This weekend, I snuck away for an overnight at the Beloit Spa and Retreat House. OK, it's really my friends' house, but between their welcome and my tiredness, I treated it as though it were a spa and retreat house. You have to love friends who will let you impose like that. On Sunday morning, we took their three grandchildren to Mass at the local parish.
It's just a parish. It's lovely, but it's none of the things you would think I'd crave. It's not particularly liberal. It's not particularly intellectual. It's just a parish -a community of people who care about each other and try to live out the good news. But that little glimpse of what church can be rekindled all my "should I go back to church" angst.
I respect -and certainly believe- that church is, for some people, a repository of painful memories and nothing more. And sometimes even these people, with every justification in the world for leaving, miss church when they have walked away. But for me, church is mostly about happy memories.
There's the austerly lovely chapel at my old elementary and high school. I can remember how it smelled and how it sounded when one was alone in there. I can remember the vibrant (if somewhat self-important)campus ministry at my college. I can remember the "gym Mass" for Catholics who weren't quite sure they wanted to be there and who wanted to be sure their voices were heard at my first real parish in Chicago.
All positive memories.
And then there was Fr. M.A.P. (Misogynist Asshole Priest -notice the lack of a link. Oh MAN, was I tempted.) as we took to calling him, because we didn't want the children of the parish to start calling him that too. I eventually stopped going to church when he became the pastor. The hatred that he had for women and plenty of other groups of people(and no, I'm not exaggerating) poisoned the place and the experience for me and many others. And the parish hasn't recovered, even though he's gone. There are three qualified and rational, if somewhat uninspiring, priests there now. Compared to Fr. MAP, they are a godsend. Literally. But for some of us, the pain is still there. I can't quite figure out how that pitiful excuse for a man and a priest could overwhelm all the happy experiences I've had of church, but such is the power of hatred. It just exhausted my inner resources for hope of a better day.
I was fine with using Sunday mornings as family time and as personal retreat time. I was using that time to identify my core beliefs, to set boundaries between me and painful experiences that can teach me nothing new or important, and learning to cultivate sacred space where I find it. And then there was the Beloit Spa and Retreat House ;)
Darn it. Church can be wonderful. And it's just too, too painful when it's not.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
There is a time to dance. It's good to be reminded that there are good churches, where the members work to be authentic church for each other.