Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Falling out of the family tree

You know you're tired when someone points out a sign with the Icelandic word for toilet, which happens to be snyrting, and you laugh until your sides hurt.

I can't remember when I'd been that tired. We'd just stepped off a plane in Reykjavik after a five-hour overnight flight during which I'd managed to get an hour or two of restless sleep. It was 6:30 am local time, and there was no chance we'd lie down in a bed until after lunch. We were so tired we laughed ourselves silly at the snyrting sign, and we laughed when we thought the Icelandic car rental guy told us we were getting a Hummer (we didn't), and we laughed our way across the city as we passed a series of incomprehensible Icelandic traffic signs, including one that appeared to show an adult dangling a baby in the air. (Question: "What do you suppose that means?" Answer: "It means that Michael Jackson's been here.")

We wouldn't have been laughing if we'd known just how frightening the roads outside Reykjavik would turn out to be, but we weren't up to that yet.

I've known my sister longer than almost anyone else--I remember the day they brought her home from the hospital--and yet in many ways I don't know her well. The first day of our six-day car trip around Iceland was all about realizing how different we are. My sister wore a pair of intensely stylish shoes to the airport; I wore waterproof country walking shoes with thick black nonslip soles. Her outfit was elegantly casual; I had on jeans because they were heavy and I didn't want to carry them in my suitcase. In the restaurant, she wanted fish, fruit, and vegetables, and I wanted anything else--which may account for why she is slim and I am not.

On the second day, our similarities became more apparent: The immediate need for coffee first thing each morning, a shared impatience with the detailed museum presentations that fascinate our husbands, and especially our reaction to driving the torture track that passes in Iceland for a national road system, which in places is unpaved, minimally marked, and narrow, and which includes many one-lane bridges, blind curves and rises, and one-lane bridges at the end of blind curves and rises. Yes, I thought when we both gasped as the car down an impossibly steep hill, we definitely are sisters from the same mother, the mother who passed along the profound insecurity that grips us when we are strapped into any vehicle that someone else is driving, especially when it is traveling a series of switchbacks that swing you out over sheer cliffs without guard rails.

Another thing we have in common is Catholicism. We're Roman Catholic because my parents are, as were their families before them. Of four siblings, all are at least nominally Catholic. My brother, who isn't particularly religious himself, says he and his daughters are Catholic because our family is and always has been, and that's enough for him. It's not enough for me.

Or is it? This is a question I'm particularly interested in exploring these days. How much is who you are determined by where you came from, in a familial as well as a personal sense? My head has pretty much decided I belong in the Episcopal church, but my heart seems unable to let go of being Roman Catholic. Why not? What holds me back? I ask myself again and again if it's courage or cowardice that keeps me on this side of the big leap. But thinking about religion doesn't produce answers to those questions, and I don't know how to read the map that shows the rest of the way. When is it right to follow your leadings because they point toward the very deepest truth about who you are, and when does clinging to comfortable old habits hold you back instead of carrying you closer to the truth of things.

All of this is quite odd to be thinking about in Iceland, where we've only across two Roman Catholic churches during hundreds of miles of driving. This has been an amazing trip, leading us to views of geysirs, glaciers, volcanoes, fjords, and landscapes that are unbelievable beautiful as well as others that are unbelievably desolate. Another thing we came across, this time by unhappy accident, was the realization that roads whose numbers are preceded by an F can be too rough to drive if you didn't get that Hummer from the car rental place. We didn't find out what the F stands for but we took a guess; if you get stuck having to drive one of these roads without an SUV, you are f'ed.) Later, when our husbands argued for a short cut on an F road, my sister and I both said no way. I have no doubt the family wisdom was leading us in the right direction on that one.


At 11:11 PM, Blogger AC said...

Good posts.. lots of thoughts to ponder..

At 5:08 PM, Blogger antonia said...

Oh no! I am so sorry to hear that you are thinking of abandoning God's true Church! Especially as you feel Him in your heart calling you from the Catholic Church.

What particular things are making you question your faith in the Catholic Church?

God Bless,


At 8:36 PM, Blogger Moneybags said...

Please let us know. I want you to remain in the Church of Jesus Christ and receive the true Sacraments.

I care about your soul.

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Widening Circles said...

Thanks for your expressions of concern. Can't answer the question about particulars in any brief way; you'll find the threads running all through this blog, I think.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Moneybags said...

One Foot,

I really appreciate your comment on my blog. Unfortunately, there are many bad priests. Many teach lies in the faith. Many just don't care about their parishners. I understand exactly what you mean.

That's another reason why I need to be a priest - to be a good one.

Perhaps you should try and find a different parish. I would never leave the Catholic Church because it is the one with the authentic Sacraments. It is the only one with the Eucharist. But, I understand completely the feeling of needing to change parishes. I've changed parishes in my life already once.


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