Monday, December 5, 2011
On Kneeling in Doubt
Earlier today I spent about nine hours working on a problem set for my dynamics class. That in itself isn't too bad, or too strenuous, but given that today has been a more relaxed day than most for classwork and the end of the semester is fast approaching, I'm not really at my best right now in terms of rest or responsiveness. When I left midway through deriving the Lagrangian equations of motion for a double pendulum (because I'm cool and do that kind of thing in grad school) to head to the evening mass at St. Mary's, Zach asked the obvious. Was I Catholic? I said "no," which is true, and brushed off the question of why I would do such a thing since I didn't have a good response.
It bothers me that I don't have a good response to this. When Augustine was going through RCIA last year, we talked often about Catholic whatnot and I was generally intrigued by her insight. Now that she's out of College Station, the only thing keeping up my momentum to learn more about religion and general and Catholic-flavored Christianity in particular is my own stubbornness, and I'm starting to realize the limits of that drive. Stubbornness is good for keeping up a mindless plod forward, but is quite weak in the face of the complexities and mysteries of life and religion. I keep sitting and genuflecting and kneeling in church, but less often than I used to. Those equations aren't going to derive themselves, after all, and in the meantime the question of why I should be there when I don't share the creed haunts me.
I'm tired of feeling out of place at St. Mary's. I'm tired of standing silently, like an idiot, while everyone else gets on with the Nicene Creed. I'm tired of feeling like a clockwork Christian, doing the motions, understanding the arguments, even feeling the right emotions at the right times, and not having a damn clue if any of it means anything at all. The reality is that I understand Christian theology and arguments better now than I have at any point in my life before, and I still don't find it convincing, on balance. Catholicism is a beautiful idea, but for all my effort to unstick my paradigm and see if it'll shift, I can't see it as anything but an idea. It makes zero sense to continue acting as though I were Catholic, a part of my mind concludes.
Yet I find something compelling, something alluring about this faith. Faith itself is something so exotic and incomprehensible to the workings of my mind that I can't help but find some allure anywhere in organized religion I look, I suppose. Maybe it's just an effect of the soft blue walls and the pretty Catholic choir girls, but I feel a sense of calm kneeling among the faithful. It's not clarity, which I'd like, but even among the murk something just feels right about being there. I feel stupid during the creed, but then we sit down and sing "Hosanna," and I don't care about feeling stupid anymore, it just feels nice. So I go back, wondering what I'm doing or where I'm going, but in the pews for now.
I can't imagine anyone, atheist or faithful, would look on this story with anything but pity. Listening to many, it sounds as though it should be obvious one way or the other, and only a poor pitiful fool would hem and haw the way I've been doing for over a year now. I'm so sick and tired of being something to pity. I wish that I could shelve everything academic and focus all the solution techniques I've learned in engineering school on this one single issue. Are the Christians right? This question lingers long after I grow weary of the endless dynamics and continuum mechanics problems.
With the crunch of finals bearing down I don't expect to post again until after December 14. My experience in grad school so far merits discussion of its own, but for now I'll just mention that I'm dissatisfied enough with the environment to be looking elsewhere. I've applied for a job in Washington, DC, and I rolled the thought over and over in my head after receiving my blessing, Should I go east, if they want me? Once communion was done and we sat back in the pews, we sang the closing hymn, "People, Look East."
I'm not superstitious, but sometimes I wish I was. It would make major life decisions so much easier.