The Phoenix, a bird from greek mythology, is a stunning representation of what Lent really means to me. Such as the symbolic meaning of lent where there is a cycle of death and rebirth the Phoenix, once they turn old, catches on fire, burn, and from the ashes becomes a new being. During Ash Wednesday service we are often reminded that we are merely ash. When I think about the Phoenix it is a symbol of rebirth, of something that comes out as or even more beautiful, the next time around.
I recently went to a congregationalist church for Ash Wednesday. I swore off Catholicism around the time that I came out to my mother that I was bisexual and the last Lenten season I really recognized was a long forty days of turmoil deciding whether I wanted to go through my catholic confirmation. In retrospect I went through my catholic confirmation more for my mother than for me. Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty religious in general. I would even be borderline evangelical about my religion. Evangelical, in this sense, meaning that I feel like I have something to say and share about what I believe in and I'm not afraid to actually share it.
I was pretty worried about the Ash Wednesday service this year. Yes, I know that my congregational church is opening and affirming, and I took that into consideration when I deciding on associate membership at the church. I have been wary of any christian churches for a while and I viewed the Unitarian Universalists as a good compromise when I was looking for a religious/spiritual community. It's also common for the GLBTQ community to be wary of any organized religion due to the heinous past that we have had to suffer through being told we aren't good enough, our partners would not be recognized as partners, or that "maybe you should think about how you got to this place."
I have had one Aunt even go out on a limb, in her "christian" way telling me that my attraction to women existed because growing up I never learned "proper socialization skills" with my disabilities; supposedly because of this I was never taught that women don't date other women.
When I was sixteen I was getting ready for my catholic confirmation during the Lenten season. I was pretty active in the church that year, I was determining if I could "convert" to all the catholic beliefs, and the stress I was under trying to deny that my attractions were all over the place lead to a very deep period of depression. At some points, and I have not really fessed up to this, I was very depressed. I knew that my mother loved me a lot, I grew up with a homophobic father though who to this day knows absolutely nothing about my private life, but not being accepted by my religious community - which also meant most of my confirmation class that I had grown close to in the ten years of catechism - was difficult. Looking back now most of my classmates wouldn't blink an eye... but at sixteen it was a scary place to tread by myself.
This realization that I couldn't fit into the catholic church changed the way I see the Lenten season. It's not only a time to give up something, to struggle through the forty days, to lay in wait till Easter to fall back into old habits, it's a time to lead to rebirth. For the forty days the expectation to walk with Jesus. Although there is a strong belief that Lent is for suffering what is the real significance of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday? The four days in a row that most catholics, and some other christians, subscribe to is about rebirth. During these four days Jesus washed away his disciples sins and shared bread, even with those who ultimately wanted him crucified, indiscriminately. He then was hung on the cross on Good Friday, buried in a tomb on Saturday, and on Sunday rebirth happened when he arose from the dead.
Rebirth for me happened a week before my confirmation. When I realized, despite my struggles to find acceptance in the catholic community that I was really allowing myself to become a martyr for everyone else, I realized that this was not the community for me.
Confirmation means many things to many people. I've been told by my mother that she views it as the destination before you become "fully catholic" forever and you can't get rid of a sacrament after it's given. I've also had other people who just view it as a ritual reward. Something that you gain if you actually agree to go through ten years of catechism. Whatever happened during Sunday morning cartoons I will never know; I don't have one memory of a Sunday till high school where I was not at church or catechism. For me? I view Confirmation as someone saying to me "You are old enough to decide what you want to do with your own religion."
This year I took that up on myself again. I had decided a while ago not to celebrate Lent simply because I was against some of the catholic church teachings and out of defiance. However I had this realization, with acceptance that I am in a "welcoming" congregation, to move on from my hang up. I'm old enough, wise enough, and bold enough to decide whether I need to celebrate Lent and what Lent means to me. Thanks to a recent blog by Mark Sandlin about not falling into the Lent trap I decided to make a goal, not a sacrifice, during Lent this year. My goal is about my blogging, my writing, and becoming more serious with what I consider a calling and a vocation as a deeply religious, quite eclectic, blog writer. To share my stories, and my ideas, because really every story is important.