Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Checking In

I was worried. It was Saturday and I had interviewed at Nameless Clothing Superstore over a week ago. It went okay---except I discovered, in the interview, that the position they wanted me for was not the full-time sales job I applied for. They looked at my education, work history and 10 years’ of sales experience and decided I would make a great shelf-stocker. Part-time. On their overnight shift. 9pm-5am, that is.

Another “Snark Interview”? You could say that, although it wasn’t the nightmare my encounter with Tammy the Invisible Woman had been. I had interviewed with “Chip”, a 20-something assistant manager who, back in the day, we would’ve called a “preppy”. What else can you call a guy who wears a halfassed crew cut and a pink dress shirt? He was polite enough, except for his caffeine-charged way of speakinglikethis withabsolutelynobreathsbetweenwordsknowwhatImeanhuh? Honestly, I wasn’t keen on the hours, but a job’s a job. So the little prick hired me.

I mean, he almost hired me. Chip said I was “95% hired”, pending the standard drug test and background check. Results on those, he said, would take 2-3 days. So I hurried over to the clinic that same day, filled the cup and went home and waited. Two days later, I hadn’t heard from Chip, so I called him back. The switchboard operator told me Chip wasn’t available, so I left a message. Chip still hadn’t called back.

Like I said, I was worried, and for three good reasons. First and most importantly, Ye Olde Cash Reserve was running low. I didn’t want to have to start hitting up the ‘rents. I was already living with them. I didn’t want to start asking for an “allowance”, too. Second, I was tired of vacillating between intense job hunting and sitting home waiting for callbacks. I am drug-free and the owner of a clean record. Why wouldn’t Nameless Clothing Superstore want me? Third, my nerves were wearing thin. One more near-miss and I’d freak.

By late Saturday afternoon, I was too antsy to sit by the phone anymore. Desperate times require desperate measures, so I did it. I broke down and went to church.

In a previous incarnation, I was a good Catholic boy. I put in four hard years at a Catholic school (grades 5-8). Dutifully went to C.C.D. and Mass each week, I did. In my bedroom, I even pulled down a poster of my then-idol, the Fonz, and replaced it with a picture of the then-newly-appointed Pope John Paul II. Hit all the Catholic highlights, Communion, Confirmation, etc. at all the right times. Yes, I was a true believer.

If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you might recall I said I hadn’t been to church in 6 years. My attendance before that had become sporadic, at best. What happened? Call it Catholic burn-out. Too much of a supposedly good thing. I never stopped being a spiritual person. I prayed regularly (still do) and read a variety of spiritual authors, including Thomas Merton and Reinhold Niebuhr (still do). But for me, things were too cut, dry and exclusive in hard-line Catholicism. Too absolute regarding many things that are and must be speculative and personal. I wanted a relationship with God on His and my terms, not theirs. Then there were those scandals everyone has read about. I don’t like being preached at, so I won’t preach at you. And no, I don’t mean to offend anyone. This was just my own experience.

I realize my turning to the Church now smacks of hypocrisy. It is hypocritical to be a seasonal Catholic, or a seasonal anything. But then again, the Church is and is for its people, even lapsed members like me. I felt a need to check in, if you know what I mean. I didn’t know what I’d find there, I had no clear expectations. I just knew I needed to go.

At 5pm, I was sitting in a balcony pew at the local parish. The church, a typical post-Vatican II spartan setting, was less than half full. There was a lot of gray hair in that group; I’d say 80% of them were 55 and over. The rest seemed to be single parents (primarily moms) who’d dragged kids there to introduce them to the faith. It was odd. The five o’ clock Saturday Masses I remembered always seemed to be packed. But who am I to judge?

The Mass was both the same and different. The prayers, songs and responses hadn’t changed. The priest, a personable guy in his late 50s or early 60s, ably assisted us through the ceremony. He flowed easily from one idea to another and tempered his talk with gentle humor to hold our attention. It was a refreshing switch from the sour-faced clergy of the old days, who’d get up there and drone on like the robot from “Lost In Space”. It was Trinity Weekend and the priest spoke of the union of three persons in God (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit), the Triune God, which he claimed lived within us all. To be honest, I never really grasped this concept back in C.C.D. and it remained sketchy now. But it was a nice sentiment.

