Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Neshama Gone Wild!

(Here's the long awaited post about my church drifting. Probably not complete, but it's a small initial attempt to talk about how I am "doing" faith these days.)

Now, this may surprise some of you who know I am not Jewish to hear me talk about my neshama, but it was a topic of conversation at this past Saturday's Seder. I am very much interested in Judaism, and I think I've mentioned how my friend, let's call her Leah, refers to me as Rabbi Katie. And as Rabbi Katie, I very much enjoyed this year's Seder with my friends. I love the Orthodox Seder, and looking at all the commentary about the Haggadah and sharing it. It makes for a long night, but totally worth it. I think it's wonderful to connect with my friends on this spiritual level too. It ties us together. (We even threw around the idea of naming one of our children Neshama!) Now, as you may have noticed awhile back, my Neshama, (non-)Jewish and otherwise, has been troubled about where we worship.

For some time I have been slipping back and forth between the Catholic Church and the Episcopalian Church. (For brevity's sake, we'll use the following reference: RC and EC, respectively.) I have long understood the problems present in the RC, and as a women who espouses feminist principles, I can't say it wasn't troubling. There was a point in my life when I was sure I could have been a priest, but of course, it's not allowed, and this caused considerable, not exactly anger, but pissiness. I don't know for sure, but I think I could be a good priest! I also believe that all churches are mediated by humans, as much as they look to God for guidance, so the problems I was (am) seeing and experiencing in the RC didn't bother me too much. Perhaps, I thought, here's a calling for me in the Church-- to work for some reform. People who know me know that I have a big mouth, and I am not afraid to use it. And even after figuring that Partner was "the one" I didn't think about leaving the RC. I thought, I could be a visible instrument for change! After all, the rituals about the RC and the tradition (that I understand some people detest) greatly appealed to me. We all find our own way to God, and I am lucky that the faith I was born into (as an Irish girl, begad) has worked for me. Positive experiences all around.

Then, relationship with Partner progresses, and I realize, holy shit, we're probably going to raise a family together, and thus the lynch pin gets thrown in. One of the things I think that faith practice can do for children is give them a sense of the omnipresent love and compassion God has for all people. I felt this as a child, but would my children feel it too in a church that denied the very make-up and reality of their own family? Phew. Probably not. This made me very sad, and determined I would find a place for my children. An Episcopalian friend suggested her denomination, and for a long time, I ignored it as a possibility. Then one day, I finally gave in. Instead of heading off for 10:00 Mass, we headed off for the 10:15 service.

I got us there half an hour early. We sat in the car for a long time, and oh-how I cried. I felt like I was denying myself, my identity, my past, my own relationship with God. It took a lot for me to go into that church. But I did it. And then for about the first two months of attending church at this EC, I cried during the service too. It was so familiar. I knew the prayers. People introduced themselves to us and recognized us as a couple. Not that people at our RC didn't; the man I read with once a month understands my relationship with Partner, but it's certainly not as open there as at our EC.

Finally, I made an appointment with big-wig archdiocese priest. He's tight with the Cardinal. I marched into the Office of the Curia and said, "I'm gay, and I'm Catholic, and what do you suggest I do?" Rather than excommunicate me (which is what my mother thought would happen to me), this kind and busy priest talked to me for an hour. He recognized the church position on homosexuality was little schizophrenic. I told him about going to the EC, and he said that was fine. I should think of myself as having dual citizenship. He told me about a lot of people from my parish who did pretty much the same thing I did. He said, as I have written about before, that he would be saddened if the RC lost me.

This talk was wonderful, and since then, everyone in the RC who knows I go to to both churches has been very supportive. I'm not sure, alas, I can say the same in reverse.

I came "out" on the recent EC retreat that I still attend the RC one or two times a month. I got a few funny looks and at least one "Are you kidding me?" in an aghast tone. I don't like the constant RC bashing that goes on almost everywhere, including our new church. As I said on another blog, the RC ain't perfect, but the EC sure as hell isn't either.

But let me tell you, I love seeing a woman on the altar, giving a sermon, saying the Mass (service), and I love that people at our EC were willing to bless our union, and celebrate it, and that they all seem so supportive and openly loving of our family. I love that the tradition I revere in the RC is also present in the EC. I worried about losing some of the traditional social justice presence that is part of the RC, thinking erroneously that the EC didn't have this side. Before joining the EC, I thought it was mostly WASPs who attended church for a social outlet. Boy, was I wrong. Our particular church is very motivated on social justice issues, and the appeal of this cannot be underestimated.

And then there was Ratzinger...

I lost pretty much all hope of raising our children in the RC with his election. But I still don't feel compelled to make the split. I know I'll keep going to the RC at least once a month when I am scheduled to lector there, and truth be told, probably at least one other time a month too. Partner has admitted that she enjoys the RC Mass a little more the EC service; as similar as they are, we both discern a difference. But the more I get to know the EC, the more I find I like it, and the people who attend our church, and I am convinced our children would have a solid Christian foundation growing up there. So what's my problem? Who knows, but this is why I am self-identifying as a Roman-Anglo-Catholic with a strong sense of her neshama.

I'm not giving up that dual citizenship any time soon.


Anonymous Robin said...

That's a lot to think about. Will be interesting in hearing more as you make your way down this path.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My partner and I are in the same boat: she's a cradle Italian Catholic and I'm a convert 20 years ago from Lutheranism. I was head of our Catholic parish's liturgy committee, and then the new bishop came. . . .

Now we attend mass every other month or so (with our foster son) and the Episcopal church weekly. Love the female priest, but miss the full sacramental imagery of the Catholic Church. Our Catholic priest couldn't be more supportive: he blessed our union 3 years ago and is eager to baptize the foster son. But with the new bishop, we started getting odd looks (after 5 years of parish membership), and soon began being ignored periodically by our neighbors at the passing of the peace.

We miss our Catholic parish, but we are happy with the reception we've gotten in the tiny Episcopal church in town.

6:07 PM  
Blogger LilySea said...

I always just say that my genotype is Baptist, but my phenotype is Episcopalian. Then I add that I'm a Catholic sympathizer who probably should have been Jewish.

In short, take as many citizenships as you like. I know how hard it is for Catholics to really leave, even when they love where they're going. It's very bred into the bone.

11:52 PM  
Blogger Katie (WannaBeMom) said...

Wow you guys-- Robin-- you are right; it's quite a bit to think about it. Luckily, I like to think. Anon-- I can't believe people started to ignore you at the kiss of peace. That's ignorant. And shocking! Seems like we're much in the same boat-- Somedays I wonder how big this boat is. Certain times I feel like it's a small boat, like a canoe, with only me and my partner paddling away, and others, I think perhaps we're on a giant cruise ship, all of us steaming through a foggy morning. Shannon-- I adore your analogy-- compact and perfect!

10:58 AM  
Blogger Christy said...

I've never met someone who feels about the Catholic Church like I do.

Being a lesbian who was seriously considering a religious vocation at the same time I was coming out, I've never been able to fully break from the Catholic Church. There is something about the Church that I identify with as much as I identify with other parts of me (being a woman, gay, etc).

Thanks for articulating it.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Leggy said...

Hi there- found you via Moxie's blog.

Interesting discussion. I'm also a struggling Catholic although have not made it as far as attending EC yet (tried Lutheran but couldn't get into it).

Also Irish and its the cultural aspects of being an Irish Catholic that I can't quite let go of- think I will try to local Jesuit college next because my local parish is really driving me crazy.

2:35 PM  

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