Thursday, February 10, 2011

Crossing Yourself When You Aren't Catholic...

So yesterday afternoon in Nashville, we had snow and ice during rush hour.  What would normally take thirty-five minutes took almost four hours.  At one point, I was on an exit that was elevated and curved to the left...there were three lanes of traffic behind me trying to merge...but I was in front.  I was being annoyingly slow with my hazards on because I know people in the South don't know how to drive in this kind of weather.  I was blocking all lanes on purpose...because I could see in front of me...two cars abandoned on the ramp, one car suck and sliding, one 18 wheeler stuck and sliding and one car pushing another by bumper up the hill and not being successful at the attempt.

I was absolutely panicked someone would slide into me.  The mess was taking up almost all the room on the ramp.  So I got out of the car (in true "take charge" fashion) and let the cars behind me know we were going to have to move way over to the edge of the ramp to get through and merge into one lane.  So I led the group to the edge of the ramp--right up next to the railing...and we squeezed around very gingerly.  I saw about 12 accidents and lots and lots of slipping, skidding and unnecessary hot-rodding.

I found myself crossing myself (I'm not Catholic, but live with one) almost unconsciously.  It calmed me immeasurably.  There is no rational reason why...but, it provided me (just the motion and a deep breath) with an  overwhelming sense of "it's okay."

By the time I got home--I was a shaky wreck.  It was my first day yesterday without my back brace, so my pain   level was pretty high.  My sweet hubby had saved my dinner, heated it up for me and brought it to me so I could lay down.

My oldest true friend Arlene H. I met in middle school.  She is German-American and Catholic.  I loved her immediately because she wore clothes that didn't match and that had paint splattered all over them.  At the time, I believed (as I was taught at my church) that Catholics weren't "real" Christians.  I even tried to witness to her when I was about twelve because I was so afraid she would go to hell.  Because she was and is so awesome...she didn't immediately run away from me.  She tried to explain Catholicism to me as best she could.

There were few Catholics in my college, but when I went to get my Master's Degree...I suddenly met TONS of Catholics--a very diverse group.  Catholics from Ireland, Central America, South Korea, South America, all over the United States.  Some were Conservative, more traditional Catholics, but many were what I call "activist" Catholics...calling for Women Priests, challenging the Vatican about birth control, about gays and lesbians, calling for Priests to be able to marry, actively involved in a variety of social activism on behalf of those less fortunate.  I even made friends with a Gay Priest--who came out during our time in school together.  It was an amazing experience to be introduced to this mysterious (to me) faith.

While in Seminary, a group of us took a trip to El Salvador to meet with a particularly active group of Catholics that were trying to rebuild their country after a civil war our country helped fund and train pro-Government forces that were targeting "rebels."  Ostensibly, this was called a Mission Trip.  But, it was never our intention to do anything but learn from them and observe what they had been through and how they were faring.  This trip deserves its own post.  It changed me.  At the time, I had been out of church for about six years...only visiting churches, mosques & synagogues as a Sociologist.  I never felt as connected to the Early Christians as I did in El Salvador and I returned to the States with a profound respect for the people I met, a deeper understanding of what faith can mean and commitment to social justice that was stronger than ever.

And then, I married an Irish Catholic.  He is probably more of what you'd call a "cultural Catholic" in that going to Mass regularly is not that important to him.  He doesn't have a lot of love for Priests, Nuns or the Catholic Hierarchy...although in 1979 he went to see the Pope John Paul in Phoenix Park in Dublin--a powerful experience for him.  He was dragged out of bed by his Ma at 3am and he was bursting with excitement.  They walked to the Park--which is huge and it was packed to the gills--a quarter of a million people showed up.  This is a third of the entire population of Ireland.  John Paul was loved deeply.

All this is to say that I have had the good fortune of attending Mass with him at a Catholic Parrish that has an emphasis on Social Justice (which despite what Glen Beck says--really is a basic tenant of Christianity).  I have been around him so long now I have adopted his mannerisms, some of his Irish slang, and everyone once in a while--the rituals of his faith.

Curiously, he has adopted none of my mannerisms or rituals...mostly because he is so deeply rooted to Ireland.  Also, I'm a bit of an actress.  I moved around a lot as a kid and had to adjust quickly to all kinds of different social and cultural situations.  It prepared me well for the stage.  I was a theater geek in high school, but also did Community Theater when I lived in Knoxville.  I even got to sing one of my favorite songs (originally sung by the incomparable Stockard Channing) "There Are Worse Things I Could Do," in a musical written by my friend and Director, Mark.  I played a hooker with a heart of gold.  It was in a word--terrifying and fun.  Adaptability can be a blessing and a curse...but, it has been a great asset to me professionally and personally.  Drop me anywhere and I can find a friend.

Stockard Channing as Rizzo.)
Strange how and what we adopt from those we share our lives with and strange what we don't...maybe that's another post as well...

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