Monday, December 22, 2008

So Many Questions...

The Annunciation
Bartolome Esteban Murillo
(1617 - 1682)

When I was a little girl, I used to love spending time with my father. He and I would go hiking, swimming, bike riding, or just for long drives in the car along the country roads on Vancouver Island. He was quiet and scholarly and I thought he was the wisest person I ever knew. He had the answer for every question I asked him. Once, when I was about six years old, I remember asking him what was meant by the Immaculate Conception. It was the only time I ever saw him at a loss for words, and it stick in my mind because he stammered and stuttered and was not able to explain it to me. So, it was one of those mysteries that remained a mystery.

When I was a little girl I sang in the choir at St. John's Anglican Church, which was "High Church" or otherwise known as "Anglo-Catholic". We followed the Anglican "Book of Common of Prayer", and I still have mine, but many of the rituals were Roman Catholic.

Together with the Authorized version and the works of Shakespeare, the Book of Common Prayer has been one of the three fundamental underpinnings of modern English. As it has been in regular use for centuries, many phrases from its services have passed into the English language, either as deliberate quotations or as unconscious borrowings. They are used in non-liturgical ways. For example, many authors have used quotes from the prayer book as titles for their books.

Some examples of well-known phrases from the Book of Common Prayer are:

• "Speak now or forever hold your peace" from the marriage liturgy.
• "Till death us do part", from the marriage liturgy.
• "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust" from the funeral service.
• "From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil" from the litany.
• "Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" from the collect for the second Sunday of Advent.

... Wikipedia

But I digress...

The rituals of the church were always a mystery to me. Most of them were things I did not understand. When I converted to Catholicism, Father Belanger said to me. "You will never make a good Catholic; you ask too many questions."

I have spent my life struggling with the questions. I am not a particularly religious person, but I am a spiritual person. I just don't follow the rituals and rote learning of any one creed or religious conviction. I do not have blind faith. I wish I did, and I envy people who do, but I don't. I do believe that Jesus was one of the most important people who ever lived. His short time on this earth has left a huge impact on billions of people throughout the centuries and will continue to do so for centuries to come. I have watched as friends of mine who have gone through troubled times have accepted Jesus as their Savior, and He has turned their lives around.

I have often thought how interesting it would be to sit down at a round table with Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed. What a conversation that would be. All three of them preached following the path of peace, which eventually leads to God.

I still love the rituals of the Church, and I love the old hymns and all the mystery that is part of Christmas. One of my favorite church services is midnight mass on Christmas Eve. I have not been able to attend for a few years, but maybe when the Munchkins are a bit older, they and their parents and I may attend again. I love the processional and "Once in Royal David's City". The first part is sung solo, the second part is sung by the choir, and the third part is sung by the whole congregation. When I was a little girl singing in the choir, I loved this Christmas hymn so much, when I sang it I felt close to God, and I always felt that I was forgiven for asking too many questions. Maybe that's what Christmas is all about.

Merry Christmas!


Leslie: said...

It is only a person who asks questions - and lots of them - who can really be a true believer. It's because if you do find faith, it isn't blind, but real.

There are many things done or believed in by many churches and some (a lot) of them I do not and cannot abide. Once when I was taking a philosophy course led by a former Baptist pastor, I asked him a lot of questions. He told me that he'd left the church - well, he could no longer lead a church but still attended - and he advised me to take what I wanted and leave the rest. This was the only way even he could continue to call himself a Christian.

I've never forgotten what he told me and follow his advice. But...I do have to be careful to keep some of my opinions to myself around church people. At least some of them.

Also, believe it or not, I envy those who attend churches with rituals. For myself, I think it might make me feel closer to God for some reason or another. But the closest I feel to God is when I'm outside in nature - a forest, a park, the beach, the mountains, or wherever there is a sense of quiet tranquility.

This is an awesome post today, Josie, and so relevant to this week's celebrations.

Charles Gramlich said...

I guess that's why I didn't make a very good Catholic.

Russell said...

I was raised Catholic and remember saying the Hail Mary prayer. I always concluded by asking her to pray for me "at the hour of my desk" (not death). I never thought much about it since so many things associated with the church did not make sense to me as a child or young adult.

