I don't talk much about my faith. I believe that faith is deeply personal, and it is possible to be a deeply spiritual person without being a member of an organized religion. I also believe the God of my understanding doesn't care what building you are sitting in, what clothes you are wearing, what words you use or what book you reference, as long as you live a life that is loving to each other, peaceful in nature and which leaves your little corner of the world more loving. As it happens, however, I have been a member of the Catholic church all of my life. Recent events have shaken my membership in that institution, and in some ways, also shaken the bedrock of my faith.
I grew up in an alcoholic home, and especially when I was a teen, the only constant I had every week was the ritual of mass. I knew that I could walk into any Catholic church anywhere in the world, and it would be the same, consistent, reassuring and constant. It was the faith that I grew up in, and for more years than I can remember, it was the faith that I have practiced through my singing, by being a choir member, a cantor, a funeral cantor, a wedding cantor...Singing is how I have always prayed because music breaks through barriers that everything else resists.
When my daughter arrived, she started attending church with us. I would sit in the side pew of the choir loft and I often fed her a bottle while simultaneously singing the offertory hymn with the aid of a music stand. When she got older, she sat in the back pew with my husband while I did my choir cantor thing at the front. Until she was in school full-time, if I had to sing at a funeral, she would go and spend time with my mom. When that option was no longer available, she would come to church with me and sit in the side pew. She was used to funerals and behaved reasonably well for the most part.
My daughter has recently been diagnosed with ARND-Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder. It is a form of Fetal Alcohol, and is a legacy of her birth mom, along with the crack. What it means, is that while she does not have the facial cues, alcohol caused permanent brain damage. Her left and right sides didn't develop equally, developed partially and parts didn't develop at all. She has trouble with transitions, she has trouble with too much noise, light and sound, and has a myriad of other challenges that we are dealing with and determining. And it is all internal, so the meltdown and movement looks like misbehaving rather than overload, and it is often judged as lenient parenting rather than understanding what my daughter needs to deal with an impending overload.
My daughter misbehaved at church. There's a lot more to it, but that encapsulates it. I made some poor decisions trying to give her responsibility...and I was informed that unless someone was with her 100% of the time from now on, she couldn't attend mass. Choir members had complained. If I brought her alone, my only job was to "sit in the corner and make her behave." The message was delivered by someone that I would have called a friend, and more insult to injury, the mother of two special needs adults. And the message had been sent from the priest.
To say that I was shocked, hurt and stunned is an understatement. The message was delivered in front of some of the choir members. The institution that preaches acceptance and tolerance had just turned its back on one of its young members, and one with special needs. Nowhere in any of my bibles does it say "let the little children come to me, but only if they sit down and behave..." Pope Francis speaks of acceptance, didn't seem at all worried that a little fellow wandered up, sat in his chair and gave him a hug. Pope Francis patted his head and kept going. The message was clear-I was welcome. My daughter was banned.
This has rocked me on a fundamental level. I know that my daughter is going to have a rough go, but of all places, church should have been the safe, welcome place. After a week of agonizing, praying, crying, trying to take the emotion out of it and figuring out what my daughter would learn if I stayed, and what she would learn if I left, I chose to leave. I kept coming back to "screw it." While I don't know for certain, I have a strong idea of who complained, and since it worked once, they will do it again, because let's face it, some of the least Christian people in the church are usually part of the organization and some of the least tolerant may be standing at the pulpit.
At the end of the day, if my daughter isn't welcome, then neither am I because she needs to know with 100% certainty that I have her back, even when she screws up. There will be enough people knocking her down and judging her. I need to be her safe place to fall, even when it's a crash landing.
So the first time in I have no idea how many years-25-30? I am just a parishioner. I am no longer tied to a certain mass on a certain day and time. We church surfed for a couple of months, and I think we have settled on a new place. The priest is on a personal mission to get my daughter to smile, and upon hearing some of the reason why we changed churches (because he had been trying to encourage me to join that church for awhile) promptly turned and invited her to become an altar server. He wasn't at all concerned with her challenges, he was willing to work around them.
It was very disconcerting to sit in the congregation during Palm Sunday. Easter is the liturgical time of year that spoke to me the most. I suspect that Good Friday and Easter Sunday will be equally disconcerting. Having my child rejected by the place that was my anchor has likewise pulled my sense of belonging out of its foundation. I attend church now, but my sense of connectedness is gone. I no longer feel a part of the institution that was my safe place all of my life.
In much of my life, I have felt like an outlier, a square peg in a world of round holes, a misfit...but I never expected to feel that way in church. And the fact that my daughter was rejected takes things to a whole new level, since her challenges were well known. I don't feel a part of the Catholic Church any more. I'm just going through the motions and hoping that equilibrium will return. Solace and spiritual comfort are gone for me. I guess I'll have to find a way to make my own.