It’s a chilly autumn morning – about 10°C – and the last few weeks have been very busy. I’m enjoying a quiet moment with a coffee and a book in the only sunny room in the house.
Timothy M. Gallagher (2006). The Examen Prayer: Ignatian wisdom for our lives today. New York: Crossroad Publishing.
I first heard of Fr Gallagher through a podcast series where he spoke about a number of topics relating to prayer. While I was raised Catholic, it’s been years since I really paid much attention to the spiritual disciplines of that faith stream. Yesterday The Husband, the kids and I made the trek into the city to visit the Catholic Bookstore. My Pentecostal kids didn’t know what to expect – but, as I informed them, it’d be just like the Protestant bookstore we’ve frequented in the past, only there’ll be more books about the Pope. There were also more framed prints of The Last Supper than I could’ve imagined.
In some ways being around Catholics almost feels like being among “my” people – in a sense they speak my spiritual first language, and they dress similarly to my default style. The Husband pointed out that the people leaving mass at the church next door were not as formally dressed as he’s used to seeing from his vantage point as a middle class suburban Pentecostal. From my background (rural farming class Australian Scots-Irish Catholic) I figure that wearing anything dressier than gumboots is pretty good. Extra points if I managed to brush my hair. I hadn’t really thought about it until The Husband mentioned it, but he’s correct. I’ve felt a lot of pressure to “dress up” for church over the last decade, with the fear that if I don’t dress well enough I’ll be overlooked. The process of getting dressed for church takes me forever – out comes the make up, the pricy clothes, the hair straightener… Some days I love it, others I resent it. Early experiences taught me that some people are watching and judging (“discerning”) a person’s character based on how attractive they are, or how short their skirt is. I’m not saying that any church community is immune to this temptation to assess a person’s value based on appearances, but since yesterday I’ve certainly been pondering the enviable practicality of the mass attenders’ warm clothes on a rainy autumn day.
I also bought an Order of Mass card. At some point in the last few years the liturgy was altered and I was caught out the last time I went to mass (Christmas Eve 2014), still reciting the responses I learned in the 1980s and 1990s. I’d love to get a missal so I can follow on with the daily liturgical Bible readings.
I find myself almost standing in two different realms in my Christocentric spirtuality. There’s the part of me that married into Pentecostalism, and there’s a number of things I love about that spiritual path. In particular, I’ve learned the Bible to a depth I never knew was possible, and met some of the kindest and most creative people I know. Then there’s the part of me that’s still a country Catholic girl, with strong leanings towards mysticism and seeing God in nature, who loves the liturgical calendar, and misses the simplicity of being able to be a faithful pew warmer! (I’m evidently in a season where I’d love to be able to rest, but church can be an all-consuming obligation at times.) I love relearning what I thought I knew about the faith of my childhood. There’s such wisdom in it that I’d never really appreciated as a cynical teenager who wanted out as soon as possible.
It takes me back to a conversation I had as a 17-year-old. There was a woman in her 30s who’d started attending mass again after an absence of some 10-15 years. I said to her, “Why on Earth would anyone choose to come to mass after being away so long?”
She said something to the effect of, “One day, if you’re in your 30s and become a mum, you’ll understand. You’ll probably come back. It feels good to be here with my kids and to raise them in the church.”
At the time there’s no way she could’ve known how prophetic her words were. There’s no way my teenage self could’ve known that by my early 20s I was voluntarily and joyfully involved in church, and that by my 30s I’d start reconsidering the ideas of the faith I was raised in.
So here I am. This book is brilliant, by the way.