Author Archives: Reenie

The Journey

Last week I took a break from my stumble through of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, (You have to, it’s a really hard book and my English major brain was getting tired, you know like you do after you go back to the gym after not going for a while. It was all, “The hardest thing we’ve read in the past year was Edith Wharton and now you’ve thrown this at me?”) and I read a brilliant book called The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs.

Jacobs is a writer for Esquire magazine and described himself as an agnostic secular Jew. He decided to spend a year living the Bible as literally as possible. The results are amazing. Jacobs creates a list of rules for himself that come from the Torah, he consults (though often defies) The Talmud (the ancient Jewish teachings put together by rabbis interpreting the laws of the Torah), puts together “a spiritual advisory board” of rabbis, priests, ministers, and scholars to help him get by and of course grows a crazy beard.

Jacobs is irreverent but earnest  in his quest to find some sort of spirituality  which I adore. He focuses mainly on the Old Testament, (and finds deep connections to his  cultural faith) but spends a good amount of time in the New.

I’ve never really read the Bible, to paraphrase comedian Jim Gaffigan, “I’m Catholic, one of the best things about my religion is that people read that stuff to us.” It’s something I’ve always meant to do and always get caught up singing Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat songs when I get halfway through Genesis. (It was Red and orange and pink and blue…) But I think that next year I’m going to put a real effort in to actually read the bible.

But first I have to finish Les Mis. 

 

A Single Girl’s Prayer

From the looks of things lately my career is starting to get back on track, after six months of floundering. This is nice for me.

But what becomes difficult for me is that when everything else in my life is going well, it leaves me time to contemplate my loneliness.

Don’t get me wrong, I have amazing friends, and a loving and supportive family. But I am single, and there are times when I get very deeply lonely, I miss the love and support of a real relationship, something I have never known.

So I composed this prayer. Like most of my prayers it’s a little bit irreverent.

Dear Lord, please grant me the patience to wait for my husband
I know I am impatient to meet him.
I know that this must happen in your time not mine
But maybe send him in enough time that we can have our time
Before it’s baby time

Grant me the strength to sit at a bar by myself
And not accept drinks from sketchy dudes because I am lonely
Usually such dudes do not even want to get dinner
And I am better than that
However, also grant me the clarity to tell the difference
Between the sketchy dudes, and the ones who are just shy
Or maybe just had too many shots that night

Also please keep me away from shots.
Generally, that prevents a lot unwanted behavior

Please give me compassion on first dates
First dates are awkward for everyone
So it’s OK if it isn’t perfect
Also, grant me grace to hold my tongue
And maybe not talk about Batman the whole night

Give me the confidence to order real food
For you gave us the gift of carbohydrates, oil and fire
Thus french fries are a glorious gift from you, and should be treated as such
You also created lettuce, but I’m pretty sure it was Satan that decided people should consider chicken Caesar salad a meal

Please place me in the path of a good, kind man
The kind of man who isn’t afraid to admit he watched The OC, and is nice to his mother and sisters
The kind of man who is either taller than I, or doesn’t care if I’m taller than he in my super high heels
The kind of man who loves that I watch football on Sunday, but doesn’t expect me to know the name of every guy on the field
Let him drink beer, but know what kind of wine he likes and not use “gay” as a term for “stupid”
Let him love or at least be open to the music of Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Buffet, and humor me when it comes to Madonna and Lady Gaga

Please Lord, let him love me
Let him love my sour moods and my laughter
Let him love you, and my love for you.
And finally Lord, grant me the clarity to know when it’s him.
Don’t let me walk away.

Amen

A New Kind of Anger

I’ve spent the past week being very, very angry. Angry in a way that I’ve only been a few times before in my life. I’m feeling deeply hurt and betrayed and I don’t know where else to go with it but here, so I want to apologize to all of you for this rant.

Apparently, I’m not supposed to be receiving communion any more, and I’m meant to be excommunicated.

I didn’t receive this week, because I was so angry I couldn’t even bring myself to go to Mass.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s what it is, a document written by The Holy Father was released this past week, which basically stated that supporting marriage equality was a grave sin and that such support meant a member of the congregation shouldn’t be receiving communion.

This makes me sick.

I do support marriage equality. I support it deeply and wholeheartedly. I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with the fact that so large a part of the population in this country are denied basic civil rights. I don’t believe that gay couples should be able to receive the sacrament of matrimony (and to be frank, don’t know any gay couples that are interested in receiving it) but under the eyes of the law, they should be equal.

It’s wrong that it’s denied to people. It’s wrong that when my director and choreographer from my high school musicals, two women who have been together for nearly fifteen years, adopted their children they had to create iron clad legal agreements, in case, God forbid something happened to one of them (the one who is legally the mother of their little girl and boy) no one could try to take them away from the other. It’s wrong that my uncles, who celebrated their twenty second anniversary this past year, and who own two homes and a business together, have to pay double the taxes that a hetero sexual couple in their situation have to pay.

