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Posts Tagged ‘Catholic’

I’ve been walking to and from work downtown recently, depending on when I go relative to kids going to school or my wife going to work.

Today I rolled out of bed while everybody else was sleeping in, taking off to work in one of those beautiful mid-winter mornings in Fairbanks. New snow had blanketed the town during the late morning, and was still drifting down.

Snow in Fairbanks is unique to any place I’ve lived. It falls silently, rarely accompanied by any wind, and stacks quietly on any limbs, wires, or even twigs; forming an intricately woven organic lace of white on every tree, willow, or blade of grass long enough to still emerge from earlier snows.

It was a beautiful day for a walk, even if just to work.

After work, I headed home via the post office. It gave me an opportunity to cross the Cushman Street Bridge and pass by the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, as opposed to the pedestrian bridge where I usually cross the river.

I grew up Catholic, and although my views on religion stray far from the church these days, I still long for the spirituality and mysticism that can envelop a traditional mass. So much so, as I passed their front door, that I eyed the times for mass and even considered recruiting, or drafting, my family for a Christmas service.

I continued down the path, freshly cleaned of snow (the only disturbance during my early morning walk was the snow blower running over the church’s walks); to the little altar of stone for the Virgin Mary built in the Church’s front yard. The snow had been carefully brushed away from the altar. Within the apse, a statue of the virgin mother stands, surrounded by pots of brightly colored plastic flowers.

The irony of this little scene didn’t escape me.

So I stood there, in the low winter light of the Alaska midday sun, rays filtering through the branches of the snow covered birch trees, snow still softly falling upon me, surrounded by divinity as it was meant to be, in front of a poorly crafted altar to the mother of a god made in mankind’s own image.

I walked on, struck by the folly of man.

Of religion.

Of the obscenity of plastic flowers replacing real ones made by god.

Man does do it better, after all.

Meanwhile the pope is in Rome, railing against the evils of homosexuality, proclaiming how it will be the downfall of humanity.

Not overpopulation.

Not the disease, starvation, war, torture, abuse, injury, rape, environmental ruin or death brought on by overpopulation.

Just homosexuality.

Homosexuality?

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Finally!!! A candidate for president finally said it. Let’s update the constitution to be in line with god’s laws. I couldn’t agree more. Kudos to Mike Huckabee for saying what so many have been thinking for so long. It is time to throw out the constitution, time to start over with an even older document, the Bible.

It is time for state sponsored religion.

I know, I know. Quite a few people are going to read this and think somebody hacked into my blog. They didn’t. Nor have I been struck by lighting, possessed by the Holy Spirit, or had my livelihood threatened by the establishment.

I just happen to agree with Mr. Huckabee that the constitution should be updated to agree with the bible. Mine.

Did I happen to mention that detail earlier? Well, I am now. Let me clarify, the constitution of the United States should be brought into alignment with god and the bible. Mine, in both cases.

Once more, my God, and my Bible.

Now, for those who know me, or think they do, you may recognize I belong to a UU (Unitarian-Universalist) Fellowship here in Fairbanks, Alaska. I recognize that UU’s exist on the fringe of Christianity, so we don’t necessarily endorse our own version of the Bible.

Whoa, whoa , whoa, before anybody gets upset, let me explain.

My roots are Catholic.

You bet, you read that correctly. Catholic. We should bring the Constitution into alignment with the Catholic bible. Now, before all you protestants get upset out there, remember, we are all Christians here. And what’s a protestantism but an unruly child of Catholicism. Some are more unruly than others but that’s what confession is for.

Come on, it is the oldest christian church, it brought humanity through the dark ages, and would have kept us there if you protestants hadn’t come along. Catholicism existed when churches had power, when non-believers (like Unitarian-Universalists) could be burned at the stake. What more could you ask for than absolute power to the church?

It was only after the reformation that the world went to hell, and you protestants are to blame. I mean, we had things under control. Along comes a few splinter groups, BANG!!, there goes the Renaissance. Certainly, Catholics did get some great art and buildings out of that. But somewhere along the line people started thinking; for themselves no less. Unacceptable.

