Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I went to Mass on Sunday night with the Cunninghams & Ginders. I haven't been to worship with my own family since Katie got sick, nearly three years ago, but I have been to Mass with the Cunninghams & Ginders. Gregg has never liked attending church (though baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran church, he describes himself now as agnostic). David is open to attending, but hasn't expressed any interest. I just can't bring myself to go back to our former church - the Presbyterian one - where I was baptized, David and Katie were baptized, and my mother was baptized.

That church was the scene of so many good memories, for me.

I started receiving spiritual direction there. I loved listening to the pastor. I loved the music; it often brought me to tears. I learned about the Lectionary, and joined a women's group that studied the Lectionary weekly. I helped with the younger youth group (LOGOS) when David and Katie were in it. I served as a Deacon.
I attended Women's Retreats, and some of the dearest friendships of my adult life began there. I took the training to become a Stephen Minister, and served as one for several years. I had just accepted a position as part of the Stephen Ministry leadership team, when Katie was diagnosed.

I loved sitting in that church, feeling welcome and beloved, with my husband and our children. We used to have to sit between them, because they tended to squabble in church when they got bored. Katie often would lay across my lap so that I would give her a backrub during the service. I loved sitting there quietly, worshiping and being thankful for my family - the family I loved, and had dreamed of having - which was really more than I had dreamed.

Then, as they say, "the sh*t hit the fan," and our lovely family life was broken wide open. We had to move away. On top of that, while we were away in Seattle, getting treatment for Katie's illness, the search for a new pastor was underway, and it led the church down a dark pathway. People were ostracized, polarized, and conflict became the order of the day. I don't know about it firsthand, because I never returned. This wonderful congregation supported us every day, and in so many ways, during Katie's illness (and after her passing), but I could not return to the sanctuary.

At first, I didn't return after Katie's passing, because I couldn't face the people who loved us (and who I loved) en masse, while my heart was so raw; I didn't want the attention. Later, when I found out what was going on with the interim pastor, I couldn't go there, because it felt unsafe. And now, I find I can't go there, because my memories of our family times there are so good that it hurts to consider walking the halls where my kids used to run, greet friends, and participate in their church community. It will never, ever be the same without Katie and without those who were "sent packing." It feels as if it will just create pain.

So now, I go to Mass when I am able, where I am not known by anyone but the people with whom I'm attending. I sit in a contemplative, softly-lit evening service, with my dear friends (who are also "shirttail" relatives, thanks to Andrea & Mike), and watch Michael rub his youngest daughter Megan's back (the way I used to rub Katie's) during the service. I see kids behaving and misbehaving. I hear a baby fussing. I hear a brief homily, so different from a Presbyterian sermon, prayers that I don't know yet, and I am at peace, like an immigrant woman in a new country. The faith is sincere. The ritual is old, tried and true. The music is sublime. The prayers are deep. The man on the crucifix is there for all of us; His love and His gifts are offered in sacred peace.

It is good, for me, to worship in community, in family. I have missed it. I wish I were able to worship with my family, as we used to do, but we are not as we used to be. So I am thankful that I am welcome to worship with my extended family. It is the same God we love.

When I took care of our neighbor's cat this weekend, she gave me the gift of a Rosary, with instructions as to how to pray the (rather complicated) prayer that goes with it. It's still a bit confusing to me, but when I attempted to pray it this morning, I felt that same kind of peace that I felt at Mass. It was lovely. Thank you, Cami!

With my background, you could call me a kind of religious mutt. Jewish, Seventh-Day Adventist, Christian Science, Bible Study Fellowship, Presbyterian, Buddhist, contemplative, mystical, and now Catholic...it's all in there!

I love God. I love how He reveals Himself in so many ways and times, to people everywhere. He must love us beyond our knowing, to take so many forms so as to draw us to Him. A real Lover, who is endlessly wooing us, His Beloved.


Karen and Joe said...

That was just beautiful, Karen. You have such a lovely way of expressing your feelings and I am so often helped by your words. It takes courage to try again after all those precious memories of church when your world was all that it should be. To lose church and daughter at the same time--how difficult. I am so glad you have a welcoming church for your persevering faith, and a little community to worship with once again. I hope it will continuously comfort and soothe and calm your soul.

Gannet Girl said...

Who knew we had so MUCH in common?

Gannet Girl said...

PS: Linked now in Desert Year.

Daisy said...

So beautifully said, Karen.

The contemplative has been a better fit for me as well for the last few years.


Renee said...

There are many paths to the same God.

How is the rosary complicated, what prayer. I love the rosary. Isn't it the Apostles Creed, the Our Father, and the Hail Marys?

And dear friend my father is French, so you have a very good eye. His first language was French.

Love Renee xoxo

karen gerstenberger said...

Dear Renee: some of the prayers are new to me (Hail Mary, Apostles Creed, the prayer at the end and after each decade), and the order, and how many times to pray each one. I wonder why the repetition 10 times, 3 times, etc.? So that we can memorize them? Even in my confusion, it's very comforting.

Anonymous said...

Part of the function of the rosary is its soothing repetition - repeating the same phrases over and over again is supposed to bring a sense of peace. While the Vatican hasn't discovered the value of summaries, this is a good, though lengthy intro to the Mysteries that could be used as a contemplative guide: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20021016_rosarium-virginis-mariae_en.html

I believe the origin of the ten hail marys came from a medieval monastic rule (which one I can't remember!) - so it is dictated by convention rather than any specific meaning.

I like to pray what's called the chaplet of the Infant of Prague: it has three beads upon which you pray an Our Father for each member of the Holy Family and then twelve Hail Mary beads representing each year of the infancy of Christ. This is just one of countless rosary variations.

I hope you find some peace in your Church, I'm sure Katie's passing was a real test of faith.


AnnDeO said...

We have had a similar journey. Leaving a very structured religious system. It has been difficult, but a decision we have not taken lightly. It seems easier for my boys -- I'm a church girl at heart, but I have enjoyed the "spiritual" gifts that I have gained by being a pathfinder of my own.