This is wrong. I don’t care. I’m done being quiet about it. I’m done biting my tongue around my devout Catholic friends and my hyper conservative friends. It’s a betrayal to my friends and family who are homosexual. It’s a betrayal to my uncles, who took me in to their home this past year, purely out of love, to my friend who is transgender and has been one of the deepest supporters of my writing over the past six months, and to countless other people in my life and not in my life.

I’m also done wrestling with my conscience on this issue. I am a Catholic, and I love The Church. I will continue to go to Mass, and I will continue to receive. I will not judge, I cannot judge. Love is love and that’s the end of it for me.

“A Person’s A Person, No Matter How Small”

I’m currently in the ensemble of a community theatre production of Seussical. Seussical is (predicably) based on the collective works of Theodore Giesel or Dr. Seuss. Primarily, the plot weaves together the twin tales of Horton The Elephant (Horton Hears a Who and Horton Sits on An Egg) with The One Feathered Tail of Gertrude McFuzz and The Better Butter Battle. 

Whenever I think about Horton Hears  A Who, I start thinking about God’s love for the individual. (I think about God’s love for the individual a lot of the time.)

The line “a person’s a person no matter how small,” is a nugget sized philosophy for the idea of the soul. Your soul is the essence of yourself, so therefore, it is what God loves. God loves the soul, and recognizes the soul of the human being.

A person’s a person no matter how small.

It’s a such a simple thing and yet so hard to forget. I’ve decided to start using it for meditation. I pray through meditation almost daily My meditation is kind of off beat. I use random phrases, like mantras in yoga devotion, music that speaks to me spiritually (Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands” usually makes an appearance, “Christmas Lullabye” from Songs For A New World also) and the Rosary.

So, for the next week when I sit down and breath in and out and focus on God and quiet my mind, and one of the things I will focus on will be “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Taking Wing

God gave me my voice.

I think about that every time I open my mouth to sing.

I’m a good singer, I could have been great, but I was not a very disciplined teenage. To be great at anything you have to be disciplined, but to be great at music you have to be practically single minded.

But I loved to sing. I was uncomfortable in my own skin as a teenager, and singing was an escape from that. I could get lost in a song, be someone else for three or four minutes.

I wasn’t Reenie, the chubby teenager from New Jersey when I sang. I was Anna Leanowens, teaching the princes and princesses of Siam, I was Diana Morales fighting for her spot in a Broadway chorus, I was Fantine calling Valjean to heaven with her.

God gave me my voice.

As I got better, I stretched more. I sang “art songs.” There were no characters for these. So I imagined the girls who sang these songs. “Come Again, Sweet Love Doth Now Invite,” was sung by a girl at her pianoforte, in a parlor in the English countryside somewhere. “Caro Mio Ben,” by a maidservant in a renaissance villa while she went about her chores. “Ave Maria,” well, “Ave Maria” was different.

I didn’t hide in “Ave Maria,” there is no where to hide. There’s nowhere to hide in the notes, which move so slowly and deliberately that anyone can catch a mistake. And there’s nowhere to hide in the song. It’s a prayer. It’s the Hail Mary.

Even when I was young and insecure, I was devoted to the Blessed Mother. I cried over the “Ave Maria,” cried with frustration, with disappointment. I knew I couldn’t hide, I couldn’t find another girl to sing this one. That would be a lie, and she would know.

God gave me my voice.

Mary taught me how to use it.

The first time I ever sang “Ave Maria”, in front of people, was at the Mass that celebrated my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary. I was seventeen. I was terrified. My grandpa looked at me, squeezed my hand and whispered in my ear.

“We’re all so proud of you. The Blessed Mother doesn’t care if you make a mistake.”

I was free then. I sang. I hit every note. I cried, but not in frustration, not in fear. I cried in relief.

To this day “Ave Maria” is still the only song I’ve never pretended to be someone else while singing. It’s also the only song that I’ve ever been great on. I know that.

Because God gave me my voice.

Mary taught me how to use it.

And I gave it back to praise her.

The Ignatian Family

Because today is the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits), and as Juli explained, we all met at a Jesuit school, I’m going to talk about the Jesuit tradition in my family.

Both of my grandfather’s attended Jesuit schools, (Maternal Fordham, Paternal Loyola Baltimore), four out of my nine aunts and uncles (and two of their spouses) also attended a Jesuit school, and of course I did, as well as my younger sister and one of my cousins (so far…there’s still a lot of them, I have a really big family.)

