Every year I seem to write an Easter Diary, and I don’t see why this year should be any exception. I actually went to church this year, and although I didn’t really want to go (and had all sorts of fantasies about what would happen there), I’m glad I did.
I don’t much care for organized religion and I always tell people, “I don’t go to church, church comes to me.” But I thought I’d better make an exception this time, in the name of family harmony.
The church we went to is a short distance from our house, so we put on our sneakers and walked over. Even though we arrived early, people were already lining up to get into the church and they were planning a second ceremony in the church basement (which didn’t sound too appealing to me), so we quickly got in line.
Church basements can be odd, all-purpose places. Many years ago, I was a teacher in a Catholic school where the church basement contained the cafeteria. I was on lunch duty one day when one of my students came up to me and whispered, “I don’t like to eat here, there are DEAD people in the walls!” I thought this was just one more of the usual tricks that students like to play on teachers, but then I found out the kid was telling the truth: When I looked closely I saw plaques arranged around the room, denoting where various former parish priests were interned. So besides being a gym, auditorium and lunch room, the basement was also a mausoleum!
We were lucky enough to snag a pew in the church itself, and we tried to save places for our relatives for awhile, but soon gave up and let other people join us. I was delighted to see that one of the people who sat down in our pew was what looked like a full-blooded Native American, who was wearing feathers in his shoulder-length hair. I thought, “This is really neat,” and my interest level perked up considerably.
Then the priest stepped up to the podium and welcomed everybody. He said, “All are welcome here, whether you are single, married or divorced, straight or gay.” Since being either divorced or gay is supposed to get you kicked out of the Catholic church, I was very impressed with the courage it took for him to make this statement.
As usual, I didn’t recognize any of the hymns. Catholics need to borrow some songs from the Protestants (especially the black churches–they’ve got all the good ones). This reminds me of the time we had our now-adult son baptized. We wanted him to be old enough to know what was going on. We lived in New York at the time, but we waited until we were on a visit to San Antonio, where Whitley got in touch with a priest he had known as a child, who said, “Sure, he can be baptized in my church.” When we got there, we discovered it was a black parish, where gospel music was not only sung, but “rocked.” We were the only white people at the church service, but we were made welcome. It was a unique and unforgettable experience.
Interestingly, even though I was raised by atheists and never went to church as a kid, I know almost all those gospel songs by heart. Whenever I walk by a church group that is singing one of them, I can always join right in. I think this may be because my mother, who died when I was a child, sang them to me.
I didn’t wear a cross, I don’t own any. There was a fad for costume jewelry based on the cross theme a few years back that I found kind of vulgar. Jesus was such an extraordinary shaman that I don’t think I can live up to wearing a symbol like that. I like to wear hearts instead, to remind myself to try to love other people (the way he did), even if they aren’t very loveable.
Did I come to any conclusions about my rare visit to church? I think the Catholic church and politics have something in common: both are morally bankrupt institutions, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good people in them.
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