Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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Theologically Incorrect (or Sperm Swimming Upstream)

Joani Immaculata Sophomore Year

Sophomore Year

 Growing up in chaos, Catholic school was both blessing and curse.

While family arguments, yelling, screaming, and name-calling by the so-called grownups in my house, flew over my little eight year old head, I would escape into the 1960’s institution known as parochial school.

It was my salvation. I ate it up big time. I was a little parochial school girl extraordinaire.

I dressed the part. It was required, of course: plaid jumper, peter pan collar blouse, saddle shoes and chapel veil.

Middle child and peacemaker at home, I was quite the expert at disappearing into the woodwork, keeping my head down, not rocking the boat. (I could go on but I am running out of metaphors.)

But in Sister Regina Clare’s third grade class, I was a star in the movie of my own making.

I raised my hand every chance I got.

“Call on me, Sister. Call on me!”

 And call on me, Sister did. Teacher’s pet and smartest kid in the class, I would do just about anything to delay going home after school.

“Who can clean the blackboards and clap the erasers?”

“Me, Sister, me!”

“Who can alphabetize all these test papers for me?”

“Me, Sister, me!”

 I would even volunteer to stay after school and clean the convent. Yes, CLEAN THE CONVENT! That is how desperate I was to stay out of the cross hairs of chaos called home.

(But I did get a scandalous eyeful of the nuns’ underwear hanging on the clothesline! BONUS!)

Catholic school was my salvation but it was not free. No cheap grace here.

There was the ever present threat of eternal damnation, everlasting hell fire: pretty f*ing scary to an eight year old.

So I memorized the hell out of my Baltimore Catechism.

“Who made me?”

“God made me?

 “Why did God make me?

“God made me to love and serve him for all eternity.”

 I rattled my rosary beads like there was no tomorrow. (Well, maybe there was NO tomorrow!!)

Scarier than Hell was getting stuck in the eternally boring feedback loop of Purgatory – not just for myself but for all of my dead relatives, as well. Whose full names I wrote in the back of my Saint Joseph Missal:

Bernard Francis Peacock, Sr.

Benjamin Joseph Cady

 I wrote their full names, I guess, so God would not get my grandfathers mixed up with anybody else’s grandfathers.

One loop of the rosary, could buy them a thirty-day get out of Purgatory early card. Two loops could lessen their sentence by sixty.

Eight years old, I was responsible for their immortal souls! Scary, scary stuff.

And God forbid, I commit my own grammar school mortal sin. MORTAL – meaning just that – that I would go straight to Hell if I forgot to confess it – if I should die before I wake.

(And whoever came up with that crappy, crappy prayer for a little child to pray as their parents terrifyingly tucked them into bed? To Purgatory they should go.)

So at Holy Family School, every Friday, I was first in line for morning confession.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession. Father, I have (FILL IN THE BLANK).”

 Thoroughly prepped on Thursday by Sister Whoever, having examined my conscience and run through the Ten Commandments, I went into the booth fully armed with “THE LIST”.

Which I would pad with a few extra sins, here and there, just to be on the safe side.

  1. No false gods? No problem. I did not worship Baal this week.
  2. No idols? No problem. I did not carve any graven images this week, whatever that means.
  3. The Lord’s name in vain? Put me down for two “God Damns” and three “Jesus, Mary, and Josephs.”
  4. Sabbath holy? Holy Day of obligation? No problem. Stars in my crown. I get my butt to Mass every Sunday.
  5. Honoring mom and dad? Truth be told. I have been disobedient all over the place. Put me down for ten.
  6. Adultery? Sister says that’s “impure thoughts.” The lust of an eight-year old. Put me down once for Michael Spillane and twice for Jimmy Sinkieweiz.
  7. False witness? Well, not in a court of law but fibs, white lies abundant. Put me down for six.
  8. Coveting? What the hell is that? O, wanting other people’s stuff. Veronica’s red patent leather sparkly shoes. I confess to one.
  9. Stealing? Well, a cookie or two, out of the cookie jar. Purely, grade school stuff.
  10. Murder? Murder? I did think about bashing my little brother’s brains in but I managed to avoid the temptation.

