Sunday, August 2, 2009

Missing Church...And Actually Missing It

Or, "A Not-So-Short History of my Spiritual Development"

Even at my most pious, I was never really of the church-going persuasion.

I was twelve years old and the "God bug" had just bitten me in a big way. My parents—a lapsed Catholic and a lapsed Anglican—had sent me to Catholic school since kindergarten, largely to keep my mother's Catholic family happy, and though I went through all the sacraments at the usual pace (well, except for baptism, which happened when I was three) and religion was taught in the school I went to, and although the whole school would attend Mass every other week, before I was twelve or so I didn't give it any more thought than I gave to anything else I learned. Sure, I paid attention and I got good grades for it, but it never occurred to me that religion was something to believe. It was just something we did a few times a day and got out of school for one morning every other week. I think that for awhile I thought that believing in God was like believing in the bell that rang for recess—I never saw that, either, but it was there and I knew it! But then, sometime after I turned twelve, something just sort of clicked and I thrived on the prayers and Bible stories that I'd been fed by my teachers since I was five years old. I even started enjoying Mass, which had always bored me before. Well, except for the bits where we got to sing; I'd always enjoyed those. :)

After that little revelation, for a brief time I even wanted to be a nun. I dreamed of being a saint. What a little idiot I was.

Now, to be perfectly clear, because some of my Catholic sensibilities are still part of my spiritual composition, I have a lot of respect for nuns and saints. But I have since come to realize that the life of a nun is most definitely not for me, and although I try to be a decent person, I admit that I'm not by any means a candidate for canonization. Besides, many saints tend to be martyrs as well, and I doubt that I'd ever go that far for my faith—I'd rather be quietly subversive and lead a longer existence on this planet. Perhaps that means that I'm a coward. Ah, well. *sigh*

And then, sometime early in my teens, I first came across the concept of Paganism. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I became extremely biased against Christianity (though not vocally so—my dad would probably have kicked me out of the house if I had been loud about it) because of the way it's been used and misused over the centuries. I became one of those "Wicca 101" fluffbunny Pagans who thinks Silver RavenWolf has the whole story on Paganism and its relation to other religions and spiritualities, and who resented Christianity because "they stole our holidays". Have you ever run across one of those Pagan web pages with tons of glittery pentacles where the writer says, "An' it harm none, do what thou wilt" and "Blessed Be!" a million times while talking about the Maiden-Mother-Crone aspects of the Goddess and spells and karma and "NEVER AGAIN THE BURNING TIMES"? I never unleashed the sparkly terror of such a page on the World Wide Web myself, but that was pretty much the state of my spirituality at the time. Thank goodness (Goddess?) I grew out of it, and in time the spirituality that I had adopted and so badly mangled grew into something beautiful that has helped me through many tough times since then. Eventually, I had a first-degree Reiki attunement and the meditation techniques that I learned from my instructor have also become part of my spiritual life.

And then, when I was 20 years old, I had another spiritual awakening, one that was far less conventional, smack me in the face. But as this entry's already going to be very long, and because it's something I'd like to meditate on further at another time, I'll say no more here than that it's had me questioning my sanity ever since, and that it's given me a new perspective on the world that I wouldn't have had without it.

A bit over six years later, an acquaintance of mine who directs an Anglican church choir told me he could use another good soprano in the group and asked me to join. After a few days of researching and soul-searching, I decided that participating in Anglican worship wasn't something that was at odds with the current state of my spirituality, so I told him I'd give it a try. That was about eight and a half months ago, and I've been singing with them ever since. At some point over the years I'd come to the conclusion that my faith was both Pagan and Christian, and once I got used to the services from the Book of Alternate Services and the Book of Common Prayer, I'll admit that it felt good to put as much emphasis on the Christian side of things as I was already putting on the Pagan side. I suppose it helped that the church where I now sing is a place that I'd known and loved since I was a child—one of my aunts was married there, and on the occasions over the years when I ended up there again (mostly because I sing in a choir that's practiced there several times since I joined), I was always struck by the beauty of its stained-glass windows—so, between that and the similarities between the Anglican and Roman Catholic denominations, in a way it was like coming home after a long absence.

Currently, though, my church choir is taking a break because the director and his wife are out of town for a bit. And though I know that I could've gone to church this morning without donning the cassock and surplice, I stayed home—I've got a cold and I wouldn't want to pass it on, especially since most of the congregation is over 60! So, today was the first Sunday since November when I haven't gone to church, and it felt...strange.

