From nearly agnostic to nearly Catholic

I mentioned a while back that I’d write a post about my near agnosticism, and now seems as good a time as any to share. Especially since so much of my life today is so different. And also because I’ve been reflecting a lot as I prepare for Confirmation. So here goes.

This is now I nearly left my Christian faith and also nearly declared agnosticism.

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I’ve loved Jesus much of my life. My family didn’t even go to church much when I was very small, and I loved the line from Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” that goes: “She loves Jesus, and America too.” Mostly because of the Jesus part. I can understand the idea of Catholicism as a journey of faith, because even though I have a little card I signed as a child where I prayed the “Sinners Prayer,” I don’t feel like it was that one particular moment that defined my Christianity.

I’d say my early faith life generally was one of growth, with hills and valleys throughout. But a couple of years into JP and my marriage, I hit a really big valley. I was a “good” person, who went to church on Sunday, and even led worship. I knew all the right things to say to fit in with all the church people, and I knew how to do all the church things. But at a certain point, I started asking the question: “Is this it?” Is this all there is to it? Is Jesus just some fairy tale story that is too ridiculous to actually believe? If so… why am I hanging out with all these people that think it’s true? Why am I getting people to raise their hands in “worship” on Sunday morning, when I don’t even know that I believe the words I’m saying. After church on Sunday, you wouldn’t know my life was any different from someone who wasn’t religious at all. I looked exactly the same as anyone else.

Jesus, other than my churchy stuff, had become irrelevant in my life.

I started reading some Richard Dawkins, and listening to debates from prominent Athiests vs. prominent Christians.  Athiests are as equally confident that life is meaningless as Christians are that life is meaningful, and I was turned off by their arrogance. I found that I couldn’t align with their superiority complex and confidence that life is meaningless and somehow, also valuable. I couldn’t reconcile the two, and still don’t know how they do.

Which left me at, possibly, agnostic. God was probably there, but didn’t really have much relevance or interaction in the day to day life of mankind. JP and I had conversations about what kinds of prayer God would answer, and how involved he might be, and kind of determined that he probably wasn’t that involved, and that humans were probably overall pretty petty with their self-interested prayer requests. If God existed, why would he care about those trivial things? Just, honestly speaking, I would have people offer to pray for me and I’d nod and say amen and not have paid much attention to what they said. I would pray at Bible study, and say the right words with the right emotion and inflection, and not believe anything outside of the group of us in that living room paid my words any heed. I shudder to think now how nearly far gone I had gone. I think, to most, I probably hid it well.

Thankfully, though, it didn’t stop there. I found that when you believe something for your entire life, you have a hard time letting go of it easily. I decided to give things one more close look. Was Christianity believing a fairy tale and going to a social club of like-minded people on Sundays? Or was there more to it? If there was more to it, I wanted in. If there wasn’t, I had to find a way out and quit wasting my time.

I read books like “If God Were Real” by John Avant and “The Reason For God” by Tim Keller. Then I read some CS Lewis. And then some Jen Hatmaker, for good measure. All these people combined presented to me a view of Christianity that was all these things: rational, exciting, challenging, life-giving, life-changing, and world-changing. I was beyond relieved to know that Christianity was, plain and simply, more. It was about more than me. But also about less than me… about making myself small and allowing God to make Himself big in my life. I was drawn in by the idea of Jesus using us as his literal and physical hands and feet on this earth to help bring peace and healing to a hurting world. I was engulfed with passion about social justice, freeing the captives, feeding the hungry. And I thought- aha! I have found it! What this faith is meant to be- and I am in- all in!

And I no longer had a great interest in being very a nice person, sitting on nice couches, in nice living rooms and talking about Jesus. Some of that can be good and uplifting, but mostly, I wanted to live Jesus in the corner of the world in which He has put me. I wanted to follow Jesus. Wherever and whenever he told me to go.  I wanted to get my hands dirty and start doing what He has called me to do. And, sadly to me, I still remember people holding up their figurative yield signs, warning us against focusing on works too much and reminding us that we can’t do everything (except for that which Christ has called us to do- Lorelei’s own personal thought that she didn’t say out loud at the time.)

And again, I thought. No. I don’t want to be a part of this. Only this time I wasn’t talking about Christianity as a religion. I was talking about the comfortable Americanized version of Christianity. I came to acknowledge that I no longer fit there. But, then… where did I fit?

