Sunday, April 4, 2010
Happy Son Rise
I happen to express my beliefs in a fairly traditional Christian way but by no means do I believe Christians=good, Others=not. For whatever reason, my grade school experience at St. James in Orlando was such a positive one, that it converted me from “undecided” to Catholic. It worked for me. I didn’t have any bad experience with priests or nuns.
Oh, sure, we thought Sister Claire was scary, but that was because she was hard of hearing and yelled at everyone. Sister Goretti and Sister Ethelberga were formidable in their own way, but those ways were ways to be aspired to. Sister Goretti was one of the best short stops I ever met, even though she had to hike her habit up to round the bases after she’d hit an almost-homerun. Sister Ethelberga was the epitome of grace under pressure. I didn’t know any “knuckle-rapping” nuns.
My favorite nun in grade school was Sister Lawrence. She had a plain German face with straight but unlovely teeth and blue-blue eyes aided by steel-rimmed glasses. She was a nun after my own heart, having constantly bucked up against the “obey” portion of her vows. She had come in under difficult circumstances. Halfway through my second grade year, Sister Kateri left. She was young, beautiful, and bubbly without being egotistical. Sister Kateri was loved by the children and parents alike. Sister Lawrence came in to finish up the year. She was not as pretty, not as superficially precious or as outgoing. She was smart. She had to pick up the pieces. She had trouble with “obey.” She was my nun-soul-mate. I followed her around like a dog. I knew what it was like to be an outsider trying to fit in. I was the only non-Catholic in my grade until another kid joined our class a couple of years later. I understood problems with “obey” and “pray for your mouth.” These were my problems too.
The priests there at St. James were a little distant, happy to leave the education of the parish’s children to the Sisters of St. Joseph. But when they made an appearance, we were all excited. It was rumored that the Monsignor smoked and drank. This did not impress me much. My mother smoked. My parents had a drink every once in a while. Now, if they had told me that the Monsignor had scream-fights with people, I would have been terrified. But when I saw him, he always appeared to be just a little more uncomfortable being there than I was, but seemed pleasant enough and always wished us well. He had lovely dark red hair. Another priest in the parish came into my 3rd grade class and taught us rudimentary Spanish. I thought that was very cool, other languages ranking right up there with secret codes for me. A third priest visited on occasion and the thing that most impressed me was that he looked like Ilya Kuriakan (actor David McCallum) from the Man from U.N.C.L.E. only with dark hair. I contemplated the delicate issue of having a crush on a priest, even in grade school. But I decided it was harmless and so was Father Troy.
I devoured stories of the saints, reading far beyond the whole Dick and Jane series. I cleared out my bookcase and created a shrine to the Virgin Mary, kneeling on the cold terrazzo floors of our centrally air conditioned house to pray and contemplate the lives of St. Bernadette and St. Joan of Arc.
I came to my Catholicism with no particular love of any other church. The First Methodist Church in Orlando was large, devoid of any interesting or inspiring artwork, but they did have a superior-tasting Sunday School paste. People always wonder what children get out of Sunday school experiences. My greatest Methodist moments besides the Sunday School Paste were my desperation to get out of a particularly beautiful but very scratchy raw silk dress which I refused to wear thereafter and getting my eyebrow split open on the fire door on the way out of Vacation Bible School. The Bible School lady was in hysterics over the blood streaming down my face which must have looked like a teen horror flick. I remember going to the hospital in downtown Orlando and waiting with my mother to be seen, then thinking that I could have waited since it was only a cut but the old man in the waiting room who was having trouble breathing really needed a doctor. I was stitched up by a Dr. Silver who was drop-dead gorgeous to my 6-year-old eyes. I now think it refreshingly wonderful to have gotten a 6-year-old’s crush on a cute, young Jewish intern after being laid open by the fire door at the Methodist Church. I have only fond memories of the scar above my eye. All of this had its inspiration but very little of it on a spiritual plane.
And yet I was a very spiritual child, well before my Catholic school or Methodist fire door days. One of my most profound spiritual moments was while I was still small, 5 or 6, sitting on a dock on a lake in rural Florida. It wasn’t quite Florida-hot, just a nice cool day. My Dad, my brother, and the Steinmetz brothers were out in the boat on the lake. The women were in the pine-paneled house up the long yard from the dock. It was nature-quiet. Lucky, the black and white springer spaniel, was sleeping near me as I dangled my legs over the water at the end of the dock, making wet doggy breathing noises, content in his easy assignment of keeping me company. There were birds chirping, just a few frogs croaking, the occasional bubble rising from the lake bed, the occasional swish of a turtle rising for breath or a fish chasing smaller fish. The sky was bright “Microsoft” blue with white fluffy clouds. Strung between the energies of my father beyond my sight on the lake and my mother equally hidden in the house, I was suspended as if in a hammock of their energy, safe and guarded by Lucky.
Looking at the clouds I sensed? saw? what I later would describe as a blue slide like a rainbow in shape stretching from northwest to southeast across the lake. It spanned the sky, a little darker blue than the sky, with its “sides” like a slide has an even slightly darker blue. I realized there were people on the slide, but they were shimmers of people who traveled on this bow, gliding as if they were on a great conveyer belt. I waved to them. They waved back. They were friendly even though they had places to go. I knew I could travel on that big bridge if I wanted to but was content to sit on the dock with my feet over the water and my hand on the dog. I knew I was connected.
And then, people, the ones I knew from the boat and the house, arrived and the “blue slide” was gone. I was left with a sense of contentment and happiness, no particular message other than love. So I believe in love.
My experience in Catholic school added to rather than replaced this profound spiritual experience. Saints, souls, life, love, beauty, kindness, and Big Blue Slides all became part of the sunshine of my life. I was in touch with the spiritual world in a way that changed my life for the better.
Recently I had an experience common to many who study tarot. In spite of mutual kindness and good intent, a niece and her family told me they could not bear to hear from me anymore because of their Christian beliefs and my work with tarot. I see no conflict between Christianity and tarot. Many, many images in traditional tarot are of Christian origin, so much so that my Pagan friends wish for decks that are as full of their own imagery instead. I can find Bible passages about different gifts as easily as they can find them about negative messages about what I do. The argument is moot. It does not matter. While this means sorrow for me, I accept that this is the path they must take in their lives and the one I must take in mine. And I still love them, just a little farther away than I did before. Because I believe in love and different gifts, just as sure as the sun rises.