I hadn't expected that. I was un-churched for so many years before I joined the choir, and I have to admit that I didn't miss it. My spiritual life was already full and satisfying. I had my own rituals and prayers and meditations. I didn't feel a need to go back to all the Bible readings, murmured responses and occasionally nonsensical hymns.

And then I joined an Anglican choir, and something must have changed because a missed Sunday suddenly feels wrong. I doubt it's out of simple habit—after all, for years before my break with the Roman Catholic Church, memorized prayers every school day and Mass every other Thursday during the school year were a fact of life for me. Once I left that, I didn't miss it. Perhaps it's the difference between something I didn't choose and something that I did choose; I had no choice but to be raised as a Catholic, but I chose to sing in that Anglican choir and take part in Anglican worship. Perhaps it's because the general atmosphere of the choir is relaxed and friendly, and during the Eucharistic service (usually the only service we sing for) amusing things tend to happen, particularly during the priest's conversation with the church's Sunday School kids. (I'm not sure how common this is, but I think it's a good idea; the kids are much more well-behaved during the service than they would be if they didn't know and like him. Still, they can de-rail those conversations no matter how well he tries to guide them, and the results are frequently funny for everyone.) Overall, I feel at home there, which is definitely a pleasant surprise. For once in my life, I actually understand what keeps some people interested in going to church week after week.

And yet, I am always conscious that, even if I've been accepted as a part of that Anglican church where I sing, this was not the denomination into which I was baptized. I was certainly not confirmed there, and in many ways, I remain a guest, not an actual member of the church. While I could change this by formally converting, I must admit that I don't feel the need to do so—not yet, anyway. If I ever do so, I want to be certain that it is out of the true desire of my soul to be part of this tradition, not because of the enthusiasm for something new and different in my life. I made that mistake with the Roman Catholic Church, way back when I was discovering God as something to be believed in and not just acknowledged. I made it again when I started to be drawn to Neopaganism. be totally honest, although Anglicanism as practiced in the church where I sing is a much better fit for my current spiritual life than my former denomination was, the fact remains that part of my experience of the Divine is not Christian in origin or practice. I do not believe that I have to reject God (or Jesus, for that matter) to know the Goddess, even if I would have to reject Her if I were to become a true member of the Anglican Church.

Over the years, I've found that my spiritual path is far from an easy one to take. I know that it may look like I'm cherry-picking my spirituality, taking what's convenient from Christianity and Neopaganism, and that the result might look like some unholy Frankenstein monster that's somehow made worse from being made of Love An' Light An' Fluffy Pink Unicorns An' Stuff. I know that it looks like I'm taking the easiest way—why choose one over the other when I can have them both? But that's not how I experience it. I've had some very real spiritual conflicts with what it means to be Christian and Pagan at the same time. I've wondered myself if I was simply doing what seemed easiest just because it would allow me to make some measure of peace with a tradition I could no longer submit to while also being able to partake in the more "exotic" spirituality that I was drawn to while I was in high school. I've made mistakes. I've been judgemental, had a flirtation with the "Pagan persecution complex" (you know, the idea that so many Pagans have that Christians are evil, closed-minded hypocritical bigots who go Biblically psycho at the sight of a pentacle—even as I enjoyed the friendship of several committed Christians) and, as discussed before, gone through the "Wicca 101 is OMG TEH BEST THING EVAH AN' I WANNA BE A WITCH 'CUZ THERE SO COOL!!!" phase, too, though I'd hate to think that my spelling was ever that bad. ;)

Maybe one day I'll also decide that "Christo-Pagan" is a Really Bad Idea too, but for now, I think I'll stick with that and see where it takes me. In writing this blog, I hope to give myself a place to sort out all these messy little details that have made this path I'm on so interesting and so frustrating at the same time. And if anyone ever happens to stumble upon this blog, I hope that they'll find something to think about here. I know I certainly intend to. :)

1 comment:

  1. So thankful that I found your blog! I was raised in the Dutch RCA church till age 18. Came out as gay after H.S. and moved to NYC, and left the 'Church' till my 30s when I felt the calling to return. I joined the ultra-progressive UCC in 1998, but now feel more connected to the UUA. My spirituality has just evolved. While I played with 'fluffy bunny' Wicca in H.S. it never ‘took’ then… but for the past 2 years I’ve actively read, prayed on, and have ‘experimented’ calling on Sophia (Divine Wisdom) along with Jesus, as well feel called to certain Celtic and Norse/Germanic gods (the ‘minor’ little known ones, for some reason)! Never was an ancient history-culture person really until now. Love your thoughts and your humor… look forward to being on this (old for you) journey…. As it is all new for me!