True Tales Tuesdays

true tales #2

I don't know what it is, but my heart has been longing to go to the Catholic cathedral up on the hill for the past few weeks.  I don't know where this yearning came from or why it came about, but I just have been feeling my insides desperately desiring to float in that opulent and serene space.  It really feels like my insides are jumping up and down trying to get me to pay attention and follow their will, not my mind's will.  What is this heavy pull I feel? 
I am not Catholic.  And I have a complicated history with the Catholic church, as most people seem to have.  Or at least, a lot of people I have been running into lately.  Strange.

Here is a little story about my journey through the different worlds of a variety of Christian denominations.  It's all over the place.  But maybe if I explain it all, we can figure out why my insides are yelling at me to go to the Catholic Cathedral.

My dad is an Episcopalian priest.  Yes, it is true.  A priest.  And yes, he can be married.  It is only in the Catholic church that priests can 't get married.  A lot of people freak out when I say he is a "priest" and feel a lot more comfortable when I say, "It is the same thing as a pastor."  But I have horrible connotations with the word pastor, so I don't see why that word would console someone more than priest.  When I think pastor I think cheesy, fake, more emotion, less intellect, goofy, performer.  These are not really things that I associate with my dad, other than occassionally goofy :)

I lived in England until I was 8, so in England my dad was a part of the Church of England, or the Anglican church.  Its basically the same as Episcopalian, but right now there is a lot of drama between the Anglican church and Episcopalian church over whether gay men can or cannot be bishops and priests, causing a split.  This post is not so much about that, though I do have my opinions. 

The church in our village was so beautiful.  It was made of stones that were carved hundreds and hundreds of years ago.  1200, even stones from the 3 digit years, 900, 700, 500.  The history was embedded in its walls, in the floors, in the stiff wooden pews (those are the benches.)  There were ghosts in the bell tower.  American people aren't very superstitious, or at least West Coast dwellers aren't quick to believe in spirits or supernatural things.  But I swear they were real and would ring the bells in the tower.  I think maybe if America were older and had more history than just a couple hundred years, then people might be more willing to consider the idea of ghosts or mystery embedded in so many years of history.

When we moved to the U.S. I was so shocked at how many houses and churches were built out of wood.  Moving to the west coast meant that I was moving into an area whose U.S. history only dated back about 150 years to the Gold Rush of the 1850s.  In England, I felt the thousands of years of history.  I saw it.  I felt it.  But in the U.S. I saw and felt nothing.  History really isn't cherished on the west coast.  And when something is acknowledged as historic, it is brand new in comparison to Europe.

This lack of history isn't just obvious in the structures that line the wides streets, but also in the spiritual depth of a lot of pastors I have encountered in the variety of churches I have tried out since high school.  I never had heard of an Evangelical church until the end of junior high, or a Non denominational church, or a bunch of other churches that have sprung up in the more recent hundreds of years, or within the past 100 years.  In England, growing up in a church with a lot of history, and in a country with so much history, I never heard priests bashing on other denominations or complaining about "the old ways of the church needing to be changed for people to actually experience God."  There was no hate towards other churches, other denominations, other people.  There was respect and compassion and it was established and rooted in history.  There was a reverence for God, the greater church, and all people, religious or not.  And people were more deeply moved to reflect on the beautiful history that has played out through generations and generations of people worshiping God in a similar way.

I went to a Catholic School from 3rd grade to 8th grade after having a traumatic transition from English prep school to California public school.  Some teachers did do a bit of bashing on other denominations, such as my own.  And it hurt sometimes because as a little kid, I really did independently feel connected to God through my home church.  But then there were a few incredible and loving teachers as well.  You can't just look at the bad people in a select group, such as the Catholic church, and then presume that all people who associate themselves with that group are bad.  How many groups are in the world that you think you dislike?  And how many are there that you happen to accidentally or intentionally align yourself with?  Though every man is unique and his or her own Island, there are still ways in which we have something in common with another person in a unifying group.  I feel independent, but I can't deny that find commonality with people of certain groups.  I identify with some liberals, some moderates, some Christians, some non-Christians, and on and on.  Within each group I can find similarities and differences with each individual in that group.  I cannot write off a whole when I don't know the pieces.

All of that  leads me to the present.  Because humans are analytical and critical and bratty sometimes, ok maybe just I am heavily those ways, I always thought, you know, I just don't jive enough with the Catholic church's teachings to warrant attending a Catholic church.  But then I decided to do lent, and something weird happened.

