Full disclosure, I’m Catholic.
I realize religion can be a touchy subject for some, particularly for those who only pray when times are tough, like during an eight o’clock gift shopping run on Christmas Eve in a desperate attempt at salvation. Or golf.
So, of course, I’m well aware that trying to convey any message with a religious agenda would be largely unpopular and probably not ideal in an essay intended to entertain online readers looking for a chuckle. Well, too bad. Or, if the Heavenly Host was handed out at mass with a thin maple glaze on one side, I would righteously say tough cookies.
Anyway, here’s your chance to slink away, to find something else to read, or watch, or do, or have done to you. I won’t take offense. I’ll even look away for a moment so you can close your browser sans guilt, and ignore my message. I’m not here to judge, okay? Not my job. Just go right ahead; I don’t want to push anyone whatsoever into sticking around if they feel uncomfortable. And no hard feelings, either, good buddy.
Just know that, if I ever figure out how to do it, I will put a mild curse on your head for not hearing me out. No biggie, though. Just, like, the flu or something.
Now, for those of you who are still reading and are now wondering why the heck your sixty watt lightbulbs are suddenly glowing bright enough to drown out the sun, rest assured it is merely due to an unexpected excess in the power grid resulting from the majority of our online patrons who, after reading the first few lines, hurriedly shut off their computers and set fire to them lest they become corrupted by the religious ramblings of a pious loony-toon with a keyboard.
Though, if you are still reading, Congratulations! Besides being possibly-maybe-sorta blessed by the Big Man upstairs, you have just been awarded 10 Biography of a Nobody Super Awesome Elite & Secret Fan Club points! Huzzah! Ya can’t redeem them anywhere, but hey! It’s ten more points than the other guys have, so be sure to rub that in their faces when you see ‘em!
So, here we go. Bear with me.
Over a year ago (I like to keep my postings timely, as you can see) before we actually moved to these mountains, there was a beautiful Sunday morning where I wanted to indulge in some fine trail biking before meeting our realtor and checking out potential new homes, and while discovering how badly out of shape I was, I felt inspired to scribe a little essay for you fine readers out there. I wrote the following on a Super 8 notepad I pilfered one sinful day from a hotel room service cart (along with a couple tiny bottles of almond shampoo.) So read it as if you have just gone back in time one and a half years, a time when we all had more hair, and enjoy.
* * *
My chicken-thin legs are very much spent from pedaling my way along an epic mountain trail in a modest quest for inner peace. As I now find myself gazing out at a phenomenal panoramic vista of endless sun-bathed peaks while I regain some strength and energy for the journey home, I thought I would take advantage of the break in pace and write a little something. A writer always brings his kit.
But before going any further, I feel the need to bring to light some vital points here.
I’m Catholic. [Remember I said that?]
And it’s Sunday morning.
And though mass is in session at the time of this writing, I’m not at church.
[Don’t worry. The fact that you’re reading this means I was not inexplicably smoted (smote? smited?) with a sturdy bolt of homegrown-in-the-heavens lightning. ‘Kay, I’ll stop interrupting myself now.]
Earlier today, the missus and I were in the car (the kid was in the car too, I think – I never got a call from room service saying we’d forgotten anything in the room) making our way towards a wonderful little trailhead I’d heard about from the local bike shop; I was eager to have my unfit keyster handed back to me by that relentless minx, Mother Nature.
My family would not be joining me as they have more sense than I do, but my loving spouse couldn’t pass up an opportunity to gently shove me out of a moving vehicle (she’d done it before with a golf cart, she was moving on to bigger things; it’s important to set goals.) At a nice, gentle jogging pace, I was encouraged to tuck and roll (the kid wakes up when the car stops, so I understand) and I attempted my best imitation of an armadillo. After picking myself up and brushing the elk droppings off my clothes, I realized the bike was still in the car, so I had to chase after her to stop anyway. Oh well. On the glass-is-half-full side of things, by eleven a.m. I was already two thirds trained up for a triathlon. Good deal.
So there I was, all by my wee self in the woods (with the possible exception of a few wild teddy bears and overgrown mountain pussycats) armed with nothing more than my bike, a multi-tool, and some water (Funny story: I later discover a pound of raw hamburger stuffed in the bottom of my pack. My wife is such a kidder.)
So, en-route to a mysterious and unmarked trailhead in a rocky paradise, possibly left for dead, I bathed in the eternal silence that permeated through the granite of the mountains. With no outside noises to suppress the voices in my head, I thought back to the conversation my wife and I were having in the climate controlled comfort of her car earlier this morning.
The view through the windshield along most of the drive was nothing short of orgasmic, endless natural beauty as far as a binoculared peeping-Tom could see.
