Last week, VanGoghGirl asked us if she could go to mass with her best friend on Ash Wednesday. I was okay with it, but The German was a bit wary. He doesn't consider himself a member of any particular denomination. The church we usually attend is non-denominational and doesn't really require you to profess any certain beliefs or go through any particular ritual in order to participate in the services. He likes it that way and so do I. My daughter really enjoys going and is always looking forward to the next service. It's really an uplifting place. Of the times I've been there, I've only unequivocally disagreed with something the pastor was claiming less than a handful of times. I figure I'm not going to get much better than that at most of the churches here.
Last night when he and I sat down to talk about it again, it turned into a really interesting conversation. The German had some concerns because he doesn't want VanGoghGirl making a mockery of the services or the religion by going and participating even though she isn't Catholic (yet). His grandmother was Catholic and his mother was raised Catholic, so he really has a lot of complex feelings about the Church.
He was never baptized and he never really went to mass after his grandmother died, but she was a very strict Catholic and she was quite religious. By "quite religious", I mean that she brought her two daughters up as Catholics. Both were baptized and confirmed, too. The German also has many memories of the presents she gave him and his siblings, like their first Bible, his sister's first rosary, et cetera. He said that he could see himself perhaps becoming a Catholic one day in the future. He was brought up to see his faith as something that should be mostly expressed inwardly, so the quiet and calm nature of Catholic services appeal to him.
I grew up in a church where enthusiastic physical expressions of faith were derided as pure emotionalism. There were no accepted or appropriate outlets for those who wanted that sort of component to their worship. I think that's why I really enjoy going to a congregation where there's a lot of singing and live music and uplifting of arms and even some dance. I feel like I'm making up for lost time. I just want to let my spirit be free to feel and express those feelings and the congregation we go to gives me the opportunity to do that around others who also enjoy the same sort of expressions of worship.
Even though that's what I prefer, I can definitely understand why that might not really appeal to others. Some people find that sort of environment too distracting from the quiet contemplation that they seek to do when they worship. Some people just don't like to sing and dance and clap. Where we congregate, you can see folks who stay seated much of the time or don't sing that loud. It's a big enough congregation that you can do any of that and not draw much attention to yourself. The people in attendance tend to just leave others alone to worship however they need to.
Anyway, it was really interesting to hear more about The German's feelings on Catholicism and the possibility that VanGoghGirl would be one when she is an adult. He's a bit worried about whether it would be problematic to have a child with a different religion. He's concerned that she might start looking down on our beliefs because we aren't Catholic. What if she started trying to proselytize us? Would she start to think that she doesn't have to see us as her guardians in God's eyes?
My feeling is that becoming Catholic doesn't really represent a change in religion. To me, it's more of a change in traditions, kind of like a different flavor of ice cream. I'm more concerned about her not feeling close to God at all. I spent a lot of time feeling as if there was a angry God who was constantly displeased and disgusted with me. I felt like I could never get my behavior in line with what would required of me. It was drilled into me that our way of worship was the only correct way and that leaving the religion meant abandoning my relationship with my Creator.
I don't want that for her. I want her to feel as if her Creator is here to help her, to be there for her when she needs someone to turn to, when she doesn't have the words to express how she's feeling. I think we've given her the skills to view Catholicism with reasonable and compassionate eyes. I think she can understand that anything that someone tells you is from God is still limited by their own understanding and shaped by their experiences, and that she should keep that in mind when deciding how she feels about what they claim.
The German worries that she might still be too young and that since we aren't Catholic might make it harder to keep up with what she's being taught, so that we can help her process it in a healthy manner. After all, he's already seen us through our process of recovering from one set of unhealthy religious beliefs. I don't blame him for not being all that eager to start over with that. Still, I'm willing to give this a try.
I've been trying to learn as much as I can about Catholicism. I've studied Islam for about a decade now and I still feel like there's a lot I don't know, so I'm figuring that this is going to be a long process. However, if this is what it takes for VangGoghGirl to retain a feeling of connectedness to her spiritual self, then I down with that. These are the years when so many parents lose their children. The kids start turning to people who really can't give them the sort of advice or support they need. I can't let that happen. If I have to choose between her putting her energy towards being a good Catholic or her putting her energy towards trying to be what a lot of other folks tell girls they should be, I'd choose the Church.
Today, VanGoghGirl went to mass with her best friend and her mom. The mom checked the girls out of school and brought them to church. VanGoghGirl said they explained the steps to her and that they even had little pamphlets that showed you just what to do. She told me how she put her hands across her chest when she went up to the priest so that he knew she wasn't Catholic and couldn't take communion yet. She was really excited about being blessed by the priest. She still had her ashes on her head and said she told me that she was keeping it on until she took her bath tonight. Most Catholics I know rub off the ashes soon after they leave church, so I was a little surprised. She said a few of the kids at school questioned her and teased her about it when they got back to school, but she sounded really confident when she said that she can handle them. I was really proud of her. It sounds like she's prepared to defend her decision. I like that.
I don't know where this journey is going to take us next, but I think it's going to be okay. I haven't told The German but VanGoghGirl has mentioned to me that she'd like to take confirmation classes soon. I guess we'll have to see what she needs to do to make the next steps towards her goal.