Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I Ride the Short Bus

Can I state for the record that sometimes we arrive at Mass peacefully or at least with all relationships intact?


To read this blog, you might find that a stretch, but I swear, it's true.

Then there are days like yesterday.  I will not go into the particulars. Just the typical frustrations that chisel away at family peace. Grating, grating, grating. It started with one individual but then spread faster than the norovirus that hit last Christmas.

Strife, you see, likes company.

It's not enough that one person sows unrest in our midst.Where's the fun in that?  Oh, no, no, no. We are all required to react -- badly, I might add -- both with respect to the culprit and toward each other just for good measure.

Let strife abound!

And suddenly we're in church, third row, center right. We genuflect and stand and kneel and sit, make the customary responses with, at least in my case, sorrow oozing out of every pore.

A friend's father joined the Episcopal Church after years of no church and then a non-denominational church. He had no deep theological wrestlings with the Episcopal Church, but got all hung up on what he viewed as the repetitiveness of the liturgy. Specifically, he scratched his head that Episcopalians ask forgiveness over and over and over again.

The Catholic liturgy is first cousin once removed from the Episcopal liturgy. We do the repetition thing. And on days like Sunday, I get it. Oh, I so get it.

We enter into the penitential rite:

I confess to almighty God
And to you, my brothers and sisters,
That I have greatly sinned.

We symbolically beat our chests and say, "Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault."

We move to the Kyrie Eleison:

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

And just before communion, we repeat the words of the centurion:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,
But only say the words and my soul shall be healed.

Repetition, repetition, repetition. These are the  piano scales of the interior life, sentence diagramming for the spiritually dense, the multiplication tables of the heart and of the soul.

Why do we need to do this drill over and over and over again?

Because I'm thick, damn it.

And hard.

And entrenched in the muck and mire of self.

And grace seeps in.

John puts his head on my lap. Dave squeezes my hand. I keep trying to catch Tim's eye up on the altar where he's serving. He finally grants me a half smile, figuring I won't quit pestering him until he does. And Ainsey . . . sweet Ainsey puts her arms arms around me and says, "I love you, Mama!" and then tries to kiss my stomach. I'm forever blowing loud kisses on her squishy tummy, but she doesn't get that Mama's really squishy tummy is not fit for public viewing.

We reconcile.

During my Army days, my team seemed always to get the short end of the stick -- the smallest work area, the fewest computers, short staffing, etc..

"We ride the short bus," another captain told me one day.

This Army buddy of mine had battled a speech impediment as an elementary student. In her district, children who required special services were carted off for part of the school day to a different facility. Because these kids were few in number, they were picked up in a smaller bus. My friend Rode the Short Bus.

In that harsh pecking order that is school life, Riding the Short Bus became an insult, a pejorative that meant that you, in some form or fashion, were not up to snuff. You ride the short bus! You ride the short bus!

Why do I get the need for our liturgy to be about repentance, repentance, repentance?

Because, spiritually speaking, I Ride the Short Bus.

This religion I profess to follow, this faith I embrace, demands against all reason that I love God and neighbor, insists that I live at peace with others.

Somedays I'd rather don a hair shirt and subsist on bread and water.

Now God, I have no issues with.

But those pesky neighbors? That another story entirely. Oh, I'm not hating on those neighbors on the other side of the world, you know, the ones that don't look like me or talk like me or park their car behind mine. No, it's those neighbors under my own roof, most of whom I've birthed and nursed and nurtured. This faith calls me to love and endure and forgive and do it all again tomorrow.

In the hours after Mass, we heard the tragic news about our neighbors' nephew. Nick had ridden his dirt bike into a wire and severed his trachea. His parents -- the woman who had birthed him, the father who had raised him --  they weren't confronting bad attitudes and wayward behavior. No, they were facing brain death and life support and organ donation.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

My heart is aching for the parents, the aunts and uncles, the cousins who will never, ever be the same again. I cry and cry over this, especially when I wonder if his mom had kissed him that morning, if he had exchanged kind words with his father, when he had last spoken to his older brothers.

We are called to love God and neighbor. And that love demands reconciliation.

Over and over and over again.

Sometimes I read the words of scripture, and they seem to expect what I know I can't possibly deliver. Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. Come on. Give me something I can work with! And then I read Don't forgive seven times seven. Forgive seventy times seven. And I remember Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.

It takes practice. It takes repetition. It takes grace.

And if I attend the church that offers the longest, slowest Mass in the diocese, the church that calls us to reconciliation over and over and over again, it's because it takes that long to touch the parched corner of my soul thirstiest for the grace of God.

What can I say? I ride the short bus.


Kris said...

Awesome, Kelly. Really, really awesome.

Kelly Dolin said...

Thank you so much, Kris!

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