Opinion

Taking part

byJaymie Stuart Wolfe
3/4/2011

I was thrilled when the invitation came addressed to The Wolfe Family. That meant we could bring our kids to a wedding--and not just any wedding either. An Armenian wedding! We were all pretty excited because things aren't like they used to be. Fewer people are getting married, and our kids had never been to a pull-all-the-stops-out reception of any kind.

Oh, I know all the reasons very well. Things are a lot more expensive than they used to be. Of course, there's also a lot more pressure to create fantasy weddings than there ever was. Limousines, flowers on every table, gourmet food, open bars, separate designer gowns for ceremony and reception, dinner and dance music, favors, a swank hotel ballroom, and a big ticket resort getaway: all that adds up to limiting the guest list. From my perspective, traditional ethnic weddings have their priorities straight. Invite everyone.

We didn't really know what to expect at an Armenian wedding, though our kids thought it had the potential of being a bit like one of our favorite film comedies, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." I did know that everyone would be dressed in their best, and decided to Google "wear red to Armenian wedding" just to be sure I wasn't about to commit a cultural faux pas. When nothing showed up, I figured I was in safe territory.

The reception was held in a very inviting hall attached to an Orthodox church. Like the bride and groom, most of the people present were Armenian. In the course of the evening, we heard a good bit of Armenian language, and a whole lot of Armenian music. We also ate what seemed to be an endless feast of absolutely delicious Middle Eastern food. Between courses, my mother and I got up to join a few line dances, and move our arms in that mystical and enticing way that seems so foreign to most of Europe, and especially so to Americans.

Unsure of their place in an unfamiliar culture, our kids seemed a bit scandalized by our willingness to jump right in. Ranging from 11 to 15, it was no surprise that they were initially resistant to getting out onto the dance floor themselves, even if three of them take dancing classes. But when we finally got them out there, their initial discomfort quickly turned into fun. As Marjeta put it the next morning, "Here's what you do at an Armenian wedding: first you eat a lot of food, then you dance it off. Then you eat more food, and dance it off again. Then you have coffee." And why not? After all, if "when in Rome" works, why not "when in Yerevan?"

Our whole family had a great time, mostly because we decided that there were worse things than making fools of ourselves on a dance floor. Once we were past all that, we could just set our self-consciousness aside and take part. The fun came in leaving our table and becoming part of all that was going on.

The experience made me wonder if self-consciousness and feeling culturally disoriented wasn't why a lot of Catholics seem like such deadbeats at Mass. Maybe "deadbeats" is a bit strong, but as a former cantor, I've seen the glazed over faces staring blankly back. Now that I'm in the pew with the rest of my family, it seems like we might be the only people other than the cantor or priest who are singing.

Of course, taking part in the liturgy involves a lot more than just music. It's the prayers and responses, too, and the physical gestures like bowing and standing, kneeling and making the Sign of the Cross. And it begins way before the opening procession does, with a dip into the font and a quiet prayer before Mass.

We have been challenged to create a culture of life and a civilization of love. I think, though, that it must begin with acclimating ourselves to the culture of faith and the language of prayer. Nothing that is "Catholic" should feel foreign to anyone who has been baptized. The rosary, the Bible, eucharistic adoration, the saints, confession, singing, bowing, all these should just be part of our lives in a community of faith. But for that to be so, Catholics need to become more comfortable with--and less embarrassed about--being Catholic. That is, we ought to stop worrying about what it looks, and feels, and smells, and tastes like to express who we are. We need to get up and onto the dance floor. Watching others who know the steps better than we do, every one of us can learn to move like people who follow Jesus Christ, and belong to his Church.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.