As I was having brunch with some friends last Sunday, the topic of religion came up. Three of us had been raised Catholic, and the fourth had been raised Baptist and grown up in a very religious family. As far as I know, I was the only one who still goes to church on a regular basis. So I started to talk about why — neither to justify my decision or to push others to share it, but because I felt the need to clarify it for myself.
I talked about how going to Church is like hitting the “refresh” button on my week, that it completes and begins a cycle and helps me feel centered enough to go back for another round of life. I also acknowledged the comfort of tradition and ritual — how I’ve gone to Church nearly every week since the day I was born and how it feels as much a part of the rhythm of my life as the beating of my heart. I haven’t been to Church in the past couple weeks, and it’s almost as if I can feel the axis of my selfhood tilting just slightly off-balance. It’s Lent, and no better time to hit that refresh button than now!
Another at the table offered that he appreciated Church because he liked being around “people who believe the glass is half-full.” He associated the process of going to church, or perhaps the community found at church, with optimism, with a belief that the world really is or could be very good. This struck me because I had never consciously associated Catholicism with Optimism before. On the contrary, I’ve often found myself feeling pessimistic — perhaps too much so — about the Church to which I belong. Still, I realize that, underneath it all, optimism for a better future is at least part of the reason I stay, and perhaps a bigger part than I’d like to believe. It is the reason I haven’t thrown out the baby with the bathwater, the reason that I’ve decided to take the fight rather than flight response at the times when I feel personally attacked by the Church. (I am, after all, the wrong gender, the wrong sexual orientation, and usually full of the wrong opinions). Yet, I can’t deny how many times I’ve entered a church feeling beaten down and angry, asking myself why I continue to do it — only to leave the Church feeling renewed and reminded that that is exactly why I do it. Perhaps it’s this dose of optimism, rather than habit or ritual, that keeps me coming back.