Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday

"We rise again from ashes to make ourselves anew."

I felt pulled to attend Ash Wednesday services tonight. It's been a little while since I last stepped into a Catholic Church, and I was amazed by how comforted I felt to re-embrace my Catholicism.

Lately, I've been feeling like something crucial has been missing from my life, and I know that part of it has to do with the absence of a spiritual community. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not certain if Catholicism is for me anymore. I still take issue with some of the Catholic Church's doctrines. However, I was raised Catholic and there is such beauty to much of its theology - to denounce it simply because I am against other aspects (rights for women, etc...) doesn't make sense to me either. I cannot bring myself to do it.

When I allow myself to reflect upon my spiritual journey, I think about all the searching and pondering I've done over the years and where that has taken me.

As a child, my faith was incredibly strong (I was determined to become St. Kelly because I was horrified that all the Kellys out there did not have a patron saint). Not only did I have faith in the Church, but I also had faith in myself. Even during the rough spots, I knew that I was being carried. I felt so secure.

I even attended a Catholic women's college, where it was cool to pray and to explore one's faith with others. I flourished there and felt so comfortable with myself and my lot in life. Essentially, I trusted that I was being taken care of and "held" in some great spiritual way.

This lasted until about my second year at Yale. My years at Yale found me in turmoil. Suddenly, everything that I held fast to, including my faith, seemed to crumble in front of me: my parents got divorced, my sister suffered her own setbacks, I was wrestling with changing my field of study (from bioethics back to art) and adapting to my first co-ed experience in years. Oh, and not to mention my first foray into East Coast living/personalities, etc... It was a mess. I also suffered my first bout of debilitating depression. Yet, somehow I pulled through but it wasn't without struggle.

The good news was that I learned much about myself. The bad news is that I felt as if I lost my faith and my anchor in the process. Attending Yale Divinity School left me and others I knew there with these faith crises. We were learning to crack open the book we had known since we were children and to examine it from other lenses (political, socio-economic, cultural). In theory, this is a fabulous endeavor; however, when paired with all the other changes I and others were making, many of us felt lost by the time we left Yale. I was questioning all the time - where I was going, what I was meant to do with my life and with whom, what did it mean to get seriously involved in a relationship with a Jewish man and what that might mean for the future (i.e. would I be able to live without celebrating Christmas).

I once spoke to a priest about all my questions, and he reassured me, telling me, "This is okay, Kelly, as it means that you are deepening your faith and are moving along your spiritual journey."

Those words comforted me then, but they don't anymore because I feel like I've done nothing but wander ever since hearing them, visiting churches and spiritual communities here and there but never settling anywhere for long. This feeling has been helped along when one considers how much I've moved around! In one year, I moved from New Jersey to Ohio to Montana to DC.

My years at Princeton brought me into contact with a Buddhist community and that felt like "home" for a while. I could never fully commit to the idea of all the deities; however, I adored the meditation practice and the dharma teachings. I felt nourished again. However, just as I began to feel settled, I made the decision to leave Princeton and I moved back home to OH.

I didn't stay there long, moving on to Montana, which was like returning to the Promised Land. I felt so alive and blissful there, and I circled back to Catholicism. There is a retired priest close to where I lived and he held daily mass in his home each morning. My aunt and I attended almost every day, and I adored it. It was so simple and without artifice (Instead of pews or chairs, I sat on his living room couch; we said confession in his garage), and there was nothing better than to hear his sermons, to look out onto the mountain ranges hugging the Bitterroot Valley and to feel spiritually alive.

Now I'm in DC, and I know that this place and what I do is NOT good for my soul. Truly. I'm doing everything I can to bring in more energy and spirit into my life but I still find that I come up short. I do yoga everyday (sometimes 2x a day). I exercise. I increased my omega 3/salmon intake to help with depression. I do things which soothe me (read, watch movies, journal, blog). I reach out to friends and friends.

All of THIS and I still feel empty inside.

Ash Wednesday, then, marks my decision to return to Catholicism again. I don't know how this will go, but I think that if I give it a little time and patience, I may come to know peace and a renewal of the spirit and faith I had those many years ago.

I'm not sure where this journey will take me, but I've decided to get back on the path and continue walking.


Margaret said...

I think every step along the spiritual path has value. The Catholic Church has given us many wonderful mystics. You might be interested in the spirituality of Dom Bede Griffiths and Fr. Anthony De Mello, both 20th century Roman Catholics who saw the Catholic Church as part of a greater spirituality, rather than the only source of it. You can get a taste of both of them on YouTube.

Jennifer said...

Hi Kelly,
What an interesting development. I think that any time faith and religion makes you feel better you should move towards it. I was raised Mormon and although I no longer believe in the doctrine, I find my self living in the comfort of the less formal Mormon traditions. Like having a large family, among other things. Let me know how these things go for you. Catholic churches are so beautiful.
Hugs Jen
P.S. I got the Save the Date card for your wedding today. So Cute!!!! And thanks for inviting us.

Kelly said...

Margaret -- You're absolutely right about this. The Catholic Church has much to offer, and it's nice to have been reminded of that fact. I'm enjoying going back to church and even look forward to it now.

Jen -- Hey, I'm with you. There's so much that religion can offer us; I just hate that it can also be derisive. It's funny how we cling to what we know during times of stress. And, I'm so glad you got the Save The Date card!!! We're looking forward to you coming. =)