Why this blog? Why Me? Why now?

Recently, after a series of particularly stressful events, I had a day that was full of tiny moments that all seemed designed to push me towards God. As I've never been a regular churchgoer and certainly not a believer, this came as a bit of a shock. I have never felt that I was missing anything, but it was too strong of a feeling to ignore. It is possible that in a month or week or day that the compulsion will pass. It is also possible that it will not.

I started this blog to document the process. I am starting from scratch, more or less, so please forgive me if I get some fact about your church or your faith wrong. I'm a work in progress.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thought on Lent, from a first time participant

This will be my first year to participate in Lent in any way. Ever since learning about making a sacrifice during Lent (which I didn't learn about until I was about 25, there aren't a lot of Catholics in the Deep South) I've been fascinated with the idea of giving something up.  I didn't take the time to read about it, of course, but was always slightly jealous of people who "got" to do it. I was disappointed to learn that my Catholic husband (who I met later) didn't really participate.  This year, we are. We both gave up candy, including chocolate. This isn't particularly original, but we beginners and so this is what we chose. Last night we had some Easter candy and today it was supposed to go to work with Mike so that it would not tempt us at home. It did not go. I guess I get to learn strength the hard way. (Cadbury mini eggs might be my favorite candy of all.)

Last night as I was lying in bed, I did my usual prayer, but then was thinking about Lent and sacrifice and Jesus and how I didn't really know the meaning of Lent. This led to my getting up today and reading a few articles and blog posts of the more serious type.  Most of the blog posts were from the Catholic Exchange (WHY can't their RSS feed be easy to set up? It's like they want me to forget to click over. Also, you'd think they would actually link book titles to a place to purchase said titles, no?) Here's the most interesting thought that I read, from For Lent: Redefine True Womanhood. This one has great ideas for other sacrifices, than the obvious chocolate choice. I particularly like "Fast from negative self-talk about your value or appearance."  I'm not an overly negative person, but I think this one could really change a person, even if they failed.

After I read those, I decided I better read the Daily Mass readings for the day, so I went and did that. Which told me that I'm not supposed to let anyone know that I'm fasting and I'm supposed to pray in secret. This is all well and good, but how does that reconcile with wearing ashes from Mass? It's not like I really wanted a medal for participating, but I didn't realize it was supposed to be on the hush hush. If I had read that on any other day I would have assumed that it meant that a good Christian did not go shouting to the rooftops what a great Christian they were, but since it's the reading for today, a day of prayer, fasting and alms, perhaps it means today? Clearly, I have more reading to do. I think maybe it's time to go to the source, and read one of the gospels. My good friend G (not Catholic) suggests John, so that's where I'm going to begin.  I'm also going to spend a little more time thinking about today's readings, as it seems there's a good bit of other stuff to think about in there ("A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me." Ps 51:10 and "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise." Ps 51:15)[Side note: If you happen to be reading the wrong one, say Psalm 50 instead of 51, you will be utterly confused.]

In the hour it's taken me to write this, I've had to resist the mini M&Ms at least 6 times. Every single time I've thought, "oh wait, I gave those up for God." If this is any indication of how the next 40 days will go I will either be very devout or very bitter at the end. Perhaps I should get rid of the bag of candy now.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

The first book on my self-imposed, read-about-Christianity plan was Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller.  As the title would suggest, this is more a book of loosely connected essays on Miller's thoughts on Christianity and spirituality. My good friend G suggested that I read this one, and as she is one of my two greatest Christian inspirations, I took her advice.  It was a great book to start with, as it wasn't too serious but still managed to provide some food for thought.

It is hard to pin Miller down to any one organized religion, and the church he belongs to seems to be a homemade,  not particularly organized and full of passion,  and not held accountable by a larger organization, type church. I find this both inspiring (they are so passionate about Christ that they made their own successful church!), and a bit off-putting (passion is good and all, but is this a freaky cult?) There is no doubt that Miller believes in the existance of God and Christ. He seems to have been born with an innate need for a spiritual presence. He does question the details, and openly admits to seeing the complexity and the irrationality of some of the facets of Christianity. Miller ultimately comes through on the side of belief every time but it's really encouraging to see such a steadfast believer voice some of the same problems I have as a newcomer.

