Ash Wednesday.

February 6, 2008

There are two things most people don’t know about me. Not because I’m ashamed or secretive, they’re simply not popular topics with the 30-and-under crowd.

1. I am about 30% republican. 40% on a bad day. Most of my social beliefs, save for a few, are about as liberal as you can get, but I still retain a few of my Texan roots and a dose of common sense. I don’t know what it is about the democratic party that pisses me off so much, especially since I agree with them on a majority of topics, but I cannot bring myself to align with them in name. The dems are so self-righteous and the conservatives are judgey…so what does that leave? Ron Paul.

2. I am fairly religious. Okay, I shouldn’t say religious, I should say that I have a strongly rooted faith. My family converted to Catholicsm when I was 4 years old. We’ve grown up as pretty typical Catholics. We attended mass regularly in my childhood, but it tapered off as we (the kids) got older and busier. Eventually we became C&Es (Christmas and Easter). Truth be told, my religious beliefs probably fall somewhere between Christian and Buddhist, but I have never been a big fan of labels (unless they’re Prada Gucci Coach). From and early age, my parents stressed the importance of keeping an open mind, and encouraged us to explore anything that that inspired us as children (from other religions and cultures to art classes to ice skating to book-binding). They never presumed to teach us that our way was the only right way , and made sure that we respected every person’s right to choose what works for them in their own life.

In retrospect, it was one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me – an open mind. I have gone through my life gathering bits and pieces from different places, people, and experiences, to create a version of faith that works for me, personally. I am sure there are many people would find this arrogant and wrong, but for me, it is the best way I know how to live.

I went to mass tonight, for Ash Wednesday, and looked around. Catholicism is beautiful, not unlike an art museum. Everything is rooted in tradition, custom, and history. And while I can appreciate this for what it is, it has never been the exclusive fit for me. Catholicism takes a view of God as an authoritative-father and Jesus as his more-approachable son. But that scares me if there is any truth to “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” theory. In my head I like to imagine that Jesus is the kind of friend who will sign up to take pottery classes with you and if he’s your neighbor sometimes he’s the guy who gets up real early and scrapes the snow off your sidewalk because he’s already finished his. And so, it only makes sense to me, that, as his role model, his father much be much the same. The cool old-guy on the block who invites everyone over for a summer BBQ and wears an apron that says “I really am THE Top Chef.”

As a relatively new transplant to the area, I am on the quest to find not only a place of worship where I feel comfortable, but a faith-community who shares similar views. A place where faith isn’t something you only experience on Sunday while you’re putting in your time. A place where faith isn’t somber and monotone. A place where people are open to the idea that what works for you may not work for the person next to you, but that doesn’t make either of you wrong.

To me the answer has always been obvious (yet another reason why Holy Wars seem so absurd). Consider every major religion. Most of them – on some level – teach a similar theory: live your life the best you can and try to leave a positive mark on the world and humanity in your wake. It doesn’t matter what name you choose to use – God, Jesus, Buddha, Allah. Believe in something. Whether that be one of the deities, or your family, or love, or a moving piece of art – just believe. Faith is not something to be proven to the outside world by word-choices or numbers of services attended. Faith is reflected in the way we live, the way we behave, and the love we share. Sometimes you can find more God in the stranger who holds the door for you when your hands are full, than sitting in a pew for an hour.

As I sat in a beautiful church tonight, listening to a moving sermon, I looked around and began to see that God was among us – quite literally. Not as all Almighty force to be reckoned with judging us from above, but among us in the form of the little girls in front of me cuddling their father with pure adoration. In the man next to me who gave up his seat to stand so an elderly woman and her grand-daughter could sit. In the young boy who nervously volunteered when the scheduled alter boy didn’t make it in time.  In the families and people who had taken time from their busy days – after work – when everyone is exhausted and ready to go home and put on pijama pants – but instead they chose to come and commune with others.

It is a beautiful and loving world that we are part of every day. Despite what the news reports, there are tiny miracles happening in every moment. The challenge lies not in selecting the right answer, but in appreciating each possible answer and finding the one that allows you to see the world for what it truly is.  A gift.

“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” – Ranier Maria Rilke


2 Responses to “Ash Wednesday.”

  1. dinainsuburbia Says:

    Wow… came to your blog by searching “catholicism” and I have to say what you wrote is beautiful. As a practicing Catholic, I belive that Jesus IS a friend and that guy you’d take pottery classes with… I think the beauty of the Catholic faith is that with all the tradition and all the history, we are taught that his message is simply- hey, love each other, like I love you.

    Just like you saw Him among “us” Ash Wednesday, I see Him in you- in your writing of this beautiful post.

    God Bless.

  2. Amelie Says:

    thank you for the beautiful comment! i’m so happy to see that there are other people out there who “get” what i was trying to express with that post. have a wonderful easter!

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