As I've been gearing up for Sunday, I've been listening to Mary Karr in this week's episode of On Being. What a delight: a writer and a Catholic.
I was struck by this part where she discusses the difference between doctrine and practice. I've had similar conversations, but those outside of the institutional church can't seem to grasp it:
"I’ve done both. But I remember, before I did the Ignatian exercises, which I did probably around 2000, ’98, it was all very metaphorical for me. It was all very groovy, New-Agey. Resurrection was starting over, in some kind of hippy-dippy way. And in Ignatian spirituality, there’s a thing you do where you compose a scene with your body, with all the senses, that composes — the way St. Ignatius writes about it, it’s like: If you’re at the Nativity, if you’re at the Crucifixion, what can you smell? What do you touch? What does the cloth feel like on your skin? What do you hear? What do you feel? You try to put yourself, bodily, using your senses, into passages from the Scripture. It’s a very powerful practice, to take a passage from scripture and try to ask the Holy Spirit to put you somewhere, to place your mind and your senses in another place. It’s a very radical, dangerous kind of prayer to make. And I did this over 30 weeks. And they give you a lot of different methods of prayer. And somewhere in there, all of the stuff that had been metaphorical became very actual for me.
The idea of my sense of Jesus — I didn’t like Jesus, when I became Catholic. I came in on the Holy Spirit. And then I got that sense of Jesus that — I just noticed that the people who are always running the soup kitchens and taking care of the babies from El Salvador and bringing in orphans, doing all the good stuff, and who don’t seem really angry and crazy and kind of pissed off and really pious, they seem kind of realistic — always talked about Jesus all the time. So I thought, 'I’ve got to get on this Jesus boat. I’ve got to get with this Jesus program.' And somewhere in there, I just found that I was able to practice it.
Do I doubt? All the time. Sure, are there days that I wake up — to me, being a Catholic is like any spiritual practice. It’s a practice. It’s not something you believe. It’s not doctrine. Doctrine has nothing to do with it. It’s a set of actions. Everybody talks about the doctrine — do you believe in this? Do you believe in that?
What do you do, on a day? Do you get on your knees? Do you try to practice charity? Do you try to apologize for your mistakes? Are you trying to live a life that is less shameful than the one the day before?"
She talks about what she says to her unbelieving friends: "Yeah, I think — it’s one thing I say to my friends who are atheists. I say: 'Look, why don’t you — you think I’m so full of horse dookie. Why don’t you pray every day, for 30 days, and see if your life gets better?' And my guess is that it will, just because if you think — let’s say there’s not a God. Let’s say I die, and there’s not a God, and the worms eat me, and that’s the end of it. Daring to hope every day — it’s much more radical, I think, to hope than to live in the despair I was born to. I think it’s much more dangerous."
The whole interview is full of wonderful insight. You can hear or read the transcript here.
feeling the feelings…
1 year ago