Why I Am What I Am

Some of you have read my spiritual autobiography over at AFeatherAdrift. For those unaware, it’s under my autobiography and is the last 10 or so posts.

I yearned to be a Roman Catholic since youth, and but did not fulfill my desire until I was 43. Once Catholic, I expected never to waiver from my decision.

I did, as some of you know. I visited a number of other denominations, specifically UU and Unity. I thought I had found a home in the Episcopal Church, and for some time, felt emotionally happy there.

But, in reality, I never left my Catholic “roots”, if such could be said of a late convert to Mother Church. I merely tried to sing louder, pray longer, and otherwise quiet the tiny voice that never relented from calling me home.

So, for good or bad, I am home again. It has so far, seemed right. I am comfortable, yet of course, uncomfortable. Only a Catholic perhaps can understand that. It’s a bit like a family. You may objectively find your relatives obnoxious and overbearing, petty and self-absorbed, gigantically stubborn and denialistic in more ways than one. But, in the end, they are family.

It is always a surprise to me, (even though I did so myself, and know so many who did as well) when I find people who have left the Church in search of a more compatible spiritual experience. But that may only because I learned that divorce was not possible. At least for me.

I have concluded, at least for me again, that tension and abrasion are fine foils and necessary ones. It keeps my spiritual journey alive and fresh. It whets my desire to understand and to know. For better or worse I am tied to this Church, this Mother of all Mothers. It condemns me on paper, but it offers solace at the same time. I am sinner, sinned upon, and forgiving and forgiven. I am resurrected as I cry out in anguish at times: YOU PHARISEES!

I can not be complacent, and I’ve come to believe that we, as believers, never can be complacent, in anything. We can never stop trying to make the Church more of what she should be, any more than we can be complacent in a world that is less than it should be. Any more than I can allow myself to be less than I can be. It is a constant struggle. It is, I believe, why we strive, and why we grow in every way.

I was thinking of what the world might be like sans faith in God. And I’m not sure if we would have left the caves. I’m not sure that we would not have been content to make do with our short span on this bit of turf. Faith gives us something to strive for it seems. I’m not sure if we can do without it, or could.

God could, of course, have made all this clear to us. But what would that have looked like? Generations of sycophants, perfect creations, acting perfectly, feeling perfectly, believing perfectly. What indeed would be the point? No, I see worlds throughout the universe, life reaching upward, sentience reached, here and there, the thought occurring finally: Who, why, how? And then the conscious journey to know. Are you not in awe?

Yet, Mother Church is perhaps a poor example of that journey. I cannot know. I can only know that she is ingrained in me as if my DNA were inscribed with her blessing.

I shall, I suspect, always be in this dance of push-pull with her. I shall desire her, and despise her, perhaps at the same time. I read this a few weeks ago, and kept it. It describes in some ways, my own feelings. It is not perfect, but nothing is. It gives a sense of what my words are too poor to convey.

How much I must criticize you, my church and yet how much I love you!

You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe you more that I owe anyone.

I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence.

You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.

Never in the world have I seen anything more obscurantist, more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful.

Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face – and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your arms!

No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you.

Then too – where should I go?
To build another church?

But I cannot build another church without the same defects, for they are my own defects.

And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church.
No, I am old enough. I know better!

It is by Carlo Carretto, and I read it via Enlightened Catholicism. It is perhaps a bit too dramatic, a bit too intense, but it in some ways speaks as I would.

My Yoke is Easy, My Burden Light

People have become aware generally of my decision to return to Catholicism. I can say all have been supportive, or at least quiet. That is not to say all understand, and, well I understand that. I’m not sure I understand it well myself.

When I mentioned to my husband, known at A Feather Adrift, as the Contrarian, he started to speak, and then said, “never mind.” I encouraged him to continue, and when he wouldn’t I surmised his response:

“You were going to say, why not keep quiet, for in six months you may change you mind, . . .again. Is that about right?”

“Yeah,” he mumbled.

Another friend wished me well most sincerely but suggested she too didn’t understand.

What follows is my best attempt to explain, and well, as I said, understand myself.

I’ve been reading a lot of Tillich lately. He has a couple of books that are really collections of his sermons given in the late 40’s. Surprisingly, they speak as effectively today as then.

