Meet my Muse… name of Nemesis

In Greek mythology there were nine Muses, goddesses of knowledge and the arts.  They both personified and inspired such creativity as song, dance and poetry, and were therefore the source of knowledge passed on, at that time, through these mediums.

Woman at nature

It is both apt and ironic that I would recognize my mother as my muse, and she would laugh to hear me call her by that name.

Still, my mom is the one who exposed me to music and poetry and art.  She is a singer and loves to dance, and though she criticized my abilities, she filled our home with song.  It was years before I ever heard her say to someone that I was a good writer, and yet she had an amazing library where I found and devoured classic literature from Dante to Chaucer to Dickens.  And while I have never explored what I suspect (or dream:)) could be a hidden artistic talent, I knew my way around all of the museums and galleries of the nearest urban center before I could locate it on a map.

My love of knowledge and science and learning also comes from my mom and she did an amazing job at allowing me to seek out and question and discover whatever called to me.  A gift that I treasure but one I fear she may regret, especially given what I imagine to be her great grief at my current apostasy.  For my mother also gifted me with the presence and familiarity of faith, which to her falls primarily in the realm of religion, the Catholic religion.

And for that reason, my mom can also be called Nemesis (“the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris or arrogance before the gods”).  She is responsible for the things I most treasure, including my values, ethics and sense of self.  But she is also responsible for my greatest co-dependencies, my most hidden shames, and my most difficult barriers.

We have struggled always with the stilted dance of our differing wills.  As a child I waged a crusade to prove that I was good enough (for her? for me? for life?).  As an adolescent I fought for my own personhood.  As an adult I walked my own path, but with desperate hopes of recognition.  And as a parent…

Well, the battle, as I continually vacillate between resemblance to and divergence from my mom while working to be the mother I want to be, has been wearying to say the least.  It has not been graceful.  It has included shouting and being hung-up on, having my son witness her slap me and, worse, seeing my knee-jerk reaction as I slapped her back.  It has comprised much silence and the devastation of her actually saying to me, in the fall-out of an Easter morning family argument, that she had decided to no longer be a part of our lives.

I thought we’d never come back from that one.

And yet, as I suppose muses, musees (?) and nemeses must, we have.

The story of my relationship to my mother and my relationship to Catholicism is the same. It is filled with paralleled juxtaposition, with safety and strife, with constancy and contradiction.  It is an ongoing story, one, thankfully, in the process of evolution.

And so I imagine my mom will be a large part of my presence here.  Acting both as Muse and as Nemesis, her presence will surely guide and poke and keep me true.  And in the end, I hope there will be greater peace between not just me and the Catholic Church, but me and the woman who most represents it in my mind.


Feasting on Family

©  Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos 1768902In the Catholic liturgical calendar, today is the Feast of the Holy Family.  It seems an appropriate time of year, what with the many close holidays celebrated by feasting and gathering.  It also comes at a historical time when the definition of family has been much discussed and so encourages me to reflect on the meaning of family to me.

Of the history of the Feast Day, we can read that it was initiated by Pope Leo XIII in 1893 in response to the industrial revolution and what he viewed as a “the break-down of the nuclear family. Thus, Leo held up the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to serve as a model for family life and unity.”

So, if the Pope is to be believed, a grouping consisting of a relatively innocent man, a seemingly adulterous, unwed pregnant teen and, later, her illegitimate child presents the model family.  (And ignore the fact that this is a couple who never tried to have children of their own, in spite of the Church’s teaching that, “By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory.”)

modern family-reality tvAnd I am not in disagreement.  This seems congruous with my own belief that families can be composed of many different pieces and it is the demonstration of respect, unity and mutual care that makes them a family.

Given what few stories we know of Jesus’s early years, his family certainly appears to have possessed these traits.

From the beginning, Joseph was a kind and compassionate man who sought to protect Mary from legitimized shaming even when he thought to divorce her.  Upon their marrying we must believe that he respected her wishes concerning sex and other children (or the lack thereof).  He was willing to uproot this family and move to foreign, unknown lands to protect them.  He helped his family to follow their religious mandates…

Mary, for her part, willingly consents to being a mother to the child, even though she did not plan it and did not even have the fun of making it.  (Did anyone mention that artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization are not Church approved methods of conception?)  And still, she clothed and fed and cared for him.  She worried for him when he went missing, had faith in his abilities as he grew into adulthood, and stood by him when he was unjustly accused.

