A Midlife Mama Rediscovers Catholicism

Last night, I spent the evening in what was at first a darkened church, was soon lit up by hundreds of candles, and then was fully lit as bells chimed, an organ played, and a choir sang out Hallelujah. The smell of incense filled the air and at one point holy water was sprinkled upon the congregation. It was the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil at the Catholic Church where my son goes to school. He and my mother were with me.

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I’m what you’d call a lapsed Catholic. That means although I was baptized in the Catholic Church and went so far as to make my communion, I don’t actively practice the faith. When my parents divorced when I was eight and the Church made my mother feel like a pariah because of it, we stopped having anything to do with it.

That didn’t stop me years later from having my first three sons baptized in the Church, mostly out of the superstitious belief that if they weren’t baptized they’d be doomed to hell. Ironically, my youngest son, the only one to attend a Catholic school, was never baptized. By the time he came along when I was 38, I no longer held such beliefs.

I put my son in Catholic school this year because the public schools in our town are horrible and getting worse by the minute. The school he attends is an award-winning, Blue Ribbon school. I’m beyond happy with the high quality education he’s receiving. He’s takes pride in his academics and in his school community.

My son has decided that he wants to get baptized and make his communion. As he prepares for these sacraments, it’s my job as his mother to support him in his journey in faith. Hence, the reason we were in church last night.

Part of me remains a skeptic. The same is true for my mother. Last night, when the priest was reading the story of Moses parting the Red Sea, and recited how the water covered the Egyptians and killed them, we glanced at each other with raised eyebrows.

Then my mother did the unthinkable. She leaned over and whispered to my son, “If God is so great why did He kill all those people?”

I couldn’t believe she said it. I shot her a murderous look, and mouthed to her, “Don’t say that to him.”

My son responded, “Because those people were bad.”

Oh my goodness. Talk about complicated.

Once I took a graduate course entitled, “The Bible as Literature”, in which we read the Old Testament from a literary perspective. It was the first time I’d ever really read and dissected The Bible. God seemed so angry and mean and vindictive to me, killing people, demanding animal sacrifices. Yet, during the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil, He was made out to be a hero.

Despite my skepticism, the Easter Vigil was a beautiful, peaceful experience. The youngest of the three priests overseeing it delivered the sermon, which included a funny story about the Easter Bunny being run over and revived with hair spray (get it, “Hare” spray?”). An overall feeling of goodwill permeated.

Thanks to my eight year old son, I am rediscovering the Catholic Church after a nearly 40 year hiatus. I’m not sure what the outcome will be for me, as a person who believes in a higher power yet remains skeptical about organized religion, but I am one-hundred percent committed to supporting my son on his journey.

Happy Easter!

Don Draper’s Midlife Spiritual Awakening

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The long-running AMC series Mad Men came to an end Sunday night with its leading character, Don Draper, having a spiritual awakening while in the midst of a midlife meltdown. It was an unexpected, though not altogether surprising, twist for the chronic adulterer, alcoholic, and creative genius who’d finally hit rock bottom.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, Don’s flaws, I’ve always liked him. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, and didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. I couldn’t help but admire his indifference, though at times it made me cringe.

Living for one’s own pleasure, however, comes at a cost. In this final episode, Don finally realizes the price that he and his loved ones have paid for his hedonism. With his second marriage over, his business and creative autonomy gone, and his first wife facing an early death, Don sets out on a desperate journey to California that will ultimately lead to salvation or complete demise.

When a friend, concerned for his well-being, insists that Don accompany her to a spiritual retreat center, at long last he finds what he’d been searching for through casual sex and at the bottom of liquor bottles. It is a deep connection with the universe, one that introduces him to the self-love and self- acceptance which has eluded him thus far. In the series’ final scene, viewers are presented with a peaceful Don sitting in half-lotus pose, chanting Om with a group of spiritual seekers on a cliff by the sea.

This scene, combined with the classic Coca Cola commercial that follows, gives one hope that Don has returned to New York and his job at the ad agency spiritually changed. It is a satisfying end to a series that presented human beings as they are – broken, selfish, complex, and flawed – and reminds us that it is never too late to make amends or to become the person we’ve always longed to be.

Farewell, Don Draper. You are and always will be the quintessential middle-aged madman.