Confessions Of An Ex-Catholic


May 30, 1950.  My first Holy Communion

May 30, 1950. My first Holy Communion

 I ADORE Pope Francis. In just one week he has changed the atmosphere in our country from one of intolerance, hate, and bigotry, to one of love, and compassion. Oh, yes, I’m aware that there are still people out there, including some politicians, that haven’t seen the light. I heard that one couple chose not to be part of the crowd surrounding the Pope because he’s chosen not to wear the standard red, Pope shoes. Like him, I prefer to be living in my old and faded stretchy shoes than the uncompromising, iron-clad boots the nay-sayers wear.

I wish this Pope had been around when I was a vulnerable ten-year-old and my parents were thrown out of the church because they were married by a justice-of- the-peace the night before my dad shipped out to fight for his country in World War II. According to the priest who made that decision, my brothers and I suddenly became something called bastards. I had already been baptized in the church and had received my first Holy communion. I was confused. I didn’t understand but it affected my spiritual life for many years until I recently wrote about it in my memoir.

This excerpt from the book describes what I was feeling:

The church’s rejection shook me to the core. My brothers and I would go to limbo instead of heaven. I felt that the church had taken on the role of abuser to all of us. God, who I was lead to believe was the world’s hero, the force that always protected everyone, was no longer there for me. He didn’t recognize my family members or me as worthy souls. He’d simply ditched us on the side of the road.

Even as an adult, I was afraid to go into any Catholic Church. I wanted to refuse when my cousin, Mary Anne, asked me to be a bride’s maid when she was married in the Catholic church. But my mother told me that I couldn’t let her down. My knees were shaking as I followed the procession down the aisle, praying that there would be no explosion of thunder and lightning over the scene because God didn’t want me there. And on Bill’s and my honeymoon in Europe, I didn’t want to visit the Vatican in Rome, simply to see Michelangelo’s magnificent works. I went anyway and in the end was glad that I did.

My First Holy Communion Certificate, received in 1950

My First Holy Communion Certificate

Today I’m comfortable inside churches of all denominations. I’ve found forgiveness and compassion for those religious zealots who trampled on my world. I strongly believe that God is not a punishing deity and that I am worthy to be called a child of God.

I’m not about to rejoin the church. I prefer to believe in a higher power in my own way. I find God in in the star-lit sky at night, in the fiery reds, hot pinks, and golden sun-struck clouds at sunset, in a bed of tall ferns and soft mosses beneath a canopy of towering oaks, a child’s smile, and in the song of the wood thrush.

I disagree with Pope Francis’ take on same sex-marriage, the role of women in the church, and abortion. But because of Pope Francis’ visit to this country, I feel ever so much closer to God and my belief that we can make our world a better place for our children and all of the people and creatures that we need to protect as global climate changes rips what we’ve considered normal into shreds.

I am grateful for the peace that Pope Francis has brought to so many people while he was here and pray that the serenity and faith that he’s left us with will not be swept away too soon as we make our way through the work of finding a man or woman suitable to become our next President. Politics is often a dirty game. Let’s help keep it clean. Let’s make room in our lives for everyone, no matter their skin color, religion, or ethnicity.

What is your takeaway from the visit of Pope Frances?

An Almighty Plan?

My front garden.

My front garden.

I have always had the notion that I’m being cared for by some invisible force. Those is AA and the other 12 step programs call it their Higher Power. I called it the same thing before I got comfortable with the word, God. But that’s another story and you’ll be filled in on that one when my book is finally published.

For me, God is not a wizened old man with a long, flowing beard, who sits on a thrown, cushioned with clouds. Actually, I have no idea what He, She, or It looks like. For all I know, God may be Booby, my first dog and special pet when I was very small. He was a dachshund and full of unconditional love. I have always noted that dog spelled backwards spells you know what … I know, bad joke, but sometimes, I do wonder.

IMG_1437All I know is that when I need something, God, often shows up and takes care of the problem. I do wonder about those times when He, She or It doesn’t show up. Maybe it’s because I’m NOT a churchgoer … But whatever, I’m very grateful for the help when it does come and always say thank you loudly, over and over again, in case that special caregiver of mine has hearing troubles like mine.

I do believe that my decision to take a social media sabbatical was one made out of necessity with somebody else’s help. I just didn’t know it at the time. Things were going swimmingly. I was having fun. I was ahead in revising my book. My editor, Annie, and I talk every two weeks, discussing three chapters or approximately 5,000 words of my manuscript. At the same time I’d send her the next three chapters for her to read and point out the places where I’m not being clear and need some help.

I was taking long walks every day, reading, and even seeing friends, that too often, I haven’t had the time to visit with. I made a list of the most important things in my life, and where and how I wanted to use my energy before I leave the planet.

No, I’m not suffering from a terminal illness, nor do I think I’m about to slip away. I’m very healthy. My departure will happen, but not yet. I do reckon though, that it’s important to take time now and then to remind ourselves of what the plan is.

