School carnival time.
There are times I’ve been more enthusiastic about this kind of thing, I’ll admit. But at that moment, four months from moving, it was just a fact that my mind was more on concerns about the new schools my children would be attending next year rather than what was being left behind.
But duty is duty, and when the second grade demands a mere two hours of your time in the golf booth, how can you say no?
You can’t of course. And I mean that literally – you just can’t, even if you try.
So there I was, watching my daughter flit in and out of my vision, climbing on rides, hopping off, dashing into my booth to deposit the latest prize and, when she thought about it, doing her best to imitate the teenage girls walking up and down, down and up the worn-out carnival grounds.
My partner and I had few customers in those last hours of the weekend, so there was little else to do but talk, starting with the usual – who we were and what we did for a living.
When I told her I was a writer and admitted what I wrote, she moved closer and pushed her sunglasses up her nose.
“You need to write a book - “ she said , “about the differences between all the religions.”
Well, I wanted to say, it’s been done, and many times, but I didn’t, wondering instead why she was in the market for such a book.
She wasn’t Catholic, but was married to one. Her husband, it seems, is barely practicing, but, on the strength of his family, insisted that their children be baptized and raised Catholic anyway.
This woman had left her childhood fundamentalist background behind some time before and wasn’t terribly attached to any other religion as yet, so she’d agreed.
So there she was, her kids in Catholic schools, preparing for the sacraments, going to Mass, but still not completely sold on the Church.
She’d been trying out other churches, too, and had found a small Presbyterian church she felt comfortable in. Every other week, she went there with her kids.
She'd been to our pastor with her questions and all he'd said to her was that it was sometimes hard to find a church in which to be comfortable and gosh, lots of families did exactly what she was doing - splitting their Sundays. Nothing wrong with that. But Marcia new better, and now she was asking me – what’s the difference? Why should I do this Catholic thing at all?
So, squinting into the sun, a band valiantly struggling through “Sweet Home Alabama” in my ear, I offered my one-minute explanation:
This is the church with the closest connection to Jesus, both historically and practically. We didn’t break off from anyone else to get here – we’ve always been here. And practically speaking, the sacramental life of the church gives us the opportunity for a very concrete, sure connection with Jesus.
I said I’d try to find some books that might help and send them through her son or bring them to her work, thinking, of course, that I needed to find something simple and basic.
She works, as it turns, out, in a gourmet coffee shop, as a baker. She goes in a couple of days a week and turns out the cakes, muffins and Danish that tempt from under the glass. And as she bakes, she told me, she thinks.
“I just can’t turn my mind off sometimes,” she said. “I just have so many questions. I’ve even started keeping a notebook of ideas and questions that pop into my head right on a shelf above the counter.”
Not long after, the blessed word came – start taking down the booth. It was time to scoop up the end-of-carnival deals on baked goods and plants and head back home.
She reminded me again about the book and remarked offhand as she walked away. “I’m working on The History of God right now, but I’m always looking for something new that might help me.”
Oh. The History of God. Maybe not so simple. So much for my assumptions, presumptions and arrogance. And I was left to wonder – how many more of her are there?
How many more grappling with quite serious God notions in serious ways as they mix cake batter, ring up groceries, paint houses or patiently wait for Little League practice to be over?
How many are sitting quietly in the pews of Catholic churches, observing us, watching us worship, listening to our homilies, trying to figure out exactly what this Church is all about and why they should bother?
And what, exactly, are they hearing for an answer?
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