A quest to make sense of it all. Or a sense to make a quest of it all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Grace like rain.

Jesus was walking along one day, when He came upon a group of people surrounding a lady of ill repute. The crowd was preparing to stone her, so Jesus made His now-famous statement, "Let the person who has no sin cast the first stone."

The crowd was shamed and one by one began to turn away. Then, a lovely woman made her way through the crowd. Finally getting to the front, she tossed a pebble towards the woman.

Jesus looks over and says, "I really hate it when you do that, Mom."

So I'm about a month into RCIA classes. My head's all kinds of full with new ideas, some of which shed light on issues I've always had with certain religious doctrine, and some which make a tangled mess of drawers I thought were neatly organized and firmly shut. You know, the drawers where you keep the linens you will never, ever use and you get irritated when someone suggests that maybe they're not exactly the pattern you (kinda?) remember them to be. I was raised mostly in the South, by a from-the-cradle Baptist mother and born-again Assembly of God father. (They both now attend a Baptist church.) My grandma Charlie taught Sunday school at her Presbyterian church. My granny Cora? Also Baptist. I've attended all of these, plus Church of Christ, Pentecostal, and non-denominational churches over the years. It's safe to say I'm firmly ensconced in the very Protestant culture of the mid-South. Sometimes it's good for a chuckle. Sometimes it's good for scaring the daylights out of you. A lot of the time, it's good for making you just shake your head and think that whatever the Good News once was, it's been lost in squabbles over pianos and uncut hair...and in the actions of people who decorate their SUVs with fish stickers by day and flirt with your husband at the bar by night. I decided a long time ago that the only way I could hold onto the faith I so desperately wanted was by limiting my involvement with church, because all church had brought me was disappointment in the people around me. Church was a place I could go to sort of recharge my spiritual battery, get a little insight. But I never really felt at home, and the black and white rules didn't seem to work well with the fuzzy gray space that is human nature. But that is what's given; most Protestants believe that the Bible is the living, literal word of God and that everything in it must be taken as complete and whole, factual truth. But that's pretty hard to swallow. The earth is only a few thousand years old, despite all the evidence to the contrary? Jonah sat, undigested, in a plankton-eating whale for three days and walked away from it? These things were bothersome, but it was taught to me by preachers that not believing in every word as indisputable fact is tantamount to willful separation from God, or worse, blasphemy. I mean, people used to be put to death for blasphemy. Depending on where you are and how you do it, shunning for it still totally goes on. Talk about the message getting lost. Catholicism is a little easier on the THIS IS FACT preaching, understanding that a lot of the stories are metaphorical or that they are true without being fact. You can say it's raining cats and dogs outside and be telling the truth, but not talking in facts. There's a lot of the OT that should be taken as such. I've always felt that way, and having a church tell me that's not only not shameful but probably right feels a lot like leaning against the back of one's chair and taking a big, relieved breath, which is exactly what I did.

I started attending RCIA because I was curious about Catholicism and wanted to see how it actually compares to the Protestant teachings I was raised with. People around here have a lot to say about Catholics, and most of them have never set foot inside a Catholic church. I didn't want to get any information from them, because the general consensus is that Catholics are idolaters (as if anyone whose motorcycle or clothes or television or job is more important to them than their relationship with their creator isn't an idolater) at best and anti-Christ at worst. I wanted to get information straight from the horse's mouth. I knew the goal of RCIA is to convert, but I was ok with that, and decided to treat it as a sort of religious studies course, taken by a not entirely neutral/objective student. I have faith, after all, and I've known for some time that I'm craving more of it. So I decided to go and see what these folks had to say. Do they really worship Mary and the saints? Why do they cross themselves? What, exactly, is Purgatory? The function of the Pope...and how did he get that job? Why is confession necessary if you talked to God already? What's up with not using contraceptives? How much of what they do is Scripture-based?

I'm gaining the answers to those questions, slowly. It's been very informative so far, and I've enjoyed learning about the history of the Church and how Protestants grabbed this and that, left that, and ran for the hills. I'd say the split was silly, but I can't, when I think about how many people on both sides were murdered over it.

Extremism in any context is terrifying, and if you find that your religion is causing you to argue and hate...you've missed the boat, brah.

There's a sense of clarity settling in. I'm finding it easier to say "nah" to things and people that I know aren't good for me, and easier to reach out and be a little nicer. My energy lasts a little longer, my patience runs a little thicker. (I totally vent on twitter, though.) I've never been good at holding a grudge, and I find it impossible now. I don't think I'm angry anymore.

That doesn't mean everything's sunshine and kittens. What it does mean is that when I start to feel overwhelmed, I've learned to shut up and be still, and NOT try to fix it. If I'm quiet long enough, there's a little poke at my heart that tells me without words what to do...or to do nothing but maintain my trust that I, 28 year old Sarah Saint in Mississippi, actually don't have all the answers. I have a gift of very keen intuition, humbled by an utter lack of prophecy. I have no clue what's going to happen tomorrow, and what I hope for today might be disastrous for me or someone else if I actually get it. I shudder to think where I would be now had some of the previous years' hardest prayers been answered affirmatively. Probably dead. If not, certainly miserable. As it is now, I have more blessings than I can count, including full-time work and a roof over my head, and a family I can always count on. I feel closer to my creator, and my faith continues to grow. It just might decide to settle in a Catholic church, because it's surprisingly comfortable there. It might not. I think the truest truths hang out in the pretty, grassy areas between churches and temples. Where it's quiet.

Oh, sinners, let's go down
come on down, don't you wanna go down?
Oh, sinners, let's go down
down in the river to pray

What is certain is that I'm very much enjoying the nights Brett and I lounge on my couch, both of us reading from my RCIA books, his arm around me and his fingers idly playing with my hair. We read quietly, one of us pausing here and there to read aloud this or that, and then we discuss; frankly, thoughtfully, hilariously. We don't always agree. I'm still having a difficult time understanding why Mary and the saints would have to even take my texts now that they're in heaven, or how someone else's prayers can change your soul's status once you've died. I may never get it, but I'm trying to understand, at least conceptually if not with my heart.

What is also certain is that of all the things for me to be grateful for, grace is the biggest. It's a concept I've managed to grasp, and I'm not likely to start understanding it less. It's a gift I didn't earn and don't deserve. I think I'll name my first daughter Grace.

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