The Table

Okay, I ask myself, what do we – i.e. our church – do wrong? Before we continue working for renewal, maybe this is the critical question that we only think we’ve answered.

On Christmas Eve, I took the secular side of my family to church. My daughter had been raised when I was in my “Protestant phase” which coincided with my “hippie phase” and so had a peace, love, and rock and roll kind of religious upbringing. I returned to Catholicism, albeit, in a very progressive, social justice focused way, but when she married, she turned, rather devoutly I would add, to secularism.

Needless to say, my two young grandsons had never been to a Mass.

Nikki McClure, “Praise”

I thought they would be bedazzled by Christmas Eve Mass. How could they not be with the church (built in the 1850’s) all decked out in its most glorious finery: candles, red poinsettias, holly, colored lights everywhere, a giant crèche, full choir, packed to capacity with the beloved community.

As we began the carol singing, however, they were immediately embarrassed because they seemed to be the only ones who did not know the words. Restlessness soon set in as even the splendor of high Mass failed to entrance them. Afterwards I asked for their honest reactions. “Well,” said the younger. “It was hard to sit still for so long.” The elder was quick to retort with a bit of advice for him. “You just have to learn to work through the pain.” Not exactly the experience I had hoped they’d have!

“Was there anything you liked?” I asked. He paused and then said, “I thought it was cool when they carried that down that big ceramic doll and placed it in the menorah.”

Oh dear. Perhaps as we work on envisioning a new church for a new day – with all genders equally responsible for leadership and ministry, of course – we also need to remember how important tradition is. By this, I mean “tradition” in a good, not oppressive, way.

What I saw in my grandsons’ reactions was the need for us all to retain our common reference points, to cherish a “language” of meaning through ritual that all of us can understand, even as we add, expand, reform, and renew. I had failed to prepare the boys sufficiently for what they were going to experience. It was not their tradition, but it was a beautiful, valuable, mystical ancient one, that could have enriched their ever changing, ever expanding, ever new and renewable lives.

It is said we all give each other “roots and wings.” I want them and us to be as aware of, and, yes, safe, in our traditional “roots” as are in soaring with our amazing wings.

5 comments on “Roots and Wings

  1. Mary Ellen Norpel says:

    Ellie, can you begin to guess how many of us have shared this kind of experience?! Maybe not at Christmas, but at ANY mass that brings them to church with us.

  2. Yes, we should not throw the baby out with the bath water.

  3. Maureen Tate says:

    Thank you Ellie for such honest sharing about the dilemma so many of us face in our families as we try to live into new models while preserving the best of tradition. This year I was equally and alternately appalled by the commercial concession to Santa Claus in one household and the reverence of “God the Father” in another. I was pleased that two of our daughters joined us for Christmas Eve mass but found myself self conciously singing hyms and saying prayers that no longer speak to my experience of God. Every once in awhile however, we find that family life itself is an encounter with sacred mystery. That happened for us this Christmas although it did not happen in Church. The roots of unconditional love held firm and light entered in. Merry Christmas and thanks for generating this reflection.

  4. Jo de Groot says:

    I feel the urgent need for communication, too, of the message but there is so much of it that it’s hard to know where to start! Maybe it’s important that we just start.

  5. Judy Heffernan says:

    Ellie: As the New Year begins, I give thanks that you are sharing your reflections–and my only New Year’s resolution is to read “The Table” as faithfully as you write!
    Thank-you WOC!!

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