From Fear to Love

I sometimes reflect on those times I have known the presence of God in an almost tangible way.

I envy those who remember childhood as a time of safety, innocence and carefree fun. I seek to remember the times I felt that way. Then those feelings of uncertainty, insecurity, fear and just general discomfort arise and run amok over me. My mother once told me she thought me very shy, despite the fact I talked a lot (got teased about it) and I think I was rather outgoing. She once asked me why I always wanted to do things that I was not really good at (mostly athletic/physical pursuits) — implying, correctly, that I seemed disinterested in things where I could excel (intellectual/academic).

In high school I reached a point where I decided that I had to choose: to actually be a Christian or to admit I didn’t believe it and walk away. I had to get off of that fence. It was a pointed picket fence, painted white, in my mind. Coming from the South and good Calvinist roots, I feared blowing off the God of the churches I knew, I didn’t want to go to hell, etc. So, I chose the all-in route. I became some form of “Jesus freak” as it were. Of course, I missed the entire point of the Gospel. I took a rather judgmental approach to life and others. I am sorry for the pain I caused during this part of my journey.

This was an essential step it seems. To decide. To step out. To take a stand. Maybe right choice, wrong reasons. What is clear to me now is that it was more fear driven than anything else. Typical me. At least I was reaching out in some way.

On my religious/faith journey I came to the [Roman] Catholic Church by a crooked path. My first experiences of church were in the Southern Baptist Church (grandparents) and the Presbyterian Church. Both of Calvinist roots. From there I wandered into non-denominational groups as well as Pentecostal churches (I remember the Assembly of God and Church of God); I tried out Bible study with a local Church of Christ. Oh, and then the Methodist Student Center in college alongside the Catholic Student Center.

Ah! 1970s Catholics: people of community and faith who also enjoyed a party, some dancing, a few beers (especially green beer on St. Patrick’s Day) all while exhibiting a deep and abiding faith and dedication to the church (and mass). A new world.

Which leads me to a second moment of decision, under a fig tree. Yeah, I know — the story of Nathaniel is not lost on me.

Sitting under the fig tree that at one time graced the backyard of St. Michael’s church (founded as Sacred Heart Church), I heard the Lord say “You are going to be Catholic.” My response was similar to Moses when he tried to convince God that he wasn’t the right person to lead the Hebrews. In Moses’ words: “Not me, take Aaron!” As a lifelong protestant Christian, this was some serious stuff. (Thoughts here: I’m not becoming some damn Papist… you’re asking me to give up my identity! This is like leaving the church.) Nevermind that I was already starting to go to daily mass, did music for Sunday mass and generally hung out primarily Catholic college students.

God calls. And, in the end, I became a part of the Roman Catholic communion. It took 2 full rounds of Inquiry classes (now morphed into RCIA), and having to convince a priest (or 2) and a couple of nuns that this was the right move. I fully understand their concerns, but I also have learned that God draws straight with crooked lines (was that Vincent de Paul who said that?).

Fast forward past college graduation, grad school, marriage and becoming a mother. Fast forward through moving back to Auburn. Much frustration and probably some depression. A sense of inner deadness.

All I can say is be careful with what you ask for. In the confessional, trying to get past the dead feeling, my ask was to “widen the parameters” — I guess that was a cry to help be open up and look closely at where I was. Be brave. It was a time where I truly felt Jesus in the room. I felt I could reach out and touch Him. And, my world went upside down, inside out — a swiftly tilting planet as it were.

I wish I could say it was the beginning of a time of smiles and joy and more. Not so much. Confronting oneself is not an easy task. It was at times quite painful. I shut down many things that I couldn’t handle. But I found someone inside that I finally liked.

Not long after, I felt the wrath of an ultra-conservative group within the parish enabled by a new priest. Another call, another step. Another process.

