Sunday Morning

I don’t believe in religion, but the aesthetics of Catholicism have stuck with me. I love the way church incense coats my hair and skin. It is a safe smell, like a blanket, waiting for me to curl up in it. I love stained-glass windows and religious portraits, the colours of Mary’s clothes and the bright red drops of blood on Jesus’s face. I like the Stations of the Cross. I like pausing to run my finger along an emaciated rib and wrinkle my nose at the thought of the vinegar being offered on a sponge. I like prayer cards and medallions and rosary beads. I like advent candles and Bibles edged in gold and the way the skirt over the tabernacle matches the colour of the priest’s robes. There is so much attention to detail.

I envy the faithful. There are shrines dotted around the hillsides here in Ireland, places where saints have supposedly appeared and healed the sick. There are wells of holy water and statues in the rocks, huts filled with prayer cards and gardens filled with painted stones in memory of loved ones who have passed away. I like to visit them occasionally. I sit in the stillness and observe people crying and praying and I close my eyes and try to let some of their hope get carried on the air and through my pores. I would like to believe that everything is accounted for, that there is life after this one, and that all of our decisions hold some kind of significance or moral worth. There is weight in religion. It is an anchor of sorts.

I cannot believe in the vengeful patriarch of the Catholic Church but sometimes, in the daytime, when there’s no one around, I go into the church and light a candle. I like sitting in the quiet and sensing my own insubstantiality against such old and serious things. I am learning that there is a good kind of smallness; a smallness in the face of the universe rather than a smallness in my own body. I like the ritual of prayer and reverence, even though I can’t identify with it. I like the feeling that other people believe in something.

~ Jessica Andrews, Saltwater: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 14, 2020)

Photo Credit


  1. I can identify with this. I have always been fascinated by the rituals, having once sat through the beautiful singing of all the saints’ names, all in latin. it was an experience I’ll never forget, and kept thinking it would somehow rub off on me, or I’d be taken into the glory of it all by process of osmosis. never happened, but I can appreciate it for what it is, even though I’m not a part of it.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Yes, there are part of the ritual I enjoy… I can’t be a part of it, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yesterday’s news of Rep. John Lewis’s death while unmarked U.S. federal agents were sweeping people off the street in Portland took me again to the edge of the void where the essential questions cry for answers. Then, this morning, Jessica Andrews reached out and left me wondering whether we’re distant relatives from the same gene pool as the Andrews of Andrews Hollow of Woodstock, Maine.

    There is an old philosophical debate about ethics and aesthetics. This is primary? “I like sitting in the quiet and sensing my own insubstantiality against such old and serious things.” Time has a way. Walking among the tombstones of Andrews Hollow, I like “the feeling that other people believe in something” and realize again that I do too, even if it’s only how insubstantial we are in a universe filled with beauty and terror.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. As a lifelong and still faithful Catholic, I loved the piece, but have never heard the term “vengeful patriarch” used before. So I wonder what she is referring to.? The Pope? God?

    What is it that draws people to the aesthetics of the church, but not to it’s basic core…Jesus and his life, death and resurrection? To the point, why “the smells and bells” are an enjoyable experience, but the words “Jesus I trust in You” can’t form on our lips, or even in the quiet of our souls?

    I refer you to Pascal’s Wager 😊. (Look it up. If anyone knows it without looking it up, you get double, extra credit today )

    The piece by Andrews also reminds me (for my benefit) of a verse from the Bible. Mark 9:24… “Lord, I believe ; help my unbelief!”

    This was not meant to be a lecture, but I found myself lecturing myself as I progressed. Faith can be fleeting at times, but it is always there if we want it . Thank you for the reminder, David.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Some of this resonates with me. Some of it doesn’t. I love the rituals too…and I’m still a practicing Catholic. My image of God is not a vengeful patriarch but something much larger than that. Something undefinable. Now I must say that I might not be a practicing Catholic if I didn’t have a church community like the one I’ve been a part of for more than 30 years. Old St. Pat’s in Chicago. I invite you to check out the livestream of today’s liturgy at 10am. If nothing else, the music will probably feed your soul.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the peace and comfort of being in Church; haven’t been allowed to since March. Our Governor doesn’t allow it but hey, we can go to Wal-Mart to commune with the masses!

    A positive delight has been the deepening of my Faith on my daily walks in nature ~ a gentle reminder that He is with me regardless if I’m in a pew or in the forest. ~ MJ

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    I was born and raised in the Catholic faith. I was once a practicing member of the Church. Not anymore … “I like the feeling that other people believe in something.” ~ Jessica Andrews, Saltwater: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 14, 2020).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I like her reflection … and the stillness of an empty church.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I, too, love the feeding of the senses and the spirit inside a Catholic church. I was also fortunate to work for ten years at a Benedictine monastery. This was a good place for me. The quiet, the beauty and the earthy humor of the monks is something I will always be grateful for.

    I was briefly Catholic, twice! As a child I often went to Mass with my best friend, who was forced to go. It was there, St. Francis de Sales church in Patchogue, NY, that I first fell in love with the mysterious. Although I went to the Methodist Church with my family, it never gave me the feeling of mystery and sensual delight of that little Catholic church.

    Years later, I was struck again by this urge to go to the Catholic church, this time while living in Oregon. So, I joined. I should know myself better, because I am just not a joiner. Anyway, I do believe that becoming Catholic, however briefly, led me to take the job at the monastery. No regrets!

    Lastly, if you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend the movie, The Two Popes on Netflix. Lovely portrayal of two very different men finding unexpected friendship through dialog, honesty and vulnerability.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I thought about this all day! Conclusion, I feel the same way about all/any house of worship. I love being there. What ever happens to be on my way, or near by. But only when nobody is there. No humans. All other creatures allowed.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: