31 October 2010

Candles in a stranger's house.

I've long since reached the point where I haven't been a Roman Catholic for most of life. I left the church in my mid-teens, and have enjoyed the embrace of the ancient and elder Gods, in one form or another, ever since.

And yet, sometime over the last few years, my personal Samhain work has included at least two visits to Christian churches in the month.

And I've come to enjoy it.

In an odd way, it seems fitting to me that both of my parents died during the month of October. My father first, on the 29th, and later, my mother on the 15th. After most of their lives apart over irreconcilable issues that I'd never completely understand (and to my father's constant unhappiness), they both died within two weeks of the same season, albeit five years apart.

I go to honour them, in the sound heathen spirit of honouring one's ancestors, and in the houses they would have felt most appropriate for them. I don't feel at home there, but in desiring to light candles for them in their sacred places, it warms me.

I don't worship, but I do get to talk to the god who resides there. I tell him how pissed off I am that my mother suffered as much, and for as long, as she did. I tell him how my father deserved better. Then I reflect on the pervasive imagery that deifies death and celebrates suffering, makes an art of it, makes a faith of the capitulation to it, and I begin to understand.

Catholic funerary tradition prohibits eulogies, as they serve to recall and praise the deceased rather than the divine. But as I light their candles at one of the usually several shrines, I make certain to pronounce their full names aloud, and then sit to discuss their virtues with the icon of Mary, or Jesus, or whomever stands in artistic form as the messenger for the words.

Yet, returning to those houses also fills me with a pleasure. It's become my habit, on the anniversaries of their deaths, to find the nearest church I can wherever I might be so that I can be present at the very hour they each died. I go out of my way, twice a year, to do this, and the seeking has sometimes resulted in finding me in the most interesting places. A Catholic church is preferable, but in the last few years I've found myself in United, Anglican, and Greek Orthodox churches just because my self-imposed scheduling made it necessary. My more ecumenical and anthropological selves have enjoyed seeing the differences in worship style, in sacred space construction, among even these factions within Christendom. As a devoted heathen with a love of history, they intrigue me.

As the Fates would have it, this year both got Catholic places. My mother's spirit was celebrated this year in Toronto's St. Paschal Baylon Church, a modern church (only fifty years old) that was undergoing extensive renovation when I was there. My father made out a little better with his candle lit at St. Michael's Cathedral, erected even before there was a Canada, in 1848, and the closest Toronto has to St. Patrick's Cathedral back home in New York. I call my Christian godfather, my uncle Robert in Florida, and he's totally amused when I share how I actually went into a church. We laugh.

I can't be home to attend to their graves. Mom still needs her stone, and Dad needs much more. There are obstacles on my path to giving them what they deserve, but I hope to accomplish them.

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