Monday, February 23, 2009

Lent, part one

It comes to be that time. The seasons and the calendar rotate inexorably even while we ignore it. I was an Altar boy during grammar school. On early weekday mornings I would walk to the church to serve at Mass. It was in Latin then, and still I find those words more easily than I do the English,"Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem..." I have this image of walking down the little hill in the woods next the house and crossing the wooden footbridge over the brook with the moon reflecting in the ripples just as light was breaking in the chilly sky. A time came when I felt that passing the brook and going into the church was not to go toward, but away from my "Patrem omnipotentem." I heard his voice not in the monotonous drone of the priest saying Mass in the stuffy little church my parents had been married in, but in the cool wind that whispered through the white pine that overlooked the bridge. "Credo...", what did I come to believe?

Not so very differently in the core of my heart, but very differently regarding externals, as the banality of the Vatican II Mass in English competed unsuccessfully with the beauty of nature. The Roman Catholic church seemed to become a conveyor belt of dead ideas that at one time had produced a wondrous material culture but had now betrayed itself. I became "Culturally Catholic." That term designates those who have fallen away from practice, and often much belief, but still recognize the cultural and social traditions that informs so very deeply the sensibilities of those who have been raised in observant families. I could not feel that my homosexual orientation was wrong, it never separated me from the divine as I understand it, but it did separate me from the church. I could not participate as myself and would not participate as a hypocrite.

Finally, I became an apostate. The Roman Catholic Church would not baptize my younger brother's son. My mother had had cancer for many years and was very near the end, and was very concerned that the boy be baptized. My brother was willing enough to please her but his wife had been married once before, and the church would only baptize the child as a bastard, which she would not agree to.

I was discussing this with a friend who was a member of the vestry at Grace church in Providence, and she became very indignant. She was a very close friend of my partner and myself. This is a way of saying that when she invited me to join her church it was in full knowledge of the issue that had kept me out of the RC church. So I became an Episcopalian because Mom accepted the validity of their baptism, and Fran could be comfortable with the conditions. I, and my partner, brought the child to the font, and I have remained an Episcopalian ever since.

Which is more a result of my not having become anything else than the result of any great surge of attendance or commitmentt.

It was very shortly after this that I moved to Boston. That was 27 years ago. I did not become a member of any parish until just recently, and my attendance at church was, to say the least, sporadic. I must confess that it was very hard to conceive that what I held to be right, what I knew and honored in myself, could sit in church without being castigated, were it exposed. But what purpose would there be in attending as half of myself. I spoke earlier about my sexual orientation, but as I matured and became a thoughtful person the issue was much larger than that. It seemed to me that participating fully would require my pretending to believe a lot of things that I was not sure about, or heartily disbelieved. I did discover at The church of the Advent, and at All Saints Ashmont amazingly beautiful services, even some of the latin I knew as a child, but the weight of expected belief always stood in the way of my being comfortable. Unfortunately I denied myself comfort for too long, only recently finding Emmanuel, but then "to everything there is a season," I shouldn't regret that I came to it when I did.

What is interesting, though, is that through all these many years the calendar continued to turn, Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter. Even among the non observant it is inescapable. Even the atheist wants his Sunday off! And in my heart there was always a response to the turning of the seasons of the liturgical year, and last year, though I've told no one (except my therapist, of course,) I gave something up for lent.

Tomorrow I'll tell you what it was!

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