Friday, July 22, 2011

The Evolution of My Religion

I was raised in the Catholic church. As a child, this didn't hold much meaning for me beyond the fact that I had to sit still and be quiet for an hour every Sunday. But ever industrious as I was, I found ways to pass the time. From my perch high up in the rear choir loft, I'd intently study the numerous seated backs that made up the congregation making a mental note of who was there each week and what they were wearing and how much they fidgeted during the service. My observations were so thorough that the church should have used them for their own record keeping purposes.  I'm sure that the Vatican would have loved to know that our reader was wearing the same dress that she wore three Sundays ago.

When I'd completed my tally, I'd move on to making faces at the babies and younger kids. This would pass the time until I'd end up getting one of them in trouble for giggling during communion. I can't be certain, but I believe this is where Catholic guilt first rears its head.

I'd usually spend the final 15 minutes or so coloring in the weekly bulletin with whatever ink pen my mother happened to have in her purse. Joyous were the days when I came across a red one or--wonder of wonders--a green one. But as the bulletin was not printed with the intention of being a coloring book for bored little girls, it did not provide much in the way of stimulation. There are only so many different ways one can color in loaves and fishes, though I did become an expert at turning crosses into all kinds of abstract shapes. I really feel like I had an artistic gift there that I let just slip away.

As a teenager, I appreciated the church more for its sense of community than for any spiritual guidance it gave. But more than that, I loved the ritualized nature of it all. The sense of calm that one gets from knowing what comes next. It was a safe haven. A place where no matter how crazy the outside world became, inside those walls everything stayed the same.  You can see how this might be comforting to a hormonal teenage girl and her ever-changing social structure. I was no Queen Bee.

Even beyond those tough high school years, when I was headed off to college and baby-stepping my way into independence, I found comfort in the ceremony. It set my mind at ease to know that no matter where I was, I could walk into a Catholic church and for that hour feel like I was home again.  The faces might be different, but the procedures were the same.  I found tranquility in the repetition.

Somewhere in my junior year, I began to pull away from the church. This could be justified by a myriad of excuses from course load to work schedules, but the truth of the matter is that I began to question the core teachings of the church--which isn't really the point of this post, but perhaps could be a story for another day. The point is that while I haven't missed the spiritual aspect of the church, I have longed for the community.  And the security of knowing that I can find a familiar home anywhere in the country by simply opening up a pair of double doors and making the sign of the cross.

And then it occurred to me: I still have that. Not in a house of worship for a Savior, but in one that honors the almighty latte: Starbucks. I can go into any Starbucks from sea to shining sea, and know what happens next, where things are, what I want to order and how it will taste when it arrives.  From inside the store, I'd even be able to pretend I was at my own local Sbux. This realization just opened up an entire bevy of identically sanitized options: McDonald's, Barnes & Noble, WalMart--the list goes on and on. I imagine it would be possible to move to an entirely new region of the country and never have to encounter or experience anything different at all.  Everything one does can be done in a familiar and unchanging environment. Now that's comfort. So it seems that I should quit my bemoaning of the generification of our culture, and instead rejoice in its providing me with a suitable replacement for my forgone religion. Glory be to the cookie cutterization of America.

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