I found my rosary a few days ago. It had been missing since shortly after my grandfather died in late 2010; as I discovered, it had somehow slipped into a drawer in my dresser that I don't really open that often. For lack of a better explanation, it's what I call my "memory drawer"—a drawer that I set aside for small keepsakes, photos, newspaper articles, and the like when I was about thirteen. I've been thinking of putting some of those photos and articles into a scrapbook, and was going to go through some of it that night, but then, there it was, right on top of one of the photos. I consider that to be simultaneously amusing and appropriate.
It got me thinking, of course. Several months ago, I threatened to post about the reasons why I chose to make use of certain prayers when Grandpa was in the hospital, and I think that this is going to be that post, though (as usual) I also have a feeling that it's going to be awhile before I actually get around to writing directly about that.
I haven't considered myself to be Catholic in nearly fifteen years. The Roman Catholic Church, of course, would say differently; according to them, once they've got you, you're theirs for life, regardless of whatever you might say on the matter. (Naturally, this is one of the many things about which I disagree with them.) But at the same time, those early years of Catholic belief, or at least of Catholic thought, have left a mark. Perhaps it speaks to the power of early conditioning; I have a friend who was at one time an evangelical and charismatic Christian, but who has since become an agnostic, who nonetheless is currently the organist at an Anglican church and who has been known to admit that despite now being an agnostic, Anglican hymns and the Book of Common Prayer are "in [his] circuits." Obviously there are people who are raised in one religion or another who do completely get out of that mindset, but for some of us, at least, it's not necessarily going to happen.
Some of my Roman Catholic mental residue is actually good; for example, despite my disagreement with Catholic teachings on the subjects of birth control, abortion, sexuality, homosexuality, transubstantiation, and the ordination of women, among other things, the early exposure that I had to the ideas that we should actually love each other and help people who need it laid the foundation for my present political and social views. Perhaps I'd have come to similar conclusions if I hadn't been raised in any sort of religious framework, but as it is, I was raised Catholic and the experience did convince me that we ought (as one of the hymns we sang at practically every Mass says) "to act with justice, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with our God." (Though of course that last bit is negotiable, since not everyone believes in any kind of deity. But the first two are certainly important.) Furthermore, it's probably the biggest reason why I'm able to be so comfortable with Anglican liturgy. (The Eucharistic service from the Book of Alternative Services in particular is very, very close to the form that Mass took when I was growing up.) And as I've said before, as much as I sometimes still can't believe that I, of all people, am a member of a church choir, my experiences at my church and with my church choir have proven to be enlightening in their own way, and I wouldn't want to have missed that. And if I hadn't had my Catholic background, or if I hadn't been born to a family with Anglican heritage, I'd never have been so comfortable on the trips that my community choir took to sing at the cathedrals in Winchester and Lincoln, and I'd certainly never have been able to join the my church choir and adjust as easily to it as I did.
Some of the residue isn't so good, of course. I mean, I was a narrow-minded little twit for a good chunk of my life because of it, even after I converted to Paganism, and sometimes I still struggle with the difference between what I know is right and what I was taught is right. Among other things, the fact that until my mid-twenties I was unable to acknowledge, even to myself, that I'm bisexual probably comes from that. I never had any problems with the existence of gay or lesbian folks—it's kind of a long story, but by the time I was eight years old I had come to the conclusion that some kids had two mothers or two fathers who loved each other and lived together and that was perfectly OK—but at least among my peers, bisexuality was considered to be undesirable at best, thanks to the promiscuity, infidelity, and perceived denial (or mere experimentation) that are so much a part of the bisexual stereotype. And of course the Roman Catholic Church isn't generally a particularly friendly place for people who aren't strictly straight, which (because I remained in the Catholic school system until I graduated from high school) gave me an additional incentive to ignore that part of myself even as it was beginning to reveal itself.
