When I first started writing this blog, I did an intro to who I was as a person, how I got here and where I planned to go.
My sister asked me, “How come you didn’t mention your faith?” in the litany of friends, family, and others that got me through the early days of widowhood. I told her honestly, that my feelings on faith have been ambiguous, of late.
“Are you mad at God,” she asked. “No,” I responded surprised, “Of course not!” I explained that full participation at Church, in the Mass as a Roman Catholic, was tough for me after my husband died. I wasn’t mad at God, we got a bum deal, but so many people had an even worse situation and their faith was intact.
But whatever the reason, I went from a weekly communicant, Eucharistic Minister, former CCD teacher, Rosary group member to someone who discovered the luxury of a Sunday morning.
Honestly, my feelings about God were now complicated in a way that they had never been before. I had to process. My God has had many iterations in my life–this new one was not one that I recognized.
The Child’s God
We always went to Church as children. When we were younger, my father or mother would attend with us, someone always having to stay with the youngest at home. When it was my father, it was an outing. There was Mass and then a stop at Shaffer’s bakery to get fresh donuts or “buns” (nothing created in the last 25 years compares to a donut back then–maybe it was the water, or lard, or tons of real sugar but it was Heaven). We would stand in line and watch as the ladies briskly made the boxes, like magicians making balloon animals. A few quick wrist twists, with the addition of white crisp tissue paper, and our choices would then be tied with the magical candy cane colored string that flowed out of a hanging shining urn over their heads.
If, on the rare occasions, we were not “good” in Mass, the trip to Shaffers was in peril. So like any good parental incentive, a treat was the cost of sitting, kneeling, looking towards the altar and not staring at the old guy in the next pew industriously picking his nose.
When we were a little older, and the whole family could attend, including the toddler at the end of the family line, my sister and I would angle for the seats farthest from my parents. Since they could only keep an eye on the kid immediately to the right or left of them, my sister and I would be clear of the censure zone. At the sign of the peace my sister could do one of two things 1) go to shake my hand with an empty glove, which would throw me into irrepressible peals of laughter 2) Or say some other inappropriate saying about peace, “Pizza be with you” etc. Either way, result the same, me laughing, possibly the two of us getting into trouble.
It was the 70’s and the Church was feeling a little new age after Vatican II. So my God, as opposed to that of my parents, was a bit cooler, a little less rigid. He liked the guitar and the tambourine, instead of the pipe organ. That God thought it was pretty funny that we could laugh at church. He was a benevolent God, patient and kind.
A Genie In Bottle
Things got a little looser when I was a teen. Still mandated to weekly Mass, we no longer had to go all together. So, with the reluctant permission of my parents, we would, with the rest of the high school teens, go to our local Catholic hospital’s chapel. Five pm Mass was conveniently attended following a football game at the high school and before dinner and going out for the night.
We would stand shoulder to shoulder in the back of the chapel, five kids deep. Everyone smelling like the outdoors and spilled hot chocolate. The lovely usher would attempt to get some of us to take a seat, but we would demur saying it should be for “older” people. We had to do that so we could duck out after Communion–obligation met to everyone’s satisfaction.
That teenage God was a genie in a bottle–I would pray nightly for my grandparents, who all passed away within a few years, and I would provide a laundry list of “wishes”, not at altruistic in their requests, i.e. “Let John Doe ask me out,” “Please let me get good grades on my final exams,” that sort of thing. They would always end with “And please bring peace to the world,” one final thought outside of the selfishness of my life.
God Lends A Hand
At Syracuse University, at that time, the Catholic Monsignor was the chaplain of the football team. A small, roundish Italian priest with a realistic approach to religion on campus, he talked me out of quitting school after only a week, when I decided I hated Syracuse University. I had showed up at the Parish House crying that I wanted to go home. He listened to me and diagnosed it as a case of extreme homesickness.
He invited me to the Catholic Club picnic, which I attended, broke my wrist playing volleyball, and for one reason or another remained. As a result, I did go to weekly Mass–Saturday night. It was far across campus and was attended by everyone who was Catholic and played a sport (it was after games and practices). My best friend, who is Jewish, would accompany me to Mass because she didn’t want me walking to the outer regions of the campus, in the dark, by myself. To her, it was a practical decision, my soul was not worth my life so she came with–whispering questions about the Mass to the point that educating her allowed me to be more engaged in the whole process.
Weirdly enough, that Mass would be the springboard to God knows what in the way of drinking and general carousing. But God got it, I was in college.
I married a Catholic, so everything was pretty formulaic–we had a “Nuptial Mass” at my childhood parish and walked down the aisle I must have walked a thousand times.
My husband, who was honestly Catholic in affiliation, rather than participation, wanted our children raised Catholic. However, it seems that he just didn’t want to do it.. Getting the kids off to Mass was a three-ring circus, Michael always stayed home with the toddler (with four kids there was almost always a toddler). And that child was a disciple of NFL pre-game before they could talk. I think the reason all my kids have a good working knowledge of the game of football is that that was his version of Sunday education.