And Jesus, at least on the one occasion where he was chastised by his parents, but gently answers and then obeys.

Kindness, compassion, trust, concern, respect, protection, nurturing, dedication, faith, participation, gentleness, loyalty, love…  Check, check and check.  All important characteristics for a family member to have.

Completely missing are the identifiers usually given by the Church such as biological parents of a biological child, conceived and born within wedlock, with ongoing, unprotected intimate relations offering the possibility of further children.

I like this.  I like the thought that had the world known, they would have been shocked by this family composition.  I like that both of these parents were brave enough to choose this unconventional family and then were consistent in their commitment to it.  I like that Jesus’ family continued to evolve into an even more different “chosen family”, as when he affirms that the crowds who gather to learn with him are his true family.

I like this because this is more representative of the families that I know and love.

My own immediate biological family is small and suffered under the expectations of the norm.  My extended biological family is enormous and comprised of most any kind of character.  They are, without exception, welcome and wonderful.  And yet it is my chosen family, both immediate and extended, who know me the best and who provide the most joy, the most growth and the most support.

A legitimately wonderful child from an abusive unmarried union.  The most generous twins abandoned in youth and adopted after adoption was no longer possible.  A loving sister of my soul who knew me before we were seen.  The ever-surprising mother who is included now by my own decision, in spite of the blood between us…

I am ever graced by them and overwhelmed with gratitude that they have elected also, to make me a part of their chosen family.   Strong, dynamic and valid.  A sacred grouping.  A holy family, worthy of any feast.

~May you each celebrate the dignity of your own family today, in all its varieties!

Delightful! Delovely! Delicious! Such a great way to understand that which we cannot see!


Tell us about the role that faith plays in your life — or doesn’t. 

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

Who Has Seen the Wind?
          By Christina Rossetti 1830–1894

Have you seen the Wind? 
Felt It?
            Taste it?
                        Heard It?
                                    Smelt it? 
Do you believed in the Wind?  This is what faith means to me.  I believe, I hope.  Faith is a grace, a blessing. 
“For by grace…

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On neither Rediscovering nor Recovering from Catholicism

I woke this morning to find a new book on my coffee table — Rediscover Catholicism.

© Karasisi  Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

My mom was here last night.  Just briefly.  For a quick dinner before we went out to view Christmas Lights at the Botanic Gardens.  She never mentioned it.

The thing is, I don’t need to rediscover Catholicism.  I know Catholicism not only better than most “Catholics” I know, but better than most “devout”, “practicing” Catholics I know.

I have not only read the Bible regularly and in its entirety, I have studied the Catechism of the Catholic Church repeatedly and in depth.  I have read many of the Encyclicals.  I have read many of the writings of the Doctors of the Church.  I have read much from contemporary Catholic authors.  I became a Lector and Eucharistic Minister following my confirmation at 12.  I taught CCD from that time until I was in my early 30s.  At different points, I have been employed by my diocese as the Catholic student minister on my college campus and as a parish Education Director.

But I have never just agreed blindly with the Church’s teachings.  I am a questioner, I am a researcher, I am a thinker.  Certainly, there have been many points at which I have had to examine incongruities between my heart/mind/soul and the Church’s teachings.  Sometimes I have been able to reconcile those and sometimes I have not.

But those variances cannot change the fact that the Church has been important to me, to my family history, my personal history… my individual identity.

And yet, a few years ago, I gave up Catholicism for Lent.

I gave up the regular practice, at least.  I may or may not have given up Catholicism completely.  I may or may not have given up Christianity completely.  My own experience is that they are still with me and will likely always be.   They have provided much that I appreciate and am grateful for, much that I will continue to hold tenderly within me and which will continue to influence the energy that I exert in the world.

Now what I try to reconcile is the space between being/identifying as Catholic and being/labeling myself as a “Recovering Catholic”.  I don’t want to feel as if I am in recovery, the connotations of which are that I or my history is anguished or broken or unwell.  I don’t want to identify with the anger and blame that so often come with taking that name.

And that is the purpose of this blog.  It is about learning how to move beyond my roots of Catholic (and other) indoctrination and making the transition gracefully.  About recognizing, exploring and expressing both my gratitude for the very real gifts of my past and my enthusiasm for the limitless joy of a chosen faith future.