At God’s Table

I had been dating my husband just a few months when he invited me to come to church with him. I was hesitant. I hadn’t been to church in a long time. I had found too much to disagree with and had walked away.

He convinced me. I don’t know what I expected to happen. I had this strange irrational fear that an invisible barrier would bar me from coming in. “Our Doors Are Open Wide,” the sign said.

When I entered, I asked God if it was okay. I was filled with an overwhelming sense that of course it was okay, I was always welcome – that the only thing holding me back was me.

As a kid, I was a passionate practicing Catholic. I fervently prayed the rosary; I had deep discussions with God. I took each sacrament seriously. During high school, I taught CCD, attended retreats, and was a lector at Sunday Mass.

In my late teens and throughout my twenties, I had too many reasons to stay away. Some were my own willful desires to be in charge, to rebel. But mostly, I found too much I disagreed with.

I am reminded of something the Dalai Lama said, told to me by a Tibetan living in exile; when approached by a western Christian who wanted to convert to Buddhism, the leader of Tibet suggested he stay in the religion into which he was born, because it still had a lot to teach him.

I learn as much – maybe more – from what I disagree with. It forces me to look within, to dialogue with God, to see what it is I do believe and why – and then to look again at the thing I disagree with, which is usually an interpretation of scripture or doctrine. Text is always up for re-interpretation, and in fact must be reinterpreted, by many people, in many ways.

Too many of the disgruntled are leaving the table. In the Catholic Church today, we need to keep the disenfranchised voice at the table.

It’s easy to get up from the table when no one is listening to you and you don’t like the side dishes, even when you are hungry. It’s easy to refuse the whole meal and get up in search of another. But the harder path is to stay for what you came – the main dish – which everyone will alter slightly with condiments to suit their own tastes, and everyone will take a different part (this one likes white meat, this one likes the dark) – salt, pepper, ketchup, steak sauce – we are all sharing the body of Christ in the Eucharist. What is even more challenging is not to sit silently as you share the meal, quietly observing a discussion with which you passionately disagree, but to raise your voice and take issue, in the way God has set out for you – with kindness and compassion, with tolerance for others but still speaking your own truth as God speaks within you.

Felicia Schneiderhan is a freelance writer based in Chicago, where she lives year-round on a boat with her husband Mark. Visit her blog at Life Aboard Mazurka.

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2 Responses

  1. Felicia, these insights are extremely close to what I experienced at Mass this week. I have been flitting around New York City, trying to find a congregation I like, and not-trying just as often. This Sunday I decided to just go to the church right down the street.

    It was a beautiful old church, but everything was “wrong” with the service, from my perspective. I couldn’t understand what the priest was saying most of the time because he had a thick accent, and some of what I could understand seemed off-puttingly conservative to me (confession: It doesn’t take much). The choir and the lector were one person, also difficult to understand, and the songs were all over the place in terms of being on pitch, etc.

    Since I most enjoy insightful homilies and beautiful music when I go to church, there was nothing to like, really, but I felt an incredible sense of warmth, peace, and well-being. I felt very close to these strangers and to God.

    It made me connect very strongly to the ideas you have expressed here… that it’s important for all of us to be at the table, and to recognize each other even and especially when we don’t agree as members of the Body of Christ, and to speak the truth as we experience it

  2. I keep a little card I got at a church shop once. It’s a painting by Rembrandt of the prodigal son falling at the feet of his father, and the father just looks at him with such a loving expression, wraps his arms around his son, and welcomes him home. That’s what I look at each day in my car, and it’s what I remember each time I pray or walk into church or collapse in my car after a long day at work. It is finished, and all we have to do is let God embrace us again. Thanks for posting!!

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