Lena Corazon

Flights of Fancy

Midweek Poetry: “The Old Ways”

There is something about Ash Wednesday that always makes me nostalgic for my childhood. This shouldn’t come as a surprise–I was raised Catholic, and went to Catholic school almost all my life, from 3rd grade through college. These day my religious beliefs are best classified as “complicated.” Still, I’ve come to accept that it’s next to impossible to undo all of the beliefs and traditions instilled in me as a child, even if they don’t quite match up with the ways that I have evolved as an adult.

This poem came, rather unbidden, a few months ago. As Lent begins, and as the world grapples with Pope Benedict XVI’s historic resignation, it feels appropriate to share it with all of you today.

English: Ash Wednesday, watercolor, 78 x 113 c...

“Ash Wednesday” by Julian Fałat (Photo source: Wikipedia Commons)

“The Old Ways”

the ancients ordered their lives around nature
     patterns of stars, paths of planets
     movements of the moon, transitions of tides.
i order my life around the academic calendar
     and so i measure the rise and fall of time by midterms and finals,
     the too-short spring break,
     the never-long-enough summer vacation.

but there was a time when the year began
     with the lighting of the easter candle, and the swirl of incense.
     when the washing of feet
          the carrying of a cross
          meditations on death, sacrifice, loss
     preceded rebirth and transformation,
          ushered in the start of a new cycle that would be better than the last.

there was a time when the advent calendar
     with its hidden chocolate treats
     and a candlelit wreath—
          three purple candles, one rose—
     stoked my anticipation for christmas
     when we marked the birth of the babe in the manger
     with midnight mass and voices raised in song.

and there was a time when we set aside forty days
     to walk in the desert.
     oh, we giggled as kids
          gave up silly things like candy and soda and television
     but we wore our ashes with sober pride
          spoke our confessions with sincerity.

that was when school days were ordered around prayer
     when we thought the rest of the world worshipped as we did.
but i left all that behind
     turned my back in favor of practices more humane
          less corrupt
     practices that allow for love in all forms,
     preserve women’s control over their own bodies,
     protect the most innocent within the flock.

and yet…
     and yet.

i miss the old mysteries, the old stories.
i long for a whiff of that sacred incense
the glow of the ever-present flame
and i wonder if change is even possible
     if “reform from within” is more than a fairy tale
     if i have a responsibility, a duty, to try.

because mother church, no matter how i struggle against her,
     is my home
and when i try to let go, her saints, her teachings, all her beauty
     haunt me still.
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  1. That’s lovely, Lena. I think each of us feels a little like that in some way or another about something from our upbringing. Bittersweet memories are quite often the deepest felt.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt
    Patricia recently posted..Nesting Rituals of the Modern American WomanMy Profile

  2. It’s not a strange feeling here either (granted, my parents, despite their more standard upbringings, brought me up more along the lines of “spiritual, not religious” or Pagan). I could be wrong, but I believe that we need to have these bases to function from.

    Another pagan friend of mine posted a blog on altars… one of the ideas was about ideas, how you don’t need to have ritual to a god or follow a religion to use the rituals to work your spiritual practices. There was even a large section on how it was good to set up a sacred space to an ideal, and create a ritual space there.

    So what are the ideals of Catholicism that would would like to perpetuate? Not saying you are going back to the church (not saying you are not either), but what ideals would you like to carry forth into the world? How do these feel most enhanced (prayer, calming meditative ritual such a candle lighting, confession, etc.)? Figure out these things… do them.

    No one thing is all things for all people. That is why organized religion isn’t as organized as it would like to be. But very few (if any) have nothing to give to the world.
    Eden Mabee recently posted..Interrupting the ROW and Re-immersionMy Profile

    • Eden, thank you for this. The question you pose–about the ideals of Catholicism I’d most like to perpetuate–is something that’s been heavy on my mind. I know what I *don’t* like, but I also can see how the underlying bases of my childhood traditions continue to be important, even if the “window-dressing” that was placed on them no longer resonates.

      I keep coming back to community, and people, and enduring bonds. I grew up in my church; the elders I had around me watched me enter adulthood, and it’s their love and affection that I miss. A lot has changed about my old parish, and I don’t really know if it’s possible to go back… But I’m trying to claim what I can, and discard what no longer fits. It’s a work in process and it’s hard, but I think the best things in life often are. 🙂

  3. I share your memories, nostalgia, and hope, Lena. Once in a while, I even miss the incense. Thanks for this poem.
    Pat O’Dea Rosen recently posted..What Sundress-Shopping Taught Me about Book ReviewsMy Profile

  4. I love this poem, Lena. Passed it on to my Catholic husband, who stays with the church because, as you say, it is ‘home.’ I myself am Episcopalian. Catholic Light–same rituals, half the guilt (I know, it´s an old joke 🙂
    Kassandra Lamb recently posted..What Love Language Do You Speak?My Profile

    • Kassandra, thank you! And I’ve often thought about jumping the fence and wandering over to the Episcopalians. One of my grandmothers was a Protestant minister for many years, and I considered following in her footsteps for a time. Who knows, maybe I will later on down the road! 😀

  5. Wonderful poem!

    I’ve strayed from my Catholic schooling, but on Fat Tuesday I was craving doughnuts without realizing what day it was. Some things are internalized whether I like it or not.
    H.L. Pauff recently posted..Concrete Love IIMy Profile

    • Isn’t it funny how deep-rooted childhood rituals can become? Every Easter I yearn for candlelight and the hymns we used to sing, so much so that I set up a Spotify playlist just for liturgical music. 😛

      Thanks for reading and commenting, H.L.!

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