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More Catechism - the Liturgical Calendar

We had another *amazing* Catechism class this week. I took five pages worth of notes. (Don’t worry; I’m not going to transcribe them here.) It was all about the Liturgical Calendar, which was great for me because I never understood what they meant by the third Sunday in Ordinary time. What the heck is *ordinary time*? Our guest lecturer started with man’s need to organize time and space, the Solstices and the Equinoxes, Stonehenge and the Mayan calendars, and moved up to how we got the calendar the majority of the population uses today. I loved the historical perspective. We went through the Jewish calendar and their holidays and how ours were drawn from them; that was extremely interesting. (I liked his suggestion that the New Testament was a transformation of the Old Testament so that a lot of what you see in the OT you will see in the NT but with a new spin – *my words*.) We went through the Julian Calendar, the Gregorian Calendar, etc. It was fascinating. The whole point of all of that was to examine the Church calendar, for which I was extremely grateful because that’s not something you pick up from attending mass. We went over Advent, Epiphany, Winter Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, Summer Ordinary Time, Assumption, Feast Days, us as compared to the Orthodox Church, colors and symbols, etc. Lots of stuff I had seen or heard but never really understood before. (A lot can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liturgical_year)

As a part of that we also discussed the Communion with Saints. These RCIA classes are really big on bringing up concepts they know historically have been confusing for non-Catholics. This topic spawned a comparison of prayer versus worship and the Catholic view on prayer versus the Protestant view on prayer. Prayer is a concept I am having to readjust in my head. I actually fudged a little bit on my Catechism Journaling Project and didn’t finish writing about this topic because I am still wrapping my head around it. From my perspective, praying is a formal or informal talk to God. I even have the idea that it should include a lot of the elaborate preacher-wording I was used to hearing from the Baptist church. They have a kind of syntax and structure that I cannot describe, but I can recognize it and have even attempted to replicate it. I cannot do it well, which is why I have always been terrified to be the one to say grace at a dinner table. Now I am having to really expand my concept of prayer. I have seen them use the Sign of the Cross (no words) as prayer, so prayer does not have to be words. I have seen them read a Bible verse as our opening prayer. It never crossed my mind that reading a Bible verse out loud, with no elaboration or additional comments, can be a prayer. I don’t know why that never occurred to me because I have kind of done it with the Our Father, just not with any other verses. I am still unsure over the idea that I can simply recite John 3:16 and it’s a prayer if I want it to be. Our lecturer added to my prayer conundrum by defining prayer and worship. I understood him to say that prayer was just a conversation with someone and worship is what you give to God (or owe to God). Since this is a different outlook, it has caused much confusion over Protestants thinking Catholics pray to Mary or other saints. That concept I grasped really quickly, long before these classes, actually. Other aspects of prayer I am still grappling with.

This is going to be messy because I’m not sure what I’m thinking so I don’t know how to organize it. Plus, our next class is tomorrow, so I want to post what I have regardless of proofreading otherwise I will get further behind. I had a friend once ask me if I needed spiritual guidance because in my LJ tagsI used xmas instead of Christmas and I had a couple of meme’s that used Xmas. With the memes I simply did not think about the fact I could go into someone else’s HTML code and change it. Tags to me were just bookmarks, and I shorthand them all the time. Anything I myself typed in my journal I still chose to use Christmas, despite the fact that I know X is a legitimate Christian abbreviation for Christ. So despite the fact that I did have Christmas spelled out in multiple places, from the memes and tags she thought I was having a crisis of faith and sent me an email offering to help guide me back. It hurt my feelings. I say this because I am about to confess what might appear to be a crisis of faith to some people, so please do not send offers to guide me back, but feel free to express your opinions on the subject because I am always curious and open to others’ opinions so long as I don’t perceive them as bossy or judgmental. :)

What is belief? What is the difference between wanting to believe and believing? Because I am afraid I am some sort of Doubting Thomas, and I am unlikely to get an opportunity to put my hands in any wounds. Actually, I really do not want to put my hands in any wounds because that seems really icky.

