In early March, I was on my way up Lexington Avenue in New York City on route to meet my friend's 22 year old daughter who was in need of an objective, yet compassionate ear. My express train landed me on the Upper East side earlier than planned. I didn't want to tweet or eat, I just wanted to get off my feet and be still for a few minutes. As I looked around, I found myself gazing up at a beautiful Catholic Church. I quickly climbed up the stone steps, gripped the circular metal handle and pulled open the massive door. From the corner of my eye, I saw a security guard behind a metal desk. I spotted the altar in the distance and as I headed inside, I thought I heard the guard say "Miss you don't belong in there!" He was probably right, but I marched inside towards the rows of wooden pews anyway. There was one woman kneeling in the church. I sat two rows behind her and her Bergdorf bag.
I gently pulled the knee rest down and knelt into a Catholic pose called genuflection for reflection Staring straight ahead I could see the carved frescoes and the spiral staircase leading to the pulpit. My eyes searched for him and as I tipped my head towards the ceiling I spotted the holiest of Martyrs nailed to the cross. This is when I usually chastise myself for being a bad Catholic who only attends Mass on the holiest of holidays, weddings, funerals and baptisms.
I didn't always berate myself for poor attendance. For three years while in high school, I taught Catechism at my local church. My religious attire was a field Hockey uniform because the nuns scheduled the class after my games and practices. There was a path in the woods that led from my public school to the parking lot of the church. I don't know if my 4th and 5th graders took me seriously, but they asked alot of questions.
"Jackie, why can't you covet a neighbors wife?" " Jackie, do you know anyone that covets?"(that answer is for the short sequel) "Am I going to hell, because I've stolen lots of stuff? "If Jesus is God's only son who is God's Father?" I don't remember what I told these young, impressionable children, but it prompted me to begin my own religious research. It was a Talmudic study, with a Catholic spin.
My Father, a Eucharistic Minister, passionately fond of the chalice, seemed a reasonable resource for information regarding the Ten Commandements and the Sacraments. I would tell him how confused many of my students were about the Holy Trinity and Original sin. You know, those accessible theological concepts. Dad instructed me to tell the children that "by dying on the cross and by his holy ressurection the Lord set us free". Thanks, that'll do the trick. Then he added, "Just make sure you have them memorize every commandment. If they dont know all the prayers and sacraments they can't be confirmed." Hey, I was confirmed, but I had no inner feeling of confirmation or freedom?
I invited my class to attend a 9:00 am Mass in a small church located in a less than ritzy side of our town. I was a singer in the folk group along with a beautiful red-head and Sister Margareet Mary, both severely tone-deaf. Our guitar players were a brother and sister duet, with John Turturro hairstyles and more inside jokes than 30 Rock. Now that I think about it, they were probably laughing outloud at how horrific sounding our ensemble was. It was. As I bit the insides of my mouth, Sister no tone and the Screecher harmonized to Our Father and Amazing Grace. It was impossible to drown them out, but I tried.
My entire class showed up for the morning Mass. The only two people that didn't show was Sister Margareet Mary and her side kick. With Tony and Tennille missing, I was solo! Hallelujah! I followed the dynamic guitar duo down to the basement of the church for a quick run through. For the first time in two years, they weren't laughing. They played their little guitars and smiled after every song. My family was seated in the front row. My Mother sang louder than anyone in the congregation. Each one of my students sang and genuinely listened to the little visiting Priest fom Chile. That day they witnessed their Teacher engaged in something she loved. We celebrated together.
My personal faith has certainly deepened over the last 20 years, as well as my understanding of the intrinsic need for a place to sit, to pray, to sing and be still with all our questions that may not have answers. I may not be the Poster girl for the Vatican, but my relationship with God is more intimate and free. Like my students, I am still inquisitive but now, the path is my prayer. I still find comfort inside churches and scared places. Lao Tzu wisely shared that "at the center of your being you have the answer; you know who are and you know what you want."