have chosen blue; I didn’t own any. From that day on, it has always been so. It may always be so.

II.
We were living in New Orleans, and Lee and I were disagreeing about something. I don’t even remember what; maybe it had something to do with religion? Maybe not. I feel like it was something rather minor, but the irritation of the disagreement prompted me to go to church to pray about it. I went to a Catholic church in Gentilly where I knew they were having adoration of the blessed sacrament. I entered and knelt on the kneeler at the front, directly in front of the monstrance. My attitude going in was kind of bemused: “Well, God, I’m coming to pray about this. It’s a bit silly, but I could kind of use your help.”

This was an unusual setting for a Moment as it’s not too often I go to church specifically to pray for issues having to do with my marriage. Perhaps that was why the moment seemed so striking.

Kneeling there, I rested my elbows on the surface in front of me, clasped my hands together, bowed my head so that my mouth touched my knuckles, and closed my eyes. During my prayer, I opened my eyes while still in that pose, and I saw my engagement ring. But more than that, I saw the sacrament in the monstrance reflected in the surface of the diamond in my engagement ring. It made my stomach drop. It seemed like the message was that the answer to problems in my marriage was the eucharist.

The practical application of that was not so easily revealed. Lee is not a Catholic, and he’s not going to become one. Nor is he an Episcopalian, and though I would say there’s a much greater likelihood he would become one of those, it still is not very likely. Sharing the eucharist with my husband is not going to be an option for me. But perhaps bringing my troubles to Jesus in the eucharist—or just at all—is a sorely unused.

III.
Some time in the middle of my foray with the Episcopalians in New Orleans, Lee and I went to Oklahoma to visit his family. I joined Paula, Lee’s friend Andy’s mother, at her Episcopal church for Sunday services, and I found myself reflecting on my crisis of faith. I was pondering whether to join, again, the Episcopalians. I was thinking about how much time I had put into these conversions, how many years I spent as a Catholic vs. how many years I was going to spend before coming to a decision about whether to become an Episcopalian again.

I don’t know if it was something in the sermon that made me think it or if it came to me spontaneously, but I was suddenly reminded that long before this crisis of faith, long before I began muddying the path of my own spiritual journey, I was baptized. I was just a few weeks from my third birthday when I was baptized, just a little kid, just barely old enough to remember. That’s when I became a Christian. That was the true beginning. That’s the event that meant the most. Today, I may have been a Catholic for 14 some-odd years, but I have been a Christian for 28 years. The very vast majority of my remembered life. Before it meant much to me to be a Christian, I was one. I have been a member of the Body of Christ for all this time.



IV.
Some time around Katrina, I realized that I had been waiting to find something or someone who would light the path for me, when all along I had been holding the flashlight.

What it means to be holding the flashlight… that part I have not quite mastered.

V.
I just finished reading Finding Home: Stories of Roman Catholics Entering the Episcopal Church. I really enjoyed it; I had something in common with nearly every story in the book. And none of the people had a big chip on their shoulder about the Catholic Church or left it out of anger or because they were mad at somebody.

Finishing the book was what prompted me to remember that red-and-blue plaid thing, to unearth the diary from a box of old memories under my bed, and to read the pages written during that chapter in my life. I finished looking at the diary just before I went to bed, and that night I had a very vivid dream.

In the dream, Jason and I were at Atticus’s baptism, and Fr. R was going to be performing the baptism. (He officiated at my wedding, but he did not actually baptize Atticus, and I have not belonged to Fr. R’s parish in many years.) But when it came time to say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Fr. R just said a bunch of nonsense about baptizing in the name of the Father and the pee pee.

I was very put out by this but didn’t say anything until later, when I asked Jason if he had heard this. He hadn’t. I asked him if he thought I should baptize the baby myself, since in emergency situations, anyone can baptize anyone else. If I did it and said the right words, at least the baptism would be valid, where it wasn’t based on how Fr. R did it. It didn’t seem like a reasonable choice to go to Fr. R and ask him to do it over; either I was going to baptize my son, or I was going to leave him sort of half-baptized by Fr. R’s weird rendition.

