Five-year old Jack has just about mastered the art of colouring in. He hopes that his mum will praise his neat edges, maybe even award him a sticker for good work. While I’m sure that keeping the colours between the lines has deep psychological implications for his future development, his grandmother has a lot of trouble keeping her religious colours in between acceptable edges.
I learnt to colour my life the Catholic way. There were rules laid down to deal with any issues that might arise, and a recognised line of authority to respect. Theology was the province of the clergy and contemplative prayer belonged in monasteries and convents. These were my boundaries and it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I began to question them, to give myself permission not only to colour outside the lines, but to lay aside the pastel shades in favour of brights. I wanted to be seen and heard as a Catholic woman.
The years following Vatican 2 were exciting for women like me who had been feeling cramped. Over the centuries the institutional Church had squeezed out the laity, and women in particular, from inclusive involvement in the way their faith was lived out. The window Pope John opened in 1962 blew many of us out of religious life and into ministries that better suited our talents and personalities. Instead of being confined to flower arranging and cake stalls, Catholic women were reading at Mass, taking Communion to the sick, working alongside priests as Pastoral Associates and getting theology degrees.
Vatican 2 was fifty years ago now, and over those years I’ve gradually moved beyond what I see as the boundaries of my Catholic religion. Early in those faith-growing years I had to take a deep breath as I realized that God is not a Catholic, that God cannot be fenced in and is found outside our Church as well as inside it. As that became part of my everyday experience I realized that I was slowly moving away from the security and authority of the institutional centre.
At the place where their maps stopped, early mapmakers wrote these words: Beyond this place there be dragons.. Even if it is exciting it can also be frightening and challenging to move towards a boundary, even edge over it. There are always St Georges around who want to subdue and eliminate all dragons. They do it openly through the written word, in Church documents and homilies, in restrictions on who can speak in parish halls, and they do it subtly by well-placed, non-verbal putdowns.
Because I’m a blogger what I write gets a mixture of positive responses and occasional insults – like being labelled a ‘cafeteria catholic’. I know what they mean – that there are Catholics who question or challenge certain beliefs or practices held dear by other Catholics. As if I wandered through 2,000 years of Catholic tradition, papal declarations and hearsay, declaring I’ll believe this, and this, and this – don’t agree with that, that’s ok, can’t believe that, this is way out of date, and so on.
What they forgot to say, or maybe don’t understand, is that any religious colouring I do that strays over the line emerges from lots of reading, pondering and prayerful reflection. It doesn’t mean that I’m leaving the Church of my Baptism.
Out on the edges, away from the centre, It’s uncharted territory and there’s no GPS. But it’s also quiet enough to catch glimpses of what might be. It might be a bit lonely out there, but in the silence I believe that the Spirit of God frees up to hear the core message of my faith in new, relevant and creative ways- and the colors are great.