I read something in one that caught me. I cannot find it after spending some minutes searching, and think that it was more of an impression, one I created from a number of thoughts of his. Credit where credit is due, but I don’t want to blame  him either.

He was speaking I recall about religion and how it gets in the way of the message, and that that is what Jesus means about his yoke being easy and his burden light. He meant it in regards to a comparison of the onerous burden of the Law. No one could be obedient to the Law fully. It was an impossibility, but Jesus saw that it, as practiced in Second Temple Judea, was particularly so for the poor.

All the purity laws, all the rules, all were impossible for the average peasant to comply with. He was always “unclean” and rejected, although his Temple tax was always accepted.

From that, one might conclude that onerous religious ritual and dogma might be held in similar disdain, obscuring the “Way” as Jesus taught.

Leave it to me, to see something quite different. Again, I think it had something to do with something else Tillich said, about faith. In essence, when it became easy, then we were in trouble. We become complacent, sure we are right, no longer studying, no longer meditating, no longer moving on the path. We think in our arrogance that we have reached the end of the road. We are there.

I conflate the two, and find that when religion is easy for me, I become complacent. I start to become arrogant and sure of what is truth. And that is simply wrong. Augustine is a dear favorite of mine, mostly because he prayed to have his “concupiscence taken from him, but not quite yet.” I liked that bit of honesty, that humanness.

Anyway, Augustine is quoted generally as saying something along the lines of “whatever we think we have learned about God only adds to what we don’t know,” or words to that effect. I believe it. The more I learn, the more I suspect I’m wrong in other words, yet I also suspect I might be more right than some others. Meaning I guess that I increase in knowledge in minuscule amounts, ninety percent of “new learning” is probably wrong.

To be in a church that agrees with me, or gives me total license (more or less) to construct my own theology, allows me to do that and dust off my hands at my  creation, my God. My idol, the thing I worship as work of my own hands.

The Roman Catholic Church on the other hand, keeps me in severe tension. We are in some holy disagreements on a host of things. But, in humility, I know that I must learn as best I can the full force and reasoning of the Church, and then I must carefully examine all other evidence. Only then do I have a right to disagree. If my heart leads me against Mother Church on any issue, I remain in that tension, always seeking.

And in seeking, comes that minute new kernel of knowing I believe. And so the tension, for me, is essential. I am, without it, too prone to rest on my laurels.

In saying this, I want to make it most clear that others, who are happily ensconced with the Episcopal Church, or any other for that matter, are not wrong. That would be arrogant indeed. I mean quite something else.

I believe that we are utterly unique in our personal connection with God. We are meant to be, as I see it. God has created a perfectly perfect, yet supremely special one-of-a-kind way of union for each of us. And thus, it means that each path is unique.

Each of us is a different pattern of genes, personality, and life experiences. We, each of us, then, as I see it, must negotiate the world in a way different from each other.

My inability to stay honorably focused on truth without the crutch of “tension” need not, and no doubt is not everyone else’s. It is mine. I say no more.

If as Augustine suggests, I’m more wrong than right, well, I can but hope that some kernel of  new truth has emerged for me. And that kernel has led me to this place and time, and this decision.

Or as my husband suggests, six months from now? But for now, I feel content and at peace. That seems good enough now.

Sophia Wisdom


Sophia Wisdom


I have been giving much thought in the last few weeks to the question: Who can know the mind of God?

It is an important one to be sure for everyone at all times, but more so for me at this time of transition in my life.

How can I know God’s intentions, his plans, more, his desires for me? If I wish to follow, then this is critically important.

My life, to this point would suggest that I have discerned the Spirit poorly, flitting from Catholicism, the religious community, away, and then to the Episcopal Church and now turning back homeward.

But I wonder, does it really?

Today’s first reading poses the question more starkly perhaps than anywhere in the Hebrew Testament.