I gave up sweets for Lent.  You can't even imagine the torment...ahhhh.  I have an enormous sweet tooth.  And my goal in giving up sweets was to reach out to friends instead of sweets when I got that craving for comfort and sweetness.  I have been trying to reach out to friends, but all the while, I felt something else pulling at my heart.  I suddenly had this urge to get myself to St. James, the Catholic cathedral up on the hill.  And I had only been there once last spring with my dad to see his friend ordained (which means he was becoming a priest and the ordination is the big shebang entrance into the priesthood.) 
I feel like I wrestled with it for all of lent.  I kept checking the website, looking at the different times of mass during the week.  I kept daydreaming about the beautiful shining stained glass windows and the giant columns with painted gold.  I yearned to hear the gigantic choir singing old old hymns with flowing melodies and harmonies swooping in and out.  I've never felt such desperation to get to a place that is so nearby.

It took me until a week ago to go to a Sunday mass there.  I already go to a Presbyterian church in Seattle, though, I am not Presbyterian.  And then this past Sunday I decided to go to both my regular service and to the Catholic service.  I felt blown out of the water at the Catholic service in a powerful inward sense.  My legs got tired of standing, as was always the problem at mass in my Catholic middle school.  But I just really deeply felt the experience, I felt the community, I felt God.

I am really excited that it is Holy week.  It is so strange seeing myself write that because the idea of being totally excited about a religious holiday that doesn't involve presents is...I don't know, maybe it signifies that I am not a child in my faith anymore?  Or maybe I am becoming more childlike, finding beauty in every little thing.

All I know is that through this weird experience, finding myself desperately seeking to be in a place that I once felt so out of place in as a child, I remember and have reverence for the mystery of God.  This is where I am finding my God right now.  This is where He is meeting me.  And it isn't the place where He he expects all people to meet him.  I know that he finds everyone in the place that is meant for them.  For some of my friends, God draws them to different Christian denominations.  For some, He welcomes them to a home in the Jewish faith, Buddhist teachings, Muslim religion, in an agnostic questioning space.  I know that God is everywhere and is seeking as every man and woman seeks.  I know that there is truth constantly being revealed to everyone in different ways, and for me, I believe God is behind it all.

So here I am, being pulled to a place I never thought I would be brought back to.  I feel like I am still Episcopalian, and I'll probably keep going to the Presbyterian church I regularly go to on Sundays.  But I feel like I really need that Catholic cathedral too.  Crazy?  I don't know.  I feel drawn to God in that beautiful echoing stone room up on the hill.  I feel my God there, and so, I'll seek out the mystery that I feel.  I want to experience God's presence.  So I guess I'll be pursing God in lots of places and ways now :)

PS:  I really really appreciated what Jessie said in response to a statement in this post.  Though this post was more about Christianity, I do really think that people need to learn more about the indigenous history of America.  I am part Cherokee and I definitely don't know enough of my own family's history here in America.  That needs to be a new goal for me.  Thank you Jessie for your insight and wise comment!


Jessie said...

This was such a beautiful story, thanks for sharing!

I just wanted to point out something in regard to this sentence from your post:
".I think maybe if America were older and had more history than just a couple hundred years, then people might be more willing to consider the idea of ghosts or mystery embedded in so many years of history.."

I think that it is crucial that we recognize the thousands of years of history that this piece of earth called north America has been founded on: indigenous histories. I encourage you to explore the indigenous histories of the Puget Sound region, especially. I think you will find the history of the Lushootseed/Salish peoples fascinating. American culture needs to firmly build the consciousness that other nations such as Canada and Australia have, about the pre-colonial period of their respective lands. That's all, end of mini rant!

-Jessie (Awmb's friend...We met very briefly in Vancouver.)

Christopher Seal said...

Excellent stuff! As an Anglican you're an English Catholic. Same sacraments, much the same liturgy, same Apostolic succession. I encourage you to attend their services as much as you feel moved to do so, since it is a wonderful religious tradition. Did you know I took 3/5 of my seminary courses at Roman Catholic seminaries (across the street from mine in Berkeley)?

Skooks said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. I think you are very right that the majority of people in the US don't revere the traditions and faith of our fathers the same way that they probably do in "older" countries. I can appreciate what Jessie is saying, but I think that in the Christian sense (which is more what this post is about) the history here in the US is young yet.

I wonder if some people might shy away from commenting on this post because of its theological nature, but I found it quite refreshing. I also have a complicated history with different denominations (both on the Catholic and Protestant side), but have a deep love for God in the midst of it. It sounds to me like God is trying to reach out to you and draw you closer to himself . . . maybe to tell you something specific, maybe just to refresh your mind that he is real and alive and desirous of a deeper relationship with you. I am interested to hear a follow up on this at some point as far as what he is revealing to you.

With that being said, Happy Easter! In a week. :)

Marsinah (mar-see-na) said...

Is that Cathedral St. James? I just went there and felt in awe of its vastness of its structure and of God's presence :)

Marsinah (mar-see-na) said...

Since I've moved to the area, I've been attending the 12 noon service at St. James. Maybe I'll see you there one Sunday?

Amy T Schubert said...

i love love love history ... and even though I live in L.A. I really am trying to *find* and seek out the history here on the West Coast. It's there, and it's relatively recent, but it's still history.