As a result of this, certain Jesuit ideals just kind of crept in to the way that my entire family thinks about faith, but specifically became a big part of the way my mother taught my brother, my sister and myself about being a Catholic.

The big one was education. I come from a family that pretty much holds education as the third most important life necessity, after food and shelter. And because of that, I was encouraged to read and learn as much as possible. When I was curious about other faiths, other belief structures, my mom wanted me to read about them, to learn, and question. When I got to college and started to learn about Ignatian ideals, I learned that this was a big Jesuit thing.

One of the big things that the Jesuits taught us was that the only way to grow in your faith is to learn about it and question it. When I was about nineteen, I had a conversation with my mother about how I was considering leaving the Church. I knew I would still crave spirituality and some kind of structure, so I was thinking about becoming an Episcopalian. This way, I could keep the bones of the faith that I love, without some of the things that (still) drive me a little nutty about the Catholic Church, mainly, the exclusion of women from the ordained clergy and the dismissal of homosexuals. My mother’s answer was actually pretty cool (my mom also knows me really well…)

“If that’s really what you believe your heart is calling you to do, then you should do it,” she said simply, “but don’t do it quickly or rashly. Really do the reading, learn about The Episcopal Church.” This is the most Ignatian answer to this issue I have ever heard.

I did do the reading. And while there are still aspects of the Episcopal structure that I prefer (namely, their stance on women and gay people…but also the communal nature of their governing body.) I realized I didn’t want to give up the devotion to the Blessed Mother that’s always been a huge part of my faith experience, or the ties to the community and family that had always been a part of my life.

I feel like that story would have turned out very differently if my family didn’t have a Jesuit mindset. It probably would have ended in a fight or the parent dismissing the thought outright.

The best way to grow in faith is to more deeply understand that faith. That’s the Ignatian legacy that I’ve always depended on.

Rise

On my first post here, I wrote about Christ figures in popular culture. It’s a fascination of mine, I’ll admit, and has been since high school.

And because of that, I’ve observed that many, if not most, superheroes, can be considered Christ figures.

And for the most part, I pointed the finger, as most did, at Superman. I’d never considered my favorite superhero, Batman, to be a Christ figure. I just hadn’t. That wasn’t what Batman was about. Batman was about other things. He’s about   brutal justice, about capitalism and so many other things.

Batman could never be confused with Jesus.

But until this past week, The Dark Knight Rises didn’t exist.

The Dark Knight Rises is Batman’s Book of Revelation, and it’s final half hour is the second coming. I’m putting in a cut so as not to reveal spoilers (although, I bet everyone who cares knows what happened)

Read the rest of this entry

Love Always.

I’ve had a very strange week. I moved out of my apartment in Brooklyn and back in to my parent’s house on Monday. I started a new job on Tuesday. I was starting over, again, for like the fifth time since I graduated last May.

But then something else happened on Monday. My older brother’s best friend from high school didn’t wake up on Monday morning. He’d struggled with many demons since they finished high school, not the least of which was serious drug and alcohol abuse. He’d just left rehab a week earlier, and Mike (my brother) said he seemed confident and happy to be clean.

I’m not going to speculate on Darrell’s state when he died. That isn’t the point. I’ve had a lot of trouble forgiving him for the pain he’s put my brother and their other friends through in the past ten years, and now I’m really worried about my big brother.

Mike’s path hasn’t been easy. When he was not yet nineteen he sustained a back injury that took his one real passion, playing football, from him. After that he fell in to a haze of depression and failed out of school. That Christmas, my father’s younger brother, Mike’s godfather dropped dead of a heart attack. To make matters worse, his best friend from childhood, and the one person who no matter what was always able to get through to him, Lacey, was killed when a truck hit her bicycle the next June.

It took Mike years to find his footing after that one awful year. His injury proved to be the thing that did it. He now has a passion for physical therapy, and sports injury rehabilitation, and has been working for a physical therapy practice as an aid and trainer for the past three years. He’s back in school, and his life seems to be going well.

But his two oldest friends are dead. And he isn’t even thirty yet. There’s something fundamentally wrong in that, and Mike has never dealt well with wrong.

People who know me know that I have a difficult relationship with my brother. I love him very much, but we butt heads constantly. We’re the same in all of the bad ways and different in all of the bad ways too.  I want to help him, and there for him, but I know the only way to do that is to keep my mouth shut. Because otherwise we’re just going to end up screaming at each other.

This is where God provided. I woke up on Tuesday morning with a soar throat and no voice. I could barely croak. After a few glasses of water and a tea I was able to form speak very softly and with a lot of strain. Luckily my new job doesn’t require a lot of talk.

