Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Me and God

Making peace with Paczki...

So, for anyone who doesn't know, "Paczki" (pronounced POON-chkee) is a Polish pastry that's popular on Paczki Day--also known in Americanized culture as Fat Tuesday. The fun of Fat Tuesday is getting to indulge and go to excess before we begin the holy season of Lent.

Growing up Catholic, the teachers made a very big deal out of Lent and how important it was to give up something...to make a sacrifice as a way to pay homage to the sacrifice that Jesus made. So, as kids, we gave up things like candy or cookies, or we gave up beating on our younger siblings, stuff like that.

As I got older, I moved away from the idea of giving up something and instead chose to do something positive during the Lenten season. This year, though, as I thought about it more and more, I decided that I need to give up something in particular. It started yesterday. During a meeting that I was at last night, one of the individuals was telling me about a friend who gives up "green bean sandwiches" for Lent. Of course, everyone in group thought that was hilarious. After the laughter faded, we had a discussion about the importance of doing something during Lent that will bring us closer to God.

I believe that praying brings me closer to God, so my offering this year is to give up doughnuts. It sounds silly. It seems childish. But I have a serious issue with doughnuts. Put doughnuts in front of me, and my self-control goes out the window. So, after giving it some serious thought, I decided that giving up doughnuts will bring me closer to God. Me and God are going to be best buddies (as if we weren't already). Why? Because I'm going to have to pray a lot to get through the Lenten season this year. Giving up doughnuts will bring me closer to God. Crazy, but true. Wish me luck...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Stinky Smoke

Through the hazy, smoky darkness, I could see his outline as he walked toward me…strong features, rigid posture, his voice low and soothing as he chanted. I realized that I was holding my breath and let it out in a roaring whoosh before greedily sucking in more oxygen. But the oxygen wasn’t there. There was no air, only thick plumes of smoke billowing around my head. My lungs reacted immediately, forcing out a cough so violent that it made my eyes tear up and my ribs throb. Dizziness and nausea overtook me as I made myself move, retracing my steps and praying that my legs would carry me in the direction of the door. There had to be a way out. I couldn’t die like this!

Okay, so I’m exaggerating. It wasn’t going to kill me. After all, it wasn’t actual smoke. It was just incense. According to the Encarta Dictionary, incense is “a substance, usually fragrant gum or wood that gives off a pleasant smell when burned.” Wait a minute. Incense is supposed to smell pleasant? So, the incense wasn’t going to kill me, but the smell did make me dizzy and sick to my stomach. And I did cough. And my eyes did burn. Incense? Who thought up that tradition?

As a youngster, going to church seemed miserable enough without the added problem of the smoke emerging from the golden ball and chain that the priest swung around. (FYI: For a funny look at this, check out the movie Keeping the Faith. It’s a funny and touching story about two best friends, Ben Stiller who is a Rabbi and Edward Norton who is a Catholic priest. At one point, Edward Norton sets his robes on fire when he’s swinging the incense ball.) Anyway, I never did like the smell of incense. I know some people love it, but I’m not one of them. I think maybe it was too overpowering for me that first time. I mean, I was in a crowded church, smashed between my mom and my sister, and the heat, general discomfort and the overpowering combination of the scent of the incense and the strong perfume all the old ladies were wearing just about did me in.

I didn’t like church in general. It was the same thing, week after week after week. Walk into the church, pick a seat (always in the back, because mom hated sitting in the front), genuflect, hit the kneeler and say a prayer, sing a song, make the sign of the cross, hear a couple of stories, listen to the priest talk, sing some more, go to Communion (oh man, one of my sisters introduced me to the comedic talent of Dane Cook, who does a hilarious spoof on church and going to Communion) sing some more, and thankfully, blessedly, be able to go home. We did this every week. Every. Single. Week. Plus, we attended school masses, too. Every. Single. Week. I couldn’t stand it. Most of the time, I would just sit and daydream about what I was going to do after church or sit in the pew and count the panes in the stained-glass windows.

Looking back on it, I understand that it was because I didn’t get the meaning of going to church. Back then, it was just a task that had to be completed because mom said so and the nuns said so. Well whoopy-dee-doo.

Finally, I boycotted. Couldn’t stand it anymore. I quit going to church for…seven years? Something like that. It was a long time. Then, one day, I was walking across my university campus, and I swear something (someone) slapped me on the back of my head. I actually looked around, thinking someone threw a snowball at me. The only thing I saw was the university chapel and I could almost hear, “Good morning, Martha. This is God. How about paying Me a visit?” So I did.

In the years since, I’ve gone to church regularly, only missing on occasion due to illness or travel, and while I still daydream every now and then during a boring sermon, I pretty much always take something of value away from mass. If nothing else, I always have a sense of peace and hope for the future. I still despise incense, but when it’s being used, I do my best to remember that while I may find it unappealing, there are other people who love the smell—and perhaps people who, due to illness or injury cannot smell it, wish they could.

God, today I want to thank You for the days in my life and all the experiences that go with them. I pray that I cherish all of my days, and remember that even a bad day is a good day—because without You, I wouldn’t have had a day at all.