When I was about eleven, I noticed that my best friend’s mother kneeled in the pew each Sunday instead of queuing up for Holy Communion with the other parishioners. Her first husband had dropped dead years before, leaving her a single mother with four kids. Her second husband was a divorced non-Catholic, so they had been unable to marry in the church. She thus was forbidden from receiving the sacrament of Communion, although she was expected to show up each week. And kneel in shame.
Even as a kid, I understood that church dogma was at odds with its purported raison d’etre. Still, it took three more decades of struggle before I could peacefully relinquish Catholicism. Today, about the nicest thing I can say about the church as an entity is that it is unworthy of its followers.
But now it’s the Christmas season, and, like many former Catholics, I feel nostalgic for a version of the church that never existed. I carry around the indelible imprint of the Apostle’s Creed as well as a longing for a regular, reverent, and ritual-rich place of communion with seekers led by people of wisdom. In addition, my better church would contain:
No petty politics.
No faith-killing hypocrisy.
Meanwhile, I’m in the wind. My little hothouse flower of a soul is unlikely ever to find what it seeks in organized religion, yet the promise of the first Christmas still resonates with possibility. I’ve given up on the “organized,” but not on faith.
Spiritual homelessness aside, I hold myself accountable for trying to figure out what it means to be good. I believe it’s solid practice to show up somewhere regularly to say “what a beautiful place this is” and “please give me a hand, will you?” and “God, forgive me for being such an ass.”
Sometimes that “somewhere” is on a pedestrian path in the park. Sometimes it’s a red light on Mayfield Road behind a bumper with a hippie “co-exist” sticker.
Then, too, we need to do well by one other. We should see each other more often—truly. Face to face, palm to palm, and with open and curious hearts. The lazy, introverted part of me would vote almost every time to stay home and watch Law & Order reruns. But the clock is ticking, our time together is short, and there may be ways we can feed each other, right? OK. I’m in. (Probably.)
So for now, for me, that's church. The Church of Doing My Best to Show Up.
I’m a newcomer. None of the prayers are automatic, none of the songs are completely familiar. But I'm going to try to sing along just the same.