And here we are today. We have a chance to set us back at least 500 years. We only need the chicks to gather under the hen, the flock to come home to roost, so on and so forth.

For the Pope’s benefit, I want to make it clear that while I said the Catholic Bible, I meant the MY Catholic Bible.

And while I’m at it, my Catholic God. (Who, despite all my attempts to exorcise him, has remained a deep and integral part of my being.)

So, all interpretations of the Bible and God will have to be made by me. Sorry Mr. Pope, you’ll have to leave the comforts and wealth of the Vatican to visit me here in Alaska if you need any interpretations. And I only meet in January. Hey, don’t blame me, I’m only God’s servant.

Oh yea, can somebody tell Mike to convert? Otherwise, he’ll be in violation of the constitution (mine).

Better yet, let’s skip the elections. God can appoint the president. For life. And we can call him King. (Don’t forget, my God speaks through me. Donations freely accepted for those who like to be considered.)

I’ll begin making modifications to the constitution right away.

As soon as I find my bible. Oh, and for that matter my god. I seem to have lost her.

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Jolie, our eight year old, has been pondering death as of late.

As a result, she has had trouble going to sleep. And if she does go asleep, she has trouble staying that way for the duration of the night.

This isn’t Jolie’s first time dealing with the concept of death. It is, in fact, a cycle, one that she has been through a several times before. I’ve not seen a pattern until this time, when it seems obvious that the arrival and departure of grandparents sets off the concern.

Each time the grandparents leave, I think there is a bit of fear in each of us that we don’t know when or under what conditions we’ll see each other again. (See the blog grandparent detox for a full reprise of our latest Alaskan grandparent visit experience.)

I empathize with Jolie on the topic of death, and the related subjects of infinite space and time, and an infinite God (or not). I’ll go one step further, it strikes terror in my soul, down to the depth of my existence, and still can keep me awake nights, when I let it. There was a time, however, when I had no power over those thoughts.

Those thoughts would roll over my mind like a thunderstorm does the prairie, dark, foreboding, and ominous; turning every thought, breath, and heartbeat inward, away from any avenue of escape. The terror would sink through my being, turning my stomach in a great, roiling knot, chewing itself like a demon does a soul. I would lie awake hours after my brothers had nodded off, worrying, trying to know the unknowable, wishing desperately for the peaceful bliss of sleep.

Needless to say, I sympathize with Jolie a great deal. To that extent I let her roll out a sleeping bag next to our bed so that she can be near us during these nights when her mind becomes so expansive, when she senses our mortality, and knows what it means to be human.

Last year when her Mimmy and Poppy left from their visit, and she dealt with such a cycle of mental expansion and the associated fear, I struggled with ideas of what to do to comfort her. Or more accurately, what to teach her in order that she could comfort herself. I turned towards my own experiences, and how I got through them.

One of my earliest memories is of one of those nights. At the time, we lived in the town of Thermopolis, Wyoming. I know we still lived in town (versus the farm outside of town), which makes me 4 or 5 at the time. My brothers and I shared a bedroom, my older brother Gary on the top bunk above me and my younger brother Robin on a bed across the room. Late one night, a couple hours past our bed time, I recall getting up, terror gripping my mind, and tiptoeing out of our room, down the hardwood floors to the living room where my parents sat up reading. I don’t’ remember exactly what I asked, something like, “After God, what is there? How can God go on forever?”

After being gently reprimanded for getting out of bed, Mom and Dad sent me back down the hall with the suggestion to pray. And I did. As any good little Catholic boy would do I said the Lord’s Prayer. Once, twice, three times. And again. Ok, how about a few Hail Mary’s. Back to the Lords Prayer, always my favorite prayer, and it still is.

Our Father who art in heaven.

Hallowed be thy name.

(Heaven, what’s after heaven?)

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

(Does it have sky? Space? Where does it end? Where does it begin?)

Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,

(But what about heaven, where is it? In this universe?)

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

(I don’t feel so good.)

Amen.

Repeat.

Repeat again.

And again, ad infinitum.

Darn it, there is that infinity concept again.

