On my 8th birthday, I put all the pieces together and figured out that my father was an alcoholic.  He was more than an alcoholic.  He was a falling-down drunk.  But I was 8, and such distinctions were beyond me.

This will surprise some, but my salvation at the time was that I was a Catholic school kid.  To this day, no one in my family admits to knowing what was going on.  The religious sisters sensed something, but never asked for specifics from their obviously distraught student.  His drinking was a secret that must be kept at all cost – and the cost to me was enormous.  But there was daily Mass.  There was something about the music – both pre- and post Vatican II.  The candles.  The incense.  The regularity of the liturgy and the liturgical seasons.  These were constants in a life of chaos.  For that hour, I was safe and succored.

Fast forward.

When I entered a doctoral program in an ecumenical seminary – one of two Roman Catholic women students – the head of the seminary was the retired head of the World Council of Churches.  He led us through our first week, and was a big fan of meditation from a psychological perspective, as well as brain function.  The benefits of moving from an alpha state to a beta state.  Try as I might, the beta state was elusive to me most of the time.  A few moments, here and there.  Rarely.

I was working in parishes as a pastoral minister during and after those studies.  I used to bring in a priest from India, to do adult education sessions on meditation.  He was well-known in the Detroit Archdiocese, and good at what he did with the topic.  For everyone but me.  Meditation was just not going to happen.  No beta state.  No letting go of the brain chatter.

Years later.  Once.  While as campus minister at Catholic high school.  In total despair and desperation during the senior retreat, I took the pyx (small container for a consecrated host) and knelt during one of the most frustrating sessions.  Four hours later, the leader of the session tapped me on the shoulder and brought me back to an alpha state.  I have no idea where my mind had been, but it certainly wasn’t in a room full of bitchy teenage girls, taking our their cattyness on each other.


This comes up now, because of recent Me Too revelations.  I did not experience sexual harassment in the workplace of the church.  The one kiss was from a pastor/boss.  On the cheek.  In public.  My response was “I don’t know whether to never wash my cheek, or get a tetanus shot”.  Also in public.  Those gathered laughed.  The priest was confused.

But the lack of support…the lack of credit…wore on me.  The statements.  “…so-and-so thinks you’re too severe”…”I won’t fire you, but you will quit”…”Hey girlie, come here”…”A baby threw up in the entrance – clean it up”…”We don’t need to pay her; her husband is a dentist”.


And then there was cancer.

All my priest friends deserted me.  All my ultra-religious friends deserted me.

And I’m pretty sure God – if there is a god – also deserted me.

But the music, the “smells and bells” – as my Protestant fellow-students teased about – can still reach a place that nothing else can.  My favorite liturgy of the year is the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter). and once a year I still miss it.  When life is too much, I still run back to that music – easily obtainable online – for comfort.

Like that 8-year-old kid, who found comfort from chaos in the liturgy.


4 thoughts on “Ambivalent”

  1. Love Leonard Cohen. Love this song.
    I extend an invitation now, to join me @ Christ the Good Shepherd on Thursday 29 March 2017 for the Mass of the Last Supper. Time TBD. CGS loves with everything we have. We ARE Christ to each other. All are welcome. We mean it. We are small, but mighty. Our liturgies are all the best of Vatican II, while maintaining touches of previous incarnations. We have the best Soprano Music Minister. I’d love for you to come to a Sunday 10:30 mass, or a Wednesday one @ 7:00. These are in our cozy 50 seat chapel. Holy Thursday will probably be in the much larger Methodist sanctuary. That’s where our ordinations & other holy day services are, frequently in combination with the Methodists.
    Christmas Eve, 10:30 p.m. Carols. Mass at 11:00. in our chapel, every seat was filled last year.
    Please don’t stop loving me because of one impassioned commercial. ❤


    1. I’m serious about that “If there is one” thing. Ambivalent about belief. NOT ambivalent about organized religion. It’s not on my A list right now…or B…or C…


  2. “Go where you are Celebrated!” Words to live by. My father was a mean alcoholic and my youth also save me from wrath…lots of parallels in our lives growing up Catholic. But I never allowed it to dictate my life like it did my parents. My youthful ambitions clashed with the morals of the time but Mom always had a way to put it in perspective. Maybe the jolt of a life changing event causes us to look beyond and realize…. he understands too!


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