And some of that Roman Catholic residue is just plain weird, like feeling a little strange every time I make beef vegetable soup during Lent (Catholics are supposed to abstain from eating meat during Lent—and, strictly speaking, on Fridays throughout the year, even if not a lot of people pay attention to that these days—though fish is inexplicably OK). Or the fact that I automatically remove my hat, if I'm wearing one, as soon as I enter a church, regardless of the reason why I'm there; everyone at my school walked to a nearby church for Mass at least twice a month when I was a kid, and even the girls were told to remove our hats when we got to the church (traditionally, girls and women are supposed to wear something to cover our hair at Mass, though again, these days not very many women actually do except in the more conservative Catholic churches), probably because the boys tended to object when they were told to remove their hats and the girls weren't, and it was easier just to tell all of us that it was disrespectful to leave our hats on in church. And I admit that my fondness for the more theatrical aspects of ritual—Pagan or Christian—largely stems from that period in my life as well.
And perhaps the oddest part of the Catholic residue in my mind is my enduring fondness for the rosary. But it's something that I consider to be one of the good parts of this residue anyway. Which brings me back to the prayers that I chose to whisper when my grandfather was dying.
I never actually prayed the whole rosary while Grandpa was in the hospital. Sometimes I'd take it out and go through a decade or two of it when I felt I needed to calm down (a "decade" on the rosary is the "Our Father," ten repetitions of "Hail Mary," and then the "Glory Be" once). Because it's so repetitive, I find the rosary to be a good way to calm myself down. Other times, I'd just hold the beads in my hand, feeling their weight and concentrating on what I was feeling, trying to reconcile myself to the knowledge that my grandfather was going to die, probably very soon. (The fact that the Hail Mary includes the words "now and at the hour of our death" probably helped.) But the prayers that are traditionally used for the rosary still come as naturally to me as breathing (though admittedly, I do add another prayer near the beginning, I change the wording of a couple of the prayers because of my current spiritual path, and I omit the various Mysteries associated with the rosary because I find them to be unnecessary, so I actually deviate more than a little from the "official" method of praying the rosary), and though I rarely actually make use of my rosary, I do find it to be useful from time to time.
For one thing, it's extremely repetitive, and it takes a long time to get through it all. (There are five decades on a traditional rosary, plus the medallion and the five beads and the crucifix at the bottom of it; fifty-three repetitions of Hail Mary, seven repetitions of Glory Be and Our Father, and once through the Memorare—this is the prayer that I add—and Hail Holy Queen and the Apostles' Creed take quite a lot of time to get through all at once.) Because of the way that my mind works, sometimes I find that it's best to occupy myself with something like that to re-focus my mind, or sometimes just to give myself something to concentrate on when I'm trying to work through something that's bothering me. I'm not quite sure how to explain it except that the sheer repetitiveness of the rosary gives my conscious mind something to focus on while my subconscious mind wanders down whatever paths it has to in order to sort out whatever I'm trying to deal with.
Come to think of it, it's almost like crocheting (well, when I'm not crocheting as I'm socializing, anyway) that way. :)
And for another thing, although the Lord's Prayer and the Glory Be are, strictly speaking, prayers dedicated to an aspect of the Divine that is usually thought of as male (though I hear that at one time, the Holy Spirit was considered to be female), by far most of the prayers involved are addressed to someone who's female, who lived a human life, and although these prayers only ask for intercession rather than any direct miracle working, even when I was young I found it to be very satisfying to be able to address a prayer to someone with whom I might have a chance at identifying. Surrounded by a culture of strict gender essentialism, I felt that God-as-male seemed to be unapproachable, but Mary had been a human woman, and was by far more easy to relate to. Later on, when I first converted to Paganism, that early fondness for Mary became the reason why I was prepared to accept the idea of a feminine aspect to the Divine.
Regardless of the reasons why I like the rosary, it is almost surprisingly good to hold mine in my hand again. I'd missed it. And while I don't plan to actually make use of it anytime soon, it's good to have the option again. :)