Guest post by Casie Dodd.
In some ways, looking back at my rigidly Baptist and unequivocally Protestant background, it is no longer surprising that I was meant to be Catholic. However, it still took a long time for me to be okay with it.
After a long process of giving up an evangelical past and living in spiritual limbo for several years in my twenties, I’ve gradually made my way back to the Church. For a while, it had already seemed inevitable to me that if I did, it would be toward Catholicism: my favorite authors are either devout or lapsed Catholics; my husband is Catholic; what little religious language I’ve continued to use is saturated with a Catholic perspective. Sacramentality was the only word that helped me explain to myself those years of wandering because I never felt particularly lost, only needing to be found by new sources of inspiration.
Still, by the time we actively decided it was time to return to a Christian community, I was not prepared for the level of anxiety I would experience. My pregnancy could not explain the tears that flowed throughout the first few masses we attended. Those early months of getting up and going to church week after week tore me up in ways that I’m not sure I’d felt since the year that my grandmother, a Southern Baptist matriarch, was slowly dying and I could not tell her I did not want the faith she had wanted for me. Each mass became a practice of acknowledging that pain and trying to offer it up to anyone who might be willing to take it; it was still too difficult then for me to think of Christ again in explicit terms.
This was most evident during the Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday. A whole new experience to me, it took all my effort to walk toward the front and halfheartedly tap the Cross with my hand, keeping the other firmly on my belly. Something broke inside while the baby kicked. I began to wonder if I was really cut out for this, if I wasn’t permanently cracked in some way that would leave me isolated from the Church for the rest of my life.
Then my son was born. There’s nothing original in that, but it was the most profound spiritual revelation I’ve ever had. Here was life in its most vulnerable form, and I had helped bring it into the world. The early newborn weeks were a whole new lesson in grace and brokenness for which no one fully prepares (or can prepare) you. When we baptized my son at three weeks old, I felt more able to be part of something than I had in many years. I tried to reframe my own baptism as a nine-year-old, remembering how my grandmothers watched in pride, thrilled to welcome me into the family in a new way. That experience, like many parts of my fragmented religious past, became redeemed.
On a different level, redemption also came through Flannery O’Connor. As we began to get our bearings on new parent life and our son became a little more predictable, we started reading O’Connor’s short stories aloud together every day. Throughout my life, art and literature have spoken to my experience of God most deeply; they have helped make sense of a lot of pain and confusion as I’ve tried to navigate this shift in religious traditions. Reading O’Connor with my son in my arms made visceral the need for love, mercy, and mystery in a world that struggles to make those truths a priority. Encountering her characters in such apparently hopeless situations made real a new awareness of a longing for something beyond my narrow and insular life. As Christ showed up cloaked in people and nature, as He does here now, faith started to seem a little less foreign to me again.
I needed O’Connor’s stories to remind me that, as a mother and soon-to-be Catholic, I could still experience grace and wonder even if the Church had hurt me like the Bible salesman who stole that woman’s leg or that con artist in “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” I needed to confront the kind of rage that my religious baggage left behind through horrifying endings like in “A View of the Woods” or “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” As has so often been true of my experience of God and Truth, I hope to keep reading my way toward the light.
Casie Dodd’s work has appeared in This Land and The Worcester Journal. She has lived on Elysian Fields in New Orleans and in a Chicago soup kitchen but claims Oklahoma as her native home. She has a lot to say about grandmothers and Charles Olson. She is currently based on the North Side of Chicago.