Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian o...

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I love the voodoo side of Christianity – Catholic ritual especially. Like getting ashes smudged unto one’s forehead to mark the beginning of Lent. I was in high school before I realized that the priest was supposed to be marking us with a little cross. The priests at our parish were old, curmudgeonly and lazy as lizards in the sun, so for most of my childhood, Ash Wednesday meant wearing a big fat thumb print of one misogynist or the other.*

We made a game of not washing our faces and letting the ashes wear off. That whole day in school was marked with the constant flake off of burnt palm leaves from the Easter before as we endeavored wear our religion like a Brownie badge.

Of course, in my nearly all Catholic town, it was those without ashes who stood out. The rest of us were “in the club”.

It wasn’t until I was off in Des Moines and teaching that I gave up the start of Lent, as I eventually gave up Lent itself. Finding a mass to attend became inconvenient when I was anchored to the teaching day. And Des Moines was a Protestant dominated place with evangelicals and even more loony to the right of far-right’rs. I quickly tired of their prejudice and worse, their willful ignorance of any faith but their own.

“Do Catholics really drink blood.”

Seriously, someone asked me that. Someone grown up and with a college degree.

But mostly, I came to realize that it was the ritual, outward trappings and the psuedo-polytheism in the form of saints that really was what Catholicism was about for me. The silly trappings and not the beliefs or the foundation they were built on was my “religion”.

But even now, I miss the spiritualism. The mantra of prayer and response. The pageantry of Christmas and even Easter though I always found the latter to be a bit sick and perverse as it feeds an unhealthy self-loathing that often manifests out and at others. I have never found shame, guilt and fear a good basis for a relationship and yet that is the one we were instructed to build with the Almighty.

But the ashes were kind of awesome because regardless of the twisted nature of Lent, they were a rather good reminder to live in the now.

“Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”


*Not an exaggeration. Neither man liked females in the slightest and took no pains to hide their contempt from us. Mothers, nuns or little girls. We were all barely tolerated.

The Birth of Venus.

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Began reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians novels to Dee this past spring. They are a bit old for her, but she adores mythology and I figure, it can’t hurt, right?

But it seems that her 8-year-old world view is still grounded enough in fairies and Santa and magic to latch onto the idea of gods, satyrs and demigods and add them to the moral base Rob and I are instilling in her.

Long ago I toyed with the idea of raising her in a creed, thinking that everyone benefits from having a theology to test the world against and use as a springboard to spiritual openness and independent thinking and analysis; the latter, I believe, is critical if one is to avoid being swept up in dubious (and sometimes blatantly self-serving) dogma.  But my experiences with Catholicism as it is practiced by more than a few and with the stench of hypocrisy that overwhelms whatever good there is about most religions, led me to discard the idea and allow Dee to question and come to her own decisions.

For the moment, she has decided to believe in gods and goddesses. Though she assures us that she knows they are make-believe, she seems to be forming her ideas of right and wrong moral behavior with a decidedly Greek Myth Meets Druidism perspective.

I am not sure if I am a complete failure as a moral guardian or a success beyond belief.

We ventured over to the arena today for the Country Craft Fair. The last Saturday in November, all the little rural communities around here hold craft fairs and there is a tree lighting and fireworks at the Firehall at the end of the day. The fair is decidedly crafty and bakey.

As we wandered, an older gentleman blocked our path and began that sort of grandpa-ish banter with Dee. Her curls, big blue-gray eyes and too serious for a child demeanor attract attention, and older folk in particular can’t help but try to engage her.

“Why aren’t you in school?” he demanded.

She backed away and frowned. Dee isn’t a child one should joke with. She has inherited my literal take and doesn’t always recognize “teasing”.

“It’s not a school day,” she finally replied.

“Well, do you go to school on Monday?”

She nodded.

“And Tuesday?”


And the gent proceeded to tick off the other days of the week.

“What about Sunday?” he ended with.

“There’s no school on Sunday,” Dee said.

“You haven’t heard of Sunday school?” he asked.

“No,” she said.

“Well, Mom, ” he addressed me, “what do you have to say for yourself?”

If I’d had time to think, or even see this coming – though I should have because the community is quite religious – I might have retorted with something that could have cost me a bit in terms of acceptance in the rural society I find myself on the edges of, but I didn’t.

“Um, nothing,” I said. “No.”

It probably wasn’t what I said. I said literally “nothing”, but I’ve been told that my face is rather open and telling. And my eyes do this flat, squinty thing that served me well as a middle-school teacher and, apparently, frightens old men too.

He backed away and we passed.

Polytheism? Judgemental Christianity? Really not much to weigh, in my opinion.

There is a statue of the Blessed Mother in the cemetery where Will is buried. My daughter Katy is quite taken with it. We have to  visit Mary, and the statue of Jesus though she is not as enamored of it, every time we go. Earlier last week, she noticed that Mary was stepping on a snake. Crushing it really beneath her bare feet. When she asked me why I explained (correctly I hope) that the snake represented all the evil of the world and that Mary was stomping it out. Katy considered this for a few moments before remarking, “Poor snake.”


The child’s take on religion is always interesting and sometimes insightful. I remember when I was preparing to receive my first communion that I was terrified of chewing the host because I took the “became flesh” thing quite literally and was worried about what the outcome of “biting” Jesus might be. Consequently I was always having to stick a finger in my mouth to dislodge a dry stuck wafer.


My nephew, Luke referred to the priest as “the King” when he was younger because of the vestments that priests wear for mass, and so naturally the church became a castle. Katy began to point out “castles” as a result of her cousin’s influence, and she still calls stained glass windows “Jesus glass” wherever it is.


My sister and Luke attended the Saturday night mass with her brother and sister-in-law’s family this past weekend in Webster City. As many Catholic churches now do, there is a children’s nursery provided for parents with children too young to sit through a whole mass. My dad rolls his eyes when he hears about this. Even if there had been such a thing when we kids were young, he would never have availed himself of it. He can remember hours of church time, in Latin no less, and his old school ways wouldn’t have permitted such coddling of his children. Catholicism is learned on one’s knees primarily and over many hours.  Luke and his cousin, Noah,  decided to slip out of the nursery and explore the nearby hallways which led to the discovery of a cabinet with writing on it, and  Jesus locked inside. How they came to the conclusion that the son of God was trapped in a cabinet in the basement of a church in Iowa is open to speculation because even after listening to a rather breathless explanation from the two I am uncertain still, but  it will have  to remain a mystery as something in the cabinet (Jesus no doubt) began banging on the door to be let out sending the two boys running for the stairs to find their parents. Although my sister and Phil and Kim seemed amused by the incident, no one volunteered any further information about what might have actually happened or who, if anyone, went to investigate? 


While we were strolling through the cemetery after visiting Mary and posing for the photo-op, Katy noticed another grave with a smaller statue of Mary and another statue that she assumed was Jesus. We wandered over to investigate as I thought it might have been St. Joseph, Mary’s spouse, but it turned out to be St. Francis of Assisi (the birds give it away if you fail to recognize the Franciscan bowl haircut). I seldom think much about my knowledge of what amounts to trivia about Catholicism, but I did note my dear love’s bemused expression. Though his mother is Catholic, his father vetoed the idea of raising him or his siblings in any belief system. I find it interesting that nearly everyone who I know who have been raised in such a manner (and this is admittedly a small number) have turned out to be some of the kindest and most accepting people I have ever met.


Our brushes with Catholicism, or any “church”, remind me that I need to began consolidating my thoughts on the subject of the universe and its creator. Sigh, as if I didn’t have enough to do these days.