A few weeks ago, I wrote about my church nerd beginnings. I also noted that I was coming up on my 19th anniversary of returning to church, a date that is shared with the 18th anniversary of my mother’s death. It’s a big day for me and it has come and gone. Like so many things, it was so unlikely.
In 1971 I made my Confirmation and not long thereafter, stopped going to church. Now, it is not uncommon to see Confirmation as “graduation” from religious education; frankly that is a pity. Sometimes it is called “a sacrament in search of a theology,” but that was not what was operative in my life at that time.
Along the way I made some serious religious and spiritual searches… Judaism and Buddhism were my two most extensive journeys. Oh how I wanted to be Jewish! However, there was that pesky issue of Jesus. I was fine with so much about Judaism, I was fine without the Roman Catholic Church it seemed, but not without Jesus. Crap. Don’t you hate when that happens? Dang! Jesus!
Buddhism might have worked out better if I had not ventured into Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. You might know this as the chanting of “Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.” At the end of the day, it was a bit more cultic than I could handle. There was a tenet about “wishes” being granted and I still think of “born again Buddhism,” that did not set well with me. It was simply not my path.
The Roman Catholic Church was never far from my heart. I remembered my prayers. I often said them quietly, hoping no one, myself included, would notice. I did hope that God would notice but I figured that God was done with me. I still said a lot of Hail Marys because I had a feeling that Mary would never give up on me.
Sandwiched in between the Jewish phase and the Buddhist phase, I was in college and I did have some RC longings. The first time that this happened was in September 1979. It seems hard to believe that the me of this era would do this, but I guess it was the homesickness and adjusting to new surroundings.
I headed over the campus Newman Center to check things out. There was a priest there and a lot of people. It was all very post-Vatican-II-70’s-kumbyah and it scared the living crap out of me. Folk mass always gave me the creeps! To say I fled would be an understatement… Imagine the cartoonish trail of dust at my heels as I recall running out of there.
Many prayers but not one iota of church attendance later in 1978, I decide to go to church. What brought me there? Who knows? Well, I know now, but then it was as out of character for me as it would be for me to attend a Nichiren Shoshu session now.
However, awash in my own unworthiness, which breaks my heart today, I got dressed up and sat in the back of a large church in Oswego. I loved the music, the prayers, the ritual but I did not feel like I was worthy. So I sat in the back, never went to communion and left feeling worse than when I had arrived. I felt ashamed. I told no one about this and I was hoping that by sitting in the back, God would not notice me and smite me down.
If God did notice me, I figured that Mary probably calmed God down and I was left in my lonely pew at the rear of the church.
Mary, the Mother of God, who was my secret devotion and my only hope for some connection to the divine. Holding on to her was like one thin yet sinewy lifeline that kept me from going under. I told no one.