I think more about being Catholic now that I’m Methodist.
I joke that my intolerance of repetition comes from my years of liturgy, never unpacked. When I read the bible, sometimes I hear the organist singing hymns from the Catholic songbook: Jean, the organist, always singing these words I had no idea came from Isaiah or a psalm. It’s still bizarre that I could spend close to twenty years immersed in liturgy and still think Habakkuk was a typo, not a book in the bible.
My bible-marinated friends were so patient the first time I read it cover to cover. “And when the Israelites were in the desert, it’s JUST LIKE ME,” I went on and on, drowned myself in these similes and metaphors. Really, it was kind of embarrassing how enthusiastic I was over this book I’d had in a Rubbermaid container since my first communion in second grade.
I’m so grateful for that experience, and all that’s happened since, and the Methodists who don’t blink at this — but I’m also coming to term with what my baptism in the Catholic faith has given me, too.
Last weekend I was with a group of mostly evangelical writers, who very passionately and honestly used phrases to describe their work that were heavy with “it was laid on my heart,” and “God gave me a burden for.” I tumbled those over and over in my mind: laid on my heart; a burden on my heart; broke my heart for.
Introvert I am, I took these shoes-in-a-dryer thoughts with me into the on-site chapel at the Catholic retreat center where we writers met for this event, and I listened to the sound of my boots on tile. I stared at St. Bernard, St. Alphonsus, and the stations of the cross. Everything about that building felt like a cathedral, not a chapel: its size, its elegance. I was geeked to walk around, all by myself. Scenes in stained glass played out silently above me; I had a hard time locating the stories in my memory for a few of them. Statues of saints were everywhere; I miss saints on this side. Mary was there, too, of course; I miss Mary on this side.
And it’s as I was wondering if I had a cold, dead heart — novocained against feeling “burdens” God might be laying on me — that I realized … I was listening to intense, authentic, beautiful tribal language from a tribe not my own. That’s all.
I’m sure other Catholics have felt burdens for things; their hearts break, too. Framed differently, I might make a case for feeling particularly sensitive toward the sleepers among us, or the wanderers, or the community-poor. I know God’s issued invitations to me and Dave toward certain ways of life, which Protestants might name “callings.” I’ve used that word before, but I do it very self-aware; trying it out, like I might wear a new sweater, tugging at the sleeves and leaving on the tag just in case.
I don’t know: it’s just words. I’m trying to hint at the deeper thing that happens when I physically sat on, knelt at a pew in the same exact chapel my missionary-priest uncle (and friendly confidant of nearly twenty years) was ordained in the 1970s, and realizing — I can leave my tribe for a new camp, but I can’t and wouldn’t undo the baptism they immersed me in.
Rachel Held Evans — a tour guide for evangelicalism for me — has a book coming out April 14 that I’ve had the fun of reading early. Searching for Sunday is her collection of thoughts from an evangelical upbringing to her current, Episcopal setting in Tennessee. She makes it clear, early in the book, that despite our individualistic urges to redo our baptisms as we evolve in our faith, we can’t redo or undo what God’s done. She talks of her evangelical baptism, and here’s mine: I was baptized into the faith of Dorothy Day (though I didn’t know that), Mom, Uncle Roger, and dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Incense makes me lightheaded. I was in the front row of the Putnam County Vidette‘s photograph when the diocese allowed girls to serve Mass, in the same article that declared the equal-opportunity buck stopped at Mass serving. I was confirmed with a thick paste of oil smeared on my forehead, standing next to my aunt Elaine. When Grandma and Grandpa got in a car accident that totaled their vehicle, she knelt in the backseat to pick the glass beads of her rosary from the Oldsmobile cushions one by one, dropping them in a Ziploc bag. She showed them to me later.
These are my people. This is my originating tribe. And it informs what I do, how I read all these books, and how I pray (“Tony, Tony, look around, something’s lost and can’t be found”).
And the so-what of all these words is that we’re all more likely to all have originating stories that don’t align to our current contexts — and yet we can’t help but acknowledge where we’ve come from. It’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise, or to fake it with language.
Held Evans wouldn’t sell this book if there weren’t something universal in this. The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle is the most cohesive study in all this gut-feeling I have. There’s a swirling vortex of believers in the middle here, moving from tradition to tradition or in a church trying something new; doing church differently. In the vortex are the faithful dreamers, the faithful cynics, the faithful disillusioned, the faithful new monastics. And my children, even.
So I want to make sure the things I share with them and give them as their baptisms acknowledge all these stories: the bible ones and ours. That’s so-what: these pasts matter.