Definitely some pros and cons to Ash Wednesday as an Oreo. On one hand, few things makes me feel like an accomplished Oreo than sitting in an Anglican church during high mass Ash Wednesday services and staring at the lily (of the valley) white version of Christ showing us what perfection looks like.
On the other hand, ashes don’t show up as well on dark skin—thus everyone is reminded of the fact that you’re black in the first place.
Ah, well, I suppose the only way to correct this is with the right Lenten sacrifice like I did last year. And why not throw in giving up sugar to boot? (seriously, this is the first day in a year of working at my office that I haven’t had the dessert they have for us every day.)
And in a moment of non-snark, I’m gonna say that I’m glad I was there, even if the dark on dark was bad for my Oreo image.
Head’s up diary, shiz is ‘bout to get real….(that’s how black people say that, right?)
I used to make a bigger deal out of being religious than I do now, and frankly, I used to be better at being religious so that kind of makes sense. Folks who know me know that I like to swear and I like to drink and I like to have sex. So I may not come across as “religious” but I am…kind of. I’m equal parts full of faith and doubt and I look at the world with equal measures of cynicism and wonder.
But I do believe in God. And I like to go to mass. I figure that all the things I love about the world and about life—love, beauty, mystery, magic, emotion, potential, giraffes, meter, balance, fervor, possiblity—I figure that all those things have to come from somewhere and for me that somewhere is God. For others that somewhere is the Universe or Mother Earth or Krishna…I think I’m not really sure how that one works or…nothing. And that’s okay with me.
I was raised superBaptist in an ultra conservative environment that claimed God was all about grace—that we didn’t have to do anything in particular to make God love us. Somehow, though, those same grace-loving congregants still had a lot of things you had to and couldn’t be. (liberal = bad; pledging your virginity to your parents = good — wtf??)
So that was confusing.
I’ve gone to mostly protestant churches since then. Floating into congregations when I was feeling guilty and directionless. And floating out again when the churches got too cliquey or too political—either direction. I love inclusion, I’m liberal as fuck, but I go to church for God stuff. Not politics stuff. If you wanna talk politics, meet me at the bar after mass, but for that hour, I just want to be reminded of the saints and of grace and of forgiveness and love and beauty.
My church growing up mocked High Church tradition. Catholics were basically pagans, they said. I mean, yeah, the superBaptists believe in Mary just like the Catholics do, but we sure as shit don’t pray to her. So it was made clear to me that while I may not always be superBaptist, I definitely was not to be a Catholic.
But…They didn’t say anything about being Episcopalian. You know, Catholic-lite. I’m a huge Anglo-phile, so the Anglican church made sense to me. I like cathedrals. Yes, they were phenomenal wastes of resources for oft-impoverished communities, but my goodness are they wonders of architecture.And there are rules there. Which not everyone likes, but I relish. I came from a world where there were no rules. Where Mom would say one thing, then punish me for believing it. One day, I was the family’s enemy, the next day, I was a confidant—hear stories about parental sex life that no 12-year-old should hear. I was by turns a terror and a saint, the family treasure and the source of all of its problems. Things I was praised for one day were causes for punishment the next. And that was unbearably difficult.
As such, I have a very hard time with grace. You mean, God just loves me? Without agenda? There’s nothing in particular that I have to… do to make sure I’m doing what He wants??
While many find this wondrous, I find it terrifying. My life is run by rules. I worry over every single thing that I say, wondering if I’ve hurt someone’s feelings irreparably. Am I being funny enough right now? Am I being too funny? Am I being nice enough? Or do I seem fake because I’m being too nice? When I hug a tall person, do I reach up to put both of my arms around their neck or do I hug them around their waist like I’m a child? Did they even want me to hug them in the first place? Does he like me? Does she like me? Do they like me? Should I have laughed more? Cried less? Kept a straighter face? Is it okay to talk about this? Can I ask about that?
And I become paralyzed in my relationships. Unable to move forward because no one gave me the g-d rule book.
And to say that there are no rules in life is false. That is something we say to shy people to hopefully get them to break out of their shells. But we know better. Every game has rules. Most of them very complicated rules. I mean, you You would think that curling was pretty straightforward. But no, I was listening to an NPR story about it and they wouldn’t shut up with the rules! Even in the grace-loving church I grew up in, there were rules. If you raised your hands at the wrong time or prayed with the wrong version of King James English, you were totes talked about.
There are norms to which we are expected to conform. And to break those rules—to smell funny or to not like Star Wars or to be really into Prairie Home Companion—is to invite concern.
And so I take great comfort in going to mass. Because there are rules. Those rules are written out for you in the order of worship so you know what they. And those rules about about things I can handle. They don’t seem to care too much if you like to swear or like to drink or like to have sex. They just want your attention for this one lovely hour.
In the old, Gothic cathedral where I go to services, the organ music tells you that this is fucking serious. That you are in a special place so shut the fuck up and pay attention. The crossing and kneeling and standing causes you to get out of your head and do what you’re told. And up there at the front of the church is a big ol’ Jesus pleased that you’re following directions.
I get that that’s stifling to some people. But for me, nothing is more comfortable. I do love God. And I want to be better at being…better. But I’m arrogant as fuck and praying is a humbling thing that is hard to do. Exhibiting the love that deities tell us to exhibit is really really challenging. It’s painful to be nice when thinking my former bestie who put the kabash on our friendship because she didn’t like my dating habits and hurt me as badly as any guy ever as. It’s devastating to talk to my ex-husband and not demand from him an explanation as to why he didn’t love me but married me anyway. My heart explodes whenever I get an email from my Mom that begs for support while ignoring the fact that she gave me so little. And it’s way awkward to pass homeless people and wonder if I’m being safe or an asshole for telling them I don’t have money when I totally do. Not a lot, but more than they have, so why be so fucking stingy with it.
It’s damn near impossible to remember to turn to the God who I think gave us stories and dreams and hope when I have a diva manager threatening my contract for only making 3 horribly sexist jokes in my latest spec instead of a few more. It’s hard to stop and pray after another interview that won’t bear any fruit. Hollywood isn’t always a meritocracy.
But for that hour that I’m in mass, I can make it work. For one little hour, I get it right. I say the right things. I move at the right time. I pray the right prayers. For one hour, I’m in a gorgeous building, hearing gorgeous music and smelling gorgeous incense that reminds me that I think that God deserves my best. For one hour, I can commit to being a person who forgives and who gives of herself as much as she truly wants to. For one hour, I’m not bitter and mad at my bestie, or my ex or my Mom. For one hour, I get it right, and I feel good about that. Because I’m pretty sure I fuck it up every other hour of every other day.
And maybe, maybe, if I can make this one hour work, I can make one more hour work. And then an hour after that. Until eventually, the good hours outnumber the kinda shitty ones.
I look forward to that time.
And until that time, I can at least give goodness this much time. It may be only an hour, but it’s a start.
(And don’t worry. Tomorrow, we’ll return to our regularly scheduled snark.)