I was terribily afraid of the nuns and always associated the crucifixes they wore around their waists with six-shooter guns (!!).

When I went to confession I would get into such detail regarding all my evil thoughts that the priest would say "okay, okay, I get the idea, you have lots of evil thoughts .... now, what else" to which I would feel compelled to recite as many of my evil thoughts as I could remember (not taking the cue from the poor priest to get on with it).

I even told the priest about the evil thoughts I had as I was waitin to walk into the confessional and wondered if that was, like, more wicked than just normal evil thoughts - of which I seemed to be overrun!

It would have been faster to recite my "non-evil" thoughts but, well, I figured it was my duty to set forth all the details of my sinful and morally bankrupt life (being all of 12 years old!).

I recall being told I would go straight to hell if I forget to get this or that type of sin forgiven by the priest - to which I wondered why I had to tell the priest (who did not seem overly interested to start with, especially given the magnitude of my sinfulness!) since I thought Jesus or at least God (were they the same, I always got confused!) should know without my having to tell the priest...

I am still asking questions!

Take care!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Interesting thoughts, as always. Jesus spoke out against the Pharisees during his time because they had built an elaborate system of rules that mainly only served to showcase their own conceived "piousness". Many church traditions are just that....traditions. They have little to do with the teaching of the bible and more to do with cultural and social practices which are in danger of becoming a showcase for piousness as in the case of the pharisees. Where there is doubt, we can always refer to Jesus teaching and the practices of the early church as recorded in the book of Acts.

The Bible doesn't ask for blind faith. It frequently speaks of the need of our intellect to be engaged. So, we are told to "be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Romans).

I have to tell you that being a scientist and always of a scientific mind, my first encounter with Christ was on a purely factual, philosophical and intellectual basis. But I have learnt that even after all the questions have been answered, there will still need to be an emotional leap of faith.

Excuse me for this long post but let me illustrate the point. There is a story of the Prince of Wales visiting Niagara Falls in the early 20th century and he witnessed this daredevil acrobat actually cross the falls balancing on a tightrope. He also saw the man carry his assistant across while she was seated on a chair balanced on his shoulders.

After the act the Prince said that he would never had thought it was possible if he had not seen it with his own eyes but now he believed. The acrobat then asked if the Prince would mind sitting in the chair for his next act because the publicity would be a great benefit for him. The Prince went pale and is reported to have declined because while he believed, he did not believe enough.

In summary, there is no reason not to ask questions but keep in mind that without putting Christ to the test in our own life and experiencing him personally, the answers alone will never be enough.

Here's an old Cliff Richard song, which expresses just this very thought.

"In the stars His handiwork I see,
On the wind He speaks with majesty,
Though He rules over land and sea,
What is that to me?

I will celebrate His Nativity,
For it has a place in history,
Sure He came to set his people free,
What is that to me?

Till by faith I met him face to face,
And I felt the wonder of his grace,
Then I knew that he was more than just
A God who didn't care, who lived away up there,
And now He walks beside me day by day,
Ever watching over me lest I stray,
Helping me to find that narrow way,
He's everything to me!"

Have a blessed Christmas.

Bobbie said...

A very timely post, Josie. I have a lot of thoughts going around in my head now because of your post, but I'm sitting here struggling on how to put them into words without sounding corny.

So I'll just wish you a very Merry Christmas instead!!

the walking man said...

It has always been that them who ponder and think on these things are them who are closest to God. The ecclesia doesn't matter as much as the understanding. Hence no questions no understanding.

KathyB. said...

There was so much I wanted to say regarding your post Josie, but I think Lone Grey Squirrel said it so much more eloquently! I think from what I have read in your posts you are always seeking and probably often disappointed. Us mere people will always let you down, but even though it often seems like we have been forsaken, God does care, He sent his own Son, in the form of one of the most helpless and defenseless forms, a human baby,to grow up sinless, and be crucified for our sins...and then He raised Him from the dead....for us.