The book itself could have really benefitted from an editor. No one uses the other persons name in a face to face conversation as often as they do with Miller. No one.  Once, maybe twice, but not every sentence.  I understand that it lends urgency to a passage, but it really took my attention away from what was really being said. There were also a few chapters that seemed to only barely tie in to Christianity as well. Overall, a good first choice, but as with any books, annoying in places.

I'm not sure what book is up next, I did update my Spiritual Reading List this week with additonal titles already on my shelves.

Quotes worth taking note of:
p 13. I believe that the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time. The is why the devil tries so hard to get Christians to be religious. If he can sink a man's mind into habit, he will prevent his heart from engaging God.

p. 33. (re: the idea that you have to make a decision to follow or reject Christ.)  And, perhaps, I was judging the idea, not by it's merit, but by the fashionable or unfashionable delivery of the message.

p. 51. The goofy thing about Christian faith is that you believe it and don't believe it at the same time. It isn't unlike having an imaginary friend. I believe in Jesus, I believe He is the Son of God, but every time I sit down to explain this to somebody I feel like a palm reader, like somebody who works at a circu or a kid who is always making things up or somebody at a Star Trek convention who hasn't figured out the show isn't real.

p. 87.  Every year or so I start pondering at how silly the whole God thing is. Every Christian knows they will deal with doubt. And they will. But when it comes it seems so very real and frightening, as if your entire universe is going to fall apart. I remember a specific time when I was laying there in bed thinking about the absurdity of my belief. God. Who believes in God? It all seems so very silly.

p.104. And that's when I realized that believing in God is as much like falling in love as it is like making a decision. Love is both something that happens to you and something you decide upon. [Lisa's Note: I keep coming back to this one in particular.]

p. 197. "When we do what God wants us to do, we are blessed, we are spiritually healthy. God wants us to give a portion of our money to His work on earth. By setting aside money from every check, you are trusting God to provide. He wants you to get over that fear- that fear of trusting Him. It is a scary place, but that is where you have to go as a follower of Christ. There are times when my wife and I don't have enough money to cover bills, but we know the first bill, the first payment we make, is to the church. That is most important. If the other bills get neglected, then we need to watch how we are spending money. And there are times when we have found ourselves in that situation. But it works out. We are getting good at trusting God, and we are getting good at managing money."

p. 205. Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little is spent allowing our hearts to feel awe. By reducing Christian spirituality to formula, we deprive our hearts of wonder.

When I think about the complexity of the Trinity, the three-in-one God, my mind cannot understand, but my heart feels wonder in abundant satisfaction. It is as though my heart, in the midst of its euphoria, is saying to my mind, There are things you cannot understand, and you must learn to live with this. Not only must you learn to live with this, you must learn to enjoy this.

p. 229. "Your value has to come from God. And God wants you to receive His love and to love yourself too."

p. 232. And so I have come to understand that strength, inner strength, comes from receiving love as much as it comes from giving it. I think apart from the idea that I am a sinner and God forgives me, this is the greatest lesson I have ever learned. When you get it, it changes you. ...  God's love will never change us if we don't accept it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The difficulty of going to Mass

As a family we've been to Mass three Sundays in a row now. It's become important to both my husband and myself that we make the effort to go every week. I see him embracing the church in ways he hasn't since in 14 years, since before I met him. We've talked about calling to see if there is a welcome wagon (if you will), and to find out about Baptism for our two younger kids. He is planning to go to confession before Lent. 

Since I'm not Catholic I feel a bit weird adapting some of the ritual and practices that he does, but I also feel weird abstaining. If he wants to say grace at dinner, and I think we should, shouldn't I be learning it as well? If he gives something up for Lent, I'd like to do it as well. Do I cross myself in church or is that reserved for those who are full Catholics? Do I genuflect as I enter the pew? I dug my copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Catholicism out of the garage (a process that led me to take a nap afterwards, true story) and will be looking through it for answers, but would welcome input from the peanut gallery.

