Monday, December 2, 2013

Meditations on Why I am Still Catholic or the Need for Spiritual Inspiration

For those who don't know me well, I am still Catholic.  Some survivors of clergy abuse consider that tantamount to being married to the devil while a small number remain Catholic themselves.  I am not Catholic because I find inspiration in the leadership of the Church because I don't.  I am Catholic because I find inspiration in Mass.

I did not start out Catholic.  I started out the daughter of an atheist (my father) and a deist (my mother).  We were a scientifically inclined family and in the early sixties we watched National Geographic specials on television for fun.  My favorite shows were about Louis Leakey and Jane Goodall.  I wanted to be a Physical Anthropologist and paleontologist and find the "missing link" when I grew up.

Fundamentalist Christians who opposed the theory of evolution kept me away from Church and Christianity for a very long time.  As I grew up and studied Zoology in college I went on field trips in a plant ecology class.  We went to a fossil bed at 8,000 feet -- above timberline.  The fossils included oak leaves and other broad leafed plants found at around 2,000 feet in elevation today.  This was not evidence of Noah's Flood.  It was evidence that the Sierra Nevada mountains had experienced millions of years of uplift through earthquakes which California is known for.

An aside about Noah's Flood:  I now live by the Columbia River Gorge, which was carved by a series of massive floods that took place at the end of the last Ice Age.  And we were not alone.  I am reading about more massive floods that took place at the tend of the last Ice Age, such as the one that filled in the Black Sea.  My best guess is the story of Noah is a composite story based on the memories of survivors.  When people from different places who had memories of recent massive floods met, they shared their stories, and it must have seemed that the whole world flooded.  The story of Noah is probably more how these people tried to give spiritual meaning to an overwhelming and devastating experience.  The story of Noah is spiritually true rather than literally true.  Trust in your heart what God tells you to do.  God does not take away your struggles.  God helps you survive them.

So I did not place much stock in religion.  For me religion was a group of people who denied scientific evidence to place their faith in a God whose existence could not be proven.  I did not disbelieve in God.  I did not believe in a God either.  I just wasn't interested in religion very much.  But I was interested in religion a little.  Something stirred in me when I read about the Gnostics, the idea that Jesus had said something profound and his followers screwed it up appealed to me.  I could appreciate Jesus as a great teacher.  I read enough of the gospels and the books that followed the gospels to know that I liked what Jesus said.  Then when I read more about the Gnositc gospels, I found myself more skeptical of them.  They contained what felt like spiritual truth, but they also contained some odd ideas that seemed off base to me, but that is another story for another time.

Now fast forward to ……

My ancestors were Quakers who came to the United States.  They were the ultimate Puritans who purified everything out of Christianity.  But I really respected and still respected them.  If you go to Quaker meeting you will see in the parking lot twenty year old cars that need a paint job.  Walk inside and talk to the attendees and you will meet a university professor, a children's book author, a visitor who works with US AID in Pakistan, a woman who is an engineer, and others who are similar.  They can afford better cars.  They simply don't buy them because they are not necessary.  In other words, Quakers are short on dogma and long on living their faith which is very simple: Live simply -- don't be attached to material object, nonviolence in word, thought and action, and recognizing that which is of God in everyone or that all are equal in the eyes of God.

I started attending Quaker meeting on and off in the early nineties and became more serious after my children were born.  But I could not attend the extra classes and offerings that would have helped me grow and develop spiritually.  I had two young children and minimal help with child care.

I had an epiphany that sent me to the Catholic Church.  I could go to Mass on Thursdays and Saturdays  and Sundays and because I went to a tolerant Franciscan Church, I could bring my noisy toddlers with me.  All that standing up and sitting down, bible readings, music, and homilies helped me keep bringing my mind back to spiritual matters while I was trying to keep my kids entertained with drawing pads and games.  I even connected with another mother in the same predicament, and we attended Mass together on Thursday during my early years as a Catholic.

I still love the Quaker religion (Religious Society of Friends).  In some ways I remain more Quaker than Catholic, but silent Quaker meeting didm't offer the opportunities that the Catholic Church offered me for connecting and learning about God and prayer and more.  Ironically, after learning to pray in the Catholic Church, it is easier for me to sit in silent prayer the few times I attended Quaker meeting after becoming Catholic.

Fast forward to this last Sunday.

I went into Church last Sunday morning and before Mass I kneeled on the little fold out kneeling stool provided.  I have probably heard the name for it but don't recall it.  Well anyway, I knelt on the stool, my son kneeling to the left, and began to pray.  At first my thoughts were of my life now, all the hectic things going on in my life.  I reminded myself I was there to connect to Jesus and focus on Jesus.  Tears came to my eyes although they were closed.  Some sort of feeling about the birth and crucifixion of Jesus -- an ecstatic joy followed by the grief of losing someone very special.  And then in my minds eye Jesus was standing there superimposed on the people of the church, not physically, just a translucent Jesus with his hands stretched out, palms forward in welcome to the people of the Church.  I wasn't thinking anything.  I was just there, eyes closed, feeling.  Then people began singing.  To my left my son began singing in a lovely falsetto voice I had never heard from him before.  I opened my eyes and discovered my son had moved to my right to be replaced by a middled aged woman who was singing.  All this movement had taken place around me, and I had not noticed.

That is why I am still Catholic.  I find myself moved in Mass.  I struggled to meditate and pray in Quaker meeting before I became Catholic.  Although I have huge affection for the Quaker religion as Quakers are better at living their faith than many Catholics, I simply find the music and the readings and the homily of a good homilist helpful to connecting to God.  This intellectual exercise for me about evidence but an ecstatic experience  of something I cannot describe easily with words.

My second spiritual experience of this last Sunday took place in the evening.  I went for a drive to see the Christmas lights with my son who has Asperger's Syndrome.  He sometimes gets caught up in negative thoughts.  When he was young and we were part of a homeschool group with other families with children with Asperger's, he tried to found a "I Hate Maya and Miguel" club to hate the PBS children's television show.  He had no takers who wanted to join his club.  I suggest that a fan club was easier to found.  He is still struggles with a talking too much about things he does not like although he is not a negative person.  I found the chatter about things he did not like annoying.  I am aware of all the studies that that gratitude is healing, so rather than engage in a negative lecture about how his negativity was hurting him, I simply asked him name three things he was grateful for.

I was hoping I'd make those top three, but I didn't.

Instead he was grateful for the Columbia River Gorge, his high school, and for one other thing I don't remember.  And then I started mentioning all the things I was grateful for, but I did not stop at number three,  I kept going.  Pretty soon our conversation was turned completely positive.  My son was grateful for some of the things I was grateful for and we began to converse about our common gratitude.  We talked of friends and family members who had done good things for us and for others.  We talked about the beauty of the place we live and the fun things we like to do together.

Then I realized that we were engaged and talking and the conversation was completely positive.

I suppose this is the end of my story.  Nothing much.  Just two spiritual experiences that took place on December 1, 2013.

Copyright 2013 Virginia Pickles Jones

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