My oldest son, who as a toddler, totally resented having to go to Mass when Daddy was home, would go from being on his knees to quickly contorting under the pew where he would crawl until he saw an opening and a proper getaway. It was after one of these escapes that I took him outside, on the strong advice of the usher, and he howled as if I was killing him. The usher opened the door and asked if I could take him farther away, the whole church could hear him.
Prayers to God then were the homey prayers of a neurotic mother–please don’t let anything happen to them, please keep them healthy. My prayers were crowded with all imaginings of the things that can happen to children from infancy on.
As they got older the ferverance and the depth of desperation grew–please let them not get in a car with a drunk driver, please let them not drive drunk, please let them not get abducted, please don’t let them get into drugs. Mother’s prayers are prayers of worst-case scenario. I wouldn’t bother God with college entrance exams and good grades, I had to focus his limited vision on me to the big stuff. And that is the way I looked at it–as if God had a limited attention span for each person and you better just bring to him the big-ticket items.
Not Really A Test of Faith
When my husband collapsed and was subsequently diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer. He was given, on the outside, six months to live. Some of my prayerful ladies, one of whom was a spiritual child of the Saint Padre Pio, brought his glove to pray over my husband. He was moderately aghast that the prayer was not especially for healing, but rather for “Whatever is your will, Lord.”
“Why wouldn’t they ask for me to be cured?,” he asked weakly. I couldn’t answer.
I attended Mass and prayed for a miracle, I prayed the Rosary and dedicated it to his restoration of health, and at some point, when he was having a particularly dicey procedure, I started my roll call–in my prayers, I mentioned every deceased member of his family–his parents, grandparents, in a litany over and over. That litany wound up being my go-to. In my mind, I felt that they had a vested interest in his recovery and as such should exert whatever kind of influence they could exert to make things happen. I relied on intercession, because I was easier to think there would be someone who could further my cause. I thought God was kind of sick of hearing from me.
“I just can’t pray,” I said to my friend who is religious without judgment. She understood. “Don’t worry, we will pray for you.”
The reason I was stuck is that I had such faith that I was afraid I would ask for the wrong thing. If I asked for this new medication to cure his cancer, what would happen if he died of the side effects? As a result, I was stuck needing something, but not able to ask. I realized the wisdom of just praying for whatever was God’s will. A hard pill to swallow when you are looking into the faces of four kids who want a miracle.
When he was nearing the point where we had to acknowledge that he was never getting out of the hospital, I invoked the family litany and I remember praying to them, “GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER, HELP HIM!!!!” Not a very benevolent prayer. I was angry and rather than be angry at God, I was angry at this bunch of ancestors, who I pictured floating around like a scene from Mulan.
But there were also a thousand graces that we experienced when Michael was sick. He saw them and they reinforced his spirituality and his faith. I never gave up my faith, I just gave up the faith that he would be cured. I prayed for a miracle, and then realized that the miracle was an extra two years, I prayed for more time, and when that ran out, I prayed for a peaceful death. That prayer was answered.
And then I went on the craziest religious journey of my life. For the first few months, I attended Mass as I always did. I wore big sunglasses so no one could see me cry and boy I would cry. Looking at families and couples (I’ve discussed this weakness before), I would lose it. The enormity of my loss was keener at church. So partially for self-preservation, but partially out of a childish rebellion, I stopped going to weekly Mass.
For the first time in my adult life, I woke up when I wanted on Sunday morning, I stayed in my pajamas, drank coffee in a leisurely way, watched Sunday morning news and generally just ignored God.
It felt decadent, I would sit and see the clock pass 10:30, 12:00, 5:00 pm all the Mass times on a Sunday, and if I’m being truthful, it felt good. It felt good not to have my day dictated by dressing up and attending Mass. As a Eucharistic Minister, I started passing off my assignments, getting subs for my Mass times, “just to.”
I had a few sleepovers that spilled into some Sundays, and I didn’t think of Mass.
The Amish have Rumspringa, a two year period of young life where the youth are encouraged to go out in the world and sow their wild oats, it means “Running Around.” When they come back within the prescribed period of time, they have to either commit to their Church, or move on.
So that was what I did–without thinking I was in Rumspringa. My luxurious Sundays, my wild oats being sowed, my prayers that would involve Michael as a go-between, were all symptoms of that marvelously practical Amish practice.
By coming out of my comfort zone, I was able to appreciate and rediscover the solidity of that aspect of my life.
Without even noticing, I was a child in full tantrum–arms flailing, screaming, kicking, throwing myself on the floor, refusing to be moved. God then was the patient parent, arms crossed, waiting for me to wear myself out and grab his hand and come home.
So now I’m embracing a wonderful compromise–I am not giving up my Sunday mornings and will continue to enjoy my sleep in until 8, gym, coffee and Sunday news, and will do whatever I want, until 5 pm Mass–the last thing I will do before I start my week.
Claudia Lucey is a widowed mother of four, mostly adult children. Her “happy place” is the beach, where she spends every waking moment in the Summer. But spending time with her children is her greatest joy. Her philosophy is that laughter, even through tears, is the greatest emotional outlet. Nothing makes her happier than a good laugh, even at her own expense. She is a Director of Marketing for a construction company, yet she is a trained journalist who loves to write and photograph buildings of any size or shape.