Monday, June 29, 2009

Religion, The Tribe, Roman Catholic, Almost Jewish

About a decade ago, moved by a convergence of my longstanding fascination with religion and a time of great personal loss, I embarked on a search for a church and wound up a born-again Catholic. It was not a straight or untroubled path, guided as it was by both my attraction to and enmity for the Roman Catholic Church into which I was born and baptized.

Growing up Irish Catholic in New York City put me in a good position to experience the best and worst of the Church...

Roman Catholic, as it turned out, was the language my spirit already knew. Burning hyssop and frankincense, the stark and heart-charging splendor of Gregorian chant, Marian devotion; the iconography, the Latin Agnus Dei and Litany of the Saints, the Angelus bells, the rapture at the crux of Catholic worship have always held fierce sway with me.

As I started to experiment with religious observance, I quickly developed a sense of what I did and did not want...I am Catholic under protest and I’m in good company. The long tradition of radical thinking is alive and well in my Church...The power of the Church may rest with the College of Cardinals, but its glory rests with people like me.

Once I accepted that being Roman Catholic did not require that I be a papist — once I understood that it was possible to be simultaneously outraged by and in love with the Church — I saw the obstacles to being a practicing Catholic in a new way.

I certainly do not see religion as essential to an ethical, spiritually rich life. I am married to an agnostic Jew and I educate our three children in two faiths, teaching them to pray, modeling what practicing a religion authentically looks like.

...My practice of Catholicism inspired me to step up my efforts to educate my children about Jewish Sabbath observance and Torah, for example. When I light the candles on Friday nights, I do not do so as Jew, but I don’t exactly do so as a Christian either. I do it as the mother of children of the tribe, and when I do so, I enter this ritual fully, as a soul rising to the occasion of something more infinite that the sum of all our ritualistic parts — I stretch — a soul reaching to touch the hem of the garment of the Divine...

That was from Michele Madigan Somerville. Her Web site is Fresh Poetry Daily.

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