I vacillate between a) being in awe (sometimes to the point of tears) and amazement of God and of man’s attempts to explain, relate to, communicate with, and worship Him and b) being skeptical. Not skeptical of God so much as skeptical of any attempt by man to explain, relate to, communicate with, and worship Him. When our instructor says something like The church was really clever and used the sun god’s celebration for Jesus’s birthday to increase conversions and relate to Constantine who was a former sun god worshiper. That’s why Christmas is near the Winter Solstice instead of May when he most likely was born. a part of me thinks *yes, that is clever* and a part of me thinks *wow, that is convenient*. That is a repeated pattern with me. Previous classes mentioned the incorporation of native culture and other religions into the Christian religion. We have also discussed changes in interpreting the Bible through comparing cultural mores over time. My first thought is *Yes! That is so true.* But that thought is sometimes followed by the worry that it is an incredibly convenient action/explanation because it rationalizes everything. I can accept a rationalization because I want to believe it, but what would someone else think about that explanation? WWRDD? (What would Richard Dawson do???) Maybe I’m just paranoid because of fortune tellers and John Edward where I have seen desperate people jump at strings to fill in gaps to make prophecies true. I don’t want to do that with God. Plus, there’s just so much to semantics and how you choose to word things. I’m not smart enough for this. Or maybe I’m too smart to not be a bit bothered over this but not smart enough to work it all out. Or maybe it is stupid to be a bit bothered by this.

We started last Tuesday’s class off with the idea that God lives in the infinite, but man cannot really conceptualize the infinite. We spend our lives trying to create time and space constraints and even try to put those constraints on God, so the book of Genesis’s creation story was us defining space (sky, earth, water), filling space (fish, animals, man), and defining time. I thought this was a beautiful concept. I just finished Lawrence Kraus’s Hiding in the Mirror; his book is trying to explain String Theory, but the only thing I have gotten out of it is that even most physicists do not know what string theory is so how the heck are we to understand it and that it may or may not be true. (The book is much better than my description and worth reading. How else will Sheldon Cooper deign to speak to us unless we can prove we have a rudimentary grasp of Mbranes?) Anyway, I have been reading this book for months and months now because I am in over my head and it is slow going, but the timing worked out such that Tuesday night in Catechism we discussed man’s attempt to organize time and space and Wednesday morning in Hiding in the Mirror on page 244, the ninth page from the end of the book, Mr. Kraus discusses man’s attempt to organize time and space. (Jung Beatle!!) One of the book’s themes that I do understand is Kraus’s desire to distinguish *science* from *religion* and his worry when scientists do not. Some scientists have substituted science for religion, science has become their religion, and they are taking a lot of stuff on faith because they want to believe it even though the physical evidence is not there to support it. Pure mathematics can live in the land of the theoretical, but physics has to explain natural phenomenon and has to be testable. You cannot take physics on faith no matter how beautifully your theory may be expressed mathematically. It is kind of nice to see that I am not the only one with the problem of wanting to believe. I don’t actually know what I am supposed to get from this time/space overlap, but I feel there is some connection I am supposed to make. I have always thought that science and religion can cohabitate without distress, that any confrontation between the two is just a manmade bias. So is this synchronistic time/space appearance some lesson to me about how to take things on faith? I am so afraid I don’t actually believe. I *think* I do. Or actually, *think* is the wrong word. If I *do not think* about it, then it is easy. He is, and I like that He is, and I’m glad that He is, and that’s it. But when I try to work it out on some kind of rational level and start looking at what this book says and what this person says then I get confused. I know that I want to believe, but I am afraid a desire to believe is not enough. But how do you actually believe? Apart from encountering a burning bush, I mean. Some kind of Holy transcendental experience. On Hereos they went on Spirit Walks with the help of some potion; that is a transcendental experience, right? So is it real experience or just a potion driven over-stimulated-neuron induced hallucination that seems real followed by a self-fulfilling prophecy. How can you trust even a transcendental experience? What is left? I guess you just choose to believe.

Okay, well anyway… So ends my post. Shamefully *that* issue is one I’ve been wondering about since I was thirteen and read Chariots of the Gods. Damn that Däniken. If I have not worked through it yet, maybe I never will.



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 9th, 2008 12:37 am (UTC)
This was a great post and would be a great in-person discussion. As to the "Baptist" way of praying, I believe I know what you might be going to say... though we have a lot less of that style of praying in the Methodist church. I recognize it because laypeople from the Baptist church (or maybe just from the South) because a prayer, say a table blessing, has a lot of "We just want to thank you father" and a lot of blustery snatching at phrases that seem to just *occur* to the person giving the prayer... it's a sort of swinging-of-a-dead-cat-until-you-hit-something style of praying and it seems sloppy and random and yet it's a legitimate, honest way that these folks try to express thoughts and feelings that are beyond their education and training to express.
Dec. 9th, 2008 03:26 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'm always a littler nervous posting this kind of stuff. I feel a little exposed, you know? All my thoughts are so half-formed that I'm kind of floundering over trying to express myself. Still, I'm hoping that this kind of discussion will help me better shape my thoughts.