What human being indeed can know the intentions of God?
And who can comprehend the will of the Lord?
For the reasoning of mortals is inadequate,
our attitudes of mind unstable;
for a perishable body presses down the soul,
and this tent of clay weighs down the mind with its many cares.
It is hard enough to know what lies within our reach;
who, then, can discover what is in the heavens?
And who could ever have known your will, had you not given Wisdom
and sent your holy Spirit from above?
Thus have the paths of those on earth been straightened
and people have been taught what pleases you,
and have been saved, by Wisdom. (Wis. 9: 13-18)

These words of Solomon echo in my heart as well. How, how Lord can I understand what I am to do?

I am cautioned not to rely on reason. Paul and many prophets have said as much. We are to be fools for Christ, meaning that the way of the cross is in direct contradiction to right reason. Through utter humiliation, salvation and the right path lies. We are to turn the other cheek, repay evil with good, all unreasonable, yet true.

Does this mean that our minds are worthless?

I think not. I think those who wish to contain God in a book would like to think so. The fundamentalist makes fun of learning and education, pointing to all the passages that warn of intellectual knowing. They are desperate to understand God by simple reading of the text.

Yet, I think they are wrong. God would not give us fine minds if they were not meant to be used. We are to use all our powers of discernment in finding our way in the world. We are to work with our minds to create a world in which all are free, fed, clothed, housed, attended to, as needed.

But when we seek to understand who we are and who God is, we must suspend our rational mind, because God is simply bigger than we can grasp. He is the contradiction and the paradox. We approach him with metaphor as the writers of various Biblical books did.

And where does that leave me?

I can conclude, and sometimes I do, that I am poorly translating the Spirit’s lead. I am misunderstanding somehow. But perhaps I am merely going through my learning, correcting my errors.

I am not suggesting that the Spirit directly sets us up for pain and suffering as a means to teach us lessons. No, I do not believe in a meddling God such as that.

What I do believe is that when we get some notions that are wrong, if they will become teaching moments, the Spirit remains quiet, and lets us lead ourselves into the abyss. Always ready and willing to lead us out again, to be sure, but we learn by our own willful choice.

And what have I learned? Perhaps humility. I came to Catholicism with a serious believe that it was the best and the first Church. I never let go of that. Even in ecumenical settings where I professed a belief that God reaches to people in all manner of ways, I still clung arrogantly but quietly to the smug belief that I was the better Christian by faith.

Worshiping as a Protestant and seeing things from the other side, has done much to help me to break from that ugly belief. For indeed, I do not claim any Christian faith, and certainly no non-Christian faith better than another. Only better for me, me alone, with my peculiarities and personal quirks.

I am drawn back to Catholicism because, somehow it resonates more deeply in me than any other. Not because it is the best or first. For indeed I don’t believe I could prove that if I wished to.

For those who can’t figure out why I am leaving a perfectly wonderful tradition in the Anglican Church, I can only say, that it has nothing to do with them. It has everything to do with where I am called.

Unless of course, this is but another false path in my wandering journey. Then I will, with God’s grace, learn the lesson held out for me. Until then, I do my best, more humble now for sure, knowing that I don’t know, I only believe.

Somehow God assures, that is enough.

If I’m Being Led by the Spirit, One of Us Has Been Drinking

Vemeer's "The Glass of Wine"

Given my rather erratic journey of faith, one would have to conclude that the Spirit can’t really be held responsible.

As any good convert, I was more Catholic than the Pope. It was important to believe everything as told, and to do everything right.

I actually did scour the books for the “correct” version of a prayer, which version of the Bible was “Catholic” and so forth, no Protestant stuff for me.

This went on for some time. I was leery of biblical scholars and theologians who were not Roman. I couldn’t trust them you see. They might not be giving me the “official” version.

As such, I was not concerned with the issues of celibacy and women’s ordination. I assumed my Church had good reason for this. I was for and against them respectively.

Of course, today, I laugh at such things. In fact, I started moving distinctly away from “doctrine” and official dogma once I started taking a Master’s program in Pastoral Ministry at a Catholic liberal arts college in Detroit. Happily I was introduced to all the fine theologies that were and are making the rounds–liberation, black, women’s, feminist, Latina, LGBTQ–the list gets longer by the day.

Some of it cut across the niceties of what I considered acceptable. I definitely disliked James Cone‘s Black Liberation Theology for instance. I too thought some of the feminist stuff was a bit too strident.

