Girl Talk: Catholics, cupcakes and community

Last night I had the privilege of speaking at an event called 'Women's Night of Spirituality' hosted by the award-winning ABC TV and radio journalist Geraldine Douge (girl crush!).

It was sort of a tame, Catholic version of an Oprah show, orchestrated by an hilarious, excitable septuagenarian priest named Father Peter, who had us all drinking wine and whisky afterward in the manner of the Mad Hatter, and three glamorous mums from the St Ignatius Parish in Brisbane.

My fellow speakers were Julie Kelly, founder of Project Rachel, whose personal story of abortion in the 1950s was responsible for more than a few runny mascara marks, and Trish Wilson, a midwife and coordinator of the Mater Mother's Bereavement Support Program, whose metaphorical description of a crowning baby captivated everyone.

As I sat clenching my 15-minute speech, black-stockinged legs dutifully crossed (like a good Catholic girl) and heart thumping beneath a cream frock, a few things struck me, and the stars started to align... God has a funny way of communicating with you when you're quiet enough to listen.

Just before we'd entered the chapel, I was told by one of the organisers that each of the little chocolate cupcakes to be served for supper had come carefully wrapped in a piece of tissue paper. Then, in his introduction, Father Peter said that there was a cupcake with each of our names on it waiting at the end.

So that got me thinking about how God sees each of us as delicate, individual morsels to be treated with care. And then I thought of the 'EAT ME' cupcake Alice was tempted with in Wonderland. Which led me to think about how Eve stuffed things up in Eden.

Then Geraldine started on her introduction; the theme being community. She talked about how important it was for us – as women, and Christians, and Catholics – to get together to share stories. Because they're what binds us together. Our frailties, hopes, worries, triumphs... they're the stuff of human connection. They're also the stuff of good journalism.

I felt my life flash before my eyes (cue montage scene). The essence of my speech was clarified ("ah-ha!" Oprah would say): the two hardest times in my life had been characterised by a distinct lack of community. And the two best (okay, least troubled) periods in my life were defined by community: my girls' school experience and working on Girlfriend magazine. And, now that I'd found myself a new community to belong to, things were starting to look up again. Ping! The epiphany almost exploded out of my brain.

Giddy with this newfound wisdom, I took to the pulpit and segued into my speech, which was loosely themed around the ideas of 'Can you, like, be a Christian and read Cosmo?' and 'Why anorexia sucks arse (literally/metaphorically)'. I told the congregation that loneliness is the fast track to a miserable life and that community – more, pointedly, relationship – is what God created us for.

To be bereft of community in its many forms – friends, family, colleagues, neighbours – is to rob your soul. Twice in my life I've felt terribly isolated and alone and tried to fill the hole with ill-fitting blocks (y'know, shopping, exercising, food, boys, blogging...), but nothing stands up to the feeling of inclusion, validation and purpose you get when you feel like you belong. Even better when someone just "gets" you. Better still when you can give something back to them.

I talked a little about how pop culture, blogs, books and magazines can make us feel like part of a community. A Kate Miller Heidke song, Melina Marchetta's Looking For Alibrandi, The Babysitter's Club, Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love, Mia Freedman's memoir, Oprah, Frankie magazine, MasterChef, The Sartorialist, Sex and the City – they can all give us the feeling of connecting with fellow humans, while also giving us a reason to bring us together (I delighted in seeing The September Issue with a former mag colleague). But, as one wise older woman (a Golden Girl!) in my church recently mused, "sometimes you need people with skin on".

When the presentations finished, I was delighted to see my best friend, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunties-in-law and other friends (and Husband) waiting to say hello. We'd shared an intimate but public night together, and we all left on a high. Because we'd connected: as people with skin on (and nice frocks). Some other women also approached me, to say that they'd connected with what I'd said. And I was invited to an afternoon tea... possibly with cupcakes.

Then, sitting with Father Peter, the other speakers and organisers sipping wine and eating cheese and crackers, I felt another connection: we'd achieved something together and it was deeply satisfying. And then I was reminded of Eve.