I started asking questions about what the purpose of church was… and what the early Church was like… and at first I couldn’t really find anyone who could give me any answers. Because for some reason, we don’t study the early Church much, or know how early Christians did things, or understand much about the Judaism that Christ himself claimed to fulfill, or even think that it is relevant at all to how we live our lives today. I wanted depth of theology that backed how my soul was telling me my faith was meant to be lived out… I couldn’t get past the surface in many situations. I was so frustrated with the idea that church was a place where I go to be served and emotionally fed and hang out with a bunch of people that all agree with each other. That wasn’t it. I knew there was more.

And then came the night when I was sitting on my couch, and wrestling through all these questions and more and I knew enough about Catholicism to have the thought: “Oh dear, I am thinking like a Catholic.” Which is shortly before the journey of this blog began.

Fast forward.

I am less than a month away from being confirmed in the Catholic church. Here is what I can say about my faith now.

I am reading the Bible more than I have in years.

I am praying more than I have in years.

My marriage is more unified than it has been the entire time we’ve been together.

I find myself, in a rare quiet moment, driving around in my car and just thanking God for all the gifts there are for us in the Catholic faith. The Sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist, mass, the symbols and traditions that help keep our physical bodies and minds lifted heavenward toward Jesus. I’m thinking about Jesus more. I’m desiring holiness more. I still have a long way to go toward sainthood but I am so thankful for God’s abundant grace! Everything in me is growing more whole.

There is such depth and beauty in the Catholic faith. This Jesus of ours is not a stupid fairy tale. He is Reality itself. Everything makes more sense. Thank you Jesus for the grace to allow me to find that the fullness of my Christian faith will be lived out by becoming Catholic. And thank you Jesus that Easter Vigil is only a few weeks away!

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First Confession

Well, this girl has had her First Confession.

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Backtracking a bit. This week had been very stressful and draining, in light of the conversations JP and I have had with friends. We were spent. But I knew I needed to continue on, and I have very much desired to prepare myself for First Confession for a couple of weeks now.

So on Tuesday, I went through an Examination of Conscience I had found, and spent a couple of days wondering if I was, indeed, ready to go. Never having done this before, I wondered about how specific to get, and ended up feeling settled on the sincerity of my heart, and desire to place all I could at the feet of Jesus, in however I was able to form the words at the time.

Then, Thursday, at RCIA, our usual teacher wasn’t there, as he was meeting with high school students who were preparing for confession. So the priest was in. I felt a bit of a pang, because the week had almost gone by and I hadn’t called to schedule a time. And sure enough, our teacher popped back in about a half hour later, just as our group began a discussion of confession as a sacrament, to let us know the priest was available if any of us wanted to have our First Confession.

Seeing as I had done an examination of conscience earlier that week (God knew what was coming 🙂 ), as quickly as it was appropriate, I jumped up and got ready to head over. I had forgotten my notes from home, but they had an Examination of Conscience there I could use to help me remember. The door was open, and in I went.

Let me tell you, briefly, what my First Confession was not. It was not a guilt-ridden situation where I had to go and remember all the bad things I had done, and tell them to some old man in vestments, who then tells me to do 10 Hail Mary’s and be on my way, only to see me the next time I’ve racked up a list of sins long enough to need another confession.

My First Confession was not that. No way. Not even close. This is what I may have thought Confession would be like in my life before all of this, and it may be similar to what some of my friends think Confession is like, which is saddening to think about.

In all reality, my First Confession was beautiful. I walked in, sat down, and the Priest guided me through. It was basically like this… having the chance to talk to God and say “here are all the ways I’ve failed you through my sin,” and have God say, in audible words that he loves me and forgives me. And to even get some wise advice on how to better deal with some of my areas where I struggle. And my penance, was both simply and profoundly a way for me to redirect my mind and thinking to allow God into those situations where I struggle.

That was it. I felt God’s peace. I felt God’s presence. I still, the next day, feel like I’m part of a very spiritual situation. I feel grace. I once had a very specific and unforgettable encounter with the Holy Spirit as a child, and how I feel now reminds me much of that, only in kind of an adult version. I even woke up in the middle of the night last night, feeling like I had been a part of something that transcended the physical reality I live in. Something big goes on in that Confessional, more than I even realize, I’m sure.