As an adult, I’ve come to grips with the idea that death, infinity, and the endlessness of time and space are concepts that the human mind cannot comprehend. Those items are reserved for the divine or enlightened, of which I am neither. Not that I don’t try, but I’ve reached a somewhat unsettled truce that there are things I cannot reach my brain around. (Like people eating, and liking, Thanksgiving stuffing.)

So when Jolie began to have these fears, terrors if you will, you would think I might teach her to pray. I know, some will say an 8-year old should already know how to pray. Others might say, “I know Thane, and I can’t imagine him teaching his children to pray” -not in the traditional sense anyways.

First, regarding Jolie not knowing how to pray, I could, and probably will, write many more blog entries on the subject. This entry is about something else, so in brevity I will say the following:

  1. I believe there are many paths to heaven, to salvation, to nirvana, or enlightenment; all of them equally acceptable.
  2. God gave us, humankind, free will. I would dishonor that gift if I didn’t ensure my children received it as well; thus, I do not dictate their faith to them nor will I.

I only ask two things from my children regarding their selection of faith, should they choose to select one at all:

  1. They allow other people to do the same (select their own faith).
  2. They retain their free will, and don’t subjugate it to organized religion. (God is one thing, organized religion quite another.)

All of this, relating back to the subject at hand, leaves me in a delicate position in teaching Jolie how to pray, or find solace in the darkness of night.

Last year, rather than turning to prayer, I directed Jolie towards poetry. We went and purchased several anthologies of poetry written for or appropriate to children. We read several together, and I encouraged her to memorize her favorite poems so that she could recite them in the night when she would wake and feel the infinite weight of the heavens falling down upon her.

I think it worked until this year when the cycle began anew.

However, looking back at last year and my own experiences when I was young, I think I missed an important part of my own experience. In repeating a prayer, in my case the Lord’s Prayer, over and over again, it ceased to be a prayer and became a mantra. I was no longer consciously thinking of God, or the characters in the prayer, it was no longer a conscious activity. Somewhere in all those repetitions it had become a repetitive chant, mantra, prayer; and became an avenue to meditate, relaxing thought and for a young me, much desired sleep.

This epiphany came to me this past week, either while listening to my friend Jeff’s sermon on Liturgy at Sunday’s UUFF service, or shortly thereafter spurred in part by his thoughts and words. (I think Jeff will be proud of me for using both the words sermon and service with regards to a UU program. UU’s, at least our Fairbanks group, are notorious for keeping religious terms/references out of our “liturgy”. Ha, did it again.)

Something I admire in Jeff is how he incorporates mantras, prayer, and song into his everyday life; as detailed both in last week’s sermon and in his blog. One of my favorites was his use of the song from Johnny Appleseed, a favorite from my own childhood, for mealtime grace. While they transmuted the song a bit, from night to night, it provided a framework and ritual for being thankful.

Our other friends, John and Jana, and their daughter, recite what I recall as a Buddhist prayer before every meal.

I’m envious of these personal traditions, their holiness, their communal nature, and their comfort.

But if I walked around the house singing, say the Johnny Appleseed song mentioned above (it has been know to happen), my children follow me around in bewildered silence, safely keeping out of grasp lest I be going quite suddenly and completely insane (also known to happen). It could be my distinct, penetrating singing style. Or perhaps it is the word lord, repeated frequently in the song. Usually when they hear the word lord or god it is associated with me mistaking my thumb for an eight-penny nail, stubbing a toe, or maybe stepped in a gift from our (fill in your own expletive here) terrier Lucy. (I can’t help saying the Lord’s name in vain; I think it is my Eastern European Catholic ancestry emerging.)

So, we haven’t figured out how to do these in my house, yet. We don’t have any rituals, prayers, or mantras for comfort or to show gratitude for the things we have, yet. But we will.

And now, more then ever, I see how much we need them.

To comfort Jolie in the dark hours. And Ali as she grows older, should she have those same anxieties.

To share our thankfulness each day.

For our health, our free will, our friends, and our loved ones.

If you have a prayer, a mantra, a chant, or saying you or yours uses in your daily life and would like to share it with us; please do so. Thanks.

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