Saturday, December 13, 2008

Light

Image from http://flickr.com/photos/fablab/1191221165/
Eleven years ago today, I was received into the Roman Catholic Church at St. Mary of the Angels in Bayswater, London. December 13 is the Feast of St. Lucy, patron saint of the blind. Supposedly, this is due to the stories surrounding her martyrdom that tell of her having her eyes gouged out. Yikes. She's also, evidently, the patron saint of salesmen. I have no clue why that is. Maybe she tried to sell something to her torturers before they killed her. Maybe that's really why they killed her. Or maybe there's a close connection between the experience of trying to sell things for a living and having your eyes gouged out. I'd wager on the latter.

Since Lucy's latin name, Lucia, contains the root "lux" (the Latin word for light), she is also frequently associated with light. Given how short the days are at this time of year, this is a time when that association is particularly salient. The association of Lucy with light had particular significance to me when I found out I was being received into the R.C. Church on her feast day, which I hadn't known when I initially picked the date. I felt my choice of day was fortuitous, that I was emerging into the light of Mother Church... or something like that. As it so happens, when Father Mark anointed me with chrism, I looked up and saw light in the shape of a dove coming through the window behind him and a little to his right. I'm not making this up. So that, too, was a kind of sign of blessing.

Of course, a lot has changed in the ensuing 11 years. I was received into the Episcopal church at Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, VA, in November of 2001, so technically I left the Roman Catholic Church a little less than 4 years after I officially joined. Joining the Episcopal Church was the product of a lot of things, but I should be honest and say it wasn't totally pre-meditated. The Bishop was there that particular Sunday, and I'd been going to COA for about 3 months at that point. All I had to do was go forward and have him put his hand on my head and say a little prayer. I got a certificate in the mail a couple of weeks later. I was in. It was pretty damn easy, and it was a kind of ritual way of putting behind huge amounts of pain and confusion associated with my relationship with and broken engagement to Phil, the Catholic guy whom I'd more or less followed into the Church.

Becoming "un-Catholic" wasn't that easy, though, and while I have a lot to give thanks for in my time at COA and then my almost two years at Truro Church, I wasn't quite Episcopalian, either. I'd considered the Episcopal Church to be a logical jumping-off point from the R.C. Church, basically a little life raft I hopped into to escape the sinking ship of my conception of Catholicism. Life rafts aren't meant to take you very far, though, and as it turned out I felt much more at home at Northern Virginia Mennonite after Truro came out swinging in response to Gene Robinson being ordained Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. I loved and still do love what I know of Mennonite theology. I don't agree with all of it, but it'd be safe to say I'm closer to being a Mennonite than I am to anything else I've been.

However, attending a Mennonite church for two years still didn't totally erase my Catholic identity, either. Even while I attended NVMC, I started going to Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at St. Agnes in Arlington on my way home from work and on weekends. I wanted to pray there... could pray there better than pretty much anywhere else. When I started dating a Catholic guy, I started going to Mass with him, illicitly taking Communion. :^) I particularly enjoyed Mass at St. Charles Borromeo in Arlington, which was festive and energetic and felt, again, like home. When I stopped dating the Catholic fellow, it was only a couple of months until I found Convergence, a Baptist church for artists. I was hooked from the first service, because it felt like --what else?-- home.

So I felt at home in the Mennonite church AND I felt at home at St. Charles Borromeo AND I felt at home in the Blessed Sacrament chapel at St. Agnes AND I felt at home at the Baptist church for artists... and the way I explained that to myself is that I was following the Holy Spirit around. If He was there, it felt like home. If He wasn't, or if He was struggling to get airtime due to the life-choking rule books or obsessive busy-ness of church members, it wouldn't feel like home. I knew that was arrogant --as though I alone could perceive the Holy Spirit--but I didn't know how else to explain it. These churches weren't like the church I grew up in, so it wasn't that which made them comfortable and familiar to me... what else could it be?

I think reading about and becoming more involved with the emergent church is bringing this issue more into focus for me... and I think that maybe it isn't too far off to believe that I was coming into a light of sorts when I was received into the Roman Catholic church. The experience of praying Night Prayer with Karen Sloan in Memphis last week seems to have pushed into full bloom something that had been in pregnant bud for a while... a re-examination of my conversion to Catholicism.... notsomuch for the purpose of running back into the arms of Mother Church as much as for mining the experience of departing from the theology I'd been raised with in favor of embracing the mysterious Other... walking into a religious identity I could not, did not, fully understand for the sake of freedom to worship Christ, and to worship God as Mystery, not as the object of a Theology of Deadly Precision. I'm living in a sense of the past being yanked into the present, the sudden salience of things that happened 10 and 11 years ago, and I'm choosing to believe that this is for the purpose of understanding why all this has happened, and not that I'm rehashing the distant past because I'm bored with the present. We shall see.

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