In short, Confession moved me closer to Jesus. In my desire to please Him, in my acknowledgement of how amazing his grace is for me, and in my humility as I attempt to live a life worthy of the call.

I understand now, first hand, even through this one time, how the act of Confession is good for the soul. I wish my Protestant friends knew more about it… that rather than a spiritual ball and chain ritual, Confession it is incredibly freeing. Protestants can look forward to the day of judgment when God finally puts all to right as an opportunity to hear God say “I know all you’ve done, and you are forgiven.” Catholics can hear that as often as they go to Confession.

What’s Next. And now, since somehow I was actually baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church, and since I have just received my First Confession, our parish Priest allowed it up to JP and I if we wanted to start receiving the Eucharist at Mass, or to wait until Easter Vigil. I’m really excited for Confirmation and the Easter Vigil service and the celebration it will be, but if I’m being honest, I don’t really want to wait 2 months to receive Jesus in the Eucharist if I don’t have to. I want Jesus, and I want to experience the fullness of the mass. So, I think we know what will be happening this Sunday. Stay tuned :).

A Few Things of Note

I have started to have the conversations with friends to tell them about this journey I’ve been on. A few things have happened of note, throughout the talks I’ve had so far.

Big Feelings. I knew some friends, or maybe even most, wouldn’t be super on board with my conversion to Catholicism. But I don’t think I anticipated all the Big Feelings that would be there. A dear and precious friend telling me, close to tears, that the concepts of things like confession are ones she just completely doesn’t understand. In that moment I wanted to tell her that I totally get it. I didn’t understand it for my entire life up until about a month ago. But it has been such a delicate dance to share this with people I love and to know when to explain how my views have changed and when it is better to just listen. I know I haven’t handled that perfectly. I’m so excited about all this Truth that I didn’t know before, and how it’s changing everything, and yet it took me years of disagreement before things changed. How to speak truth and be sensitive and loving and patient at the same time…. and to know when to do what…. of that I have failed and will fail again.

I, too, have had Big Feelings. I’ve cried all the way home from conversations with people so important to me. Knowing that I’m causing distress, on one hand. Feeling sad because those dear people are not going to be happy for me in what is a huge moment in my life on the other.

Surprising Objections. I anticipated some things, and felt at least decently prepared to talk about them. But I had a few friends uncomfortable with the idea of me referring to them as Protestants. I didn’t expect that. It was difficult to kind of have to reframe how any denomination or church formed post-reformation would fall under that umbrella, though you can’t lump all Protestants under any one umbrella in most areas. I also had friends who were adamantly un-unnerved by all the divisions in the church, and hadn’t given much consideration to the idea of the Holy Spirit preserving correct interpretation of the Bible on a large scale, and were much more comfortable with the idea that bits of truth scattered among the Christian churches of the world, and our interpretation of total truth is flawed due to sin. Though, I probably shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was.  But also it was so very foreign to them, that it was almost a situation of it being incomprehensible because it had never entered their minds as a possibility. They have known nothing else. And I get that, because I’ve been there too.

Things that Surprisingly Went Well. There were a couple of occasions where I felt I did a solid and logical job of explaining something. One such item would be the whole “God has actually preserved true interpretation of Scripture through His Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church” thing. My basis was that, as Christians, we believe a whole bunch of sinful, flawed people, were used by God to create a book we believe to be infallible. Truth. Pure Truth. I said I believe God to be loving, and it doesn’t make sense to me that God would leave us with an infallible book and only flawed and broken means of interpreting it. That was one moment where I felt like I conveyed my thoughts clearly and accurately, and that at the very least people were following my logic to the conclusion.

There were also people I have talked to where I haven’t cried on the way home. People who reassured me of their love and friendship in such an encouraging way after a deep and intense conversation. A couple who even said they were happy for me. Ok- I’ll take it! It was relieving and refreshing after much intensity.

The Exhaustion. The past few days have been draining. I am so, so exhausted, mentally and emotionally.

None of my friends are going to be content with me saying that I just feel God’s presence in the Catholic Church and just being drawn to that. I do, and I am, but that isn’t everything. I’m being drawn by deeply theological reasons, and they are for the most part deep thinkers that are going to ask deep questions.

Moving Forward.