Oh, but is there a plan or does it all just happen? I’ve never figured that out. Life runs at too fast a clip, dragging me along, until one day I have to stop and say, “Whoa there, give me some time to think, before I lose my attention span!”

Two weeks before Bill, was scheduled to open as one of the dad’s in the musical, The Fantastiks, one of his knees decided to rebel. His doc, said it was Gout and gave him special meds to make it go away. In the meantime, he had most of his dance steps in order and worked with the choreographer to make things less painful.

But the pain intensified on a daily basis and he had a hard time just walking from one room to another. I took over his cooking nights, his afternoon walks with the dogs, garbage emptying, and all the other IMG_1438stuff he does around the house. When he saw the doc again, he was told, “It’s not gout. You need to see an orthopedist.” The appointment was made for a date after the show was to open. And there was no getting around the excruciating pain. None of the over the counter anti-inflammatory meds did anything for the swelling or the pain.

Two days before opening night, Bill had to break the dramatist’s credo, “The show must go on,” and made the very tough decision to excuse himself from the cast. The director, took over Bill’s part and the show went on to great reviews. We went to see it opening night and it was fun. But Bill was devastated. Having been a actor, director, playwright, and teacher most of his life, he’d never had to drop out of anything before.

A week and a half later, Bill saw the orthopedist, had a cortisone shot, and was scheduled for an MRI the following week. He was still in pain and I was frustrated. Suddenly I didn’t have a lot of time to write, walk, or take naps. Between my own usual activities and Bill’s chores, I walked well over the 10,000 steps a day without taking my usual long walks. Bill’s sleep was disrupted by pain, mine by worry. Some of his symptoms were similar to those of our daughter’s chronic lyme disease symptoms. Was he suffering from the same thing or was it what the orthopedist said was arthritis? We were both extremely grumpy because life was not going as we’d planned it.

Bill had knee surgery a few weeks ago to repair a torn meniscus. At the same time the surgeon scraped away some of Bill’s arthritis and has warned that he is a candidate for a knee replacement if cortisone shots and a brace don’t keep the pain away. He’s still in recovery, works on a bike at the gym, and walks a little bit further every day without his cane.

I’m sure my decision to take a Lenten sabbatical was God’s plan to give me the time I’d need to be the head honcho here a home. The timing was just too perfect. Every day we both learned new lessons about patience, life changes, acceptance, and the small things that are of the most importance to us.

So far we’ve lived a charmed life. But we were reminded that we do not run the show and that whoever, or whatever it is who pulls the strings, has already figured out what we’ll need ahead of time.

Happy Spring!

Insight Dialogue And What Is Most Important To Us

 Lotus © Joan Z. Rough

Lotus © Joan Z. Rough

This past Saturday I returned to the annual, Insight Dialogue Retreat, that one of my favorite people and teachers, Sharon Beckman-Brindley, teaches here in Charlottesville, as an offering of the Insight Meditation Community of Charlottesville.

These retreats have been scheduled every January for the past several years, and it’s a magical way to start the New Year. By the end of the day, one participant wanted to know, why we all had to go home. “Couldn’t we just keep going?” My feelings exactly, except I really did need a break to go home, eat dinner, and have a good night’s sleep. But had the retreat been scheduled to continue on Sunday, I would have been there in a heart beat.

Insight Dialogue, is the practice of working with a partner to whom we speak and listen to, as we contemplate a series of questions on a given theme. This year’s theme was about intentions and what is important to us as we navigate through our lives. As we slowly walked around the room, we were stopped by the instructor and told to engage a partner for the first contemplation, find seats across from each other, and decide who would be the first speaker.

Our first contemplation was, “What are the intentions you wish to carry with you throughout your life?” We were all encouraged to relax and pause if the speaker needed time to pull his or her thoughts together, or the listener needed time to banish intrusive thoughts. Each pause provided stillness in which new thoughts and insights arose and could be added to the conversation.

The speakers were then directed to talk about a difficulty in their lives and how they might use their intentions to make the situation less difficult. Other questions followed, with the speaker addressing what was true for them, always pausing to reflect on new insights.  The listener then had a chance to respond to the speaker and  talk about how the speaker’s words affected them.

Exchanging roles from speaker to listener and listener to speaker, the process began again, with the new speaker answering the same or similar questions. We were continuously reminded to relax, pause, close our eyes, and take a deep breath when necessary.

Except for the time that dialogue was taking place, we spent the rest of our time in silence, even during breaks and while having lunch, allowing more time for us to continue our own contemplations of our intentions.

Continuing on into the afternoon, additional questions with new partners were contemplated, each taking a turn at addressing the questions being asked. By the end of the afternoon we had each shared contemplations with three other people.

It’s always an amazing and cleansing activity for me, as I dig deep to find my truth, and practice being an intent listener. It becomes very clear that insights arise during our brief pauses, when we are in the moment.

