Rev. Catharine Is Currently On Medical Leave

Rev. Catharine Is Currently
On Medical Leave

Rev. Catharine Is Currently
On Medical Leave

Religion: Ambivalence and Ooginess

Religion: Ambivalence and Ooginess

Oogy-Boogey Man

I am thinking about the word “oogy.”


Because I’ve recently written the following sentence about my work:

Mother stone at Four Quarters“I provide rock-solid support and gentle challenge to spiritual seekers, especially those who feel oogy about religion.”

Also, “I provide rock-solid support and gentle challenge to spiritual seekers, including those who feel ambivalent about religion.”

And that’s fair too. I am, after all, an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister. I am part of a religious institution. I am also an initiated priestess in the tradition of Stone Circle Wicca. I am not opposed to religion, and I know, no matter how flawed they are, that institutions hold much of what is spiritually nurturing.

But I haven’t always felt that way. And furthermore, I am able to reach folks who are wary, critical, and feel “oogy” about religion.

“Oogy” makes me smile, and it brings a visceral sense of what I’m talking about to the surface, I think.

You know. Oogy. Like squicked out. Or some kind of jangly. Mistrustful but not entirely sure why. Or totally sure why:  Having been profoundly wounded by religion-religious leaders-religious people, yet having a deep desire for some kind of spirituality.

And oogy is something that happens in my body. It makes me want to shake my hands out. It makes me sort of shift my shoulders from side to side to loosen up my belly. It’s feeling sweaty and uncomfortable.

Oogy describes something inside that is unsettled.

Whereas ambivalent is something different. Ambivalent means being of two minds about something. Going back and forth. It may involve a kind of perseverating, thinking that you’ve decided, and then changing your mind, over and over again. (And for the record, I am VERY familiar with this position.)

portrait-119851_1280I say “position,” rather than “feeling”–“oogy” is in the body and “ambivalent” is in the mind.

I think speaking to both the mind and the body is important. Each important for different people. For me, both are important.

Holy Days of Obligation

I said I was very familiar with ambivalence about religion. And I am.

I am also very familiar with feeling oogy about religion.

So let me tell you about these things. This position and this set of feelings.

white marble statue of Mary with a red rose laid on her hands which also have prayer beads draped over themWhen I was seventeen, I learned that the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was declared a Holy Day of Obligation in 1950.

Wha?! Some of you are like, What the hell is she talking about.

Okay. <<deep breath>>

First of all, the Holy Days of Obligation vary according to diocese. But let’s ignore that. We’re talking about my experience here right?

A couple of Holy Days of Obligation are Christmas and the Feast of Jesus’ Ascension. All Saints’ Day, just passed, is a Holy Day of Obligation. The Solemnity of Mary Mother of God (otherwise known as New Year’s) is another one. (And this year, it’s on a Sunday, so you have to go to church anyway…) Easter is always on Sunday, so it’s an obligatory day by default.

So what is a Holy Day of Obligation? The shortest answer is that it is a day on which one is obliged to go to church, even if it’s not on a Sunday.

It is a special day in the church calendar, one considered holy enough that all the faithful are required to attend the liturgy.

Ambivalence about Assumption

So, you know, I was seventeen. I was Catholic. Soon enough—like, within six months—I would come out as lesbian and my Roman Catholic community would effectively abandon me. But that hadn’t happened yet.

But August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, was a fateful day. I decided, hm, I don’t know a lot about this holiday, and I’d like to know more. So I looked into it.

The thing about Holy Days of Obligation is that they represented things I felt obliged to believe in. All Saints, cool. Christmas, fine. Easter, a little iffy, but I loved the music. But what was with this Assumption stuff?

And then I learned it had been celebrated in different parts of Europe, especially those influenced by the Orthodox Church, for some time. But it wasn’t declared part of Faith and Doctrine until 1950???

For some reason, this drove me batshit crazy.


My parents were alive then. Okay, my mother was 2, but still.

I had believed in the “intellectual assent” theory of faith, but this was beyond the pall. I just couldn’t take the idea that such an important thing had only been declared important in 1950. My goodness, I thought, it was practically Mormon (which was the worst thing I could think of in a religion at the time).

And so my faith began to shake.

I had believed in the infallibility of the Pope as regards faith and doctrine.

I had believed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (and regularly felt guilty because I did go to Confession often enough). I loved the Eucharist. I thought women should be able to be priests, but I figured that would happen eventually.

But really. 1950?

Somehow, for some reason, this had me going back and forth and back and forth.

I believed in the blessedness and intercession of Mary. I prayed the Rosary!

silver rosary on a black background. Central bead has a picture of the PopeBut the Assumption was already kind of hard to swallow. As it was taught to me:  Mary was too good to die, so God sucked her up into heaven. It wasn’t like Jesus’ Ascension, because that was under his own power. It was something God the Father did for Mary because she was so special.

And so I went back and forth and back and forth.

Then I came out, and that period of my Catholicism was over.

There would be another one, much later, and perhaps that’s evidence of my profound ambivalence on the matter.

So you see – ambivalence about (a particular) religion. Something I had believed being assaulted and my mind spinning around, juggling balls of doctrine in the air, trying to figure it out. Back and forth, back and forth.

Ooginess from Woundedness

I have my share of ooginess about the Roman Catholicism, as well. I have anger. I have horror. And I have respect and delight and hope. It’s complicated, right?

The various hypocrisies of Roman Catholic leadership nearly jaded me toward all religion. But I am a mystic. While my passionate desire and love for the Source of Life cannot be contained in one tradition, nor do I feel able to abandon traditions altogether.

O, You Religion, O, You and your myriad expressions make me sing:  Stone Circle Wicca and Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Reform Judaism. Roman Catholicism. La Regla de Ocha. Unitarian Universalism.

Institutions call to me.

forest scene with thick undergrowth, fog. camera is looking up towards light

And no institution will ever hold all of me. Can it hold all of any of us? If we truly recognize the yearnings of our hearts to love and be loved, can institutional life fulfill us utterly?

I suspect not, but I don’t know the yearnings of your heart. Maybe religious institutions fill you to the top.

For me, though, hypocrisy has been unveiled in too many institutions for me not to be wary. And wariness is my version of ooginess, I suppose. It is wariness that makes me give the side-eye to my own religions of Unitarian Universalism and Wicca. Even though I love them. Love them.

It is ooginess that reminds me that, as a survivor of sexual assault and rape, I can’t imagine feeling safe leaving a child of mine alone with a priest. It is ooginess, that wiggly feeling in my body that reminds me that all religious institutions—like all people, but on grander, more horrifying scales—have aspirations they don’t live up to.


So I say all this to say I understand.

I understand what it’s like to go back and forth. To go to Mass on Ash Wednesday and wipe the ashes off before your co-workers see you.

I understand what it’s like to have that tight feeling in the pit of your stomach when you walk into a church.

I understand what it’s like to pick and choose. (And let me be crystal clear:  EVERYONE picks and chooses.) But I understand what it’s like to feel guilty for picking and choosing.

I understand what it’s like to rail against hypocrisy and yet to need the community of love that religion can offer.

I understand what it’s like to need to talk to someone who won’t judge you for going to services.

I understand what it’s like to need to talk to someone who won’t judge you for not going to services.

I understand.

And I’m here for you. I will listen. I will not judge your religious choices, no matter how many times they change. I can love your queerness, your conventionality, your devoted-and-worried Catholicism, your femmeness, the complications of your Jewish-Pagan-atheist identity… I will always do my best by you.

Give me a call. We’ll see what we see.


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