This is a miracle and marvel that one cannot experience through others, it IS personal.....and to me that is Christmas. Christ Mass ! " For today in the city of David has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:11

You're right, there are so many trappings of religion that have nothing to do with the simplicity of the good news, but the trappings and falsehoods of religion do get in the way....thank-you Jo for your post. I loved the clear voices of the young singers and enjoyed the video to the end....

JR's Thumbprints said...

You can never ask too many questions. I know lots and lots of inmates that are filled with hope and blind faith; I guess that's all they have.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

Dr.John said...

You would make a great Lutheran. We love questions.

Deb said...

Very interesting topic. What is it we must follow the writings of earthbound men who experienced Jesus in different ways, but told it in their own words. And the bible wasn't published until 300 years after the death of Christ. Some earthbound men decided just what would be introduced in the bible. There are other gospels that we may never see in our life times.
I believe in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I don't believe that I must go to Church every Sunday to express my faith as I experience my faith in my new little grandson, the beauty in nature and the kindness of people.

Oh enough of that...Merry Christmas!

Donnetta Lee said...

My mom always called me a "seeker" because I had so many questions--and still do. I will know the answers at some point, but til then, I just keep looking and waiting and asking. "Faith, hope, and charity. And the greatest of these is charity." Which is to mean "love." D

Deb said...

Now you have two chances to win the box. So it's your birthday soon, huh? If you email me your address, I will send you a special card. You have my email, right?

VioletSky said...

That hymn always gives me goosebumps. It is so stirring.

I echo what the walking man said - someone once told me the very same thing when I felt badly about asking so many questions and thinking I was therefore not a 'good' Christian.

Have a very Merry Christmas, Jo.

Adventure girl wanna be said...

Great post. I loved it as usual. I took am not religious but spiritual but I am also strangely attracted to some rituals of church????

Merry Christmas Jo!

Carla said...

I also envy people who have blind faith. The older I get, the more questions I have. And I also consider myself spiritual but not religious. I was raised Catholic. Went to Catholic schools...but eventually rebelled against it and all organized religion. Haven't gone to a church service in 40+ years. Now I find myself longing to belong to something. And it's the Episcopal Church that I'm leaning towards. Sounds like a better version of Catholicism. Hopefully, more diverse and more tolerant.

One of the things I hated about the Catholic Church was confession. I was a quiet, shy kid and for me confession was TERRIFYING! And like Russell, I never understood why I had to tell a priest my sins.

Merry Christmas, Jo!

Donnetta Lee said...


Pear tree cottage! said...

Ther are some very special blogs out in the blogger land that you just have to read over and over again .....this is one and I thank you not only for your post but also for the comments left by others it is an interesting subject but one thing is for sure every one writes with a passion of joy for all mankind......what a wonderful thing.

may blessings always be yours.


The Pink Cowboy said...

I was raised Catholic and even though I disagree the way the Church has handled "modernity" I still feel culturally attached to it. It is mystical and mysterious. It is like the concept of love, you cannot rationalize it. You feel it inside. I like to be energized by the music, ritual, architecture, art and the pageantry of a Catholic Christmas mass. This is my first time in your blog, and I find it wonderful and intelligent. Thank you for the opportunity.

Jo said...

Thank you everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful, Merry Christmas. And I hope you didn't gain too much weight. *heh* I will be over to visit you all very soon.


Mary Ellen said...

I know I'm late coming to this thread, but I'm trying to catch up on all that I missed in the past few months. Oh, this song! Like you, it's one of my very favorites and I find myself humming it from time to time throughout the year.

I do love the Catholic Church, even with all its crazy rules that seem to make no sense. I just hold to what my dad told me when I was young, "Never leave the church because of a priest, bishop, nun, or any other human being. They are only human and they make mistakes. Listen to your heart, that is God speaking to you. You'll know what to do and what to believe if you just trust in Him." So far, I think that's worked well for me.

Mary Ellen said...

Oh...and Merry Christmas to you! Sorry for being so late on that!

Anonymous said...

Hi. Your blog is interesting! :D
anyway, try looking into Islam. It encourages you to ask and there's answers everything! It's not blind faith. It encourages rational thinking, logic and has science supporting it. Trust me, just do a bit of research (:

disa said...