The first time I went to one of these retreats, I had no idea what to expect and was very nervous about speaking so openly and intimately about myself and my inner world. But it’s become a yearly ritual for me and each time I come away with new insights about myself and inspiration from those I sit and speak with.  Often long lasting friendships are forged.

This time around I discovered that I’ve always kept the good things I feel about myself under wraps. Saturday afternoon, while discussing the good things that we do as we move through our lives, I realized, I’d been taught as a young girl that it was incorrect to talk about my goodness. Good little girls were not supposed to speak about how nice we were. It was a form of bragging and always seemed to bring on the same response to the silly questions I often asked … silence.

As a result, I was led to believe that the good things I did were unimportant. Only the bad things, like doing something stupid, talking back to my parents, or disobeying them, counted in any description of who I was at the time, both in my mother and father’s minds, as well as my own.

I also learned that I’d already used one of my intentions for this new year. I DARED to post a somewhat controversial, political essay last week here on my blog. I don’t normally like to do that. I like to be positive at all times, and dislike confrontation and disagreement. I’d learned early on to keep my mouth shut about things like that. Although no one needs to agree with what I wrote, I’m rather proud of myself for standing up and speaking out about an issue that was of great concern to me.

Setting intentions for a day, a year, or a lifetime are always good things to do.  If you have intentions for the next ten minutes, this coming year, or for the rest of your life, what are they and how do see yourself manifesting them?

The Buddha In The Fur Coat

IMG_1280Life is good, but it isn’t always easy. One day the car breaks down and you’re late for your appointment with the IRS, who says you owe them money. On the opposite kind of day, you win the lottery and rush out to buy a new car. The in-between days find you smelling the roses, with a bunch of crappy, little things all going wrong.  You have to work harder to find your center.

My buddy, Sam, developed a hot spot on his tail a week or so ago. He’s been riddled with all sorts of allergies since we adopted him back in August of 2003. The worst are food allergies. A little over a year ago, with the help of a new vet, we found food that he likes and doesn’t make him sick.

But there are all sorts of other things that he’s allergic to. At this time of year when all the leaves are down and the air is filled with leaf mold, Sam itches like crazy. He tries to be patient with it, but the result is often a hot spot, that has gone bald because of his constant scratching, licking and sometimes chewing. It gets infected and then we have a problem on our hands that requires antibiotics.

I’m kind of allergic to this time of year and have been a bit out of sorts myself over the last few weeks. It’s my usual holiday state of mind. There’s too much to do, too many expectations, and the whole world seems to be melting down around me. And beyond Ferguson, the state of the Middle East, and all sorts of other issues going down, it’s been a particularly difficult year for the city of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.

First there was the disappearance and tragic death of Hannah Graham. Now we’re dealing with the Rolling Stone’s article about the “rape culture,” at Thomas Jefferson’s university, just two blocks from my house. The editors are now backpedaling, saying that some of what was originally reported isn’t true. Thankfully, the powers that be at the University are not letting the issue rest and are working to make sure all students, especially women, feel cared for and safe in what has become a questionable environment.

Whether you’re connected with the University or not, what’s been happening around us is affecting all of those who live here. When Hannah Graham’s body was found, a friend, who lives elsewhere, asked how such a horrendous thing could happened in such a beautiful and peaceful place like Charlottesville. My response was that bad things happen everywhere. Beauty has nothing to do with it. It’s just the way things are and we each react to these events in our own way. But when it’s happening down the street,  events like these can cast a shadow over an entire community. We like to think that where we live is the best place in the whole world and that things like murder, racism, and acts of brutality, don’t happen here.

The other day I overheard an acquaintance, say, “It’s so cold out, even the ‘bums’ aren’t out today.” She was referring to our area’s large homeless population. I was horrified. I wanted to shake some sense into her head. I told her to go and sit with those “bums.”  She might learn something about what it’s like living on the street and why those people are out there.

The morning that had started out so nicely, had just been shot down and I became a raving grouch, leaving a wake of unpleasantness behind me as I stormed home. I was not being helpful … to myself or anyone else. I was being judgemental, just like the one who spoke ill of the “bums.”

When I got home Sam was sitting all curled up on the couch. Trapped inside what some call the “Cone of Shame,” he was the picture of peace. Despite his itchy tail and being a bit grouchy himself, he wagged his tail, looked at me with his big brown, all knowing eyes, and said, “It’s okay, Mom. It is what it is.”

I sat down next to him, and wrapped my arms around him. He’s one of my greatest teachers. The pain resulting from being unable to make the world a better place, slowly released me from it’s grip.  I began to feel sad for that acquaintance of mine. She’d probably been taught that homeless people are bums … perhaps by her parents.

When I finally stood up, ready to go on about the rest of my day, Sam winked at me and gently licked my nose.

Who are your greatest teachers?

Living In The Moment

DSCF0400I’m blogging over at today, writing about living in the moment. I hope you enjoy.

I’ll be back here next week with a blog about the robots that could soon be arriving in our lives.

I hope you all have a Happy Fourth of July!!