When the world looms too close and I forget that I am in it but not of it, there is a quiet place in my memory bank that I run to as fast as I can.
The youngest of six daughters, I was raised Roman Catholic. Twelve years in Catholic schools. Countless masses, ceremonies, candle lightings, rosaries, novenas, stations of the cross. Umpteen whispered conversations with boys on whom I had crushes whilst we were supposed to be reflecting on our sins.
You’d think I would be churched out by now.
While I no longer attend Masses regularly, and my views have diverged from the church’s for many years, I find myself wanting the solace of ritual. Of sunlight streaming through a stained glass window. The smell of incense. Votive candles standing sentinel for the hopes and prayers of my fellow humans.
I have a difficult time just letting myself be. I am hard on myself. Always trying to figure out three steps ahead. When something unpleasant takes me by surprise, I have a tendency to blame myself. Why did I not plan for this eventuality or that wrong turn? I was brought up to own my piece of a problem. Unfortunately, I did not seem to learn that sometimes problems just happen.
And that excellence should not be the ticket for love, self or otherwise. That love is not earned. Love is given simply because we are who we are. Foibles, failings, triumphs, bright shining moments—it is all OK. Better than OK. Meant to be. A divine soup, of sorts.
On days I feel overwhelmed, I want the quiet sanctity of a church, a chapel, some sacred space. In a church, just being is really the only alternative. There is no striving. No one cares if I aced my recent work presentation or bombed it.
When alone (and yes, I try to go when no Mass is scheduled), a feeling envelops me as I sit or kneel. I can only describe it as God. And while I feel this presence during my days, it is not the same. In a sacred space, God surrounds me. I am taken into divine arms and held. I find, in those arms, I can just be. In a way I cannot always achieve myself (Ah, there is the rub. Even when talking about “just being”, I speak in terms of achievement. You see how many of us are programmed?).
I am not Kristine the executive. Not a tired single mother. Not a lonely daughter who misses her parents. Not the sister who can be prickly and does not call enough. Not the friend who needs to make more time for those I love. Not the woman wondering how she will ever fit a man into this schedule again.
Those roles fall to the floor like so much chaff.
I am the soul I came to this place as on my very first day here, but now world weary and trying to figure it all out. I am usually told—silently, as I sit—not to figure anything out. Just to feel the love. And, amazingly, I do.
I’ve thought about how to carve a similar experience for myself in my home but there is something to be said for a structure, large or small, where hundreds or thousands have come to pray fervently, to cry, to celebrate, to mourn, to admit their failings. Our collective humanity seems to bless the place as much as the Divine presence we call there.
I think back to my first church, St. Angela’s. The church where I received all my first sacraments as a child. I read from that pulpit more times than you can count. Processed up that aisle in my itchy plaid wool skirt and knee socks through a haze of incense smoke on high holy days. I gave my mother’s memoriam from that pulpit. My father’s also. I watched sisters get married, babies get baptized and caskets carried out by my nephews with a solemnity I never thought to see from them.
I think back to the chapel in my high school. The one where I wrung my hands after realizing I had wronged someone who had been good to me. The one where I attended countless mini-retreats. The one I entered as a skinny bean pole of a child and left a much more accomplished young woman.
I remember St. Clement’s. The church I would head to just to help myself stay grounded in a big city where the label on my dress tended to mean more than the words coming out of my mouth, in some circles. I believe I also attended for a while, admittedly, because of the gorgeous young priest. The diocese was smart on that one; I think their female attendance doubled in the year of his tenure there.
When people ask me why I keep my children in religious education, I tell them it is for this grounding. I want them to know divine spaces. I want a framework for them with which they can try to make sense of the world, even if it means they reject that framework and choose another one.
Sacred spaces are not created overnight.
Neither are people who have learned to just be still and be loved.
At least, not in this world.
Even for the most “modern” among us, stillness is a necessity.
I run to it whenever I can.
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This post is a point of stillness in itself. Although I was raised in the Church of England I’m not a Christian anymore – but nevertheless I feel that sense of stillness from a church.
Loved this one.
In the rush and bustle of London, where I recently spent a week, I was in a lot of pain with my arthritic left knee and desperate for a place to sit still in peace….just as I came up to St. Marylebone Church, a 200 yr old exquisite place painted in white and gold and mint green. I sat in the pews and lit a few candles (even though it was Anglican) and just…rested. Few places are as able to recharge me, too, as a lovely, empty church.
Funny how we feel at home no matter where in the world, in a church. At least I do, given how much time I spent in them as a child. Would love to see pics of that church, if you have them.
They are in my post about London.
I think we need to find stillness (wherever it may be) to feel God. For me its in nature. I think its different for everyone, but there’s that lovely feeling we’ve been heard by some divine presence that’s so soothing.
Funny…. while in Chicago i had a church I use to go to in downtown Wheaton. I’d go there sometimes in the middle of the week, and like you – to just sit in the stillness and think about answers to my questions. It gave me a tremendous amount of peace. And for some reason – I could think clearer after I left the church. I haven’t thought about that in years nor have I had that type of church in my life. We go to a Non-Denominational Church here in Valencia. It’s very theater like seating with the band and all. A little new-agey. No stain glass, or high ceilings, or beautiful architecture. Interestingly enough, I don’t find myself going there to just sit for peace. There’s something about the big traditional church, the stain glass, sun gleaming in, that is comforting and really grounds you. Glad that you still have that!
