Sunday, November 9, 2008

Habit vs. Belief

Hope I don't ramble too much or get too disjointed. Patriots win, workout, small dinner, big-ass rum and Coke Zero, and I'm what you would call "loose".

Went to church today...for the first time in months. It was the annual Veteran's Day Mass, and I have to say I felt obligated to attend, given the community nature of the event, and that I was asked. The last time I attended was a similar thing last summer. Church, or rather religion, is a bit of a hang-up for me right now. I found the experience an interesting contrast of habit and belief. Not about vets, of course. They deserve all the support we can give, and if it means walking into an uncomfortable grey area in my life to do so, I gladly will. More about veterans on Tuesday...

I started my "walk away" from religion more than 20 years ago. It wasn't because I had a falling out, or I disagreed over policy, it was a purely selfish reason. I was living at college now, I was my own boss, and I didn't want to get up Sunday morning to do something I'd been doing for 18 years already. Probably the same reason a lot of people do it. I just never went back. I tried, a few times, and it just didn't take. A "by the book" Marist priest in Brunswick, Maine who openly refused to baptize our stillborn son after an 18-week miscarriage, even as a gesture of comfort, based upon doctrine (intent to baptize = baptism ergo actual baptism not necessary) is probably the point where I said "F**k you" to any real effort - then or in the future - to return to "the faith". Never mind their backwards views of homosexuality, abortion, clergy marrying and female clergy. More twists and turns since then, but it's not necessary to bring them up. Where have I ended up? Somewhere between agnosticism and nascent atheism, probably closer to "don'tgiveashitism". Yeah, it's a tangled pile of spaghetti in the "belief" section of my psyche.

Anyway, habit vs. belief. Even having gone to church well below 1% of the "mandated" church days since I left for college, I've still got the major parts of the liturgy committed to memory. For both the Roman and Maronite rites of Catholicism. So the standard responses, prayers, Our Father, Nicene Creed, all rolled off the tongue as effortlessly as though I were still an altar boy (BTW, my experience as an altar boy was very good - my priest was a wonderful man, and a lifetime friend and mentor until his death). Resurgence of an old habit at it's best. All along, I know I'm just saying them to say them. Because I, with other "official guests" am there to be there in front of everyone. I even found myself criticizing the "altar servers" (as they are called now, as there are both boys and girls. Guess it's okay to serve as a girl, but not lead as a woman) - mostly for wearing sweats, jeans and sneakers under their garments. "When I was your age, I'd have been sent home or not allowed to serve!"

Until Holy Communion. The time comes for us all to line up for communion, and I sort of panic a bit inside. I cannot go and receive communion. Now this seems silly, because if I don't believe or don't care, then what's the big deal about putting a piece of unleavened bread in my mouth followed by a sip of wine? Really, what would anyone know? But the reason I told myself I couldn't go was the same reason I was taught in catechism all those years ago - my "soul" is not in a "state of grace" by Catholic standards, so it is therefore a sin to receive.

Holy shit (no pun intended). 40 minutes of rote repetition, and it culminates in falling back on "The Faith".

So I don't receive, and a few others in the official party do not as well, for whatever reason, and lo and behold it's not a big deal.

It left me feeling a lot. I have to admit the experience still leaves me feeling a sense of wonder. It's especially strong if I'm attending something like Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, which I do once in a while. Why, who knows? Maybe it's the music, maybe it's the story, maybe it's the atmosphere of communion between individuals that you get at the right moments. It just doesn't feel like faith very much.


Dawn on MDI said...

Thoughtful post. Thank you.

I left the Catholic Church for good and ever when they fired my girlfriend. Fresh out of college, she got her dream job - teaching Pre-K in the school she attended as a child. Only someone there - another teacher who knew her from college - outed her to the principal and she was fired before the first day of school.

I don't go where I am not wanted. I do not try to join the Klan, why should I insist that another bunch of men in robes accept me?

Sometimes Christians do not behave in very Christ-like ways.

Julie said...

I've felt the same way about communion the few times I've been to church in the last 15 years or so. But on the few occasions I've been, it was either for a funeral or some obligation for an elderly relative. I figure I'm lying anyway, I already feel dirty, so I might as well carry the charade through and take the wafer as well.

Last time I went to a regular Mass I was surprised at how many people showed up late and/or dressed like bums. It made me wonder what percentage of people there were only going through the motions; and of those people, how many were doing so to please a human, as opposed to pleasing a god who would supposedly know they weren't sincere.

Dr. Momentum said...

On the occasions where I have been compelled to attend Mass, I do not accept communion. I had the same positive experience as an altar boy as you did (as you well know). Being in the building is not the same as representing myself as someone in the proper state to accept communion.

I think you did right.

I also have conflicting feelings. I have strong feelings of nostalgia inside any church, especially that of my childhood.

I expect these feelings are wrapped together with my feelings of family.