Thursday, April 30, 2015

She Do, He Do, I Can't Even

Wedding season has arrived. For a woman in her twenties, this is a busy time of year. It’s also a time where I must try very hard to battle my judgmental nature. There’s the eye rolling of extravagant splurging (the imported dance floor has to be white? why are there four sets of china on this registry?) and micro details (do bridesmaids really need matching underwear? since when is monogramed burlap elegant?). There’s the concern of lack of preparation (she has no sense of money, neither of them have jobs). And there’s the indignation that weddings are treated more like celebrations of romance than a sacrament (they’re really getting married on Good Friday? they’re getting married in a church, but only because it’s “cute”). For better or worse, I spend a lot of time each summer thinking about marriage and weddings.

The expenses of a wedding continue to confound me. I don’t personally mind what a person budgets for their wedding as long as they can afford it. If you’re rich, sure, spend $100,000. I will happily enjoy the free food and open bar. But the whole idea of the wedding industry and the long list of “must-haves” and their costs is obnoxious. For example, what’s the point of these multi-site, hundreds-of-pictures engagement photo shoots? Save-the-date on a chalkboard, walking down a road holding hands, looking into one another’s eyes with a barn as the background, the ring from dozens of angles. Except for the one or two pictures used for save-the-dates/ invitations/ Christmas cards, the photos are entirely self-indulgent and all look the same. The same goes for most of the “artsy” photos of the wedding day: the bands on top of a Bible, the dress hanging on the back of a door, the couple holding hands around a corner so they can’t see one another. Beyond the photos, there are the venues, the themes, the dozens of bridesmaids, the color schemes, the music and flowers and clothes that all reflect the couple’s (most likely the bride’s) idea of a dream day. It’s about an ideal moment, a fairy tale conclusion, saccharine perfection.

It’s also about making a social statement. There is a lot of concern for guests to be impressed and entertained. A reception with full meal and flowing drinks, a great band/DJ, parting gifts with the couple’s name and date. People go to wedding expecting to have a good time; the party might be more of a motivator than actually sharing in the couple’s union. Fundamentally, there isn’t a problem with weddings and receptions; a wedding day is about that particular couple’s expression and about the community supporting and celebrating them. But the wedding has become so commercialized that the marriage becomes just a part of the day, fit in among the idealized images and smashing parties. 

The more weddings I attend, the less I want a wedding. I’m not even 100% that I want a marriage, but if I do, I want to be so consumed with being married that getting married is hardly given a thought. My baptism planning consisted of getting a white gown and inviting the out-of-town grandparents (they may have gone out to lunch after; I was only 4 months old). My (first) confirmation planning consisted of taking classes, picking out a new dress, and having one nice picture taken outside of the church. My (Catholic) confirmation/first communion planning consisted of taking classes, picking out a new dress, and inviting my parents. There is a clear theme: new dress. And also thoughtful preparation and close relatives. And it should go without saying that the church and sacramental nature is implied. I don’t see why marriage has to be significantly different. Every time I witness a baptism, I’m overwhelmed with happiness, but the more I witness a marriage ceremony, I’m disillusioned by some aspect of it, even when I’m sincerely happy for the two people getting married.

I know most of my issues with weddings are my own projections. Maybe I’m more of a bitter old maid than I realize. My urge to shake some couples and scream, “What sort of premarital counseling have you received?” and “Why are you spending money you don’t have?” is more about my desire to control things than about them. And how they want to begin their marriage isn’t really my business. I’m working on the whole be-less-judgmental thing, but for me, that task is more daunting than planning a modern day wedding.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In the Bleak Mid-Easter

It’s still Easter! One thing I realized during Lent was that, even when I’m not observing it as well as I want, I’m very aware of it being Lent. I’m much less aware of Eastertide. It’s as if after the chocolate bunnies are gone, Easter’s over, but it’s an entire season too! Furthermore, today is Easter Sunday in the Orthodox calendar, so the season is just really getting started. 

I had a rough Lent and Easter Sunday. Between working endlessly on my 95-page thesis and experiencing spiritual satisfaction during Holy Week, I was happy to see the end of a season. But this one didn’t seem to be starting any better. Work took a busy turn at the end of the week, and then my neighbor left her wet clothes sitting in the machines for hours on the morning I had set aside for doing five loads of laundry.

On my walk to church (in my “clearly laundry day” clothes), I tried to talk myself out of my bad mood. I realized my urge to control everything made every little bump a jagged edge. That was my problem with my less-than-perfect Holy Week, and that was my problem with my less-than-perfect weekend. I needed to be more charitable; I needed to accept imperfection as a part of life. Easy to acknowledge, not so easy to do. I got to church and prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, praying that I find peace and charity. Then I sit back and look at that rogue thread on the chair two rows ahead that I really, really want to cut off.

