For the past few Sunday mornings, we’ve headed out to the ranch to enjoy a short hike and picnic lunch. It’s my outdoor church. It’s been a while (over a month?) since I’ve been to church. I don’t miss it all that much to be honest. What I do miss is the spiritual community I had in college at St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel, which for the past 14 years I’ve been hoping to find again in another Catholic Church. But so far I haven’t been able to find what my spirit needs. For now, being in nature feeds my soul more than church attendance could at this time and place in my life. Lent is coming in a few weeks. I mentioned in a previous post that I started keeping a journal of my spiritual journey four years ago–I noted then that it was the first year I would not be observing Lent. It was a conscious decision as it has been every year since.
In June of 2010, Stephen and I traveled to Southern Italy. We visited Rome for a few days. It was then that I found myself standing outside the walls of a Catholic Church while Stephen, my non-Catholic husband went inside to look at the church. It was summer and hot and I was wearing a sleeveless dress, not immodest, but baring my arms nonetheless. Days before I had been in another Catholic Church with Stephen, again with arms bare, when an elderly woman came up behind me and put a pink silk shawl around my shoulders to cover my bare arms, and unthinkingly I thanked her. And inside I burned with shame and anger that this Catholic Church of mine should be offended by the bare skin of my arms. That day I stood outside the Church while Stephen went in, I decided then that I couldn’t fully participate in a church that did not welcome or recognize me as I am, as a woman made in the likeness and image of God.
That memory has stayed with me all these years since, and I’ve questioned whether it really mattered that I didn’t go in the church that day because my arms were bare, or that if I did go in I would have to cover up as a sign of respect to whom? Jesus? Other churchgoers? In the months after we returned from our trip, I felt ambivalent about my choice, but now I just feel a deep sadness. The Catholic Church was my home. My earliest memories of childhood are of standing in church and wanting to participate in the liturgy, asking my parents what the responses were during mass so that I could learn and say them, too. I want to love the Church, and part of me still does, but when I attend mass now I experience a great emptiness whereas before I felt nourished by the liturgy. I realized a few years back that I needed to stop going to mass every week or I’d feel my spirit die not being able to witness or see women represented in the image of God. I knew in my heart the truth, but all around the church the opposite was preached–spoken and unspoken. I feel betrayed that I don’t even have the option to return to the Church as a whole person. Although I do not participate fully in the Church anymore, it matters to me how women are treated within the Catholic Church. It matters to me because it’s my heritage and will always be a part of me. It has shaped who I am. Now I can only find my wholeness, my sacredness in the outside world, in the earthy, in the bodily, within my myself and in nature all around me.
I can only speak of my experience. I know there are other churches where I would feel at home, but unfortunately my path has not crossed them yet. And I know God has not abandoned me. The Eucharist and sacramental life are all around me. What mother doesn’t understand Jesus’ words “this is my body . . .this is my blood . . . given up for you”?
At times in our pink innocence, we lie fallow, composting waiting to grow. And other times we rush headlong like so many of our ancestors. But rush headlong or lie fallow, it doesn’t matter. One day you’ll round a corner, your path is shifted. In a blink, something is missing. It’s stolen, misplaced, it’s gone. Your heart, a memory, a limb, a promise . . . a person. Your innocence is gone, and now your journey has changed. Your path, as though channeled through a spectrum, is refracted and has left you pointed in a new direction. Some won’t approve. Some will want the other you. And some will cry out that you’ve left it all. But what has happened, has happened, and cannot be undone.
We pay for our laughter. We pay to weep. Knowledge is not cheap. To survive we must return to our senses, touch, taste, smell, sight, sound. We must let our spirit guide us, our spirit that lives in breath. With each breath we inhale, we exhale. We inspire, we expire. Every breath has a possibility of a laugh, a cry, a story, a song. Every conversation is an exchange of spirit, the words flowing bitter or sweet over the tongue. Every scar is a monument to a battle survived.
Now when you’re born into loss, you grow from it. But when you experience loss later in life, you grow toward it. A slow move to an embrace, an embrace that leaves you holding tight the beauty wrapped in the grotesque, an embrace that becomes a dance, a dance of pink.
—“Tickled Pink” by Kevin Kling