On Sunday, as you know, I was sick.
On Monday and Tuesday, the horrible drowsiness from the new powdered supplement slacked off and the depression went with it, so I scrubbed the tub and cleaned the bathroom. People with chronic illness know the massive sense of accomplishment that comes with cleaning the bathroom. Cleaning the bathroom is a tour de force. Cleaning the bathroom is climbing Mount Everest. Cleaning the bathroom is doing the kessel run in less than twelve parsecs. Cleaning the bathroom means you are well again, for the moment. When you can clean the bathroom, it’s a good day.
I still had some energy and there were hours before Adrienne had to get to martial arts, so I left her with Michael for an hour and drove to the rec center. I’d been saving six pink ticket stubs in my purse, which meant that even though we were broke, I could go for a swim. I paddled back and forth across the pool in slow motion as muscular people lapped me. A miracle.
That night I tried a half dose of the new inositol supplement, and was groggy and fatigued for 24 hours afterwards, accomplishing nothing.
On Thursday, I felt much better, and went hiking, up and down the trail by the cave at Frankfort Mineral Springs, pretending I was a Tolkien elf. I stood right under the waterfall and got soaked. It felt beautiful, as if all was right with the whole world.
That night I tried a quarter dose of the inositol supplement, and my head went into a horrible foggy state where I could neither sleep nor stay awake but had anxiety and cried until five in the morning. The rest of the jar is going in the trash. But by three o’clock today I felt well, so Adrienne and I went to the lake with her friend from martial arts.
I swam laps up and down the beach, contemplating.
This is the new truth I’ve discovered: it’s okay to make a mistake. It’s okay to admit you were wrong and do something else. There’s no shame there. Have a sick day because something you tried didn’t work out. Throw out the expensive powdered vitamins. Go on a different diet. Try something new. This is the way to manage a chronic illness.
I have decided to let that permission work its way from my regimen for managing my chronic illness, into everything else. I have decided that it’s okay to doubt things I was told were absolutely true, and it’s okay to come to a different conclusion. It’s okay to not have the answer and to flail for awhile as well. I will have mercy on myself and keep learning. That is how I am managing my chronic physical illness.
And yes, I’m applying that to my religious deconstruction.
The Catholic Church is where I met a God that I’m sure exists. The glimpses I’ve had of that God, in liturgy and in nature and in suffering and in community, have been more wonderful than I can say. When I see that God manifest to me through people loving one another, I marvel. I can still recite the whole Nicene creed without bursting into flames; I do think it’s true. I love Catholic social teaching. The Eucharist is awesome and beautiful. The Communion of Saints is real. And it is also true that the Catholic Church has hurt me more severely than any other force ever has. She has traumatized me in ways that can’t easily heal. I am too hurt to receive the Eucharist very often. I don’t know if I could ever go to confession again. There are some saints that make me shudder when I catch sight of their simpering faces on a prayer card or an icon. Prayer hurts. I am living in a mystery, for the moment, re-adjusting to find what I really believe, and letting it be without shame.
Both the readers who were rooting for me to leave the Church and the readers who are tired of me for not loving the Church will be frustrated with that, but that’s where I am. I am allowing myself to do things that were totally forbidden growing up. I went to Pride to see how that felt. I prayed with my friend at a Witch’s Sabbath. I haven’t renounced Communion with Rome and I show up at church every Sunday that I can do so without getting sick. I still believe with all of my heart that Christ is who I was told He is. I’m just trying to see what will work, to treat this soul of mine which is suffering a chronic spiritual illness, inflicted by forces beyond my control. And I am doing so without shame.
If I sink my whole career as a Catholic author for writing about the only Catholicism I know– well, it wasn’t very lucrative anyway. Maybe somebody else would like to hear my story. But at the moment I am still Catholic.
I’ve been reading the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer, because I found it online and it has pretty English. Most of the prayers in the book are the same as the Catholic and Orthodox ones, but worded a little differently so I don’t have a panic attack when I try to pray them. The Ten Commandments in the catechism in the back are the same passage of scripture, broken into different chunks.
Someone I thought was a friend heard I was praying along with a Protestant prayerbook and didn’t like it. He came into a conversation I was having with an Episcopalian priest friend on social media with a recital of cold Catholic apologetics, trampling all over some sore spots in my soul. I don’t think he meant to hurt me but he did, badly. And he dismissed the Episcopalians as “Catholicism lite.” I’ve been thinking about that ever since.
“Catholicism lite” is a funny thing to say as a pejorative. Quite frankly, Catholicism lite sounds delicious. Smooth, harmless Catholicism. Blond roast Catholicism. Catholicism with coconut milk and amaretto.
My grandfather, not the lapsed Catholic but the wealthy WASP who lived in Columbus, drank the most horrible coffee. He bought discount-sized bright yellow cans of bitter, Puritanical powder, coffee that would make an Italian cringe, and brewed it in an angry old-fashioned percolator while we were having dinner. You could hear the guttural groans of the percolator the whole time you were at the table, complaining about Ohio State football coaches over pot roast and boiled potatoes. The percolator growled all the way through the vanilla pudding and Cool Whip we always had for dessert, still grumbling about football. And then he’d pour himself a plain white mug of boiling hot, coal-black, opaque tar, both bitter and sour at the same time. If I even sipped that coffee it would leave my tongue blistered and put tears in my eyes. A cup of that coffee would turn my stomach over and over like a tumble dryer. It wasn’t a beverage, it was torture. I thought I hated coffee until Cappuccino became the fashion even in the bland Midwest. Now I drink cold brew with cream.
I think the religion I’ve been served, in the Charismatic Renewal and in Steubenville and battling the trolls and traditionalists online, is percolator Catholicism. It’s the Gospel but ground and roasted and cheaply canned without care, left to get stale, sold for a discount, then brewed too long in abusive homes to be the most stabbing, agonizing, traumatic Gospel it can be.
Maybe I need to seek Catholicism Lite– not necessarily Episcopalian, not necessarily any denomination, but a Catholicism that is light.
I should be seeking the light yoke Christ promised in the Gospel. The Christianity, that is light. The God Who is Light, in whom there is no darkness.
I will keep reorienting until I find such a thing.
And we’ll see where we go from there.
image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.