I'm Methodist!! I love the Methodist church; they are very welcoming. But when I moved I'm too far to drive to church with my parents, so I started going to the Catholic church with Toaster and wanted to make it an official switch.

Swinging-a-dead-cat is a good description. I can never remember the right phrases. They do have what I am going to call catch-phrases, although that's not the right word.

Dec. 9th, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
I like the way you're thinking about all this stuff! It's a lot to wrap your mind around and it's a lot to think about. And I also appreciate you're writing it all down, cuz from last week to this week, I've forgotten most of what was said. Re-reading it helps me think about it too. =o)

And I like the whole 'question authority' standpoint that many of the lecturers have taken. It's not enough just to accept the word of someone else... if you really want to know something you gotta know the history and details behind why it is and then decide for yourself what you believe.

So, I’m really happy with these classes. I’m not good with words, and when people ask me about it, I usually blank out and I can explain it adequately. (If at all.) I’m glad they’re covering all these subjects so well, and in such an interesting way too. It’s been a great learning (or re-learning) experience. =o)

Dec. 9th, 2008 04:28 am (UTC)
I hope they get us the powerpoint slides from his lecture!! I postponed typing up my notes from last week's class based on the idea they will be getting that information. I was really impressed with him; he was extremely knowledgeable. Even after the class was over, he was able to give out all sorts of information w/o looking at notes and stuff. I want to be like that!! Plus, I loved how he rearranged the chairs and had the candle going and picture of outer space to 'put us in a different mindset.'

I wish I were better with words, too. I am so not capable of carrying on a decent conversation about all this. I'm too muddled. I do think the classes are making a difference, however. :) Thanks for coming to them with me!!!
Dec. 9th, 2008 04:15 pm (UTC)
This is going to sound ridiculously sacreligious, but one of the things that allowed me to come back to Christianity after a long absence (not in terms of going to church but in terms of my beliefs) was Santa Claus. I've always said that I believe in Santa Claus. This is despite the fact that I never *really* believed that he put presents under my tree; I always knew it was Mom. Santa Claus is just such a good idea that it feels true to me. One day when I was sort of struggling with the whole issue of whether I could call myself a Christian if I didn't really believe in it, I realized I totally did believe in it - it was just that I believed in it the way I believed in Santa Claus. Not because the evidence points to it (quite the contrary) but because it *feels* true. Balancing head and heart can be really hard for me, but in the case of God, I can just believe. It took a long time to come to that place, and I don't know whether I will ever be able to go to church regularly without feeling all the things that made me leave, but I know I am a Christian, and that is a source of strength for me.

(I have been reading your posts with interest but not commenting much because, like you, talking about it makes me feel exposed. But I am enjoying the way your thoughts make me think.)
Dec. 10th, 2008 03:40 am (UTC)
Oddly enough, In class tonight our instructor actually mentioned her joy of believing in Santa Claus and related that to the joy of believing in God. (Another synchronicity moment.) The way you are explaining it makes a lot of sense to me. Actually, more sense than our instructor did!

I'm glad my posts aren't bothering people! I'm reading Kraus who sometimes presents mindboggling ideas in ways that just click, and I'm hearing videos about St Augustine's views on time explained by a priest who is obviously quite brilliant himself, and I am having all these beautiful and profound thoughts swimming around my head with no way of expressing them as well as they do, so it's frustrating! Hearing your opinions not only helps me better understand my own, it also reassures me that I'm not alone in all of this. :) So thanks!!
Dec. 10th, 2008 06:34 pm (UTC)
Did you mean Richard Dawkins, not Richard Dawson? Because Dawson was the Brit on Hogan's Heroes. So I'm pretty sure what he'd do is "Distract Sgt. Schultz while LaBeau smuggles the prisoners out."

But seriously ... on cultural interpretations, have they ever gone over Albert Schweitzer's book on the Search for the Historical Jesus. Schweitzer argued that it's impossible to get an objective perspective of Jesus because we simply can't eliminate our religious background, cultural perspective and wishes for him to be true/not true enough to think clearly.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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