I couldn’t help myself.
“Now this, this,” I said, waving my hands at the sight before us like a spastic Vannah White. “This is what people should be worshipping on such a gorgeous Sunday! This!”
Obviously, I just meant that the enjoyment of nature (which He, the Almighty, created, just sayin’) was my preferred method of showing appreciation for the life we have been given. But I could see how my comment might have come off a wee bit off-colour to some. My spouse, for one.
She, also being of the catholic persuasion, shot me an intensely hard, soul-piercing glance that I briefly thought I may need to have her exorcised. My actual response, like that of most spineless jellyfish husbands on the receiving end of a spouse’s fiery scorn, involved digging my oars in hard and backpedaling to safer shores.
“What I mean is, well, umm…y’know, it’s the, uh…” Curses! My oars, it seemed, were but skinny sticks with rounded nubs, not unlike novelty-sized Q-tips; I was going nowhere.
As we neared the start of the trail, my wife educated our little one with clever witticisms like Don’t listen to your heathen father, God will serve him justice on the trail with a flat tire and He was only baptized with Evian.
In credit to my relationship with the All Mighty, I’ve managed to stave off a flat tire thus far. So maybe God likes me a bit more than my wife thinks. How could you not love a lil’ rascal like me, anyway? But it was food for thought, regardless. I pedaled. And I reflected on that. With nothing but the sound of blood pulsing through my brain, I thought about how I might rank on the Good Li’l Christian Chart, posted semi-annually by the Roman Catholic Church, where scales of 1–10 let you know where you stand in the eyes of the religious community.
When you consider my attendance record for mass, I might only score a dismal 3/10 Pious Disciples on the ol’ Scale-o-Sanctimony. Hate to say it, but I think I would be classified as a Catholic of Convenience, attending ordinary time mass basically whenever I managed not to sleep in past the ringing of the church bells calling the faithful on Sunday mornings. I’m pretty good about attending the special masses, events like Easter, Christmas, and free-cake-after-church-compliments-of-the-Knights-of-Columbus Sundays (because only a soulless monster short of being deathly allergic would pass on free cake.)
The good news, however, regarding my attendance is that my wife and I are a team and thus we seldom go to mass without the other, mainly because we usually engage in a game of pass-off-the-irritable-toddler when we’re there to give each other some sanity. What that means is, if our eligibility for VIP backstage passes into Heaven is determined solely by our devoutness to attending church services regularly, well, nuts. But at least we’ll be sizzling in the deep fryers below in each other’s good company, right? Honey? Riiiiight?
Soooo… attendance; not so great.
But, to hopefully balance out my shoddy attendance record is (in my oh so humble opinion) my impeccable record of not killing anyone, for thirty-four straight, consecutive years, even though some days have proven extremely challenging (ever try dealing with Telus? Oy vey.) Shoot, I’ve never so much as accidentally nudged a little old lady out of my way and into the path of a moving train at a crowded transit station, let alone deliberately running over a smoker who dumps his butts on the ground when he happens to step out in front of my car while I’m driving on the sidewalk.
And, besides the difficulty that is refraining from occasional murder, I make a point to try and not wrong anybody, period, even if I don’t know them and nobody actually dies, just on principle.
Like, say, claiming someone else’s Starbucks beverage as my own upon realizing their selection was better.
Aw, man! They have double-salted caramel now? “Uhh, yeah, I’m Susan.”
And how’s that old Bible quote go again? What you do unto the least of my brothers, that shall be honoured with ice cream? Well, I’m a pretty nice guy, just ask my parole officer. And when it comes to interspecies relations (not like that, don’t be gross) I’m practically an ambassador of goodwill for anything showing even the slightest signs of life, intelligent or political. I’m just considerate. For example: I don’t just immediately dismiss my coworkers’ opinions on stuff as soon as they bring up their issues; I politely wait for them to leave the room before I criticize them. And bugs? I stopped frying ants with a magnifying glass weeks ago, and I let my cat knead my bony chest with his claws until he reaches the inner lining of my ribcage before I finally squish his backside flat on me so he’ll sleep.
With the arguments above, I think I can safely assume my Nice Guy Behaviour Rating to be an easy eight or nine Pious Disciples out of ten. No sweat.
Now, lest you think Christianity be an easy, sin-away-like-a-college-frat-boy-on-Spring-Break-then-ask-for-forgiveness-later piecemeal buffet of a religion, rest assured there are several more criteria that make up a person’s overall score as a respectable Christian. Things like Bible Quotability (And so I say unto thee, a house made of straw will probably suck. John 4:12,) the ability to pick out the real Pope in a police lineup, and Effective Mumbling, wherein a practising churchgoer demonstrates how convincingly they can fake their way through a service’s communal prayers while only actually knowing the last three words at the end.
