Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Pain of Being Neither Fish nor Fowl

So here's the deal: I'm a lifelong mainline Protestant-- in fact a lifelong Presbyterian, and a Presbyterian of the old, staunch, traditional variety.

At the same time, since my late teens-- in other words, for the past 35 years-- I have been powerfully drawn to Roman Catholic spirituality. Yes, the greater depth, the deeper texture, the greater richness of it. Compared to Catholicism, Reformed spirituality is, even at its best, austere and rather threadbare; at its worst, a weak and watery gruel.

It would be no exaggeration to say that inwardly, in terms of spiritual practice, I have long been more than half Catholic. Catholic symbolism, smells and bells and prayer cards and home altars and statues and stations of the cross... Meditation, fasting, prayer to Mary and the saints...

For these past 35 years I've been praying the rosary; only a few family members and close friends know, it's not the sort of thing I'd reveal to most people in the church. For the past several years I've been wearing the brown scapular, and absolutely nobody but myself knows about it. I sometimes fear that if I were one day to pass out in public, they'd unbutton my shirt, find my medic alert dogtag and my scapular, and call a Catholic priest...

I repeat, I am a lifelong mainline Protestant, but...

At the same time, for a complicated tangle of reasons, it's quite unlikely that I will ever convert. I disagree with some of the claims of the Roman Catholic church, including the degree of authority it claims for itself and its papacy; my view of the church remains firmly Protestant. Theologically I'd be willing to concede that the Catholics got certain things right which Protestantism overall has gotten wrong; but also I think many Protestants have gotten certain things very much right on which Catholicism continues to stumble.

Also it helps greatly that there's a Presbyterian congregation several miles down the road from me, which is solid, staunch, traditional, and a genuinely loving bunch of people. Without them this Protestant/Catholic tension within me-- a tension to which even most people who know me fairly well have not a clue-- would be almost unendurable. As it is, I manage. Sort of. More or less. Neither fish nor fowl, I continue to limp along. There are many ways to be torn, and this is one of them.

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