And then, of course, I’m reminded that it’s Divine Mercy Sunday. The homily is just what I needed to hear (even if I’m not suddenly more charitable or merciful). I’m aware of the connections and signs; I can sense God reaching out to me. But there are my own hang-ups and hesitations preventing me from reaching back. My lips say one thing, and my hands say another. I want to be overwhelmed, even though I know it’s not really about feelings. I want joy and excitement and fortitude. He is risen after all! But the good news (after the Good News) is that he is still risen; it’s still Easter. A couple of Sundays don’t make a season.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Holy Week Full of Holes

Holy Week just wasn’t working for me this year. I was so excited for it. I wanted the four days of being home and just focusing on church services. But then a scheduling error made me miss Good Friday service (I made it to the Stations of the Cross in Spanish though, which was nice, even if really, really awkward). Maunday Thursday didn’t feel sad, somehow. And I found myself at the Easter Vigil just totally not into it. I tried to focus on the good—the day itself, the flowers, the readings. But every little detail was taking me out of the moment. The lack of incense, the bright lights instead of a dark church, the bad music, the long homily. I knew I was being petty, but I wanted to enjoy Mass; I wanted to feel something.

On the night I joined the Church, I was terrified I wouldn’t feel anything (or worse, I’d feel like it was all a mistake). I kept reminding myself that joining the Church wasn’t about emotions. This was a decision made out of a lot of thought and prayer and time. If I didn’t feel anything, that would be ok. I needed to be reminded of that this year. I’d had so many beautiful, emotional encounters, I got angry when they weren’t there. I wanted everything to be perfect and transcendent and mystic. Sometimes you just have to muddle through some less-than-perfect days. Sometimes you don’t feel anything. Sometimes you don’t grow.

We sang through the litany of the saints, and we got down to the patrons of the candidates. Francis de Sales. My ears perked up, and my focus returned. Someone else was joining the Church with the same confirmation saint I had chosen; I immediately knew a kindred spirit. And then I watched as a mother and her young son got baptized. And it’s just really hard to stay bitter while watching a baptism. Grace just gets everywhere. It was a flicker that reminded me that dark moments come but they don’t stay forever. I’ll get through a holey Holy Week.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Holy Week Score Card

In my third year as a Catholic, I’m pretty sure Protestants do Holy Week better. Obviously, I mean liturgical Protestants. I’ve explained to many a Baptist what Lent, Maunday Thursday, and Good Friday are as if speaking a foreign language. But I’m talking about churches that do have services throughout the whole week. 

Palm Sunday: This is day Jesus rides into Jerusalem. The people are celebratory and shouting hosannas. It’s a pretty up-tempo time. People are gathering from all around for Passover.
Protestant response: waves palms, talk about donkeys, celebrate arrival to Jerusalem.

Catholic response: cover statues, wave palms, read the long narrative of Jesus’ trail and crucifixion. 

We’re days away from the crucifixion. We’ve still got the betrayal, the Last Supper, the arrest. We’re still in the optimistic part of the story! Why is this part combined with Palm Sunday?

Maunday Thursday: The night the disciples and Jesus washed feet and ate the Last Supper. Later, Jesus was arrested.

Protestant response: Have communion, strip the alter, leave in silence. Sad.

Catholic response: Wash feet, have communion, remove the Eucharist from the tabernacle. I suspect that they are supposed to leave in silence, but the rule isn’t observed.

I understand that the day is a little more upbeat for Catholics, since they focus on the institution of two sacraments—Eucharist and priesthood. Yet the arrest gets sort of shuffled off into the corner. The Eucharist is removed, but we’re not told why. It’s the turning point of the week; I believe the betrayal and arrest need more attention. The perfect ending to Maunday Thursday is when you step out of a silent church and hear police sirens in the distance.

Good Friday and Easter I can’t really compare. I go to different services, and I think both handle those well. I just think the Protestants I know put Palm Sunday and Maunday Thursday on a better timeline and emotional tone than what I’ve experienced in Catholicism. Really, the best thing is to just go to both churches and fill Holy Week up with extra church time.   

Friday, April 3, 2015

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 101)

1. I passed my thesis defense this week. I found myself eerily not-nervous about it. Now I'm in the revisions/submissions/paperworks portion, which is challenging in its own way.
Surprising accurate, although I lacked a sword.

2. I've also been considering stay on an academic route. If money weren't an issue, I would easily be a perpetual student.

3. While also preparing for my thesis defense, last weekend I presented and worked at a big, annual conference. It went amazingly well, but I'm still exhausted from everything. Working on campus for 11 days in a row is not fun. Trying to cram in extra library time while there is just crazy.

4. I tweeted this earlier in the week when I realized just how close I am to getting my master's. Never satisfied. 

5. I am aware that this is also Holy Week. I enjoyed seeing all of the statues,crucifixes, and plants covered in cloth on Palm Sunday. (A cold snap Saturday night led to the plants looking like they were taking part in the day.) One of the churches I attended in undergrad does donkey rides in the parking lot on Palm Sunday; I really wish that were a more popular thing.

6. Holy Week is always tricky for social gatherings. I want to catch up with friends who are all in town for Easter, but you can't really go have drinks and chill when we all have evening Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil services. Add a day of fasting in there along with the awkwardness of being celebratory during the time, and the Triduum is just doesn't work as a reunion season like Christmas does.

7. Fortunately, Easter lasts for several weeks! So there's a good chance of hanging out with my friend in our Easter hats and eating discount candy in the near future. Gloria, indeed.