Many voices came up around this writing. There are those who are going to see my references to religion and Jesus and immediately dismiss this. There are those who are going to think I am challenging their faith. And there are those who might be inspired by it as it relates to spirituality or other aspects of their life. All of these voices are welcome. Some of the anticipated voices caused me to wonder whether or not this post was a good idea, but I would be missing the point of this experience if I chose not to publish this. So here it is.
I grew up Catholic. Truth be told, I am not sure how Catholic I really am anymore at least by certain standards. I still value the richness of some rituals but also struggle with what I call the “stuckness” of the Church. In my childhood home Good Friday was observed like this. We did not turn on televisions or car radios, and we fasted that day. Thanks to my mom we kept things really simple. It was a day of remembering what Good Friday was all about. I have gone to Good Friday services and been part of the reading of the Passion many times over the course of my life. Somehow this year Good Friday felt heavier than ever to me even just reflecting on it in my own home. The pain and suffering was ever present. I’m not sure if it’s because of the state the world is still in. So many people feel like someone is threatening their spirituality. Many people are not given the liberty to freely practice their religion, and so much violence still occurs in the name of religion. Maybe the day’s heaviness was also an energy that still lives on in other ways. I try to look at such occurrences as opportunities to do my part in bringing healing to these world issues.
I sat and read some things in one of my books by William Barclay – a biblical scholar. I like his books because he explains the context of the time. He explains the Jewish traditions, and it helps deepen my understanding of the Gospel readings. One of the things I read that day was about the crucifixion of Jesus being completely political, which again reminded me of the state of the current political arena. As I read and reflected I did my best to allow these heavy feelings to stay and move through me. The day came and went.
As Easter Sunday approached I tried to decide whether I wanted to go to Easter Mass or not. Sometimes the Mass experience is wonderful and sometimes it leaves me furious. I often prefer to go sit in the silence of an empty church. I went back and forth. I decided because Good Friday was so heavy this year for me, I would go. I wanted to participate in the celebration of the Resurrection – the rise from suffering. My husband and I got ready and headed over to the church. We settled in with the Easter crowd, and I noticed the beautiful flowers and soothing music. The first reading came from the Gospel of John. It spoke about Jesus as the way, the truth and the light and how Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” I sat in the pew reflecting on that reading. What does that really mean? It seems we have made it all about religion. Is that it though? Had I really thought about what that meant? Sure I had, but here was the question once again looking to go deeper. I wanted more time to think about my own interpretation of this reading. I made a mental note to write my thoughts about that later.
The Mass goes on, and here comes the homily. This is the part where I sometimes have trouble. The priest begins, and so does my inner turmoil. I am hearing nothing about the celebration of the Resurrection. I waited. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I waited some more. I heard a little about the Resurrection, but it all came back to a lecture about what’s right and what’s wrong or who’s right and who’s wrong. Where was the celebration? After all, Mass is just that. Even the priest acknowledged that every Sunday Mass is really a celebration of the Resurrection. I didn’t feel the celebration. I didn’t hear the joy. I kept hearing force. I even thought of shaking his hand later so that I could share some compassion for this palpable frustration. I kept thinking, “Maybe he’s making some points. Just stay with him”. Then the homily was over. I made it.
It was time for him to walk around the church blessing everyone with holy water. The priest dips an instrument into a beautiful vessel filled with water and sprinkles the congregation. This is symbolic of Baptism and renewal. As he went around the church people were chuckling a little because they were getting wet, but I could only feel force. It was time for me to go. I looked at my husband, and said, “Let’s go”. My body was almost moving before I could even register my thoughts. I remember this one woman in particular watching me, and I remember feeling guilty. Maybe I was wrong. No one else was leaving. Was I doing the right thing? Should I be leaving? How many times in my life have I heard that the Mass is not about what the priest says? I can respect that, and I can also respect my own feelings.
I paused with all these swirling thoughts and questions. My husband and I walked into the overspill room where the Mass was being projected on a screen. I sat in this room where I could also look out the window at nature. I just stared out of the window thinking about this whole experience. What was this? Whose was this? I had recently had a similar experience at a doctor’s visit and so much came from that. I sat and compared the two. I allowed the questions and the guilt to simply existed. I knew intellectually this guilt was not appropriate, but I could not deny its presence. I was also aware of the ancestral energy that was potentially impacting me. After sitting with all of this a little longer and feeling myself relax a little, I was clear. I was ready to leave. I touched my husband’s hand, and he knew I was ready. This was not the first time I walked out of a Mass. It was the first time I paused this way before leaving. I had to let all of these questions and feelings have space before simply moving on.
We walked outside to a statue of Mary. We said a prayer there then walked across the beautiful church property and left. In the car, we proceeded to have conversation about the experience. My husband shared his perspective being a non-Catholic witnessing this Mass. And, of course I was not short of words about mine. I shared with him my thoughts about the first reading. What does it really mean to follow Jesus? I shared my observation that we’ve made that all about religion. But what does it really mean? When I look at His life, I think of one who knew His purpose and followed it. People thought what they thought about it, and He continued to move forward. To me that’s what it means to follow Jesus. It means finding our purpose and following it and letting people think what they think about it. This is no small task, and it goes far beyond religion.
I thought more about William Barlcay’s work. He explained that Jesus is still alive and still very much present. Then he described the tendency of people to look for Him where he is dead. That spoke to me so profoundly. I had to think about what that meant for me.
I reflected more on the Easter Mass and remembered feeling more peace and more clarity as I sat and looked out of the window at nature. I felt more peace when I allowed my feelings to simply exist. I felt more peace when I honored my own experience. I didn’t have to stay and go through the motions when everything in me was saying it’s time to go – when it was clear I was not being fed the way I desired. I realized it actually takes courage to get up and walk out when no one else is. What if that was actually Jesus leading me out? I remembered walking with my husband on the grounds of the church and stream of water flowing through the property. It was clear to me that Jesus is alive in me, in nature, in music. God is alive in my marriage to a man who is Hindu. God is not limited to one religion, one church or a particular circumstance. Most faiths believe that God is unlimited, so why do we limit God to particular religions, parameters or experiences. I know these things, but it is so easy to forget.
My husband and I arrived home. As we pulled into our driveway on that gorgeous day, three eagles were hovering over our home. I am not even sure I would have believed it myself if I didn’t have my husband as a witness. There they were with open wings soaring so effortlessly in the blue cloudless sky. In many societies, the eagle represents spiritual illumination and connecting to the Greater. Somehow this was confirmation for me. Eagles fly high and have tremendous vision. I couldn’t help but think of the need to rise above routine in order to see clearly. And once again I thought, “What does it really mean to follow Jesus?”