As another lapsed church-goer (not Catholic, though, although I went with my Catholic ex-husband and children for years), I relate to this. I also love the ritual, and the silence of an empty church or cathedral. I don’t mind if it’s a busy, touristy church either, allowing all and sundry to come in for a look at its grandeur. But I can also find that sacred silence in nature – a friend once called those places of silent, empty grandeur (and there are lots of them in Australia) “nature’s cathedrals”. Forests, gorges, deserts…and as you say, sacred places are not created overnight. Ancient lands have that too…
Yes, Lee, I understand the nature bit. I sometimes substitute a walk in the woods with the dog. Love that term, “nature’s cathedrals.” That’s exactly what they feel like.
I envy the groundedness your church brings you. I can remember having issues when reading from our prayer book when I was young, at church. My parents were not particularly religious and mom gave up on dragging us kids to Sunday School when I was about 8.
These days I get what I call my churching or church time in different ways. But there definitely is something special about the church you grow up in, especially if you are able to attend it into adulthood. Having both of my parents’ funeral services back in my hometown church was an interesting experience. The familiarity of the church itself and the people who were there was very comforting, even if my beliefs don’t exactly mesh these days.
While I can relate to the need for just ‘being’ I’m afraid my Catholic schooling knocked any affinity with church and religion out of me. But there’s no doubt that many get comfort in the manner that you describe.
Oh, I was once the Crown Bearer for the Queen of the May in our annual school procession 🙂
To me, churches feel sacred because they hold the energy of so many who have been at their most vulnerable before their higher power and each other. I always want to tread lightly in spaces like that. Such a beautiful post, Kristine.
Thank you, Karen! I agree with the vulnerability bit. There’s a very clean, clear, humble energy that purifies the space.
Love stillness as a sanctity of self and selfless, shrugging the pieces of identity that divide our wholeness and claiming a fullness of presence with spiritual consciousness. Beautiful, Kay.
I love this piece. I, too, was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school. Though I have left the church in most every way, I still sometimes yearn for that incomparable stillness that you so beautifully describe. When we have traveled to Europe, it was always the cathedrals I wanted to see. Standing and kneeling in those beautiful churches that have held the energy of sacred stillness for centuries is always emotional and comforting. Have you read, ‘And then there were nuns’. adventures in a cloistered life’ by Jane Christmas. I highly recommend it, and all of her other books as well. 🙂
Thank you, Karen, for the rec on the book. I’ll have to check it out. I agree with you on cathedrals. I remember a small church in Mexico–so NOT a cathedral–that gave me the same feeling. Just something about a space designated for the sacred.
“Sacred spaces are not created overnight” is such a beautiful reminder of all that stillness provides us. Lovely, Kay.
Just beautiful. I also find peace in the stillness of our beautiful church, and always love spending some quiet time in the many churches I’ve visited around the world. I pray too that my children know the church is a place of sanctuary, whatever the religion and wherever they are in the world. We recently travelled through Europe and I handed out a fortune to my kids who insisted on lighting a candle and praying in every church we went into, even though the older two often tell me they dont believe in God. 😊
Beautifully written Kay. Much change is happening within, but that change brings a stillness so that we can ‘see’ from a more understanding and detached place. Not detached as in not feel, but a more loving detachment where you do indeed feel so much more…and really begin to understand.
And being expressed here very well. Namaste
I find much Stillness in my work and in Nature. I can appreciate the value of stillness and where you find yours. Thank you
“Stillness is a necessity.” I agree. And sometimes, ritual helps us connect to stillness when the physical chaos surrounding us gets overwhelming. Providing a familiar, comforting routine for our children and a way to connect to stillness is what we need to provide as parents. Great post – I am toying with similar thoughts for a post.
So beautifully put. I love your humorous, yet soulful approach to writing. Very glad to be a new follower
Thank you for stopping by and for the kind words. Happy to have you as a new follower!
“Be still and be loved.” Love this. May stillness scatter its petals around you~ xox
It is a sense of belonging we need. I don’t know why society especially in the West seems so hell-bent against organized religion – sorry, for saying this. I come from Asia where organized religion or not, people here still believe in the higher source of power to lead us through in this confusing world we live in. Maybe we are not so evolved as the West? I’m not sure. Anyway, thanks for sharing, Kristine, your post certainly gives us food for thought.
If we could get East and West together, meeting in the middle–or perhaps choosing the best of each–so much would probably be better, eh Kat? I do think faith helps us in the day to day, large and small. Regardless of whether it’s attached to religion. And the East tends to do that quite well . . .
You’re absolutely right 🙂
I have been thinking lately (my mom is quite ill) that having a religion, spiritual grounding etc would be something to lean on right now. We only went to church (Anglican) a couple of times a year. I wish I had the connection you have with your religion. It’s really beautiful.
I’m sorry your mom is ill. I know how hard that can be. I feel the connection with God, really. Religion tends to get tinged with all of man’s foibles. But the space allows God to come to me more easily–or maybe just for me to accept that coming more easily. I wish you a quiet space–outdoors or in–where the same happens for you. You probably could use that right now with your Mom’s illness.
I agree. Stillness is a necessity.