I am a Catholic, which can be hard to defend at times when the focus of the Church or people’s vision of the Church is on outdated (in my opinion) teachings and dogma–refusal to ordain women, continuing condemnation of birth control while arguing for the sanctity of life in the face of poverty, and teachings about homosexuality that put it at the heart of decaying marriage rather than whatever else is at the center.
However, one of the teachings of Catholicism that I love most is the insistence on the relationship between the material and the spiritual. Christ’s body is bleeding and twisted on the cross. We chew and swallow Christ’s body each week. Because suffering is spiritual, but it is also always material.
This relationship between the two has been made viscerally clear in my experience of grief since the loss of my father. Last weekend my mother and I went through my father’s clothes. I had dreaded it and longed for it. We cried, I buried my face in favorite shirts, wrapped my arms around fabric that no longer encircled my father, but was the closest I was going to get to the feeling of hugging him.
Monday I dropped off the clothes we chose to donate to Goodwill. While I had dreaded going through the clothes and had been relieved to find it overall such a positive experience, I had not anticipated my feelings upon dropping off those clothes. I wrote this sitting in my car just afterwards:
I just dropped off my father’s clothes at Goodwill. I felt the words in my mouth to say–these were my father’s clothes–but I didn’t want to be grotesque, macabre. I didn’t want to bring my grief into this cheerful person’s day. So I loaded bags, accepted the receipt–12 bags–and got into my car. And cried. I wanted to take back every t-shirt, every sweater and bury my face in them, my hands, to pull my father back from wherever he went Dec. 18, back to me, his daughter, to us, his family.
I can stuff my ears with music and my eyes with text, but grief will find you. It keeps finding me.
The next day I wore a sweater that I had saved, a cardigan. Throughout the day I would wrap it around me and feel my father’s presence. The material and the spiritual.
I understand the altars to dead ancestors. I understand the medieval collection of relics and the constant prayer for and to the dead.
They are not gone, but they are gone. They are not here, but they are here.
The material is our touchstone to the spiritual, to our memories, so flawed and changeable. The material is an unchanging witness.
This is my body. Because there was once some body.
Do this in memory of me. So we do.