Monday, July 13, 2009

The Wedding Reception

The wedding is much like one I had once imagined. Simple, elegant, a small crowd in a Catholic church. A quiet, self-possessed groom; family and friends here from Germany. A lovely and delicate bride; family and friends here from Korea.

The groom's grandmother approaches me at the reception. "I don't believe a word of it," she announces. "Ridiculous."

"Weddings?" I ask her. "You've given up on marriage?"

"No, no ~ weddings are fine. The religious stuff. It's absurd."

"Oh. I thought you were Catholic, too."

"Not me. None of that stuff for me. I can't believe that otherwise intelligent people buy into it." She squints up at me. "But I suppose you believe it, don't you?"

"Yes," I say.

"Does it help you; does it give you any comfort?"

"No," I say.

The real answer is actually much more complex. But this is a wedding reception.

"I don't know how you stand it," she says. "I suppose you have to."

I look at her and wonder if I am supposed to have some kind of answer. Some kind of satisfactory explanation of the universe. She has two daughters, six grandchildren, two great-grandchildren. All well and happy. For the last two weeks, I have been watching her twin great-grandchildren, little towheads here from Germany for the month, playing in the back yard next door, where the groom and his sisters, one of them now the mother of the towheads, grew up. They look exactly like the little people who used to play in my yard. I don't think that I have any explanation of the universe, satisfactory or otherwise.

"I don't like the mushrooms and I don't like beef, so there's really nothing for me until dinner is served," she says. "I guess I'll get another drink."


Karen and Joe said...

I was surprised when our son passed that there was so little comfort from my faith. Shocked, actually, after years of church and ministry. It's something that I don't like to tell others. It's been hard to talk to God but I try to keep listening. A year later I can see the comfort of heaven, but it's still a long way off in the future. Sometimes I see that God put padding around me to walk through this. Perhaps I will see more in time. Maybe you too.

M. Z. Ahern said...

I feel somewhat timid in responding to this post. Comfort is subjective. I think we all have expectations that our faith should somehow provide a very palpable easing of our pain when we suffer loss, that we will in some way feel God puffing the pillows up around us and have a sense of being carried through it all, that He will make us upbeat ...kind of like the way it was for the people in all those Guideposts stories.

But I think what our faith teaches is that comfort lies in the knowledge that there is meaning and purpose behind everything in life, and that one day, not in this life but rather the next, we will have that understanding that so eludes us now. All of the "why?" questions we agonize over will be answered. And we will see that everything God does truly is good, even when we don't understand.

I know that this is often perceived as cold comfort when we have day after endless grieving day to survive through. But our faith is about keeping one eye on the ultimate reality of eternity while appreciating and living to the fullest our fleeting life in this world. It's about reminding ourselves of truth when we are numb and don't feel like it. Not in any way denying our feelings, which are also very real, but understanding their place. They are a part of a bigger reality, one that we see only dimly now.

karengberger said...

I'm so thankful that you can HEAR her, & especially hear yourself, in the midst of what she is saying to you. Taking the time to wonder if you are expected to have an answer, instead of popping off with a reply, is wisdom and grace. Listening to the thoughts behind her questions is of value, too...

Religion is not the same as relationship with God. In my opinion, religion provides a structure for carrying on ideas and truths that are gifts from God, and helpful to humanity. Relationship with God is personal and mysterious, like a marriage. I don't think there is great comfort in religion when I am in deep grief, but there is comfort in knowing that, however personal my pain is, it is also universal, and that God "gets it." It is part of OUR STORY as humans; that is why Mary and Jesus make sense, to me. Carrying religious history and traditions forward helps us to see that our pain has happened forever, and will happen as long as humans exist; the patterns that we can see in religious stories point to some order & meaning in our lives.

There is much more I would like to say to you about this. I'll try to write a posting about it, because it's too big for this space, but thank you for sharing this.

Magdalene6127 said...

Um... wow.

Your responses were graceful and honest, and I'm not sure one should feel compelled to unravel all the complexities in such a situation.

But... she... wow. No internal editor, I suppose?

Presbyterian Gal said...

"I guess I'll get another drink."

And therein lies her comfort. (perhaps Southern)

At any rate, I find comfort over-rated, though at times necessary. Peace is more sustaining. But harder to find.

Kathryn J said...

from Karen Berger: "Religion is not the same as relationship with God. In my opinion, religion provides a structure for carrying on ideas and truths that are gifts from God, and helpful to humanity. Relationship with God is personal and mysterious, like a marriage."

There is so much wisdom in what you say here. Things done in the name of God are really just done in the name of religion and such structures are artificial and often divisive.

There was an interesting Diane Rehm program this morning. I only caught the end of it but the essence of what I heard was that God was personal and as difficult to characterize as an electron - as a chemist that resonated with me because there truly is no valid description of an electron. I need to go back and download the whole program.

As for the woman at the reception... She's an interesting character and that was an unbelievable conversation. I would also have been speechless for different reasons.

Jodie said...

"All of the "why?" questions we agonize over will be answered."

you know...

I think true faith is when we get used to the idea that maybe our questions will never be answered.

Not in this life, not in the next, not ever.