When I came into the Catholic Church nine years ago, the farthest thing from my mind was how its rituals and liturgy might mesh so stunningly with my random-thoughts-a-flying mind. I was just attracted to the beauty of the rituals, the reassuring repetition of ancient prayers, the words rising to the rafters of the great church, and the profound meaning in the Eucharist.
But when I look at the special accommodations that were made during elementary school for my two ADHD kids, I see how Catholicism is perfect for us folks. To wit: both my kids had “movement breaks” as part of their education plans. My daughter used to invent various ailments so she could march down the hall to visit the school nurse, thus gaining some needed motion. An accommodation for my son was a tilting stool, which he could keep in balance only by slightly moving his body. Visual aids were written into their ed. plans to help cement their learning.
We won’t spend too much time discussing how their mama is famous for having spent many family meals as a child beneath the table instead of sitting at it, for I found sitting quietly impossible. It remains a challenge. And we won’t draw a comparison between me and the water shrew which, when whiskering its way along a known path, if anything new is put in its way, must go back to the beginning and start again. The sure repetition of known prayers is perfect for this Catholic who sometimes resembles a water shrew.
When I attend a wonderful Protestant church — as I do with my Protestant husband (who also attends “my” church and can genuflect and cross himself with the best of them) — I sometimes find my mind wandering. My eyes stray to the long glass windows with… nothing on them. No color, no figures of Mary or the saints, no Latin words. No Stations of the Cross on the walls to snag my whirling thoughts and bring me back to Jesus. And sitting! After an hour my legs tremble, knees quiver, and I’m afraid I might disgrace myself by jumping up and shouting, “Stop talking! Please say a prayer I can respond to! Let me kneel!” But instead, I totter to the lady’s room for water and a quick peek in the mirror to reassure myself that I have not morphed into a water shrew.
A place for my straying mind
Here’s my conclusion: for a restless mind inhabiting an impatient body, the Catholic liturgy is a perfect match. I stand to greet the priest. I spread my eager arms in welcome and can almost feel the Holy Spirit resting on them. I kneel and say the familiar responses with the rest of my brothers and sisters. I sit, my butt on the wooden pew, but not for long. For throughout the service I am standing, kneeling and saying prayers out loud — and listening to a homily graced by brevity and direct visual images which I can remember. (Thanks be to God.) If at any time my thoughts wander, I look at the colorful windows and construct a story about Mary in her red and blue robe; I look at the color of the priest’s vestments, which anchors me to the season we are in.
Then I walk forward to receive the host in my hand, after a reverential bow that reminds me why I am here and Who I am encountering. God. In the bread. In the colors of the windows. In the grotto by the church’s entrance and in the holy water. And God in the people on either side of me — men with thinning hair, ladies with coiffed dos, kids trying to behave themselves, two people behind me in wheelchairs. The people of God together.
My straying mind finds a place in God’s heart, and I am at ease for a little while, touched by grace. Then I get to share the peace with others in the congregation by shaking hands. (Please, waving and peace signs do not do it for me. I need to press your flesh, hold your hand for a moment and feel the warmth under your skin. It connects me.)
At the end I step out into the world with the sense of having had my brain and spirit soothed like hair combed by a gentle mother who knows I need to be quieted like a child in her lap, ready for life again, my restless heart calm.