Jesus died to atone for Eve's sins – for all our sins – so we could all go about living life as fabulous, individual little cupcakes untainted by guilt and anxiety and loneliness, wrapped up in the tissue paper of God's love (aw - vomit, you say). Yet we often deny ourselves the very things that God intended to give us peace (y'know, people with skin on) because we are too preoccupied with other things or have forgotten how to connect... falling down the rabbit hole of work and routine. It's only after we have an amazing chat with a friend, or go to an event where talk ourselves silly with people that we remember how soul-nourishing relationships are: then we get busy and promptly forget!

One of my aunties-in-law visited me this morning to follow up on last night and we had a D&M about the complicated, deeply political yet personal issue of abortion. The previous night's event had opened up the issue for us, and I found we shared some common ground (so not going into it). I was relieved to have found a comrade. Added to this, a friend from my primary school, who I've not talked to for 18 years, Facebooked me today to arrange a coffee catch up. We have a history – a connection – that can't be filled by anyone else. And over the weekend I felt like I'd found a little slice of my former Sydney life at The Village Markets (Burleigh is the new Bondi for me!). Again, community. Whee!

The moral to this little self-indulgent God ditty? One is the loneliest number. If there's no one in your life you feel you can relate to or have a heart-to-heart with or who inspires you to be a better person or who's working alongside you for some purpose or who "gets you", I totally recommend praying for one... preferably with skin on.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

What a lovely post. It made my day.

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for sharing Erica. It touched, moved and inspired me.

Rochelle said...

This is such a great post. There is nothing worse than feeling alone. Nothing.

I've experienced it to an extent in my life (largely of my own doing) and have been left feeling completely isolated and bereft, and furiously trying to fill the gap without quite knowing how.

Thanks for summing it up so well - this is definitely a 'print and file' post. :-) xx

L said...

As an atheist, I would comment that you have to stop apologising for the God stuff! I almost didn't read this post. It's your opinion. Your experience. Don't apologise for it.

I recently have had experiences that have brought me to a similar epiphany. I guess we all hear these cliches but everyone will have a moment in their lives where we really get it.

Lizzie said...

Erica - your post connected me tonight. In a lot of ways. From the 'silly' connections (love Geraldine Doug, having grown up listening to and watching her, massive BSC fan, owned all the books including the super specials), to the more D&M issues (loneliness, lack of community). I often find I don't have the confidence to join a community, and find myself in the situation you talked about, feeling disconnected. Currently living away from my family and close friends, it isn't the best choice I could make for myself. The idea that God wants us to be with people in all areas of our lives really made sense. I could go on and on, but don't want to become a comment blog :) Thanks for sharing this very meaningful post.

Miss KH said...

Hi Erica

This is a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it.

I am a christian too and constantly battling between the world I am so tempted to submit to yet was never made for. I love reading your blog for this very reason, because it acknowledges the world and how creative and conceptual it can be but always remembers the greater perspective and our greater purpose. I think you balance this wonderfully and I send you a virtual high-five for the honesty and creativity you pour into your postings.

SquiggleMum said...

Wish I was there to hear you speak Erica... I'm sure I'll meet you IRL somewhere, one day. Til then, I'll just keep reading. Love your work.

Emma M said...

I agree, there's no need to apologise for the 'god stuff'. We read this because we want to know what you think, no matter the topic.
This was a wonderful piece. I would love to see more of these kinds of items throughout the media as, if anyone else is like me, we could do with a wake-up call every so often reminding us of where we really do find joy.
Thank you.

AB said...

I third the "don't apologise for the religion" aspect: it's your blog, your life experience! I too am no Christian, nor anything else beyond a happy agnostic, but what keeps me coming back to blogs such as yours is reading about people's experiences and how they shape them. It's very brave to be so open.

Josephine Tale Peddler said...

Even my father (who is a total atheist) says he considers it was a shame when two things happened in our little Tasmanian hamlet that killed the sense of community overnight.
1/ the churches had a huge loss of people attending and priests only came once a week
Farewell to the community social groups, the craft groups, the brownies, scouts and cubs etc.
I now live in the inner-city and see a return of some of these old social groups as people attend to form families and a sense of belonging.

Anonymous said...

Your speech the other night was amazing, love your honesty. Also love this post.

Love Beck

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU for another amazing post and for your honesty. Such an encouragement!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Erica for your amazing presence on Tuesday evening & for your inspirational presence through your wonderful blog. God bless always :)