I’ve been praying constantly for my brother, for the repose of Darrell’s soul and for the comfort to the people that love him. I’d ask you all to send your prayers too. Because right now, not having a voice, all I can do is send love and prayers. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to send love, always.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses as We forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

Yesterday I sat with the little girl I’ve been tutoring, Emily, and we talked about the sacrament of reconciliation and God’s forgiveness. I knew this was going to be hard for me, since I’ve always struggled with reconciliation.

I’ve simply never had a good experience with the sacrament. When I go to priests that I know and trust, they are generally family friends, and I feel as though they are judging me, or will run right off and tell my mother how awful I am. I know this is irrational, but it’s never inspired me to really let go the way I need to, you know?

With priests I don’t know, the insecurity is worse…way worse. I feel a need to justify everything that I say or do. But I understand the need for the sacrament, I simply haven’t received it in almost ten years. When I was sixteen I felt that I was being chastised by a priest when I confessed and asked for advice about underage drinking and the tiny bit of drug experimentation I was considering. I was so hurt, confused and upset by the experience that I stopped going.

So when I began talking to Emily about confession, and God’s grace and forgiveness, and I found myself for the first time with her, talking about something that I wasn’t sure I believed in. I explained, in a practical sense why we’re supposed to go to confession, and the need for the sacrament and all of that. Luckily she didn’t ask too many questions, because I honestly wasn’t sure how to answer them.

What she did ask about was forgiving other people, when I said that it was an important part of being a Christian. She understood that when people asked for forgiveness, or say they’re sorry you should accept. Actually this is what she said:

“That’s like when your friend says something mean, but then they’re sorry, so then you’re friends again. But what if they don’t say they’re sorry, or they keep being mean to you?”

I swallowed and this was my answer: You still have to forgive them. That doesn’t mean you take it. You don’t have to be alright with people being mean to you. Forgiving them means that you don’t carry it around with you. You let it go. It’s their problem, not yours, and by forgiving them, by not carrying around that anger with you, you keep it from being your problem.

She seemed to like that answer, and I was pretty proud of myself. Until this little theory of mine got tested later in the day. In the summers I run a community theatre program for young adults (ages 18-35) with my best friend from high school. This year both she and I have pulled back our involvement a lot, because the whole thing is incredibly stressful and it very nearly destroyed our relationship last summer.

Because of that, decisions that used to just be between us are being discussed and analyzed by a staff of about 7 people. And because of that I get my way a whole lot less than I used to, which is hard for me. One such example was the decision to include as a rehearsal pianist someone who I dislike working with a whole lot. We’ve worked with him in the past and he tends to hijack whatever situation he is in to make it far more dramatic than need be.

We’re a week in to our rehearsal process, and this person was still holding it over our heads whether or not he would be our pianist. This would be fine, except we didn’t have a backup (he was our back up) and I was frustrated. While trying to confirm whether he would be helping us out, he responded with a line of information so off from the actual situation, (and that basically called my partner and best friend a liar) that I was in a rage.

I know that this guy is not going to apologize, because I know him. But I’m having trouble taking the advice I gave to Emily. This is someone who was disrespectful to me, my friends and something that I have worked for three years to build. But I also know that carrying around my anger is pointless. I have to forgive him and move on. I can’t control his attitude, I can control mine and set an example.

Emily also mastered the Lord’s Prayer yesterday, and I was so proud of her. (We start and end each session with it.) When we finished, and we prayed, and reached, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Emily stopped and looked at me.

“What’s wrong, honey?” I asked.

“That’s like you said,” she explained. “Earlier, you said, we need to ask God to forgive us when we do bad things, and we need to forgive other people who do bad things to us.”

So that’s what I’m trying to do. No matter how hard it is.

Through The Eyes of A Child

One of the things that I’m doing this summer is helping a family that has decided to come back to the Church. They have two children, a daughter, who I will be tutoring so that she can catch up and receive her first communion in the coming spring. We had our first lesson today, and I explained the Trinity to her.

It’s always been difficult for me to understand people who don’t just intrinsically know the faith because it has always been such a deep part of who I am. But I sat with this little girl for an hour, taught her the sign of the cross, explained Jesus’s birth, death and resurrection, and then walked her line by line through the Lord’s Prayer, I became incredibly grateful for my parents, for making sure that my faith was such a part of my day to day life. I take it so for granted.

After our session I spoke with her mother briefly. This woman was unfailingly kind and told me outright that my mother and my interest in her children was, “the greatest blessing she could ask for.” See, she’s an ex-patriated Cuban, who left the Church behind when she came to America, however, recently, she was sitting at her sick father’s bedside and was given by one of the nurses a copy of The Prayer of Divine Mercy. She prayed it for hours on end, and her father is now on the mend. This experience led her back to the Church and made her want to educate her children.

My little pupil is adorable and I am so excited to be a part of her faith experience! Wish me luck!