It’s interesting to me how over the past few months this blog, that began as an online journal of me beginning a line of inquiry into Catholicism has turned into a blog journaling my conversion. I didn’t say surprising, because I don’t think I’m really surprised. Converting is a logical next step after the research and soul-searching I’ve done. But it’s interesting… interesting because Lorelei from 10 Years Ago would have never imagined being here. Interesting because this started as a personal journey and has become a journey that others are joining me on through reading and conversation. And interesting because I still have questions, that I will continue to explore, but I’ve learned enough to understand that the Catholic church has thought about and discerned every belief they have on a much deeper level than I have ever seen anywhere. I don’t think I’m going to find something in my personal search that will stump Catholic theology or logic. Now… my personality type is such that I will continue to look into questions that arise, but I continue to do so boldly, and unafraid of the answers I will find.

 

Feeling Close to God

Catholicism more than Protestantism, to me, seems to have more of an innate sense that the physical and spiritual worlds are connected. It’s not like that isn’t believed in Protestantism… but going to a Protestant church service seems like, especially during worship, that we mortals are trying, desperately to reach out to God. And oftentimes how I as a Protestant gauged if that reaching out was successful is based on a feeling of being close to God. 

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If you’re hands aren’t raised… can the Holy Spirit still be moving?

But feelings are inconsistent, and this constant reaching, striving for and hoping for connection with the God of the Universe seems to be missing the point. Whereas it seems like in the Catholic faith everything is centered on this connection between the spiritual and the physical. In the mass and the Eucharist, God is among his people, is so close you consume him in the Eucharist itself… He is actually there, tangibly.  it isn’t this vague reaching for God to send some feeling your way to know he is near, or this hoping to connect with God during your personal quiet time… oftentimes I’ve seen this lead to people, including myself, feeling disconnected and feeling like something is lacking or they aren’t doing something right because they can’t keep the fire, the feeling of closeness, consistently. But in, Catholicism, in the focus on the communion of saints, this emphasis on togetherness in the physical and spiritual realms changes how you look at your faith walk, and what closeness to God can be and look like… You just don’t find much about that in mainstream Protestant culture in the day-to-day, or even in the structure of church services themselves. 

The re-framing that would occur in this area were we to become Catholic is appealing to me. Because closeness to God and the connection between the physical and spiritual realms is so much more than a feeling. It’s a reality that we can’t always see, but that doesn’t make it any less real. I think the Catholic church does a better job of representing that.

Sola Scriptura

I, too, have scoffed at the Catholic Church’s emphasis on Tradition as a source of divine revelation equal to the Bible.

“God gave us the Bible, we don’t need the Pope… etc.” I’ve heard it all. I’ve said it all. And these are just my first ponderings on how Sola Scriptura is actually practiced by Protestants today…

From what I’ve experienced, the reality is that few Protestants actually live Sola Scriptura out in practice. Everyone believes that God still directly communicates with us today through the Holy Spirit (excepting cessationists, I suppose.) You might easily hear a Protestant tell a fellow believer that God has given them a word to share… or a prophesy, or something someone feels led to say that is meant to be part of God’s direction in another person or one’s own life. Protestants easily believe that God speaks through the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit sometimes uses other people to speak… and there are checks and balances in place to make sure that what someone believes is a word from God isn’t contradictory to scripture.

Protestant pastors, too, will draw on interprative sources from other theologians to help them unpack scripture in a sermon. Very rarely, if ever, do they make a disclaimer that the lens they are viewing a particular passage from is “This Author’s” lens. Or, gives the congregation the caveat that all we have are these words from scripture as our authority, and that the thoughts they are expounding are actually Pastor So and So’s thoughts from this book, and that’s how we are interpeting things, but you can’t put that Pastor’s thoughts on the same level as scripture. No- they view the scripture from a certain perspective, and share their thoughts authoritatively to the congregation.

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Protestants leave room for adding to this book through prophecy and words from God to other believers…

But if we, as Protestants go there… if we go that far, it isn’t that much farther at all to say that the Catholic belief in divine revelation through the unwritten Word… the idea of “Word of God Alone” instead of “Scripture Alone” is anything different than what Protestants in practice, do as well. But on a much more informal level, and therefore perhaps at a level that is more prone to error. The “Holy Spirit” could often be cited in the Protestant church as giving 2 people 2 very completely different and clear words on the exact same topic. But that’s another entry…

P.S. This is the link to my further thinkings on the topic of Tradition and Sola Scriptura.