In the almost six years I’ve been blogging here at Pamwrites, my topics and audience have both broadened. Initially, my posts were almost all for emerging writers. In the last few years, I’ve become less anxious about writing about life in general – the people, things and places that move me and why. But there are two topics I still approach with anxiety — religion and politics.
In the U.S., religion has become a word layered with meanings that don’t always apply — things like religious people are pushy, arrogant, ignorant, self-absorbed and let’s not forget, they’re also know-it-alls who are always right. Generally, these labels are tacked onto the fundamentalist Christian right in the States, but the media condemnation of them has unfortunately lead to a broader painting of all Christians with those labels. I’m not here to try to convert any one. I’m writing now because I need to understand where I am with my faith and perhaps, in my doing that, I might help someone else in their struggle. I believe my writing is a gift that blesses me, and sometimes, blesses others.
I often think of my faith like the wind – it can be still and hard to find and follow. It can be strong and fierce and clear. Lately, it is wispy. So, for me, that means, I need to get my butt in a pew. I need to put myself in the presence of others who at that moment are likely stronger in their faith. I need to be open to whatever may be waiting that I need to receive.
But, the Queen of Excuses was voicing her opinions. Putting this butt in a pew, while I’m in the French Alps, seemed unnecessary. Mountains sing to my soul. Mountains fill me with a gratitude for this life, for these moments, for something that I can not understand that created all this beauty and allowed me to experience it.
Being in Chamonix is so close to a prayerful existence, did I really need to go to church when I wouldn’t understand two-thirds of what happened due to language? And, did the nearest service I could find have to be Catholic? This is what the lovely little Eglise Saint-Michel de Chamonix-Mont Blanc looked like this morning:
Long before I was born, my paternal grandfather treated my mother and her brothers in an evil, misguided way. Unfortunately, even though I had plenty of lovely Catholic folks in my extended family and friends, he became the embodiment of all that was wrong with Catholicism for me — he was a through and through hypocrite whose actions have echoed down through the generations. One of his sons treated his own children as badly, though he didn’t think so because at least he paid the legally-mandated child support. Because of Grandfather (who never earned Grandpa from me), I’ve had to remind myself over and over again, he alone does not represent that faith.
The odds were stacking up against going. Catholic mass? En francais? While living in the Alps? I really didn’t want to go; and that’s exactly when I knew I had to. Something much bigger than me wanted me there. Okay, fine, I’ll go.
About ten minutes before the service, I slid into a pew toward the back of Eglise Saint-Michel. I stood, baguette in hand, almost ready to sit, debating if I should move in or stay toward the outside. A thin woman in front of me turned awkwardly, her body bobbing and weaving with signs of an aggressive neurologic disorder, reminding me of a friend with MS. She reached for my arm, twice before she met her mark, and pulled me toward her. I understood her French enough to know that she was trying to save the place I had taken for someone coming late with a baby. Probably her daughter who would give her a ride home, I thought. In French, I explained that I’d be happy to move as I doubted I’d stay for the whole service since my French wasn’t so good anyway. She corrected me, saying my French was “superbe” and asked where I was from.
“Des Etats-Unis. Et vous? Vous habitez a Chamonix? (The U.S. You live in Chamonix?)
“Oui, toujours.” (Yes, always.)
“C’est une ville très, très jolie.” (It’s a very beautiful town.)
She wished me a good vacation and I moved back a row. When I set my baguette and purse on the seat she was trying to save, she jerked and turned, flashing me two wobbly thumbs up and a smile.
I sat for a few more minutes before the service, fighting tears.
Okay, I get it. I know. I was supposed to be here.
You see, for me, in the loud windy times or the wispy quiet times, this thing I call “God” – goodness and love – is a force that shows me, over and over again, we are here to strive — over and over again — to be goodness and love wherever and whenever we can. When a disabled woman, who can barely control her physical movements, can manage to sit and worship and say, “Rendez grace au Seigneur qui, seul, fait des merveilles,” and mean it, well, I guess I can sit and worship, waiting and watching for when I am asked to be goodness and love.
Goodness and love have been given to us and they’re gifts we need to share, over and over again. And, that’s what I have to say about my faith aujourd’hui.