Thursday, 16 July 2009
Contraception, the Passover meal, and the beginning of my coming home
Wordpress post from 15th July here.
Before I left the Catholic church I often used to sit in mass thinking "WHAT is this all about?"
Surely if Jesus made a return visit he'd be baffled.
What was with all the 'smells and bells' and scripted prayers and responses, and sitting and standing and kneeling to order like we were all playing a grown up game of 'Simon Says'?
It became pretty obvious to ME that if God and Nice Mr Jesus Meek and Mild were, in fact, REAL, rather than pleasant sociological constructs to give our lives a little shape and order, then that was BIG NEWS. Surely it had to be the most significant and enormous revelation of our lives.
So how could we be so 'ho hum' about it?
And why on earth would they want us going through these rather samey motions week after week?
I concluded that they wouldn't. That what we were doing week after week at mass was the combined result of centuries of religious practice, during which time we had moved further and further away from the "simple truth of the Gospel".
Does this sound familiar?
At the time I thought I had come to these conclusions all by myself and was becoming more and more quietly frustrated with what I saw as the complacency and dullness of 'organised religion'. Perhaps you can imagine my fascination and relief, in meeting other Christians who felt the same.
They wanted their faith to be the centre of their lives and weren't satisfied with just getting their church attendance card stamped on Sunday.
The sense of enthusiasm, not to mention the feeling of community and friendship was attractive and heart warming. It didn't take long for me to make the move.
I didn't miss mass at all. I had been so frustrated there. I used to think that I could be rotting away spiritually and no one would catch the smell.
I didn't go all 'anti Catholic' like some ex Catholics I knew ( my auntie being one) I was just glad to be free range.
I got to hang out with the Christians whose company was agreeable to me, energising even . There were no 'passengers' in my new church. there were no people there who were signing up to do catechism classes to have something to put on the school application form. I didn't hear any dodgy ideas about reincarnation, or how this story or that story in the bible was a myth invented to mollify the simple minds of superstitious peasants. Plus, they all were as familiar and easy with scripture as I was with the songs of Johnny cash. These people were serious! I was impressed!
Everyone was vital and involved. I loved the church. I felt a good 'fit' there. I liked the music, the preaching, the children’s work, the people. It was all good. Well, Mostly.
I had noticed that there were lots of different views about some things which, as a Catholic, I had assumed were pretty nailed down. Like baptism and women priests and, of course, the Eucharist.
It's funny looking back. I'm not sure why those inconsistencies didn't bother me more than they did. But they didn't. I just decided that God hadn't made it crystal clear. So he surely couldn't mind all that much whether we got it right or not.
But over time, these abstract questions became urgent questions of HOW TO LIVE. Today.
I wanted answers. I was always asking myself the 'what about?' questions. I wanted to know if there was a definitive answer to some fundamental questions.
The most pressing and fundamental seemed to be " Is contraception ok?"
This was important to me because if I was meant to be walking by faith and not by sight, and trusting in the goodness of Gods plan for my life...could I be throwing a spanner in the works by contracepting?
On this key issue, the question of 'openness to life' and what to do with my 21st century freedom of choice in the matter, my mind wouldn't stay shut.
It really bugged me that we would all agree about the necessity of walking by faith and not by sight, and of the need to be generous with our tithe ( whether or not that meant a literal 10%). We were unanimous that we were to fully trust in Gods perfect will for our lives, lives which were hidden in Christ to whom we offered ourselves as a living sacrifice.
And we certainly all agreed that God, the author of life, the Alpha and the Omega, could be trusted to manage His creation very nicely thankyouverymuch.
So why were we contracepting?
How should we live TODAY? And who was reliable enough to please work it out and tell me?
And while my mind started on that topic, it would quickly turn to myriad others.
What about salvation? Were we saved 'once for all' after a confession of faith in Jesus, or could I fall from grace and lose the prize?
And what about tithing? And what about healing? Does God want us ALL well? Does " By His stripes we are healed" mean that none of us need to get sick anymore?
So if the bible is all sufficient, what do we DO about questions that the bible doesn't explicitly address because they weren't issues back then?
Who could have envisaged stem cell research and human cloning?
It was all so confusing. I asked lots of people. There were many people whose lives were ample evidence of their sincere and devoted Christian faith. But often I got conflicting answers. Or they weren't sure either. Mostly we agreed that it was a good idea to pray about these things and ask the Holy Spirit to convict me of the truth.
I put some of these questions to the back of my mind. I liked what J John had to say on the matter, which, from memory, went something like " When God says 'Yes' he means 'Yes'. When God says 'No' He means 'No'. But when God doesn't say anything HE DOESN‘T MIND!"
The other issue that was kept cropping up for me was tradition. I have a deep, affectionate fascination with Judaism. Gods ancient people make me feel awed and it touches me that, despite the centuries of struggle, they are still here, still unique, still bringing something distinctive to the world.
A few years ago, as a home schooling teaching opportunity mainly, I decided to hold a Seder meal. I found it so intriguing. God really is the perfect teacher. Everything that I was starting to understand about how we learn, about different approaches and learning styles, was neatly encapsulated in that little ceremony.
The repetition of the familiar story. The multi sensory experience of tasting, hearing, seeing, smelling... Eat the green vegetable dipped in salt water and remember that as good as life is, it is often mixed with tears...Taste the salt water and remember the bitter tears our ancestors cried when they were slaves...eat the charoset and the matzoh bread and remember their back breaking work in the sand dunes of Egypt building pyramids for pharaoh...see the roasted lamb bone and remember the blood of the lamb, posted on the doors, saving us from the angel of death...clean out the leaven as a sign of our willingness to root out sin...light the candles to symbolize the presence of God with us...and so on.
These aren't in the correct order, I just jot them down here as they occur to me. But you get the picture.
In addition there is the place of importance given to the youngest child, who asks the questions. the importance of having guests, the priestly role of the father. I could go on and on. Suffice to say I was deeply struck by the beautiful simplicity of using a meal as a way of teaching a profound truth to be passed on through each generation.
I thought " No wonder the Jews are so smart, they knew how to learn. God taught them!"
And then I compared that with the way I sometimes found myself teaching my children about God, which was usually reading a little bible story aloud and then talking about it. It seemed a bit lame by comparison. I thought about how well God had set it up for His people to remember. A way in which even the youngest could enter in, by this multi sensory, repetitious experience.
Then I thought back to my old irritation with the scripted rubrics of the mass, of the uniform sitting standing and kneeling as one. No spontaneous self expression required. Or wanted.
Funny, how I rolled my eyes at that. And yet I revelled in the depth of meaning, in the richness of the symbolism in the Seder meal. How helpful it was in entering into the mystery of the Passover, re presented in every generation.
I sat thinking about this in silence and I remember the moment when the penny dropped and I heard myself saying "Oh.My.God" under my breath.
It was a proper 'light bulb' moment. At that point though, I would have been aghast to think that it was the point at which I would start turning back to all that I had left behind.
Just as well. Having no clue where my new insight was leading me, I forged ahead in confidence.
Had I known , I might have been considerably more trepidatious.