Tuesday, May 13, 2014

When God Speaks Through a Catholic Hymnal...Wait, What?!

   For all my theological musings, I don't do religion. At least, I haven't done religion.
    I used to see it as kind of mindless, pointless to an extent. Why follow what someone tells you, why perform fancy rituals when you can directly communicate with God (i.e. Protestant tradition)?
    Plus, religion was boring. All I remember of my time in St. Ann's Catholic Church as a four year old was eating cereal from baggies my mom had prepared and making up stories with my sister. I tried to follow the priest once when my mom said he was talking about Adam and Eve, but I lost interest after not more than five minutes.
    I was just fine in my nondenominational church, thank you very much, where pastors were funny and relatable, where people didn't expect me to repeat every other sentence.
    Thankfully, my views became much more nuanced over the years, as I realized many in my family were both Catholic and true Christians, and as I befriended Catholics/Orthodox Christians my own age. No, faith is alive in religious churches too; I was wrong to assume religious folk were legalists and nothing more.
    But given my history with compulsive rituals and legalism, a religious church has never appealed to me. Outside of Communion, I'm resistant to rituals, even (I'm troubled to admit) baptism. I was baptized as an infant, and I've considered but never been baptized again, because rituals are, for me, burdensome.
    Up until this week, I've been in Boston University's Marsh Chapel exactly five times.
    My first time honestly freaked me out. Coming from a fairly casual church back home, the dressy outfits embarrassed the T-shirt-clad me. The hymns overall bored me (although my roommate has a stunning voice), and the repetitions felt stiff and awkward. I'd rather it be simple, me and God and a pastor giving good advice, y'know?
    I couldn't leave fast enough.
    The second and third times two were insignificant as far as religion goes; I went once to see my friends' choir perform, once for Bible study.
    Then last month, my discipler (mentor) asked if I wanted to go into the chapel and pray. So in we went.
    There was maybe one other person there.  The air was hushed, but not deserted. Sitting in a wooden pew, with stained glass portrayal of Solomon's temple to my right and carvings of Jesus in the wood above the alter, I felt for the first time a glimpse of God in religious rituals.
     I felt more than thought of the people all over the world who have gone before, worshiping God over the ages.
     I thought more than felt the symbolism behind the artwork, creations used to worship God. And it struck me that, that maybe, religious churches might be worth visiting after all.
    My fifth visit to Marsh occurred Friday. Exhausted from Americanized Christianity, brokenhearted, I sought refuse inside the gentle atmosphere of Marsh again.
    For some reason I opened a Catholic hymnal.
    I don't remember the hymn I opened to, but it repeated the idea that God loves us over and over and over.
    God loves me? Me, who shrinks from baptism? Me, so compulsive I flee formalities lest I have a panic attack? Me, who doubts God at times more than I believe in Him?
    God's Presence? It's here. In Catholicism, in Orthodoxy, Protestant, nondenominational, and everything in between.
    God is here and He loves us.

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