But, for the sake of brevity in this here written stuff before you, I feel only attendance and overall niceness of an individual should be considered when quantifying my status as a good L’il Christian.
Now, if my grade five math is well-preserved, I should be in pretty good standing concerning my admission into the Pearly Gates, before I even have to worry about bribing St. Peter’s officials.
Three out of ten Pious Disciples for attendance, plus eight out of ten P.D.’s for not-being-a-callous-murderer-or-complete-jerk-ibility, divide by three to get the average, then amplified by the convertibility quotient of a Holy hand grenade (or H.H.G.) puts me at, let’s see now… 9.275 out of 10 Pious Disciples. Excellent! According to science, I could get hit by a derailed rusty freight train today and stand a pretty good chance of chillin’ with J.C. on top of some primo altocumulus.
And, really, when everything’s all said and done and boiled down to a nice, thick gumbo of Christian feel-goods, it’s how we act and behave toward our fellow sorry-excuse-for-enlightened-beings on this silly little blue planet which determines if we’re good people or not, regardless of religious affiliation, if any.
So, what I’m saying is, for the most part, as long as I’m a good person, I feel okay directing my worshipping efforts on the fabulous and wondrous natural environment around us, particularly since I’m lucky enough to live in such a beautiful area positively surrounded by it. I show my appreciation to the Big Guy upstairs by reveling in the natural beauty He created and by showing empathy, respect and appreciation to my fellow hooman (or deer, or sheep, or cat, or bunny rabbit, even ants, spiders and ladybugs. But not mosquitos, they can get hopelessly lost into outer space as far as I’m concerned, those little monsters.)
And, sure, some might argue that’s just a lazy way of justifying one’s modest piety without having to put in a decent effort attending church services in person.
And to that, I say: You’re right.
It’s true. I kind of am trying to justify my moderate contribution to the church. But, that being said, I honestly think my multi-method means of worship is a perfectly acceptable way of practicing my faith. I need a healthy mix of traditional worship in the church as well as being out there, breathing it all in with solemn appreciation. I think that’s just fine and dandy for me, and fine for others too.
But we still need to take that with a big ‘ol grain of sea salt. Personal reflection and customized meditation is all well and good, but it’s also vitally important not to neglect, forget or take for granted the church and the community within it.
I understand that many people’s first thought of church and mass as a stuffy, dull and somewhat coerced gathering of people who are there to alleviate their guilt that comes from not attending services. And, granted, sometimes it is. Many times, my wife and I – and many others, I’m sure, for that matter – have lamented “we should probably go to church this week.” To be perfectly honest, some weekends it just feels more like we need to go rather than want to.
But it doesn’t need to feel that way. It doesn’t need to be seen that way, either, as something that imposes on our lives and mandates a certain obeisance from us. After all, the church and its people are there for us; it’s just important that we show our appreciation for it.
Besides the immeasurable quantity of good which churches help to facilitate all over this crazy, mixed up world through the provision of meals, clothing, homes and even professional guidance to those needing a helping hand, the church is there, ever vigilant, for the people in the community.
The church is a safe haven where people can come together without fear of judgement or society’s relentless push for conformism and consumerism, a place where people can say thanks for the life that is presented to them and to seek spiritual guidance to aid them through troubled times.
And, these days especially, many churches even operate at a loss due to low attendance (and consequently, insufficient donations.) but they dutifully keep their doors open just so they will always be there whenever people need them.
As far as my attendance at mass goes, yes, I’m a Christian of Convenience; we’ve established that already. And though I might not worship wholly in the traditional sense, I make sure there’s room in my busy existence to come in from time to time, if only so that the church and those who make it know that I still need them in my life.
And besides, as my wonderful family grows older and our children begin to develop their own sense of spirituality, the community of our church becomes all the more important to us. We have close friends there whom we trust fully with our family, and take comfort in knowing that even in these troubled times of world-wide turmoil and uncertainty, we have a place and people whom we know will always be there for us.
* * *
I guess that’s it.
I’ve rested long enough. The muscles in my legs are eager for more punishment and my helmet has hardly had a chance to prove its worth today. Besides, my wife might eventually send a search party out to find me, surely not wanting perfectly good hamburger to go to waste.
I think God knows I’m a good guy. After all, he’s given me everything I’ve ever asked for in life that was important. So, here I am today, in the middle of thick Canadian forest, praying please, oh pretty please, let there not be any bears or cougars between me and civilization once more, for old times’ sake. I’m not really worried, though, the Big Guy and I are pretty tight; He’ll make me a clear path, I know it.
I have faith.