Wednesday, August 02, 2006

My grandmother, rock-star of God

Going to church with my grandmother is like hanging out with a really old Catholic rock star. The priest leaves his dais to give her special blessings and deliver her communion wafer directly. He always says, “Peace be with you Kate.” People swim up the tide of departing parishioners at the end of service to give her their hugs and kisses and shake her hand. I get to bask in that reflected glory.

Every time I go home to Kentucky, I take my grandmother to church. It’s mildly sinful since part of me does it out of vanity, but really I just like making my grandmother happy. Escorting her from the handicapped parking spot to her seat in the front, holding her steady at the end of mass, I feel like the handler for a super-star. And she gets to smile glowingly at everyone, sharing the love of communion. Her Catholic beauty makes me feel equally perfect in her glow. But my grandmother really is a special person, and everyone in her church knows it and radiates it back to her. I get to be in the cloud of all that love.

I met someone equally special, someone who used common platitudes in the spirit they were intended, not to just advertise her own piety. There was some soot on my arm, and she said, “It’s OK, we’re all made of dirt. God said it, ‘dust to dust,’” and she wiped off my arm. I found the Chicago equivalent of my own Kentucky grandmother.

This new woman in my life went on to say, “This life is hard enough, don’t do anything that makes you miserable. Do what you love.” She said this in such earnestness and simple clearness that I firmly believed everything she said to me that afternoon. I didn’t think too much of her when I was first introduced, but as she spoke, I felt the power of her religious beauty and glowed from it. Here is another special woman, just like my grandmother.

But I wonder, why do adults in the U.S. only find spirituality in religion? Why must we listen to homilies and discuss the Bible to find a spiritual center in our grown-up lives? Remember in college when you discussed Camus and Sartre and felt so important and brilliant? Why don’t we do that now?

I can’t think of a single philosophical organization in Chicago that gathers weekly to be lectured and to discuss spiritual matters of a non-dogmatic nature. I’m sure there must be somewhere here in this big city, but where? I want to talk about existentialism and being the best person you can be at this moment and think about the great philosophers of the ages and what wisdom I can learn from them. Do I need to go back to college to do it? Do post-college adults just lose interest in things bigger than them when life’s daily necessities insist on being met?

I enjoy sitting beside my grandmother and hearing the priest explain Sunday’s gospel reading. I always find a message in the homily that I can use in my everyday life. But where do the irreligious find their glory? I’ve been searching for the answer to that for years without knowing it. Going back to Catholic mass is like going to a gilded, incensed home. I feel relaxed and welcome and immersed in community as we all speak the same prayers, sing the same songs, and drink from the same glass of wine. But most of the time, I feel like I’m shut outside.

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