The other hard part of Mass for us are the kids.  Understandably, this is all new and hard for them. They aren't used to sitting quietly for any length of time. My 6 year old is mostly ok, but the two younger ones (3 and 18 months) are unimpressed.  I feel like we're spending the whole hour herding cats.  There's no sense of sitting there gaining anything spiritual from the process, and since we haven't managed to find out about other services we aren't yet gaining community from the process.  Because of our work schedules, we've been at three different services (10am, 7pm, 8am).  It seems likely that the 8am Sunday service is the one we'll settle on, as it will rarely cause a work conflict.  I took a couple little soft toys in a bag for the baby today, and pens and paper for the boys, but I don't know if that's acceptable or not.*

Regardless of all this, the bloom has not worn off the rose and I still believe that going to church is the right thing to do. I want the routine and the weekly touchpoint of going. I'd love to feel a sense of renewal and fresh beginnings every week, and I suspect that going to church would come to do that for me. I'm not ready to proclaim myself Born Again, or even a true Believer, but I am comforted by the idea of becoming one.

*Another true story, once when I was about 12 and my brothers were maybe 4 and 6, they slithered up from our pew (3/4 of the way back) alllll the way to the front of the church, on their bellies. They removed a few shoes on their way through. They popped up at the front of the church, laughed at their victory, and proudly marched back down the center aisle to our family's pew. My kids aren't that obvious. Yet.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Quick Takes on Prayer, Mass, Bible Study and Stillness

Mass yesterday was a disaster. Due to work schedules we had to attend the Sunday evening service and it was just too much to ask of the kid's at the end of the weekend. It was only our second attempt, so we're not discouraged. (Grace, if you're reading, I wore pants, but not jeans. )


Thanks for your suggestions on my post about learning to pray. For the first time ever in my life, yesterday someone asked me to "say a quick prayer that I handle this right" and I actually did.  With the idea that it might be more than empty words.   Also, I was looking for a nice repetitive daily prayer, and Cari suggested something simple. I thought about what I wanted (needed) most, and settled on peace from anxiety and stress and everything that drove me here, calm and patience in dealing with others, and joy and love to and from my friends and family. (And a pony.) (And world peace.) I settled on repeating "Peace, calm, joy," and then if I'm awake enough to need to think harder, to expound on just those things. I thought maybe I could look for scripture that supported those ideas as well.


I really liked this post on Psalm 46:10. Seems to go well with my prayer for peace.
I believe that this is a call to quiet our hearts when they are trembling with fear. It’s a call to quiet our spirits when the pressure of the busy schedules, and the kids and spouses, and the career responsibilities, all become more than we can bear. When the noises of our lives are drowning out our calm, peace, even our joy, don’t forget to quiet your mind and spirit and look to the Lord. Remember that He is in control, He’s got you taken care of.

I'd kind of like to find some kind of one on one study partner. I'm not up for what I see advertised (Learn the Book of This Guy! Women in the Bible!) yet, but something much more basic might be nice. Bonus points if it involved a cup of coffee away from home on a regular basis.


If you know anyone else whose blog I should be following, or who would be interested in reading here, please feel free to share the link.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Learning how to Pray

It is almost overwhelming how many directions I can try to go with learning about Christianity. When I sit down to read something other than a book (which is by it's very nature linear) I find that I have a hard time focusing on one topic. So then I wander off and play a few rounds of Plants vs Zombies or Angry BirdWords with Friends instead. I decided that I need to start with one idea and follow that for a while, and then move on to something else. I'll continue to read my books while I'm doing this, and make notes as I go so that I have an idea of where to go next.  Sounds like a plan, no?  (By the way, I'm not spending a ton of time a day doing this, that's hardly realistic for my life. I am spending time thinking about it though.)

