I’ve asked several Catholic’s for permission to write about their faith and beliefs, but none were interested until I met Marcia Wall. I attended Mass at her church, St. Augustine in the Treme neighborhood, and marveled at the similarities to a Protestant service. It certainly wasn’t the Catholic Church I remembered – priests speaking in Latin boring me to tears. After Mass, Marcia and I feasted on Chinese food while she talked about her spiritual journey.
At a young age, Marcia told her parents you can’t make me believe. She believed God existed, but the teaching she received in the Catholic Church seemed unreasonable. “The things I learned in catechism didn’t make sense to me,” said Marcia. “I liked the message of love. Jesus walking on water, dying for my sins, and being resurrected from the dead seemed like hooey, a crock, a fantasy. I always considered myself a deeply spiritual person but organized religion seemed out of step with reality.”
Throughout high school and college Marcia remained keenly aware of the spirituality languishing within her. After she graduated from college, she searched for a spiritual community. Her quest ended at a Samhain ritual organized by Arachne Circles, a community of spiritually minded women in San Diego.
The night of Samhain, Marcia purified herself with sage and changed her name. She danced and chanted around a blazing fire with like-minded women. Evil spirits were cast off and words of peace, wholeness and harmony spoken. During the feast of food and fellowship that followed Marcia knew she had found a home.
Three years later, two principle leaders of the circle moved to Santa Fe. The remaining members tried to keep the group alive to no avail. Marcia wondered if her faith would fade like the community that had nurtured her spirituality. As a fledgling bird tossed from the nest, Marcia discovered she could fly solo. Her faith remained strong. She made spiritual connections by sharing her joy, by teaching, and through small and large acts of kindness.
When Marcia moved to New Orleans to teach at the University of New Orleans she looked for another pagan community. As she left a ritual, she saw one of the attendees snorting cocaine. Poisoning one’s self with drugs was not her idea of spirituality. She never returned.
Several years later, she left her job at UNO to pursue the exciting and terrifying life of freelance work. She tutored rich kids, took photo portraits, produced comedy shows, rented her condominium to vacationers, ran a summer camp art program, wrote essays and gave Spanish lessons. The freedom of doing the things she loved was wonderful. Wondering if she could pay the mortgage from month to month was terrifying.
Marcia found another home to nourish her spiritual life in the Catholic Church. The wreckage of communities by Hurricane Katrina stripped the archdiocese of twenty percent of its catholic population. The archdiocese merged some of the churches and closed others through a storm of protests from longtime congregation members. Marcia learned St. Augustine might close. The oldest African-American Catholic church in the United States was in walking distance from her home in the French Quarter. She attended Mass to be a friendly neighbor and support efforts to keep the church open.
A year later, Marcia decided to take religious instruction and make her first communion. “I wasn’t going to commit to something if I couldn’t do it fully and researched the church’s teaching. I was still hesitant about making my confirmation after I finished the class and decided I wasn’t going to do it. Then a woman who had been in my class called me from Brazil and wished me good luck on making my first communion. That’s when I realized I’d be making a commitment to the Catholic people more than the Catholic church. I wasn’t going to let administration problems in the church get in the way of becoming part of a church family that I found really nurturing. At St. Augustine the only thing people care about is, ‘Do you love.’ If you have a good heart, nothing else matters. To me that is what Christ preached. ”
Marcia returned to her spiritual roots but her freelance work had become stagnant. Eight months of consulting work for one client left other profitable pursuits languishing by the wayside. The possibility that she might not be able to support herself stirred fear in her heart. She jotted down a list of ideas in her notebook. Her computer illiterate mother had recently suggested she blog for a living. Initially, Marcia dismissed the idea. This time she added “blog” to the list reasoning she should be open to all possibilities.
“I looked at the new entry on my list and felt nothing,” said Marcia. “Then, without thinking, I wrote the word “pray” next to it. Suddenly, like a sliding glass door, a space opened up in the sky just above my line of sight. I looked up. Before me was the concept for 411 NOLA. The whole thing – what it should be, what I should write about, how I should run it, how it would provide for me- was revealed to me in a moment of time so minute that it is less calculable than an instant. Silently and without even articulating my thoughts, I had prayed and by doing so I was able to see what God wanted me to do,” said Marcia.
Marcia dived into her new pursuit with gusto. She forwards me any item that pertains to religion for NOLA’s faith blog. I was amazed at her diligence and appreciated the new content. She labored for months without attracting sponsors and her paid work remained sparse. Knowing Marcia’s financial struggle, I paid her to edit a manuscript I’d prepared for my agent. I knew the money would bless her, but never conceived God would give her something greater through my act of kindness.
One Sunday morning, Marcia awoke and dressed for church but something in her said, “Don’t go.” She did her laundry, made some phone calls and still had a few hours before she went to a friend’s house to watch the Saints game. Marcia turned on her computer and saw the last part of the manuscript I had sent her.
While she edited the manuscript, she read the story of a woman who felt called to move to New Orleans but lacked the financial resources. God responded to the woman’s plea for help by waking a pastor in the middle of the night and instructing him to help her. The woman’s story became a revelation that changed Marcia’s life. She believed God called upon her to create 411 NOLA, but felt requesting financial help from God would be an act of avarice.
“The woman’s story made me realize that not only can I ask God for money, I must ask him because I need the funds to fulfill the work he wants me to do. Her story removed my guilt and gave me permission to ask God directly for the money I need to continue working on 411 NOLA. The moment I understood that I knew that God had kept me from going to church that morning for a reason,” said Marcia.
411nola.com offers “unique and practical insider information to the New Orleans traveler who desires a truly local and authentic experience.” The website is growing steadily in popularity. Marcia is hoping and now praying to attract sponsors.