February 28, 2005

My Story : An Introduction.

Not of Wax

My heart, my little child, my dear, wanted a fishbowl
full of moon. I gave to her a plate of earth, a fern,
a bit of moss on a smooth stone—no, she would not
have it. I found a net that held the wind and with it
the scent of thyme and rose—she was not mystified.
A cup of water, ablaze with rippled flame to sing
as lip touched lip, flesh to crystal kiss—a bowl
of moon, she said, and would have nothing else.
It is not a toy, I told her, not to be tamed.
She shook her head, pursed her childish mouth
into a line. But here are all the wonders that
I have
, I pleaded. What else can I do? The moon
is not of wax, I cannot pour warm water over
it until it softens, to slip it past the fishbowl's
narrow rim and leave its residue smearing glass
She patted my knee, a gesture she had learned
from watching, and left me, my little heart, my child.
I have nothing now but sky, the empty bowl,
and tides that breathe with moonlit vowels, its only
words articulated on this hard palate of rock.
Shall I lower the fishbowl into ocean, replace
the shore's harsh whispers with the rounded song
of filling up? Shall I hold the bowl as close as
my child I held her, so to swallow a bit of mirror,
and will my little heart, my darling, then come
running, across the plate of earth, the drink
sweet in her throat, the wind carrying her
song, Mother, Mother! Look how the moon has
come to live with us in all this moonless stuff.

I was raised Catholic—my dad's side is your traditional large, poor, Irish Catholic family, but like him, many of his siblings married outside of the Catholic faith (I have two Jewish uncles and a Buddhist one, as well as a number of aunts and uncles from the Protestant Christian traditions, like my mother), so I've always been exposed to a number of different religions growing up. When I was a teenager, I fell in love with poetry and began reading everything I could get my hands on; much of what I read was religious poetry, from Catholic to Buddhist, Sufi to Hindu. By the time I got to college, I was fascinated by the study of comparative religions, and I've spent the last four years of my life taking classes and doing research in that field (as well as writing poetry).

It was never that Catholicism didn't satisfy my spiritual needs (though I'd always been bummed that women can't be priests), but more that I absolutely loved learning about all the different ways that others throughout history have related to God. My parents had always taught me that God could be found everywhere and in everyone, and that God's revelations weren't just in the Bible but in everyday life, as well. Early on, I'd begun to wonder—if I can read a "secular" poem about everyday life and feel like the poet is saying something about the beauty and wonder of the world and, thus, about God—then why can't other religions' holy texts also be different ways in which other people have expressed their connection to the same one God? It never occurred to me to think that everyone else was just crazy and only Catholics were right, since our experiences seemed so similar. In any case, I might have just been content to be your typical, mainstream Catholic for the rest of my life, except that, as Mark Twain would say, my "education" began to interfere with my learning. The more I studied my own faith and others from a scholarly perspective, the more I got caught up in remembering all the little rules and intricate differences in doctrine. I began to feel silly about things that I had always done since I was very young (like carrying charms with me, or writing little chants or poems to sing to myself, or treating my daily morning shower as a kind of special cleansing time)—they felt far too "new age" for a Serious Religious Scholar, and once I'd run across the Neopagan movement in my studies, I also began to worry that they were downright un-Christian, even though I also felt more drawn to them than ever. So I tried to cut them out of my life.

The result was that I felt cut off from God. I went through months of confusion and depression, not knowing what was happening and convinced that I was "doing something wrong" and all the more committed to purging myself of every last bit of "un-Christian superstition." Then, one night, I had the oddest dream—I dreamt that I was in a cabin out in the woods, with a young man who was, I somehow knew, my guardian angel. He told me that the time had come for me to venture out on my own, and to protect me, he gave me a small dagger. The handle of the dagger was intricately carved so that, on one side was Christ on the cross, and on the other was an androgynous figure wearing wreaths of flowers and leaves wrapped around "her" body. These two figures blended together seamlessly around the dagger, which glowed slightly with a protective light. The day after I had that dream, I began browsing the internet for information (the research I'm doing for my thesis ties into ritual theory, so I told myself I was just looking for relevant information so I wouldn't feel stupid or guilty). That's when I came upon Rawna's website.

For the first time, the realization began to dawn on me: there was nothing specifically un-Christian about personal ritual. I knew this intellectually from my studies—of Buddhist and Jewish rituals, of the rituals still being performed by modern Catholic monks (such as Thomas Merton, a favorite author of mine). Ritual, both "high ceremony" such as the Catholic Mass and those everyday moments of purposeful connection with the Divine, is a healthy and even necessary aspect of one's faith. Christianity has historically focused more on doctrines of belief, in contrast to the orthoprax nature of its mother tradition, Judaism. However, there have always been exceptions, especially in Catholicism. Thinking back, I remember how my grandmother had a small shrine in her living room, with candles and statues of the Holy Family. She gave rosaries, scapulars, and saints medallions to my younger brother and me, hoping that we would use them in prayer and contemplation. We were too young to understand and knew only that she was old and somewhat senile. Nonetheless, I wore the necklace with the image of Mary that she'd given me for many years, until I replaced it with a Celtic cross-knot from the Book of Kells, representing the soul's eternal journey returning to God (I now wear this symbol when others might wear either the cross or the pentagram).

As I read the essays on Rawna's website, discussing almost all aspects of the Craft and its relationship to Christianity, it was as if I were suddenly waking up again. The "nature mysticism" aspect of the Craft had been with me since before I could remember—in poetry I had always sought a connection with the Divine through the beauty, complexity, and intensity of nature. Being a modern young woman, I also fully embraced the feminist aspect of liberal Catholicism, the feminine aspects of God as Mother, Creator and Nurturer. The only part of myself and my faith that I had felt was necessary to deny was ritual—it had seemed old fashioned and childish. But why? I participated in and knew the value of social rituals that strengthened the bonds of community. I respected and appreciated the rituals of other religious traditions, and I even used ritual when I sat down to write my poetry, using the same free-association exercises and background music (sometimes even singing and dancing to get my creativity flowing). So why, I suddenly found myself asking, couldn't I incorporate ritual into my spiritual life?

The answer, of course, was that I could. And so, this is the path I have started on. This, then, is a moment of trust for me as I continue on my journey towards the Divine. I have ventured out into the woods armed only with my strong faith that, as long as I earnestly seek God, He will guide me and keep me safe. For a long time, I have felt as if I were stumbling through a spiritual fog, crashing into things and getting generally banged up. Now, I'm still in that mysterious fog, but I'm learning to sit still and listen. I am learning to relate to God in a new way and recapturing some of what I used to know and have since forgotten.


At 14.4.05, Blogger Athanasios said...

Wow, this is some powerful stuff you write. I can relate to your journey in some ways, but no time to share. Keep pursuing and yes, add your own personal rituals to your Catholic faith. Remember the tradition of those who have gone before though, and what meaningful contributions they have made. Don't give up on the Rosary, the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Find the meaning from 2000 years of history for yourself in each of those, and as you discover yourself.

Take care.



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