Wednesday, 4 November 2015

An Indian Catholic in Catholic America

Did I mention I was Catholic? And that I work with Catholics? And that I'm in the heart of Louisiana that happens to be very Catholic. (Hollywood hadn't prepared me for this.)

So... observations, experiences, thoughts.

1. Mass Etiquette: The Sign of Peace

Well, throughout my life I assumed that the hands pressed together gesture actually was THE 'sign of peace'. I did not realize that it is the Indian namaste adapted for the Church in India. So I come to the US, and people are shaking each others' hands, hugging each other, kissing each other (spouses.. on the lips... IN THE CHURCH.. the horror!) Also a bunch of old ladies make the two finger Jesus-peace sign (as opposed to the hippy make-love-not-war sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll peace sign) to everyone across the aisles.

But apart from repressing the urge to namaste to everyone, the confusing thing is... whom do you hug? (Answer: People you are close to, not perfect strangers... oops) Whose hands do you shake? (Answer: Strangers, and friends who are not into physical affection, or perhaps are more liturgically reserved) How do you know the difference? (Answer: Wait for them to make the first move, and react as if that is what you were planning to do all along. This is a very delicate operation, as you can't wait too long or you'll look like the awkward Indian. Awaiting with reluctance the socially awkward moment when the person I turn tries exactly the same thing, and we both stare at each other, willing the other to make the first move.)

2. Mass Etiquette: Posture and Body Language

In India, it is inappropriate to cross your legs at the knee at Mass. It gives Indians the impression of being a casual viewer, the audience at a movie theatre or a show, not particularly reverent. I was trained into this by my mum who worked hard at getting my siblings and me to 'assume a more prayerful posture' at family prayer as well- no lounging about, feet tucked under us, etc. In Catholic congregations here, many people lean back with their arms around their (respective) spouses, legs crossed. Sometimes there is applause after the last hymn. It definitely makes me feel like we're at a performance.

3. Catholic Dating Wardrobe

 One of the girls living here was going on her first date weekend with someone with whom she had an online long-distance relationship, and invited all the girls in to help her decide what to wear. It was quite the experience for me-about six girls viewing and commenting on each outfit... VERY unanimously. They spoke with one voice. The details of discerning date outfits was something they had obviously worked on many times before.

It sounded from the conversation that every young Catholic woman had the same set of clothes in her wardrobe, which included such items as a flannel shirt, boots, a black dress, dressy sweater, a variety of scarves, black and gray leggings, and such categories as casual but classy, meeting the parents and ordination- appropriate, but also meeting-the-guy-friends-at-the-pub appropriate, Fall-outdoorsy-cute not trying too hard bonfire outfit, etc. Maybe it's because I don't go on dates, or because I have a much smaller set of clothing options (my dress style is 'Gospel poverty' aka shabby/ repetitive), but I have a feeling it would not have taken me that much time or mental energy or friend support to make those kinds of decisions.

4. First All Saints' Day Party aka Holyween.

Super fun Catholic controversy is whether or not Catholics should celebrate Halloween (glorifying evil or 'O Hell, where is your victory, O Death, where is your sting?') My peeps here ignore the whole argument by having a saints dress up party which includes a LOT of candy (known as sweets/chocolates in India). Catechesis plus candy = win-win. We had decorations with lots of saints cards hung everywhere, games, stigmata cookies (not even kidding), etc. I live with about 70 or so very Catholic people, of which about 30 are kids. EVERYONE was very into costume- creating.

So we had multiples of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, and Mother Teresa, randoms like Saint Philomena and Polycarp, extremely recents like St. Zelie and St. Martin (St. Therese's parents, canonized a few weeks ago), famous biblical characters like Queen Esther, and assorted animals from Noah's Ark.

And then you had the Lamb of God. She occasionally said, "Behold," and gambolled and pranced a little.

And of course, for my very first All Saint's Day party I went as... 'That Unknown Indian Woman who Made It to Heaven But Noone Ever Officially Canonized Her or Made Saint Cards with Her Picture.' Patron saint of humility. She was so humble, noone ever heard of her.

Whatever. I bin busy.

Anyway I loved that part of Catholic America, remembering and honouring the members of our family who have gone before us. We don't do that much in my Catholic world in India. I'm bring All Saints' Day parties back home!

Okay, more later. Buh-bye.

P.S. Sorry I haven't written in SO long. It's apparently one of the busier times of my life.

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