Sunday Mass with River, who is both a bad agnostic and a bad Catholic

Sunday morning, Mass as usual—meaning, all of River’s core feelings were pulling in different directions.

“Choose three things to focus on during Mass,” said the music director, attempting to get the choir to emotionally engage with the music. “What are you doing here? Who are you singing these pieces to? — because this isn’t a performance, and you shouldn’t sing them for me.”

I tried. “Three things” wound up being a semifluid amalgamation of the same things I think about during every Mass:

  1. being as present and as Catholic as possible for the sake of my devout, orthodox spouse
  2. in lieu of being able to do anything about the messy relationship between the church and the LGBTQ community at the particular moment, singing all the welcome and well-wishing kind of music for a great cloud of LGBTQ loved ones, some of whom are helping serve Mass, and some of whom feel too despised and unwelcome to walk in the door (and some of whom are simply not Catholic)
  3. acknowledging and upholding my agnostic convictions, because they are honest, but trying to call up a few wisps of faith so I can receive communion without feeling disrespectful.

Though I love the intellectual relief and freedom of agnosticism, and though I’m regularly frustrated by aspects of the bundle of conservative Christianities my life is inextricably tied to, I don’t think I’d like cutting religion out of my life. I love and don’t want to leave my parish community. I love the grounding rhythm of religious rituals (although I dislike aspects of them, like being trapped into dietary restrictions when non-Catholics invite me over on Fridays in Lent). Most religions offer astounding connections to beauty. Catholic liturgy and symbolism and art are beautiful — none of it more so than the music. For reasons such as these, I managed to prioritize commitment to faith over skepticism until church dogma and Christian practice ran afoul of my conscience.

It’s a long story, and not one for today.

For today, I went to church, sang my heart out, stared at the sanctuary lamp, received communion alongside a family that is truly diverse — many races (in leadership roles, not just in the pews), conservatives and liberals, the carefully orthodox like my family and the messy dissenters like me — and admitted that I love what I don’t fully believe.

Mind, I rage at it, too. Those posts are coming. But I’ll try and keep things respectful. I live and write amid such ideological conflict that diplomacy, heteroglossia, and dialectic are some of my top survival skills.

In the meantime, no matter who you are or what you believe or don’t believe, peace be with you.

-River

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