Turning toward Spirituality
I was raised Catholic. In my family, every Sunday we would put on our Sunday best, go to church, then attend a donut and orange-flavored punch reception in the rectory, followed by Sunday school. This kind of tradition took place many Sundays as a young girl, and then as my siblings and I matured, we attended evening Mass as a family until I graduated from high school. Even on family vacations, if it was a Sunday, we found a Catholic Church to attend. I received all of my sacraments, attended Ursuline Academy of Dallas, a Catholic high school, attended St. Edward's University, a Catholic University, and even got married in the school's chapel.
Being raised as a Catholic aside, it wasn't until I got divorced that I was introduced to the idea of building a relationship with God, and even then it still took many years. When my ex-husband and I initially separated, my mom drove down to Austin to have lunch with me and make sure I was okay. I remember sitting on the patio of Perla's on South Congress, sipping a glass of white wine when my mom said, "you know, you may want to think about having some conversations with the man upstairs." I knew who she was talking about and that she was implying that I should start going to church again (my Catholic education aside, I hadn't gone to Mass since I graduated from high school), but I kind of dismissed her idea.
Over the course of about five years, I struggled to find the right job, I struggled financially, I was sexually assaulted, psychologically manipulated, sued for defamation by my assaulter, and lost a major job due to sexual harassment. After sixteen years living in Austin, I moved back to Dallas where I sunk into a depression and fully turned toward my art to search for answers. I started writing my novel, Sketches from the Heart of a Texas Artist, and went on my own introspective journey to find some kind of peace. Little did I know that the journey that I wrote for my main character to embark upon would, in a sense, be mirrored in my own life.
On one particularly bleak morning, after a night of continued harassment from the man who I lost work because of, through tear-filled eyes, I wandered aimlessly around my neighborhood. I came across a small Episcopal church and for some reason, I was drawn to the front door. I thought that perhaps, if I went inside, God would comfort me. To no avail, the front door was locked so I walked to the side door of the chapel, which was locked as well. I saw an office door in the back and knocked in an attempt to find someone to ask when the chapel was open, but no one answered so I took a seat on the curb in the parking lot and let tears stream from my eyes. I couldn't get a grip.
Finally, I noticed a car pull up to the sidewalk along side the chapel. The man who got out was dressed in his priest vestments. I made my way to him to inquire about the church schedule. He noticed I had been crying and invited me to a Communal Mass that they were holding within the quarter of the hour. I stayed for the Mass and sat in the back with a tissue pressed against my eyes the whole time. I wasn't really focused on the service itself, but I felt a comforting warmth the entire time I was there.
When the service ended, the priest waited for me on the front lawn of the church. I introduced myself and gave him a synopsis of what had been stressing me out. He asked if he could give me a blessing. I accepted, not knowing what to expect, but as he placed his hands on my shoulders and began to ask God to look over me, an even greater warmth washed over my body, as if my soul was being cleansed with warm rays of sun. The heavy grey clouds parted and bright light shined through the clouds and illuminated the soft blue sky.
As I walked home, I made the decision to unconditionally forgive the man who had been harassing me. As soon as I did, things started turning around in my life and I finally began to understand what my mom meant when she suggested that I "might want to begin a conversation with the man upstairs". I developed a ritual of integrating prayer into my nightly routine and thoughtfully visited with "the man upstairs" about who I wanted to send my prayers to and what I needed to find true happiness and wholeness.
Still, it took another year and I half before I actually integrated the practice of attending Mass and worshiping with my community on a regular basis, into my life. I've recently found a weekly Mass that I enjoy and look forward to my Sunday evening worship ritual. Until now, I didn't understand why my dad dragged our family of six into a Catholic Church every Sunday, but as I take my seat in a pew beneath the arched ceiling of St. Thomas of Aquinas and listen as sounds from the organ ceremoniously fill the chapel, I understand.
I look around the chapel and see that hundreds gather each Sunday evening to worship. I know that we all lead different lives and we all have our own wins and losses to converse with God about. I know that as unique as my conversations with him are, they're just as important as the woman's in the pew in front of me, or my friend's who sits next to me. In the past, when I wandered aimlessly, allowing myself to get beaten down by one unfortunate event after another, I felt alone and empty. I was naive to the fact that, the whole time, I had someone to communicate with and help guide me to a place a warmth where my soul could be filled with love and compassion and understanding that we're never alone.
When I think back to my upbringing, attending Mass every Sunday, receiving all of my sacraments, being educated in Catholic school... while I may not have understood the significance of that kind of structure then, I now understand how much of a gift it is to have been introduced to a life of faith, so that when the time came for me to be ready to talk to God, I knew where to go and that He would be there with open arms and an open mind, waiting for me.