But time changes one. At least it did me. Now I respect and love Cone, and I have a big “go sista” to the feminist Christian movement. I recently read and reviewed New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices, Many Views, edited by Mary E. Hunt and Diann L. Neu. You can read a copy of it at my other blog AFeatherAdrift (please don’t mention this one–My Episcopal friends have no idea yet of my Catholic struggles).

I read it with fervor and joy, happy to see that feminist work is continuing and broadening in terms of subject and locale. As I said, once, I looked quite askance at this. But that was before I realized by gentle but helpful teachers, that God is diminished when we construct Her in this limited way, with hierarchies of power and leadership. A good healthy dose of good biblical exegesis helped hugely as well.

One of the things I learned from the book was that there is no “women’s voice” there are many, as the name suggests. There is no Latina voice, nor lesbian voice. We do not judge each other. For some women, leaving the Roman tradition is necessary. For others, like myself, it turns out to have been a mistake.

I can only speak for me. I am Catholic, and that informs much about me in the end. I choose to stand and oppose my faith on issues that I discern them to be wrong. I do it perhaps because my personality is confrontational, or perhaps for some other reason. But that is the path I am on, though it no doubt looks odd and troubling to others who know me.

Catholics on the extreme right had convinced me that I had no place in the Church. They were real and I was a “cafeteria” one, barely worthy of the name. I needed to go to a church that I found that agreed with my self-serving needs. I was contemptible.

But of course I was not gay, nor did I seriously want to be ordained. I am well past child-bearing, and thus I have no personal issue with abortion or birth control. My troubles with doctrine were heart felt, and supported by serious intellectual study and reflection.

What was worse,  were the things they said about American Catholic universities and colleges (most of them that is) and about religious men and women (excluding of course ETWN). I was nothing but the product of “liberalized” nuns and priests who were never taught properly in the first place.

It is with deep sadness that I hear of the Vatican’s examination of religious men and women in the US, with a view to determining their degree of orthodoxy. It is a shame, since these men and women carry the lion’s share of the social justice work being done on behalf of Mother church. They present the Church as loving and concerned, as politically involved, and as caring for the least among us, something Jesus presented to us as our duty.

I am also deeply sad that on the Internet, there is a paucity of liberal Catholic blogging. I have searched with almost no success to find bloggers who are like myself, walking in the shadows of their faith, formally rejected, yet finding a vibrant welcome here and there. I believe with all my being that most Catholics are supportive of us.

It would be nice to be able to talk to others who struggle as I do.

What Are We?

How to explain the inexplicable? It never ceases to amaze me how people of faith relate to their respective traditions. What thrills one, is anathema to another.

For one, the simplicity of the Quaker meeting room invites a strong presence of God, for others, like myself, nothing less than the full panoply of art and ritual will suffice.

This perhaps pertains to my earliest experiences as a child. I believe my first real church experience was attending a Catholic mass with my neighbors. The mother and several daughters went to St. Agnes in Flint. I was invited along, being probably ten or so.

I will never forget the splendor and mystery and magic of the place. Although it was summer and full daylight, inside it was dark. Filled with stained glass all around. It smelled different as well. Exotic would be the way I would describe it.

Women, dressed in long black dresses and long black headdresses walked about. When things began, the music was like no other I had ever heard. Deep, ponderous, and the voices rose in a crescendo of foreign words and phrases. Marching down the aisle were men, also dressed in a regalia of regal, long gowns. One carried a vessel from which smoke flowed. Golden crosses and boys with various other ornaments proceeded forth.

The altar area, still facing the wall, was alit with candles. People knelt and rose, and made crosses upon their bodies. They uttered unfamiliar words, and others responded, all in sing-song chants. I knew the language not, though it was of course Latin.

It all went on for a very long time and then people filed forward to open their mouths and have deposited upon their tongues “something.” They knelt and crossed, and what I later learned was genuflection.

None of this was really explained to me, but I pondered it for some time. Finding it all fascinating. When I asked why we didn’t go to “mass” I was told, “Because we are not Catholic.”

“What are we?”

“Methodist.” This was a lie, but I did not know.

Over the years to come, into my teens I was to have other Catholic friends. I marveled and asked curious questions about rosary beads, and white confirmation bibles, and mantillas, and missals. Nobody as I recall, seemed much interested in answering me. Taking for granted, what I began to secretly yearn for.

