And now for some church according to Jen.
I was raised Italian Catholic, which differs from regular Catholicism by virtue of its larger than normal portion of guilt. Guilt on steroids. Guilt that ate its Wheaties. Guilt that was watered everyday and spent generous portions of time in direct sunlight. The guilt is an actual organ in my body at this point, about the size and color of a black plum.
For all intents and purposes, I am an adult in the Catholic church. I’ve attended hundreds of CCD classes (though I’d be hard-pressed to point to a solid memory of any of them) and I’ve been confirmed. I’ve been given all necessary boosters of the Catholic tradition. It’s just that, well, it didn’t take. If asked to tell the complete truth, I would have to blurt out that I am not so sure that I believe in God.
I can’t, you see, discount the Buddhists or Hindu of the world, when THEIR traditions hold so much of value, or the Muslims whose traditions are closely allied with my own (or the Jews who probably know the best what I’m talking about when I refer to religious and cultural GUILT!) This is not to mention a host of other practices and beliefs of any of the number of Christian faiths that I find backward and absolutely contrary to what the central tenets of any religion SHOULD BE.
But religious argument is not what I’m aiming for here, so I shall refrain from listing those things and move on to what I think my points are.
You see, I go to church only once a year, on Ash Wednesday. It’s a tradition that began while I was in college, and which has continued through my adulthood. I sit, by myself, close to the middle front in old, oiled pews (if I can find them) and breathe in the incense and follow the old routines of Mass. I shake hands with those around me and smile at the warmth it brings me. Sometimes I weep, but could not point to any specific thing that brings those scant tears to my eyes.
I am deeply attached to the message of the Gospel on Ash Wednesday. It’s from Matthew, and it has a lot to do with the way I strive to live my life. It says, and I paraphrase:
When you give alms, don’t sound a trumpet before you. Do it quietly. Don’t let the right hand know what the left is doing. When you pray, don’t do it out loud and in the streets, do it quietly and behind closed doors. When you fast, don’t look dismal. Take a shower and care for yourself. And don’t store up material possessions while on earth, but rather, commit to enriching yourself spiritually.
To me, this means pay to pay attention to my intentions. I must do good things because they are right and are the natural outpourings of my soul’s will, not because someone (or some God) is watching.
Ash Wednesday’s teachings are some of the few that I can climb on board fully with. On this day every year, I take a small evaluation of myself and my actions. I remember that I’m small. That I make mistakes. But that it’s possible to come back from those mistakes. I remind myself that my ultimate goal is patience and kindness, and take an honest tally of how I fell short of that goal last year.
On Ash Wednesday, I start fresh, and begin again my quest for a quiet and patient inner peace. I open a new tablet on a calmer, less wrathful me. I don’t do this for God, and I don’t do this for others. I do it out of a sense of what is the RIGHT way to BE. It just so happens that there is a passage in the Bible that speaks to that goal, and there began my relationship with this day. The first day. The beginning day. The day I start being better.
“Remember man, that thou are dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” –Genesis3:19