Yesterday I finally decided that I would no longer attend the parish I had been attending for the last year or so. The reason I had tried that parish at all was because of the efforts of an extremely devoted Catholic woman who belonged to that parish and has spent the last year (or more) carting me back and forth so that I could sit through mass without excruciating pain. God bless her.
Finally, however, I had reached the point where the mental pain of sitting through a happy clappy liturgy; a condescending nationalistic homily that rarely gave God a mention; hand holding (ugh); and loud, gimmicky announcements given before the mass had ended (among other irregular practices) was greater than my physical pain. I am quick to add that those people had been nice to me. They gave me a comfortable chair in which to sit during the liturgy, dragging it right into the church and positioning it at the end of the handicapped row. They gave me a sense of belonging by giving me a little responsibility at the welcome table. The question is this: to what did I belong?
I am not going to spray all the defects all over my blog. My point is not to bash the priest or saddle a struggling congregation with public excoriation, but to illustrate a problem common to many disabled persons, and that is the question of OPTIONS. Our disabilities force us to make choices we would never otherwise make, were it not for the limitations of our condition(s).
Obviously, everyone's disabilities are not the same, and some disabled persons do quite well, with the help of mechanical aids, but mostly because of family, spouse or other supportive community that facilitates their access. Unfortunately, there are an awful lot of us who are alone, and this is where the lack of community is most keenly felt.
I have a lovely Facebook friend who lives off the grid here in New Mexico, and just yesterday she posted a plaintiff wish for community of the faithful. Now, she is Orthodox, but the situation for the Orthodox church in America with regard to community is the same, because we are all dealing with an individualistic American culture. We can barely stand our own families, what to speak of the larger community of faith.
Yesterday, I posted about my experiences with the Vedanta Society in Southern California. Something we could learn from them is their community focus. Granted, it has been truncated somewhat due to a dwindling devotee base and changes in the economy, but I have to admit that I really miss that little community on the hill. In the early days, we're talking 1930's, the Vedanta Society was given a bit of property in the Hollywood Hills - long before the Hollywood Freeway was even considered. Some of the land may also have been purchased, but in any case, they had about two city blocks of property, some of it given over to a massive garden from which they got the flowers that were used in the daily worship. There were also little houses stuffed together in a charming rabbit warren of residences, as well as an apartment complex. The main property housed the temple, the monastery, the book store and the catalog buildings. It was really charming.
I lived in the neighborhood for about 8 years, 3 of it in the convent, and I used to love to attend morning, noon and evening meditation hours. There were many elderly ladies that lived in the smaller houses and apartments who were likewise able to attend. They just had to walk across the small street and into the temple, which was a hushed and holy place. No chatter allowed!
In this way, all people got to partake of a monastic style of contemplative life, without having to meet the criteria that is customarily required of a religious. Good physical and mental health is the first hurdle to being accepted into a religious order. This quasi 'ashram' style of living accommodated people of all types.
To be fair, we were dealing with individualistic Americans and there were many instances in which community members were not supported or helped during times of crisis. I remember asking the cook at the convent for a plate of food for an elderly, long-time devotee who was flattened with a dangerous flu, only to be told there was not enough food, which was not true. I said that was fine and that I would give her my portion of lunch. Begrudgingly, this nun allowed me to take a plate to the sick old lady. Now, that old lady had been very active in her youth. She was a founding member of the group that originally moved onto the property, or she came very soon thereafter. She had spent many years devoting a great deal of time to the maintenance of the place and the massive cooking projects that were required during the East Indian celebrations. (There was always lots of great Indian food, and everyone in the world was invited.) She had to gradually cease her efforts as she became too old to do them. All of that support was forgotten, discounted, and taken for granted by some of the members, such as that one nun.
Another non-Christian group that does a much better job of forming supportive communities is the Mormons. (Ignore, for the moment, their insistence that they are Christian. Their theology and cosmology is completely different than accepted Christian doctrine from the earliest Christian age until the present. That is a topic for another day.) If you are a disabled Mormon, you are likely getting visits from eager young Mormons, with offers of help of all kinds. If you want to attend a Mormon function, someone WILL take you. If you are elderly, likewise. If you've just had a baby, a score of young women will be helping with house-cleaning, baby clothes, baby this, baby that. You won't go hungry or homeless or lonely if you are a Mormon in good standing. I could never make myself believe in their theology, no matter how hard I might try, no matter how much I admire their community cohesiveness. It's too bad, really. I have several family members who are Mormon.
What is the point of all this? I have a dream that one day Catholics will become more like the original Christian community that held all things in common and no one's needs went unanswered. I have a dream that our "community" will be more cohesive, less individualistic and more helpful to one another. I dream that the contemplative life will become more available to Catholic communities. I suppose I dream of Catholic "ashrams," though I wouldn't want to use that term. I long for loving communities.
In the meantime, while praying for the big picture, I have to find a way to get my own needs met with regard to getting to a church on Sunday. Mind you, I am a sick, elderly lady and I am actually not required to go to mass any more. I want to go to mass, though, and I would like to be able to attend mass at a parish of my choosing and not be forced to attend a place that violates all my sensibilities.
Wish me luck, and help me in my prayers, won't you?
God bless you all
Silver Rose Parnell