The Faith That Formed Me
by Ingrid Lochamire
On an early spring evening, I stood in line for the symbolic smudge of ashes marking the first day of Lent. I was unprepared for what that touch to my forehead would do to my heart as in the glow of candlelight, I stepped back in time as tears spilled unbidden.
And there she was again, standing at the altar. Skinny, smiling shyly as she posed in her white communion dress, mousy brown hair peaking from beneath a froth of netting, white anklets scrunched above black patent leather shoes. Ardent in her practice of a faith that would form her, the little girl’s eyes glowed with the joy of taking her first communion, of offering her first confession, and of receiving the ashes.
Did she know that five decades later, she’d stand at another altar and her heart would burst wide open, full with the joy of embracing again the precious impact of the ashes?
* * *
I turned away from Catholicism as a high school senior, lured by the popular youth group and upbeat worship music offered by my friends’ non-denominational church. I wanted guitars and games, not incense, chiming bells and Latin liturgy. A copy of The Living Bible went with me to college. My Catholic scriptures were left behind on a bedroom shelf.
An outdoor wedding ceremony officiated by the pastor of that little church set me on a path toward spiritual awakening and growth. Women in the church mentored and encouraged my still-ardent love for Jesus, and I learned to share Him with others. In years to come, pastors from various denominations and other churches would contribute to a deepening faith that sustained me through my life’s trials — divorce, loss, cancer.
The security of a faith built on decades spent living out God’s Word among His people allowed me to pay attention when a gentle ripple of longing began to surface. In the beginning, I couldn’t put a word to the yearnings that bubbled in a quiet corner of my soul. As a mature Christian, I love my church. I’m in deep agreement with the doctrine and theology of our evangelical protestant beliefs and practices. But, like a lamp lit by a low-wattage bulb, my rock-solid faith lacked some of the glow that burned across the years from the altar of that little Catholic chapel of my childhood.
It wasn’t until I spent time working alongside other women in a restoration project at a Catholic retreat center that the yearnings slipped into place.
Beauty, symbolism, tradition, corporate prayer, holy seasons. I had shed them like an ill-fitting coat in my youth. Now, I welcomed the comfort of their weight and warmth.
As we talked and planned, I soaked up the joy of those women doing a work for Jesus. I recognized and understood what shined from their eyes when they spoke to me of tradition. Of miracles, healings, sacraments. Of a church history that, in many ways, is the heritage of my own Christian faith.
It was familiar because it was part of me.
My stepmom passed away shortly after these women completed their project. It was inevitable that my grieving was bound up in their unwavering commitment to The Church. I had seen the same devotion in my stepmother. Her collection of Catholic icons, prayer books, rosaries, holy medals and other symbols of faith passed through my hands as we sorted through her possessions. They gave testimony once again to what I had known and lived — to the faith that had formed me.
You can turn from one good thing and replace it with another, but can you wipe away the imprint that one thing left on your soul? Or can you acknowledge the stirrings when they surface and make space for them in the now?
When our evangelical Christian church chose to observe Ash Wednesday for the first time in many years, I found myself dipping back into the dust of a tradition that lay at the foundation of my faith. The simple, sacred act brought me face-to-face with the ardent little Catholic girl who called herself the Bride of Jesus.
Her eyes still glowed.
“Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” Genesis 3:19b
Ingrid Lochamire is an author, speaker and former journalist. She’s also a “retired” home educator who graduated four sons before returning to her roots as a writer. She blogs regularly and recently began co-hosting the podcast On the Front Porch. Her reflections on rural life, faith and family have been published online in the literary journal Topology, at the website Perennial Gen and on The Redbud Post. Ingrid and her husband live on a farm in a beautiful glacial valley in northeast Indiana. Ingrid is on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as Ingrid Lochamire.