Thursday, February 17, 2011

Crazy Cajun Catholic

It’s very important to folks around here that people profess their faith, and they distrust anyone not attending a church. They’re not particular which church you attend (as a ninety-plus-year-old friend says, “It’s all the same Bible,”) as long as it’s a Christian church. I’m not sure how they’d feel about attendance at a synagogue or mosque because we don’t have any in these parts.

The importance of their religion was made very clear to me when I offered my (and by extension my husband’s) services to a recently widowed woman. When she seemed reluctant to take me up on my offer, I told her that, since my husband and I don’t attend church, she could help us to salvation -- not that I think that simply through good works will I be saved. I was just trying to get past the natural reluctance of the independent mountain people to ask for help from outsiders.

She rather quizzically replied, “I don’t know that that’s how it works.” Without stopping to think, I answered, “I’d rather try to live like a follower of Christ than to sit in church and listen to somebody talk about Christianity. But the real truth is I just can’t sit quietly that long. If there was a Black Baptist church with all the shouting of ‘Alleluias’ and ‘Amens’, I might be able to attend that church.” I didn’t mean to imply that all the people sitting in churches weren’t walking the walk of Christianity; I hope she didn’t take it that way. I meant that I'd prefer to celebrate than to sit in silence. It did leave her speechless -- but much that I say and do leaves a lot of people speechless.

I was driving to a doctor's appointment when I found my faith again. I began laughing so hard I had to stop the car and call my most spiritual Roman Catholic soul sister, who wasn’t home – but her husband was. I can’t remember what I said to him, but I knew he wouldn’t “get” my elation. I had been a catholic all along – I wasn’t Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Catholic; I am what catholic by what is the true meaning of the word “catholic,” which is to say, “universal.”

At first I thought it was a Cajun thing, so I labeled myself Cajun Catholic. I wasn’t brought up on the bayou, even though I spent summers there, but I’ve always felt that my nature is very molded by my Cajun family. They are very “live and let live” people.

Now, this isn’t to say that they allow you to do whatever you want in their homes. My Cajun grandma used to make the rules for her home, and then say, “If you don’t like it, there’s the door.” My aunt (my Cajun grandma’s daughter) is much the same way, but much more soft spoken about it. Her husband is the one who shows you the door if you break the house rules.

It’s just that, on some basic level, they have always understood that the church is there to support them in their journey through life, not the other way around. They’ve always had a healthy skepticism for anybody’s teachings that came from books without any life experience to back it up – much like mountain folk. Somehow, I can’t imagine my grandma or aunt going to the parish priest for marriage advice, or advice on raising their children.

I live by words; the words spoken to me affect every aspect of my being. I’m a firm believer in the saying popular with psychiatrists and social workers in the seventies, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can make me crazy.” The words of the creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church” are said in many Christian churches. By the commonly held definition of catholic in Christian churches, catholic means universally Christian. So I looked up the definition and the origins of the word catholic. This is what I found:
catholic adj
1. universal; relating to all men; all-inclusive
2. comprehensive in interests, tastes, etc.; broad-minded; liberal
[from Latin catholicus, from Greek katholikos universal, from katholou in general, from kata- according to + holos whole]


This may not be earth-shaking to most people, but to me it was life-changing. Why did it take me so long to read the dictionary?

1 comment:

  1. Y., I had to chuckle at your dealing with the word "Catholic". It brought to mind my own dealing with it. My background being in the protestant church, I was taught that the "Catholics were wrong". In our tradition, we were taught that most (if not all) other churches were wrong. In fact, we were so distanced from the Catholic church that some (not all, but some) of our people even criticized a church if they had a printed "order of worship". So - when I reached the stage as a young man in the military where I went to chapel conducted by a Lutheran, I, at first, refused to say I believe "In the Holy Catholic Church". To me at that time, it meant I was renouncing my protestant faith. I can't actually remember if I went to the dictionary to find the definition of "catholic" or if I asked a friend - but I too had to learn that I could say the "Apostles' Creed" and mean it when I said that I believe in the holy catholic church.

    Like you, I also had to learn about the mountain people's independent way of life when I went to Tellico Plains as a youngster fresh out of the military to become a pastor. I had married a girl from Lenoir City, about 50 miles away, and was considered by "the folks" in Tellico as being a person from "the city". Ask me sometime about the response to my proposal to the church group that we build a new building with rest rooms inside! O.K., I'll just tell you here. One of them said with incredulous tones..."What? A toilet inside the church house? Why Brother - this ain't Lenoir City!"

    O.K. I didn't mean to be so long-winded here. Just got carried away.