At fifteen, I decided to explore “my” faith tradition. I walked the half mile to a Methodist church one Sunday, dressed in my best. I entered and sat. I was encouraged to sign a book, and put money in a tray. I sang songs from a hymnal, and I listened to a man drone on interminably long about subjects that made little sense to me. We sang some more, and I went home.

I was very disappointed. I would remain so as the years went by. I envied my Catholic friends and so yearned to be like them. No one ever told me I could, except by some process whereby I must spend years sitting in the priest’s office answering questions and listening. Not true of course, but I had no way of knowing. It all seemed too daunting to me. And I knew of no one who had done so, and what does a young girl do on her own about things like that?

Not until I was in my 40’s did I mention this to a colleague of mine. “I wish I were Catholic,” I mused. She replied, “So become one.”

“But don’t you have to jump through a lot of hoops?”

“Yeah, so what? If you want to be Catholic, then go through it. You don’t have to BELIEVE everything you know, just go along with the program. Nobody believes all that junk. Everybody uses birth control even though we aren’t supposed to.”

Not the best of advice, but age had given me courage. So I called.

Wouldn’t you just know that I called smack dab in the middle of Lent. Sister Doris gently suggested that I might call her back after Easter when things were a bit less hectic. She took my name and number, evidence to me, that she would call me, if I failed. In the meantime, she encouraged me to start attending Mass.

So I did. And I went through the Catechumenate from September until the following June. And I loved it, and I love my Church, and I was the best Catholic in the world, as most new converts are. And I wanted to be a nun.

And then. Well, shit happens. . . .

The Walk I Make

I’m Catholic, Roman Catholic. Let me be very clear about that. It is who I am, in the deepest part of my soul.

And yet I am not.

If that sounds mildly crazy, well welcome to my world.

Let me back up.

I chose to be Catholic at age 43. I was baptised, confirmed and then received my first communion at the Vigil Mass in 1993.

In doing this, I fulfilled a life-long dream, I had not even been aware was possible in my teens and even into adulthood. I knew so little about religion that I thought one must be “born” into a faith.

They say you are always a Catholic once baptised or confirmed. No matter what you do. And, and I believe them. So I am Roman Catholic. Still. Even though. . . .

I have been going to an Episcopal Church for two years.

It’s a fine church, a busy, socially conscious place filled with liberal minds and open hearts, and justice working individuals. It’s clergy is excellent.

Why did I end up there?

Oh, certainly I am at odds with the Roman Church over doctrine. I find much Catholic dogma simply wrong-headed. I can explain why, and no doubt will in later posts. I am deeply appalled at the behavior of the Church over the pedophilia issue. I am shocked, saddened, and angry.

But that is not why I left.

I was rejected.

Why you ask?

Because at the age of 49, I had the unmitigated gall to marry for the first time to a man who was divorced. A man thrice divorced, actually. He was never a Catholic, and never married to one.

Yet, the Church considers me to be living in sin. Unless, at the age of 60, he is granted an  annulment of his first marriage (presuming the latter two are considered invalid already), I am not entitled to receive the sacrament of Eucharist.

Ironically, if I violate my marriage vows and leave him, even if I hurt him deeply, destroying his life, the Church would welcome me back as redeemed. Just one good confession away from being in the good graces of the Church.

How does that grab ya? How blessedly Christian is that? How is this following Christ, and practicing forgiveness, compassion, empathy, or any other fine Christian sentiments?

So I found a place where I was welcomed.

Yet, after two years, I find myself in deep pain. I miss my Church. She is mine, wrong-minded and hurtful as I find her to be. My identity has been trampled and trashed, because of an arguable, but not necessary interpretation of a few pieces of Scripture.

So I do morning and evening prayer, and my rosary, and make an act of contrition, and I pray a lot. And I seek answers.

Do I risk confessing to a priest only to be solemnly turned away? Do I go to a large metropolitan Church and lose myself in the masses? Do I seek out a progressive clergy?

These are the questions I ponder, as I walk this lonely road. I have made no decision yet. I wait, pray, and ask for guidance. Someone, somewhere will come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.


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