Dream-Jason did not think I should baptize the baby. He told me it would be a greater sin not to have faith that the baptism was valid than to let Atticus proceed in his faith having been invalidly baptized. And I wanted to argue with Dream-Jason, because he himself was baptized when he converted, because his childhood baptism, in a Pentecostal tradition, had not been in an acceptable form for Catholics. But I didn’t argue with him, because by then I was confused or tired or intimidated, or maybe something else was going on.

Later in the dreamscape, Dream-Jason and I were crossing a long bridge when we saw torpedoes launched from the far shore. One of the torpedoes destroyed the bridge, and we managed to fly to safety on some sort of gliders made from foam pool noodles. The flight on the gliders was terrifying, and I was never sure I would survive it, but I knew I had no other choice, and I was surprised that I remained level-headed and calm. We then had to walk back to town and find our friends and families. All around us, civilization seemed to be collapsing as our land was attacked by whatever forces launched the torpedoes. A ship filled with convicted murderers became beached next to an elementary school, and the convicts threatened to take over. But when Drea-Jason and I tried to explain to people what was going on, that we were being attacked and that there was chaos on the streets, no one would believe us.

I told Real Life Jason about this dream, and he offered a very insightful interpretation. He noted that Fr. R’s presence in the dream makes sense; since Fr. R married me and Lee, he represents the link between the Catholic Church and my family with Lee. “His malfeasance at the baptism is representative of the ineptitude you perceive in the clergy given the weight of their calling.”

Jason pointed out that in my dreams, he is often frozen as the way I knew him at 18 or 19. “As such, dream-Jason is an embodiment of that craving for an authentic religious experience; that secret fear that religious truth has equal measures of pain for all its consolations, but the consolations can be ecstatically good—like an abusive relationship with great sex. The dream-Jason always proposes you make the biggest leap of faith or take on a practice that seems physically excruciating, if not painful.”

This part of Jason’s interpretation struck a cord with me. When I first woke up, my impression of the baptism in the dream was that Fr. R had been out of line and ridiculous, if not flat-out wrong, and that dream-Jason had also been wrong to discourage me from questioning the ridiculousness and from taking matters into my own hands. But after reading Jason’s response, my own interpretation evolved.

The thing I’m continually hung up on is validity: is the Episcopal Church a valid church? Are their orders valid? Are their sacraments valid? If I join them, will I be partaking in a valid eucharist? The Catholic Church’s validity is a given, to me; after all, the Episcopalians do not doubt the Catholics’ validity. But the Catholics sure do doubt the Piskies’; that’s why it feels terrifying to consider switching. That’s why it feels like no switch could ever be permanent, because some day I will want to go back again, if for no other reason than out of fear.

Dream-Jason proposed I take a huge leap of faith: to entrust not my own soul but that of my beloved child to God with this obviously invalid baptism. To have faith that God could make the baptism valid in spite of the foibles of the priest. It would be a greater sin not to have faith that God could, would, did already grant salvation, thereby overcoming the shortcomings of men, than to labor to correct those shortcomings.

Real-life Jason also offered that the second half of the dream, with the torpedoes and collapse of society, even though disconnected from the baptism part, was still a continuation of the dream that delivered the earlier scene. “The apocalypse-like continuation is tied to some basic, primal fear of a grand dissolution. This fear of destruction and flight is a basic one to our collective humanity. All the myths and folktales in which the heroes must flee from their burning homeland must have universal resonance—we see that story so often.” My own conscious mind wants to divide the dream into two distinct parts, but certainly I can acknowledge fears about “a grand dissolution.” Or even dissolutions: of faith, of stability, of salvation. Even contemplating doing something that I know on some level would make me happy—becoming an Episcopalian—is terrifying because of the specter of regret. Temporal and eternal.

I very rarely say that God is speaking to me. But I feel like these contemplations right now are important, are significant. I feel “convicted.” This is a continuation of the thought pattern I wrote about March 28 and 29; it’s coming from the same place.


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