A Post-Script on Feelings

There is no such thing as a discrete issue.  We like to believe that we are perfect scientists in the way we approach problems, slicing off every complication and condition in order to get down to the pure, uncontaminated, "objective" analysis of something.  All of that is self-delusion.  Everything exists in a context, and that context informs the way you look at any issue. It's very hard to parse out why we react the way we do to something, why we believe what we believe about something.  Sometimes it is the thing we think it is, sometimes it is the circumstances in which the thing is situated, and often it is both.

For the last two months or so, I have been almost exclusively attending an Episcopal Church.  The parish is decent distance away from where I live, out in the suburbs, which is why it took me a while to find it.  If some nefarious group of Episcopalian conspirators were to design a parish for the purpose of maximizing the chances of getting me to switch teams, I don't think they could do any better than All Saints.  Small-ish size, but not too small.  Friendly and welcoming congregation, on a level I have never experienced in a Catholic parish, ever.  A former Catholic priest as the Rector who gives great sermons and views himself as thoroughly Catholic, and yet committed to a progressive vision of what Catholicism might mean.  An inquirers class that began with the claim that "this church is everything you love about Catholicism and none of the crap you hate."  A mix of ages and backgrounds.

On Tuesday night, All Saints has a 7 p.m. Liturgy (referred to conspicuously as a Mass, in keeping with its High Church character), followed by an adult education course.  I went for the first time last night, which being September 14 was the Feast of the Holy Cross.  I arrived in the evening to find the orientation of the altar turned from its normal arrangement, signaling that it the Mass would be conducted ad orientem (well, not really "facing east"--we were actually facing south--but with the priest and people facing the same direction).  "It's an experiment," Father Jason told our small group.

Did I brace myself for what was to come?  Yes.  I've talked before, recently, about my thoughts on ad orientem, so it is ironic that I would walk into an Episcopal Church and encounter the very thing I was afraid the Catholic Church would be embracing.  And, yet, it was fine.  I still strongly prefer the Liturgy facing the people, and I am not sure that I would be OK with ad orientem all the time.  But, it was fine.

Which raises the question--why was it fine?  Why did I not freak out in the way that I flipped out over Cardinal Sarah?  Was it because I was worshiping in a parish with two female deacons?  Was it because the same guy who was trying out his experiment with the altar was the same guy who gave a passionate and public defense of the Episcopal Church over its decision to conduct same-sex weddings?  Was it because I was confident that this "experiment" was not a harbinger of some other agenda?  Was it that all of those things allowed me to experience the Liturgy as presented, rather than having my guard up about "what it all meant"?

I think the answer to all of those questions, especially the last one, is "yes."  While I still maintain a preference for the other way around, the context was different and the context mattered.  Freed of all of the context that is associated with conservative or traditionalist Catholicism--on women and LGBT folks and authority and politics and history and a host of other things besides--I was able to approach the thing on its own terms.  In a different context, it no longer brought with it all of the old feelings that it normally does.  On a small level, I was able to come out of my reflexive, defensive crouch.

One of the things about being chronically tense is that you don't realize the tension until it goes away.  The tension just becomes part of your world, the normal, ground-state of being; only when it is gone do you come to see how tense you really were.  Very slowly, I am starting to feel a little bit of tension as it relates to faith, the tension that was essentially been the constant theme of the blog, starting to ease off.  And that easing off has corresponded in a significant way with attending All Saints.  It is a good feeling to get out of the defensive crouch and stretch my legs.


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