One Saturday evening I took myself to a new and strange [to me] parish. Small space. The original Catholic church in the county. No music beyond the priest leading singing acapella. Music has always been an important part of liturgy to me. And yet, it was right. I went up to communion. When I returned to my seat, I promise you, it seemed to me that Jesus was waiting. I sat down and it felt like an arm was around my shoulder and a voice whispered in my ear: “Welcome home.”

It took another 18 months to completely move into this new home. It took a long penance where the music I led at mass was a prayer for those who I felt persecuted me. This time it seems I lost my parish and found my church. That Church is much, much larger than a parish. But this move was one done in love, not fear.

Themes I notice: sitting (sitting on a fence, sitting under a fig tree, sitting in a confessional, sitting in a pew); loss; stepping out;

Why do I still go to church?

The other night we had friends over for dinner. A bit of a disagreement or difference of opinion erupted, mostly because of my reaction to what one of our guests put forth. I fear I came across badly, but my reaction told me a lot about myself. The friend was so in awe of The Eucharist — which he proceeded to proclaim in the most magical terms of changes to physical blood and flesh. This is sort of description of The Eucharist that a) creeps me out, b) makes me angry because of what I perceive as a juvenile magic trick mentality and c) just seems so foreign to what I understand Jesus to have meant when he instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

I have to do some deep searching within myself to find a better way to respond. Displaying the anger and the snark are not particularly helpful, even if they do reveal to me some strong emotions that I usually keep packed away. It’s sort of the “Why don’t you tell me how you really feel?” approach.

I’m thinking that I react so badly because others with this mentality have in the past called me heretic and tried to restructure my [malformed] conscience. I must remember that the blessing in those attempts was that I dug deep into my faith and found another dimension that was previously hidden. I searched for the meaning of the Cosmic Christ. I always come back to the reality that the Eucharistic mystery is a lot of why I am RC instead of being a part of another Christian communion. The magical approach, to me, obscures the absolute Wow factor that the Creator (God) chose to become one of us and show us that we are not alone, that we are loved beyond measure and that all of creation (bread, wine, animals, trees, rocks and volcanoes) are a part of this. I think to the words “Fruit of the field and work of human hands” — we work with God/Jesus/Spirit to create the elements that bring the reality of Love to our lives and give us a way to say “THANK YOU!”

Christmas is ongoing – day 7 now – and I am still reeling from a Christmas revelation that if we as Christians truly believe that God loves us so much that He chose to be one of us we would light the world on fire in a good way. If we accepted that it was done with the cooperation of a young woman/girl and a trusting spouse we would see that we MUST cooperate. We must trust. We can’t judge from the outside. We must love the out-of-wedlock mother, the immigrant fleeing to find safety, the smelly shepherds and the kings/wise men in our midst and on our borders. And, we say “thank you” when we receive the fruit of the vine and work of human hands.

 

Belly of the whale

I’m terrified of deep open water. The feeling of floating helplessly above the nothing, the unexplored leaves me frozen. This was the first time I had ever been in an exihibit that lets you feel like you are seeing fish deep under the water, and I was a little shook. Looking up however, I could see the tank continued and let you see the only light source coming into the water, revealing more of this deep water. I smiled. Photo and comment by Matt Alaniz on Unsplash

Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah” (see Luke 11:29; Matthew 12:39, 16:4). Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place we can’t fix, control, explain, or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing. (from Richard Rohr’s reflection this morning 21-October-2018)

Last year was a blur. Losing so many close to me — brother, mother, brother-in-law as well as one of my dogs (who had been part of my life for more than 12 years) — sent me to a place where I felt I had no control, no reassurance that the sun would rise. I wouldn’t plan anything of consequence. It seemed I had no chance to begin processing one loss before another occurred. My sister thinks I’ve handled it better than she has. Perhaps this is true, but it came only after surrendering to the grief, walking through it and basically remembering one of the lessons of Cursillo: Let go and let God. Or maybe sinking into Julian of Norwich’s “All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.” Or the signs on walls while walking the Camino: in the end, all will be good. If it’s not all good, then it’s not the end!

