I went to bed last Saturday night with every intention of making it to church the next morning.
As many of you know, I’ve been looking for a spiritual community for most of my life. Brought up Catholic, but now functionally Buddhist, I always longed to feel comfortable in the place so many friends and loved ones have gone to in times of need or everyday spiritual sustenance.
Recently, I made a couple of major life changes that made the search for a church all the more pressing. I won’t go into them here (except to note them) because a) that’s not what this blog is about and 2) that’s the kind of thing I prefer to etch into a diary instead.
Now the church I was trying out is in downtown Boston and I live in the suburbs, about 20 minutes away by train. That means I had to get up extra early to make it to the 9:30am service. As I’m a morning person, this usually doesn’t present much difficulty other than the usual obsessing over the right bow tie and/or cologne.
But this morning was different. I woke up late, and managed to just miss the train. That’s when things got interesting.
My usual response when things like this happen is exasperation, frustration, and anger with myself. In fact, it should have been doubled as it was a snowy morning, and the train is usually late, so I figured it would be even more late. Yet lo and behold, the train was on time — on a snowy morning, no less.
I should have been pretty upset, but I wasn’t. Instead, I was filled with a cool calm, and just found myself saying to myself, “no biggie, I’ll just double back home and catch the next train. Instead of the 9:30 Mass, I’ll catch the 11:30. It’s bound to be better anyway, as the priest will have a chance to revise his homily.”
Then, as I traveled home, I realized something else. I realized that the church I was heading to — the one I’d been to visit twice, on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, recommended to me by a friend on Twitter — also felt, in a very weird and tentative way, like a home. I didn’t want to make too much of this at the time, but I made note of it.
A home. To appreciate the strangeness of that association you have to understand that Churches have mostly been a courthouse for me: places where judgment takes place.
As soon as I walk into a church, I can hear myself being judged in ways only Catholics can judge one another.
I’ll give you a small sample. I hear these things in my mind now, but many of them were actually said to me. Sometimes they were said far more kindly than I say them to myself. Sometimes a lot less.
“Why are you here? This is a church. We belong here. You don’t.”
“You see, we have some problems with people like you. And yes, when we say ‘we’ we mean the whole Catholic Church.”
“For one thing, you’re liberal. Liberals don’t go to church; liberals don’t even believe in God.”
“Another thing is you don’t vote Republican like we do, and sometimes as the priest tells us to. You think being gay is fine. You think priests should marry and that women should be priests. But worst of all, you don’t oppose abortion. That alone disqualifies you from being a Catholic.”
“Why? Because here we believe what we’re told to believe, not what we think or reason for ourselves. All of us believe the exact same thing in the exact same way, which is what gives our faith strength and power.”
“Your problem is you can’t listen to authority. We can, and yes, we think blind obedience to the right people on the right matters is a good thing. We know how to do that. You don’t.”
“We never, ever question our faith. We accept it. You’re so busy asking questions you don’t even have time to pray, which we do all the time. You should try it sometime, but not here. Go home and pray. This place is for Catholics only, and you are most definitely NOT a Catholic.”
“What are you even doing here in the first place? You don’t believe in God or Jesus. Your parents do, but not you. You’re too liberal and so-called ‘educated.’ We hear you also meditate, do yoga, and read Nietzsche. We know you’re not Catholic, and you may not even be Christian.”
“You don’t belong here. This is our church, not yours. Go away.”
I can’t remember a time in my life when I thought of a church as a home of any kind. As a kid I got dragged to church; the only times I went voluntarily after that were during times of intense personal crisis.
I said to myself in the car that while God may never have given me what I wanted (such as a clear sign on what to do about something very important), God did give me what I needed. That is to say, if it is true that what God calls us most to do is to be who we really are, then it’s clear God, the Tao, or the Universe has been nudging me more or less forcefully in that direction my whole life.
If I’d been paying closer attention, I’d have been creeped out by the fact that I was talking about God as a person rather than an experience and not having a major conniption about it.
About an hour later, I was on my the way to the train again. This time I gave myself extra time.
On that trip, I realized two more things. One is that I was going to church to find myself in some way. I know that sounds odd. Yet in some strange way, some part of me was already inside that building. It was simply calling out to me and I was simply answering.
Needless to say, if it had been calling me by name I’d be getting an MRI rather than the urge to write about it.
That led me to the second thing. For the first time, something was calling me to church, rather than pushing me to go from the outside or inside. Put another way, I was going to church because I wanted to, not because I had to or needed to.
There’s no way to know if this is just a passing thing or something more significant along a larger journey. But it felt important enough to share, so there you go.