And this is just for one week. Saving my soul was exhausting. And by the fourth grade, the system started breaking down. Little cracks were beginning to splinter my little Catholic psyche.

My little hand kept shooting up in the air, of course. I knew my catechism, just about better than other little RC kid in my class. But having reached the ripe old “age of reason”, I started thinking on my own.

Catechism answers turned into questions. Lots of questions.

“Hmmm. ‘transubstantiation’. Sister, why would Jesus want us to eat him and to drink him? That makes no sense.”

 “Hmmm, one true church? True? According to who?”

 “Hmmm, limbo? Poor little, unbaptized babies sitting in the dark for all eternity? What kind of f*ing God is that?

(I did not really say the “F word” but I do enjoy writing it that way.)

By seventh grade, my questions grew bolder.

“Hmmm, French kissing? Tongues touching is a mortal sin? A kiss on the lips is a venial sin? A kiss on the cheek is okay? Where is that in the bible, Sister?”

 And in my sophomore year, at Immaculata Preparatory School, I took on the Pope himself – and Humanae Vitae – Pope Paul VI’s crazy encyclical banning birth control.

Star of the debating team, I gave a speech taking on the persona of an unfertilized egg – yes, an unfertilized egg — which I followed all the way through the menstrual cycle and the reproductive system in great detail.

The egg triumphs!

 Legions of sperm go down in defeat!

 And not a single life is lost!

 Yes, I said these things.

Brilliant, right?

Well, to me, yes, but not so much to Sister Mary Clare, the principal at my prep school.

She called me into her office.

“Joani,” she said. “You have to stop. You have to stop asking questions in religion class.”

 “Why?” I shoot back. “That’s what school is for, right? Learning? Asking questions?”

 “Not for you, Joani. You have to stop. You are confusing the other girls.”

 “Really?” And  thenI risk one more “why?”.

 “Yes, my child, you have to stop.”

And then Sister says, and I quote, these words which have forever hence changed my life.

“Joani, you are intellectually gifted but spiritually retarded. You are risking your immortal soul – and theirs too.”

 Yes, Catholic school saved me. This conversation with Sister Mary Clare saved me.

So, I skipped my senior year at Immaculata Prep and got early admission to Catholic University. (Yes, Catholic University). There, at CUA, I became a philosophy major, where I could ask all the GD, F*ing questions I wanted.

Sorry, Sister Mary Clare. You might be right. I might be about to lose my immortal soul. But I will truly be damned, if I am going to lose my mind.

A mind, you know, is a terrible thing to waste.

And I am very fond of mine.

(And truth be told, this is how I grew up to become an Anglican.)

JoaniSign

 

 


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It’s a 61-derful Life!

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1965, A very good year.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite Christmas movie. In fact, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite movie period. Not because it is full of holiday cheer, it is not. The 1947 film’s focus is on an attempted suicide.  The grainy black and white photography perfectly fits the mood. (The colorized version is an abomination!) The inebriated George Bailey is about to throw himself off a bridge. But before he plunges in, the Angel Clarence beats him to it.

Someone is about to be rescued. Someone is about to sprout wings.

Clarence walks George backwards through his life. Through all the light and all the dark and all the gray, through all the crap and all the joy, through all his years — and it still turns out to be a wonderful life.

“The glory of God is a human being full alive!” – St. Irenaeus, 4th C.

When I was 40, I would have told you that 60 was old.

Now that I am 60, sixty is the new forty. No, let me rephrase that. Sixty is better than that. 60 is like being two rocking 30 year olds. (Within reason, of course!)

And now I am on the verge of turning 61. On February 28th, I turn 61-derful!

Cosmically speaking SpaceTime can stretch; SpaceTime can contract. But the arrow of time travels in only one direction. With each passing year, we grow older. With each passing year, we dig deeper. With each passing year, we live larger. With each passing year, we become who God created us to be.

