I have categorized myself as “recovering Catholic” for almost two decades now and haven’t spent too much time contemplating this self-identification. Mostly because I haven’t found the need to do so and nothing or no one has challenged my view.
But yesterday as I made my way to the Santa Fe plaza for a walk I realized my body was on autopilot heading straight towards St. Francis Cathedral. I had not felt the urge or desire to go to a church in several years and as I entered I couldn’t help but feel overcome with mild emotion. I chose a secluded spot towards the back and sat there for a moment and was tripping out at this strong inner desire to kneel. Maybe I’m not as “recovered” as I’d like to think? Maybe my Chicana soul has actually missed church over these years? Wow did I just say that? Have you heard that idea that the older you get the more one seeks out religion? And here I thought that it wouldn’t ever apply to me.
I mean let me explain. I, like many other first generation Chicanillas, grew up in different times from the super faithful abuelitos back in Mexico and was only forced to attend the obligatory Palm Sunday, Easter, Christmas, and Virgen de Guadalupe mass. Other than that, we just didn’t go to church. But that in no way meant that my Mexicana mom was not spiritually faithful. At the time she had been going through her own struggles with what the Catholic church had told her – that she was a pecadora for not having married my dad in church and was banned from receiving communion.
When I was in my 20s I fell in love with going to mass but not because I had suddenly become a devout Catholic. During one of my walks around the Inner Sunset I so happened to pass by St. Anne’s during a mass and heard the faint sounds of music. Having grown up as a band nerd I couldn’t help but to peer inside and was lured in by the beautiful voices. I began attending Sunday mass just to hear the choir. I never verified it but I think the lead voice had been a professional opera singer. I would get goose bumps just listening to their sounds.
But of course all of this came to an abrupt end after I learned more of the dreadful history of the conquest and colonization through my Latin American history class from this amazing Latino professor who looking back I’m sure was a self-professed atheist. How could I attend a place that had at some point condoned the killing of innocent people erroneously considered savages? How could I be part of something that whether intentionally or not, oppressed others? I couldn’t reconcile with the historic fact that the true savages were really the ones who had worn the sign of the cross.
So I don’t know what’s going on with me. Maybe it’s because I’m at a crossroads in life, maybe because I’m getting older, maybe because I just missed connecting with some essence housed in what are considered sacred spaces. Maybe because no matter how much I have distanced myself from any organized religion, deep down there still reside those old Catholic traditions. Almost every Lenten season I still find myself making tortitas de camarón con nopales and capirotada. It’s not because I’m Católica but because it’s a way of honoring mis abuelitos que en paz descansen. It’s just so intertwined with our Mexicano-ness.
So as I sat there in my rinconcito I kept wanting to cry, mostly because the familiar sights brought back so many fond memories of mis abuelitos, especially because the last time I saw them was in church, laying peacefully in their caskets ready to become one with the Earth again.
Maybe I’m not so “recovered” after all. Maybe recovered isn’t the right word anymore. Maybe the better word is consciente. No se. But what I do know for sure is somehow I didn’t feel so alone sitting there as I contemplated all the problems in my life. I also realized that when I left (bolted out the doors before the 5:30 pm mass started to the strong disapproval of the señora passing out the programs), I felt better, even if slightly, than when I had first arrived.
#lablogadora #recoveringcatholic #chicana #consciente
Artwork: “Chicana Birth” by Irene Jor, ’13