I've decided to start with prayer. I really don't know how to pray. It's always seems so greedy to ask someone as powerful and important as God is (should be?) for my little things.  Oh sure, I could ask him to heal someone sick or help the victims of some disaster without guilt, but for myself? Does one pray for themself? If I'm going to be completely honest here, and that's the goal, I'd really like to pray for a little peace and quiet of the mental variety. I'd like to share my anxiety over life's details with someone who isn't going to take that burden and amplify it into his own brain, as my husband would do. But, isn't it weird to talk to God about that stuff? Doesn't it make my self-worth awfully inflated to think God even cares that the baby won't sleep and the phone bill is due and I never managed to mop the floor (for the 42nd day in a row?)

The other night I was rocking and nursing the baby back to sleep. It was somewhere around 1am. Normally I'd either sit in the rocker and doze and hope I didn't wake up with a start and wake the baby too, or I'd sit there and make mental to do lists that I wouldn't remember in the morning anyway. I had the idea that I needed something I could recite that would both keep me away and keep me from thinking of everything I needed to do.  I have very few things memorized and the ones I do know by heart don't lend themselves to repetition of this sort (really, the first paragraph of Gone with the Wind can only be said a couple of times before even I lose interest.) So I went with reciting The Lord's Prayer. I said it wrong, of course, Prebytarians don't say it like Catholics do, but it was a start. It still wasn't fascinating, but it did keep my attention and crowded out the other thoughts in my head. I started to think, maybe these Catholics with all their repetitive memorization are onto something here. I was about 99% sure that there's be a whole stack of prayers I could learn, and likely there would be one that fit middle of the night baby rocking. 

This morning I sat down and poked around on the internet for something to back me up in this idea. I found this link at Catholic.com, that talks about prayer in general and lists some common Catholic prayers. The next link on my search was for this list of 3398 prayers. 3398!! Isn't that a bit overboard there?  I have no idea where they come from, for all I know the person who created that site sat in a dark room and made them all up. I was particularly enchanted by this Blessing of Bacon and Lard. I found this link about daily prayer from ourcatholicprayers.com to be very helpful in solidifying the idea of starting with prayer.

All of this leaves me with the question of: which prayer(s) would be best for middle of the night solo recitation? My solitary research this morning indicates that I should start with the prayers that make up the Rosary.  Not that I'm anywhere near saying the Rosary, or really even wanting to, but if I'm going to memorize things it may as well be useful things (as opposed to the Bacon Blessing.)  Maybe if I learned this kind of guided prayer I'd be more receptive to asking for what I want? Is it selfish to want something from religion? from God?

What does my in-house cheerleading squad think? (Yes, I mean YOU.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Reading the right translation

A week into this journey and I'm starting to get hung up on trivial details. I question which translation I'm reading and find myself looking up comparisions online. I start to think about if I should be using whichever Bible Catholics read, just so I'm on the same page from the beginning. I worry, if I'm so hung up on getting it "right" does that mean I'll stop trying?  The translations are often so different from each other that a verse that I enjoy on the first reading will lose meaning for me when I read another version. I'm trying to convince myself to let it mean what it will, but then when I think about discussing what it means to me and somehow being wrong, I hesitate.  Clearly, there is a right and wrong, or we'd all be one happy religion, right?

I'm going at this all from a very very basic knowledge of the Bible. I know the kid's stories- Noah, Moses, Jonah, Adam & Eve, the Birth. I am not familiar with many Bible verses, nor do I know the significance of it when someone  posts chapter and verse alone. I almost feel embarrassed to talk about a verse that is very well known, but for the most part the only way that I even know that they are well known is because I saw them on Pinterest or Facebook. I feel a bit like a kid who is the last one to get the joke, or maybe like I'm the last one to learn to read.

I realize that I'm overthinking a silly detail, when there are so many other things I could be overthinking. I'm having a hard time focusing on details of belief. My life is full of chaos and kids and it's hard to find a quiet moment for reflection. I am able to browse the internet and read books in the middle of chaos, so that's where I've started. I'm hoping that the books lead to thinking about what I personally believe about God. I don't expect that I will ever be completely firm on what that is, but I'd like to reach a point where I can say with complete honesty that I am a Christian, or that I am not.