Church on Thursday

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m not a regular churchgoer, and haven’t been for several years. There are a number of reasons for that, and most of them concern the inconsistencies of people in their adherence to the beliefs they profess – or, put more bluntly, actions that don’t jibe with their words, and vice versa; others are about my disagreements with policies and practices within the religion in which I was raised. This has brought me to a place where I don’t really embrace the whole “personal relationship with God” concept, since I have serious doubts about what some people claim that God wants from us, or what God thinks about certain subjects, or God’s direct involvement in individual lives; I’ve come to a more general type of spirituality, viewing God as more of an unknowable force.

I’m interested in the topic of “religious studies,” and a surprising number of my books can be at least partially classified there, including personal faith memoirs, but less in the actual practice of a particular religion. And on a more personal level, attending church is closely associated with family for me – originally my parents and sister, and then the family of my first marriage. First Husband and I had actually been fairly involved in our parish before our protracted breakup, and the association of that with church attendance was just too complicated for me; and at the same time, I really didn’t want to attend alone. I found other ways to spend my Sunday mornings – usually, long hikes with my dog – and found that other than the music, I really didn’t miss it very much. I’m still asking the questions and looking for the answers, but I don’t really buy that there’s only one correct answer, and I don’t think the Q&A requires being in a pew once a week. And the fact that my second husband is a bona-fide agnostic has made it even easier to let churchgoing slide.

But I do sometimes have occasion to be in a church, and the third of January was one of those times. There was a sudden death in our extended family on Christmas Eve, and we attended the memorial service on Thursday. In the past few years, it’s mostly been deaths and baptisms that have brought me to church at all, but no matter what the occasion, I seem to find that while you can take the girl out of the Catholic Church, you can’t take the Catholic Church out of the girl entirely. Hundreds of times participating in the rituals of the Mass set the programming or something, and even without a liturgy book to follow, it all comes right back. There’s some sense of comfort in that, and even a little twinge of having missed it.

But since this is such a rare occurrence for me now, part of me remains a detached observer, fascinated by what’s going on around me and how other people are responding to it, such as these things I noticed:

  • My stepkids haven’t been raised with any religious tradition, and very little religious exposure, and it’s hard to know how to address this. I have to assume they have questions, but I don’t think they even know how or what to ask, since they don’t really have a context, and that same lack of context makes it difficult to know how to answer even if they did ask.
  • If people do have any sort of religious tradition, they’ll be called to it to mark transitions like births and deaths (hey, Tall Paul and I even had a minister at our very non-churchy wedding) – but it may be obvious that they’re not often in church otherwise. (And yes, I do realize that’s a rather judgmental comment, but I think it goes back to the inconsistencies I referred to earlier.)
  • The priest made a pretty creative attempt to tie together references to the deceased, Christmas, and the gospel reading in his homily, and I found that respectable but not terribly inspiring.

That last point is one reason I probably won’t be in a church again for awhile, unless another extended-family event brings me there. Inspiration and spirituality are all around, anywhere, anytime, and are not confined to any particular church property. But there is comfort in ritual, and in community…and I do still miss the music.

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  1. I am not a church goer either. I do find religion studies quite interesting and enjoy learning about different religions, delving into their histories as well as the differences and similarities. Growing up, I was raised in a sort of split home. My father is a former Catholic (who has strong negative feelings about Catholicism even today–you should have heard the tirade he went on when my brother converted to Catholicism.) turned agnostic who always told me that the more educated I became, the less I would believe in God. My mother was the one who dragged my brother and I to church each Sunday. I’ve been all over the spectrum with my beliefs as I try and find my own spiritual path. I married a man who was raised by relatively faithful Christians but he himself is now an atheist. I don’t think he likes that label, but I’m not sure what else you would call his disbelief. 🙂

    I do not subscribe to conventional religion for many of the reasons you mention in your first paragraph. I really don’t know what I believe half the time to be honest. I was raised as a Christian and many of the teachings are ingrained in my blood at this point. It’s not so easy to let go of that, even when confronted with contradictions and questions and yet I find myself not believing much of the time just the same these days.

  2. Literary Feline – My dad’s probably the opposite of yours; he was a convert to Catholicism, and the older he gets the more involved in church stuff he seems to be. But I do think your dad’s point about education making one less of a believer has something to it – that kind of relates to my own ideas about the things one has to refuse to know in order to be a fundamentalist, which I’m not going to say more about right now.

    I do know exactly what you mean about things being ingrained, though – although in this case “indoctrinated” probably really is the right word. 🙂 There’s something like a sense memory of some of the rituals for me, but I know that at some level I’ve always been a skeptic. It would probably be easier NOT to be one, but maybe not as interesting.