Church: Something I Am

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the annual CTA conference. Although it was my second year there, this year resonated with me on a much deeper level. Perhaps it was because I shared the experience with my best friend, or because it wasn’t so hard to find others who looked within 10 years of my own age (THANK YOU, CTA 20/30, for your work in making that happen!). Or maybe it was just that, in the two years since I’d last been, I’d allowed myself to get numb again inside, to forget how much my soul needs this.

During the closing Mass on Sunday, this thought went through my mind: “It’s like being at a UU Church, except it’s Catholic.” See, I’ve been attending a Unitarian Universalist Church on a fairly regular basis, maybe once or twice a month. The other Sundays I go to Catholic services. I have to admit that I feel more at ease at the UU services, even though it isn’t the faith tradition I grew up with. It also isn’t a faith tradition that urges me to forget who I am at the door–that I’m a woman, and bisexual, and young, and single, and a questioner, all things that the institutional church doesn’t seem to want to deal with. I feel as if I can really worship with my whole self there . . . except for with the part of me that still needs Catholicism, that hungers for the Eucharist and the structure and the touching of hands with the sign of peace. But to go to Catholic services, I must also be a little bit numb, tuck away the part of me that has been hurting since I was 10 and was told that it was “impossible” for a woman to ever represent Jesus the way a man could. Because if it’s impossible for us to be Christ to one another, what good are we at all?

And yet, at the conference, I didn’t leave a single part of myself at the door. It’s one of the few places in the world that every part of who I am is really okay, one of the few places where I really get a taste of the inclusiveness of God’s love. And it makes me weep. That’s when I know that the words, the message, the stories, the sacraments, really do mean something. And when that realization penetrates me, I can’t keep it together. I’ve cried through a couple UU services and at every CTA Mass I’ve attended. These tears of joy, of relief, of gratitude — of knowing that the Gospel message, that Jesus’ message, really are true — rarely make an appearance at traditional Catholic services.

And so, in comparison, these services can feel cold, impersonal, and mechanical. Of course, this is a result of the numbness I must invoke to get past the cognitive dissonance of continuing to stay in a faith that doesn’t always embrace the values of equality and justice and inclusiveness that I try to live the rest of my life by. I have to be numb to certain parts of myself to feed the part of myself that still longs for Catholicism. But gatherings like the one last weekend, rare though they are, serve as reminders that God doesn’t want me to forget who I was created to be. And although returning to traditional services will be hard, I’ll go with the hope that I can carry within me the love and acceptance I might not always find when I walk through the door, that I will remember that Church is not something I do or somewhere I go, but something I am.

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About Lacey Louwagie

I'm a feminist, a writer, an editor, and a seeker. I co-edited "Hungering and Thirsting for Justice: Real-Life Stories by Young Adult Catholics" (ACTA 2012) and authored "Where I First Met God" in "Unruly Catholic Women Writers II" (SUNY Press 2013). You can learn more about me at www.laceylouwagie.com.

6 thoughts on “Church: Something I Am

  1. Amen! Everything you said resonated with me as well Lacey. This was my first Conference and it was indeed, quite moving for me. I teared up several times. Even though some of the tunes of the songs weren’t what I would have had in mind, the words that they conveyed touched my soul profoundly – as they reflected the core values and the radical message that the Christ of the Gospels continues to impress upon us and call us to spread to others. I teared up as Sr. Joan Chittister – one of my biggest progressive theological heroes – bemoaned the inertia of the leaders of today’s Catholic church, yet reminded us that history has been in places like this before and it has been the People of God, moved the the Holy Spirit that has gone forward.

    Don’t get too disheartened by the immobility of the institutional leaders within the Catholic tradition Lacey! I feel you every time I know that they’re pouring millions of dollars into campaigns to deny me the civil right of marriage. Try and be consoled by the fact though that wherever the Eucharist is celebrated – whether it is in the humble, deeply communal setting quite reminiscient of what the early Church was probably like at the Call to Action Conference, or in the majesty and solemnity of cathedrals – know that we are all being joined and transformed by Christ’s Real Presence among us. That is what transforms us and transforms all faithful Christians to go forward and to truly live the Gospel that He left as a testament, in love, to us. As, Sr. Joan told me herself, “Keep going forward, and know that we are with you” :)

    I’m so dissapointed I didn’t get a chance to meet you knowing that you were at the Conference now. :( I’m sure we will in the future though!

  2. Dear Lacey,
    You have captured so many of my thoughts…and I thank you! What a gift and privilege it was to have attended this GREAT conference. Wish I could have met you! Next year!!!
    With love,
    Lena from NY

  3. Amen! I can’t tell you how much your entry resonates with me. I was crying during the closing song at the Friday night liturgy–not because it was sad but because I was so overcome with joy to be singing “The Canticle of the Turning” in a group that was working to make that Kin-dom real: http://www.spiritandsong.com/compositions/30269

    At the Sunday Mass, I have never felt myself so eager, so humble, so needing to share Eucharist with the 2000+ people there. Conference reminded me that the numbness I embrace to make it through the weeks without that communion and respect of who I am should be honored but not allowed to overcome by passion and need to build the Kin-dom in our church and world. I need to hold close to the life-giving presence that I experience at the CTA conference and come back to that joy whenever I need it.

    Speaking of CTA 20/30, I hope you are considering running for the leadership team. It was great meeting you in person at conference, though I’m sorry we didn’t get got talk very much.

  4. I really liked this, Lacey. Raw and real.

    “Numb”…”numbness I must invoke”…this is an electrifying choice of words. Something is really, really rotten in Denmark if anybody has to consciously shut down in order to attend church.

    What a huge pity we didn’t get to meet at conference. I was scanning nametags too. :(

  5. Lacey, this was my second conference, and I noticed the SAME thing: that the liturgy felt like the UU services I attended for a couple years. I started going to the UU church because I agreed with the politics, there was a lady minister, and there were dudes with arms around each other in the pew in front of me. And I knew I could put my arm around my (lady) sweetheart if I wanted. That’s why I went. But I couldn’t be quite whole there either – because I really missed mass. At the CTA mass, we could have lady friends, lady priests, good politics, AND Jesus. And a bonus: ribbon dancers! What a special experience.

  6. I also really regret that I wasn’t able to spend more time with the 20/30 crowd at the conference. It all went by so fast! My best friend and I went together, and we stayed with another friend who lives in Milwaukee. It was important to honor that friendship by spending as much time as we could with her, sharing meals and catching up, rather than just showing up to sleep at the end of the day. If only we could have been in two places at once! But I will return, and I hope most of you will, too! And it’s good to be with you in spirit here. :)

    Phillip, I especially appreciate your ability to always keep sight of what is sacred throughout Catholicism, whether within or outside the institutional church. The way you find that balance has always been an inspiration to me.

    Becky, I’ll need to reflect upon and pray about whether to run for the leadership team this year. My initial instinct was no because my life feels really full right now, but it won’t be the first time I’ve been prompted to add “one more thing” and found my life enriched by it. :)

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