Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Why mass made me shake with rage

I went to mass today to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham - after all, it is in Walsingham that I've felt touched by God in so many ways: from finally completely forgiving my uncle his sexual abuse to those wonderful God-filled conversations with John F. and others. And let me tell you - there's nowhere like the smoking tent out back of the Bull at about 2am for finding God.

I know, I know. I've drifted away from church to create a reasonable balance, so that when I do go, I'm not driven crazy by liturgical Nazis, the mediocre choir, the high proportion of shallow, narcissistic parishioners. But I can't drift forever - I must decide whether to stay or go. From the Oratory. From the Catholic Church. And I can't do that from the position of rebellion and general ill will I've been feeling. So I'm going to try to maintain a balance where I'm more involved, so I can make a decision from the right place. But that's another post.

It started off well. I popped in, said 'Hi' to John W. and went to the novena. I was reasonably cheerful despite the cheesy Marian hymn with which we began mass (note: WHY do all the Marian hymns have inane Victorian words and playground tunes? Is that how little Catholics think of the Mother of God?). There was even an adorable 3-4 month old girl with the most gorgeous smile being good as gold a few rows in front of me. I entered the wanting-to-hold-baby melting phase that I would DIE before admitting to in front of any of my clerical friends. Tough bitch works so much better with men in dog collars.

Mass was in Latin, my preferred language, said by someone who has a semblance of Italian vowels. (Fr...ex-Parish Priest's vowels make me want to climb the damn walls) I prefer Latin not because it's the only liturgically valid language (*hurl*), but because of its sensuality - liquid vowels, soft consonants. Latin is sexy.

It was all fine until the Eucharistic Prayer, when the woman with the baby decided that she needed to kneel and read the translation of a Eucharistic prayer she hears in English every goddamned day. That, of course, meant that there was no room for baby. So what did she do?

She put the baby on the hard wooden floor in the central aisle of the church. Without a seat or even a blanket. Or even her precious coat.

Yes, that's right. The baby was directly on the hard floor of the centre aisle, so that this...no, I won't use the c-word...could kneel, look pious and read a translation she KNOWS. Oh, and she looked over about 3 times in 15 minutes.

I went from mushy to shaking with rage in 2 seconds. You do NOT put a vulnerable person in danger. You do NOT place a child on a cold, hard floor in a heavily travelled aisle in church. Granted, no one should have moved during that time, but you can't be sure. You do not place YOUR 'need' to act pious over a child's safety. A baby's need for love and security trumps EVERYTHING.

I nearly went over and picked her up, but I retained enough sense to know that it would make matters worse. Even so, I wanted to stand up and say to Fr Provost, who was saying mass, "THIS.THIS is what makes me angry. THIS is what I hate about your parishioners - that they place piety over what is really important. That you reward this apparent piety in every form it comes - from the asskissing parishioners to the insufferable altar servers, even when others are placed at risk. THIS is why I walked."

And even after she no longer needed to kneel, she left the baby on the floor until she had to go up for communion...

..which I received in a towering rage. But since I felt my anger at her placing the little one in danger was justified, I haven't a twinge of conscience about it.

Mass ended, I knelt to pray, then turned on my heel and left.

Fortunately, none of the three brethren I would have talked to about this came through just then, because I think I would have cried tears of rage on the shoulder that appeared as I told him what happened. I might well have said, "Remind me. Remind me why I'm here. Why I care. Why I keep trying to make this work. Why I don't just leave."

Even now, I'm not sure I can answer that.

7 comments:

Irim said...

Because this is cross-posted at Facebook, some comments won't make it here unless I add them - so I'll add the first ones now:

Vera Nadine:

And I do remember someone, a divine being of some kind, describing you as the eternal mother! Nice to see that truth is truth, no matter what form it comes in. The mother, above all else, the mother. ;)

My response to VN:

*Blush* Thank you.

[The mother, above all else, the mother]

*Grins sheepishly* Busted.

Even when I was 6, on one of my first visits to Pakistan. My fraternal twin cousins were fighting. Knowing that Ahmed always got the benefit of the doubt because he was the boy, I sided with Ayesha and told him to leave her alone. Huh. Not just mothering even then, but a need to restore the balance.

Years later, a friend told me that I reminded her of Raksha, Mother Wolf, from "Jungle Book":

"Defying the tiger Shere Khan, who is determined to eat the man-cub, she reveals that her name is Raksha (which means "protection") because of her ferocity as a fighter, and she will fight to the death for any of her cubs, natural or adopted." (Wikipedia)

This, I think - hope - beautifully sythesises two sides of me that people find hard to reconcile: what my friend Ari calls my 'avenging angel' side and the very soft side that prompted one of my friends to call me a 'fraud' (in a good way) when he witnessed it with someone who was struggling with his faith.

Yes, both sides belong to, above all else, the mother. :)

Thanks again, hon.

xx

Now do feel free to carry on here.

Ixx

Anonymous said...

She put her baby on the floor so as to be seen being pious? That's a pretty inflexible approach to piety. Sorry it ruined everything for you.

A friend of mine (yes, really) used to get very angry when this sort of thing happened at the KH. I did think it strange that this anger was always channeled at the institution, rather than the individual(s) concerned though. One probably oughtn't to get angry with the religion (or call it what you will) just because some *brothers* and *sisters* are so scared of it that they make asses of themselves, frequently at others' expense. I just marked down the person involved as being a loser, and moved on. In the end the religion seemed unappealing for quite different reasons, which if anything served to excuse the sort of inadequate behaviour that its adherents would exhibit every five minutes.