One thing the priest mentioned sticks out in my mind. He urged us all to “search out ways to bring and create unity” in our homes and to “be and bring Christ” to our community. It made sense. He was saying that if we wanted to see and experience the benefits of the faith in action, we had to take action to make it so. Maybe this isn’t a new idea, but it was new to me. In the Catholicism I learned, people always seemed to be helpless pawns simply following rules, or waiting for gifts to fall from the sky. It was nice to know that we mere mortals could play a role in it, have some responsibility. I wasn’t bowled over, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Another thing that surprised me was the large part women played in this Mass. I recall priests being assisted in Mass by at least one deacon and a couple altar boys, exclusively a Y-chromosome crew. Here, the priest was assisted only by two altar girls, both around age twelve, and two women. The girls quietly and capably did their jobs. The women split their duties---one gave the readings and led the singing, and the other alternated between playing piano and organ. I always remembered the off-key caterwauling of a hapless crew of glee club rejects. These two ladies were professionals, or at least professional-level quality. They helped me understand what all those picketers outside the Vatican were yelling about. Again, maybe this isn’t so uncommon, but I’ve been off the radar for a while.

I pretty much sat back and observed. I was never a singer and I didn’t take Communion. It had been so long, it didn’t really seem right for me to do so. Toward the end of the service, I smiled in recognition when, just before passing the collection baskets, the priest mentioned “the Annual Diocesan Appeal”. Still hustling for the Cause. I dumped a dollar in the basket, mainly because I was happy they let me sit through the whole Mass. I feared they had some secret way of telling how often you attended and would bounce me out for letting my membership lapse.

Then the Mass was over. It was okay. Nothing earth-shaking. I didn’t have visions of angels and I wasn’t struck by an urge to go preach the Gospels in remote corners of the world. When I was a kid, I used to love attending Mass because---in spite of the tone-deaf choir and dull orations---I always came out of it with a certain feeling, a glowing feeling of community, security and purpose. Maybe it was something spiritual, or even divine. Maybe it was just relief in knowing I had a community, security and a purpose in a world where those qualities were often lacking. As nice as this Mass was, I didn’t get that feeling there.

Of course, that might say more about me than the Church. Perhaps I’ve become too skeptical, jaded or even lazy. After all, you only get out of it what you put into it. Still, I took that seat in the balcony for a reason. From there, I could see the whole crowd. I watched them, to see if they were getting that feeling. Most of the faces I read were blank, mindlessly mouthing the responses that had been drilled into them since kindergarten. At one point, the woman leading the singing reminded us to turn off our cell phones. Many---adults, mind you---fidgeted nervously in their seats, or whispered to companions through the service. One guy even nodded off for a few minutes. After Communion, nearly half the people left, before the Mass had formally ended. The priest’s closing blessing was drowned out by the sound of engines starting in the parking lot. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one missing that feeling.

I waited for the parking lot to clear before I left. I was glad I’d come. It had been an agreeable hour. I didn’t know if I’d be back next week, or ever. At least I had “checked in”. But that was no big deal. So had almost everyone else.

3 Comments:

Blogger Cardman said...

John,
Thanks for the welcome note. Now that I have killed 2 good working hours (sorry, I know your still hunting). You should concentrate on writing, but more so, a P.I. Your attention to detail is stunning...
Hang in there...
Cardman

1:06 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

You should show a newspaper your articulations here and get a job as a writer!

2:46 PM  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I really like your writing style as well.
I am part of the same congregation of the lapsed. Lately I have been going to Church at times... not so much Mass, but sitting in there and telling God I am not sure if he is real or not. Beautiful stained glass in this church that I have come to love seeing.

2:00 AM  

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