Archive | October, 2008

Two for Three

17 Oct

This year, my son is enrolled in what used to be called “CCD.” This stands for “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.” Sounds like an uptight brotherhood, a club of sorts,where people wear sweaters with Greek letters–but it’s not. It’s a program run by every parish for Catholic kids who are not in Catholic school, so they can get their dose of religion classes one night each week. In the modern Church, it’s called “faith formation.” The process is low-key until preparations for a sacrament are due. This happens in second grade–my son’s case–to get ready for first communion. My son calls the class “religulous ed.” He knows nothing about Bill Maher’s current movie.

Religious ed is not a bad process, but I don’t think that Jesus would appreciate the less than charitable behavior prompted by my family’s getting to religious ed. Our mad dash out the door is a process akin to making sausage. We’re all stuffed in the car by the time it’s done, but it’s ugly to watch. Better Boy routinely tries to skip out on brushing his teeth and gets in trouble when he fails the old-fashioned minty-fresh breath-test. When Better Girl forgets to bring her brush, Better Dad roars in frustration as he drives back up the driveway so the brush can be retrieved to avert Better Girl’s inevitable meltdown at the prospect of appearing in public with unbrushed wet hair. Better Boy gets frustrated when Better Mom notices a big toothpaste stain on the sleeve of his shirt and says, “Told you I shouldn’t brush my teeth. It’s your fault, Mama.” Sweet Jesus.

For families made of more traditional stuff, religious ed is a wonderfully bonding experience, chock-full of goodwill and positive parent-child role-modeling. For our family, it is comparable to a hazing process–something that you have to get through in order to move to the next level. I am obsessed about getting there on time because the coordinator might know that we truly are slacker Catholoics. God forbid that anyone but God should see our family faults.

A religious ed side-effect for me has been more thinking about faith in general, and about my particular form of faith. I have for some time been quite open about my own form of Catholicism, which involves frequent invocation of “conscience.” Admittedly, I am an a la carte Catholic, employing the doctrine of “take what you like and leave the rest.” I have read the Church’s encyclicals on birth control and abortion, and I do not entirely agree. I know that I am supposed to go to confession (“reconciliation” in Vatican II lingo) every month or so, but I would much prefer a batch process like Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement” for Jews. Seems so much more efficient.

At the same time as practicing a Catholicism lite, I do engage in aspects of the faith that are considered more devout. Every year I make a trip to an abbey in a nearby state where Thomas Merton lived, with a community of monks who live with God alone, in silence. I stay there for several days and go to several prayer services a day that involve chanting the liturgy. I am also a big believer in the social justice part of the Church’s role and donate time and money to issues around housing and homelessness.

Probably the biggest revelation for me from my kids’ religious ed process has been a deeper understanding of my own faith. This is not the same thing as a wholesale buy-in of everything my chosen RELIGION espouses. I have a brain and can make my own decisions. My faith understanding is that Christ, and all recognized spiritual leaders, want us to question. Asking questions brings about more understanding. Teaching kids about faith does that, too. My daughter is 12 now, and she does need to learn about the benefits of confession. It’s not an easy thing to explain, and I am not sure I’m the best person to break it down.

The Trinity is also a puzzle to me. I have decided that I’m good with two-thirds of it: the Holy Spirit and Son parts. People use all sorts of words to describe the Holy Spirit that are pretty esoteric. To me, the Holy Spirit is the feeling you get when you’re in a group of people and everyone’s all on the same page, in a positive way. I have felt it at church during prayer or songs, during active conversations among friends, and at sporting events. To me, the Holy Spirit is the energy and sensation that are palpable when good things are happening to connect so many individuals together.

The Son signifies seeing God in the people around me, as individuals. This is pretty evident to me, like when I see my kids being good to each other, or clients who are generous or particularly grateful. The reverse is also true, and again I have no further to look than my kids–or clients. But I see the dark side less often than the light.

I am by nature mistrustful of father figures, so the Father part of the Trinity is something I’m not ready for just yet. Maybe someday. For right now, I am two for three and staying put.

…to know better

13 Oct

Since I turned 40 last year, presumably I am old enough to know better about certain things. I have come to a point in my life where people typically look backward and forward, thinking, “Holy crap, is this it?” and, “Please God, let me use my time wisely from here on out.” In that spirit, I am starting this blog. From my position in midlife, I am certainly experienced enough to share some of my thoughts, in a way that can hopefully make a difference for my own process and perhaps others’.

Looking backward, I have a sense of clarity about the mistakes that I’ve made along the way, which is a success of sorts. Here’s a classic: On my first day in 10th grade, I rode a new bus to school. At the end of the day, I did not remember the number of the bus and got on the wrong one. I rode the bus all the way to the last stop on the route and got off, as if I lived at that bus-stop. Well, I did not live there, or anywhere close to there, but I got off anyway. And I walked all the way home, on an 80-degree day in late August, wearing a brand-new Express wool sweater that had to be trotted out on the first day of school. I still have that sweater. And I remember how hot I was walking those five miles home. I was too embarrassed to say anything to the bus driver, who would have dropped me at my house without complaint, since my house was on the way back to the high school.

When I was younger, I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of people. To an extent, I have not changed. But that flaw has been tempered a bit, thank goodness. I would not walk those five miles again today. Part of the change involves a more keen awareness of time on this planet, and not wanting to waste time in trying to look like I didn’t make a mistake about something.

Seeing my children grow up, time is flying by so quickly that I can hear it whizzing past. Sometimes I look back on my day and think of how much time I spent on the computer, not doing anything tangibly interactive or creative. As I pivot from my backward view of the past 40 years to a forward view of the next 40, I am making a more concerted effort to spend time with the people I love, doing the things that I love, in settings that make me happy.

Proust began writing A la Recherche du Temps Perdu when he was 38. The timing was no mistake, a significant turning point for many people. The seven volumes of this work discuss themes of memory, flashback and creation of “art” that makes a difference. I am making an effort to read it through in French, as a fitting sendoff for my next 40 years–during which I hope to use my time more wisely, even if it means not saving face.