... And of course, it wasn't until long after my leaving that i realised i too had for years found ways of being cowardly, hypocritical and empty headed, which others would at the time have been well capable of seeing, but which i would have never have chosen to see for myself.

Really, do you feel angry at this woman who puts here baby in the middle of the isle, or do you just feel sorry for them both?

best,
jonathan riley

Irim said...

Hey there, chuck,

Good to see you here. And thank you for a really well thought-out, challenging answer.

[A friend of mine (yes, really) used to get very angry when this sort of thing happened at the KH. I did think it strange that this anger was always channeled at the institution, rather than the individual(s) concerned though.]

I hear you, but I understand where she's coming from. If you want to understand a classroom, look to the teacher. If you want to understand any community, look to the hierarchy/leadership, because they tend to have the final say on explicit/implicit rules. E.g., when a teacher allows children to punch eachother in her class without dealing with it, it becomes part of the accepted behaviour. If you look the other way when something wrong happens, you're approving it.

So when we see a PATTERN, and remember, this is part of a pattern, we don't just associate it with the person, we associate it with the institution it occurs in. People are very flexible creatures, and unless they have a solid sense of who and what they are, they will change to please the person they most need approval from in a certain situation.
So we'll have to agree to disagree on that one :).

[In the end the religion seemed unappealing for quite different reasons]

Often, what people become when they feel the need to fit a particular label - e.g., 'good Catholic' - is very indicative of what the institution is like and what direction it's headed in.

And I have to tell you, if the increase in inflexible, rule-bound Catholic younglings who lack compassion and the good sense of their Lord is any indication of institutional direction, I am deeply disturbed.

[And of course, it wasn't until long after my leaving that i realised i too had for years found ways of being cowardly, hypocritical and empty headed]

No arguments there. I've never denied being a hypocritical, heartless bitch. ;-)

And yes, hon, I'm angry. A vulnerable child was deliberately placed in possible danger so she could read a Latin/English order of mass.

I believe Jesus would have referred to it righteous anger.

Ixx

Anonymous said...

: "Good to see you here. And thank you for a really well thought-out, challenging answer."
Aw, thanks!

: "...I understand where [b]she's[/b] coming from."
Hey, Correct! How did you know this was a gal, not a guy!!!?!

On the point about behaviour, the ridiculous practices JWs used to get up to (dunno how much they've changed in 15 or 20 years) were motivated by fear. We were taught to FEAR Jehovah. If you don't do what he says, he is going to KILL you! That one might be thought pious by one's fellow dubs was usually just a subsidiary perk. (LOL, can you believe it?!)

I think the same sort of thing goes on with the Catholics, no? Is it possible this woman thought she was going to hell if she didn't get down on her knees right then and there? Or was she really just trying to look holier-than-thou? I genuinely don't know because everything i know about catholicism could be written on a small altar card.

: "No arguments there. I've never denied being..."
Eh, i wasn't trying to insinuate anything, i'm not that sophisticated! Seriously, i just re-read my whole first comment, and it does read a little as if i was trying to make some (slightly unpleasant) point in between the lines. I wasn't, not at all. I'm sorry if it seemed that way.

j

llwyfen said...

rage rage rage. one sister told me that sometimes when they were novices they used to go down the canal, stand under the bridge and SCREAM. i reccomend this, don't know exactly where the nearest bridge to the oratory would be tho and jericho is too nice to scream in. but don't leave - the church will be poorer without you and one day the pendulum will swing back from the scary militants to something more christ-like (or am i just too naive? i wonder that too sometimes) xx

Irim said...

[Aw, thanks!]

You are most welcome, hon. And we must repeat the dinner experience! That was a fabulous evening.

[Hey, Correct! How did you know this was a gal, not a guy!!!?!]

Oh my god. I was just going to cut and paste where you had referred to your friend as 'she', but you didn't, did you? I could have sworn I read it in there somewhere. And I read it twice! *cue twilight zone* I don't know how I knew.

[On the point about behaviour, the ridiculous practices JWs used to get up to (dunno how much they've changed in 15 or 20 years) were motivated by fear. We were taught to FEAR Jehovah. If you don't do what he says, he is going to KILL you!]

YES YES YES. And hence the anger filters up to the institution. Atmospheres don't occur in a vacuum. They're created.

[I think the same sort of thing goes on with the Catholics, no?]

That's a discussion better had over several drinks and a good dinner, but I'd say that post Vatican II, most Catholics are fairly relaxed. There's a particularly 'must have rules because I can't make my own decision' subset, but they're USING Catholicism as much as anything else. Ditto the extreme rightwingers who need some justification for their hatred - most Catholic social teaching is left of centre. But yes, there is a thread in the theology/institutional life that tends towards unquestioning obedience to authority.

Hmmm. Let's do that long evening.

[Eh, i wasn't trying to insinuate anything, i'm not that sophisticated! ]

Oh hon, I'm SO sorry!!! I didn't mean to say that you were; I was acknowledging it as an absolutely true point and one that I need to remember. Splinters and planks, etc. No need to apologise - I'm sorry the smiley face didn't make my amused self-deprecation clear enough. And the heartless bitch was a reference to my membership in the official heartless bitch clan - as per the logo on my main page.

Ixx

Anonymous said...

For many reasons, but particularly those that llwyfen quotes, please stay in the church. If you don't stand up for justice, who else will? Certainly not the Nazi Ragazzi...or the blue rinse brigade for that matter. Let's face it, there's probably not a translation for this in Latin that they know of - therefore, don't (in their minds) go down that path!