I no longer see the world through rose colored glasses. I see the world through progressive lenses – beautiful, breathtaking, heart breaking, and bittersweet. In six decades my life has progressed and regressed and progressed again  in O’ so many ways.

Let me count them down. Listed below are touchstones, milestones, and millstones (with a little parenthetical commentary!).  All linked and connected —  for better and for worse — throughout my 61-derful years.

2016. Mind Over Matter, Atlas Intersections Festival ( A star is born!)

2015. My 4th (brain) child, Unhinged, April 25, 2015

2014. Emmanuel on High (My spiritual home)

2013. Real Girls Run 13.1 (and Walk 13.1!)

2012. The Artist’s Way (Journaling each day)

2011.Huntley Meadows Wildlife Preserve (Enchanted Forest)

2010. All Saints, Sharon Chapel (A Way Station)

2009. Bishop Payne Library (Bibliomania!)

2008. Ten Thousand Villages (Fair Trade Fridays)

2007. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (A little help from our friends)

2006. South Meadows Condominiums (Me, myself, and I!)

2005. St. George’s, Fredericksburg (Interim time)

2004, Saint In-Between

2003. Dominion Hospital (Crazy time)

2002. D*I*V*O*R*C*E

2001. Holy Cross, A Space Oddysey

2000. A Closet full of Bridesmaid Dresses (Job search)

1999. Emerald Isle Sabbatical

1998. The Diocese of Virginia (Committees, committees, committees)

1997. AT&T Wired Wirelessly!

1996. WHFStival (Rock on!)

1995. Mount Vernon Community School (and the Caboose!)

1994. St. Luke’s, Alexandria (Sometimes Wellington)

1993.Politics & Prose (DC Book Store Extraordinaire)

1992. Shrine Mont (Fried Chicken, But Rolls & Apple Butter)

1991. Virginia Theological Seminary (What I want to be when I grow up.)

1990. George Mason University (A belated college degree)

1989. The Voyage of the Minivan (Three kids in tow!)

1988. Frisco Island, The Outer Banks (Ribbons of Sand)

1987. Jacob Nathaniel Peacock Clark (Indie Gamer Extraordinaire!)

1986. Immanuel on-the-Hill (Launchpad)

1985. 212 East Windsor Avenue (Delray!)

1984. Colleen Noel Peacock Clark (Development Director Extraordinaire!)

1983. Freddie Mac (The IT Crowd)

1982. Zachariah John Peacock Clark (Indie Film Maker!)

1981. Computer Learning Center (No link to be found!)

1980. The Springs Montessori School (Primarily a teacher)

1979.Library of Congress Reading Room (Study away!)

1978. The Montessori Institute (The Halls of Maria)

1977. The Key, The Biograph & The Georgetown Theaters (Subtitles!)

1976. Bicentennial Moments at The Reflecting Pool

1975. Spanish Education Development Center (Se habla español?)

1974. The Potter’s House (Coffee!)

1973. Catholic University (Philosophizing)

1972. William, the boy next door, 5/19/1972

1971. May Day Protest of the Vietnam War (Skipping school)

1970. Immaculata Preparatory School (Brainy school)

1969. La Reine High School (Jock school)

1968. Holy Family 8th Grade Valedictorian

1967. Expo ’67, Montreal, Canada (Foreign travels)

1966. “Remember You’re a Peacock” (my dad)

1965. Saint Veronica (Confirmation 101)

1964. Lady Bird Johnson makes America beautiful again.

1963. November 22, 1963 (Tragedy)

1962. “Grounding Rounds & Rattling Beads” (Communion)

1961. “In her house are many dwelling places” (Salvation)

1960. A Catholic in the White House (JFK)

1959. “Are you my mother, Mother Mary?” (my mom)

1958. Hillcrest Heights Brick Colonial (home)

1957. Marlow Heights Semi-detached (home)

1956. Anacostia Row House (home)

1955. Providence Hospital, 2/28/1955 (Ground Zero!)

Happy Birthday!!!

JoaniSign