The belly of the whale is dark and uncomfortable. At times the darkness might be more comfortable than the light. When one has been taken care of by the belly of the whale, then one can walk in the light again.

Of Popes and Faith

The tables are turned, I suppose. Those brothers and sisters of mine within the tent of the Roman Catholic Church who found great comfort in previous Popes who often focussed on devotions and rules and fairly strict behavioral and belief rules are now faced with a Holy Father who is willing to say “Who am I to judge?” or who is willing to face our need to care for our brothers and sisters without so much judgement, or who is willing to proclaim that we are stewards of all creation, and look at the mess we’ve made of that job.

To me, it seems that Francis is calling us to be transformed by our faith in God — our faith in the Trinity — so God, Jesus the Christ and the Spirit. He is calling on us to actually interact with the world from that place of transformation. To let go of our assumed superiority, or presumed chosen-ness and be agents of love and change in our world. To be the salt of the earth.

Sometimes, that flies in the face of rigid rules. Sometimes that forces us to look beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law. And, sometimes when I hear the criticism of relativism, I want to say “And you make that [relativism] sound like a bad thing. Really?”

As best I can tell, Jesus said “Follow me.” — not “Worship me.” Following, walking in His footsteps, trying to see the world as He saw it is far more life changing that worshipping Him and keeping change at a distance — don’t you think?

 

Blast from the past

We watched the movie “Woodlawn” last night. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I have friends who were students at Woodlawn High School (Birmingham AL) when the story took place. To them, it seemed that the movie was reasonably accurate. I was in college at the time, but my own high school years were during the opening years of mandated integration, and the closing of the black high school which forced far more integration into the two [originally] all white high schools. And this story of Birmingham high schools and football was set against some of the most violent times and places of this time in Alabama history.

But the part of the story I was totally unaware of was the back story of the “evangelist” (I think maybe a Campus Crusade for Christ “missionary” or some one inspired by a similar group). He called himself a “sports team chaplain.” He offered a simple message and challenge to a predominately “Christian” football team and things began to happen.

First off, the coach, while skeptical, allowed him access. This would never be allowed today. And, indeed, over the next 2 years, as the team began to be a single team, not a divided squad, pressure was brought, and the coaching staff pays for its choice to let this happen. And, in the story, it spreads to the rival school, Banks, and that staff pays a price as well.

There were quite a few of the opening scenes that I remembered seeing on TV first hand: George Wallace in the schoolhouse door trying to block the first black students at the University of Alabama and Bull Connor with dogs and firehoses. These are not just file footage for me — they were live.

The moment that was the real blast from the past for me, was when the chaplain talked about Explo 72 in Dallas Texas. 100,000 plus college students in the Cotton Bowl with Billy Graham. A totally dark Cotton Bowl that is finally lit up starting with a single candle who’s light is shared until all 100,000 candles are lit. Think Easter Vigil — we start in darkness and light the many small candles from the Easter Candle. I was there. I was in the Cotton Bowl. I experienced this. And, it had faded from my memory.

I listened to the message in the movie and I watched the “One Way” hand signal ( a raised hand with the index finger pointing up). And, as I listened to the message weave through the movie, I heard the simplicity of the calling of God: “You are not alone. You are loved. Come to me.” That’s the message of the Gospel that still bores it’s way through to me. I slices through church laws and practice (I’m now a practicing Roman Catholic); it overrides denominations of Christianity. And, in many ways, though not all, it moves beyond Christianity.

This movie could have been preachy, but I think it avoided that. And I’m glad of that. It showed examples of overcoming anger, fear and discrimination. It even showed Bear Bryant in a light that made me not so “anti-Bear” (I’m also of the Auburn persuasion). It was a quiet witness to the power of allowing God to work in the everyday world we find ourselves walking through.

 

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