One

We are already one. We just think we are separate.
-Thomas Merton

 

The events of this week, as seen in the media, have left me feeling disappointed and deeply saddened.

And yet I find myself compelled to keep reading, to try to understand thoughts which don’t come naturally to me, beliefs so very different from my own. Because there will never be understanding when we confront hate with hate instead of compassion.

As long as we continue to see some people as Other, there will never be unity and there will never be peace.

The truth is that there is no “us” or “them” but only we.

We were created a little less than divine. We were made out of love and blessed with infinite, relentless grace. And we are commanded to extend that same love and grace to one another.

So let us start now.

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The Conversation

I was almost out the door when I read the message: the illness was back, her already weakened immune was being attacked once again. No, this isn’t the end. But it’s tricky. My prayers are full with her lately and I worry. I worry that the life of the woman who gave me life will somehow be cut short by all this.

My throat tightens.

A few moments later, another message. The car had spun out but somehow he regained control and arrived safely at work.What would I do had it happened otherwise? How lost I would be without him, I thought. Still, there is someone, somewhere, who will face this news today and how lost they will be.

In the near empty church, I took a seat and with everything that had happened I sunk deep into prayer.

I sat quietly and gave thanks and soon found myself in silence. There was nothing left which could be said with words. Sometimes, we speak through our actions and other times we speak through our silences. And as time passes, the more I am aware of how God uses both to engage us.

 

It was, as I have come to expect, a disappointing homily that morning. But he had my full attention when he said God had nothing more to say to us, He had said it all through Christ. The final word had been spoken.

How sad it must be to live with the belief that God no longer speaks to us, the conversation having ended nearly two thousand years ago. Since then it has been radio silence, or so he thinks.

I suddenly imagined we were voices in an empty room.

 

He meant well but he was wrong: God is always speaking to us. God, the one who is “Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:6) is speaking to us, through us.

YHWH, His name, all aspirated consonants. A name that can only be truly spoken with our breath. We speak His name constantly. But who takes note of their breathing? Only when it is ragged and labored do we pay it any mind. Only when we are gasping do we seem to notice it. We wait until we are breathless.

Through this unconscious process that keeps us alive, we engage with God, always.

 

The irony is that this conversation, which is so often little more than an ongoing whisper, can sometimes be deafening. It rings and echoes in every aspect of my life, my whole being vibrating with the sound, precisely because He is Life itself. He speaks through us and in us and nothing in our lives is outside the bounds of this sacred conversation.

Perhaps if we did away with our expectations we’d realize that God has never stopped speaking. It is only us, through our arbitrarily imposed limits, who has brought the conversation to a halt.

 

 

 

 

An Introvert in Church

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This is the last thing I see of the outside world on the mornings I attend mass. Its size and detail are so overwhelming as to fill my entire gaze. And when I leave all I see is the city stretched out before me. An expansive view, high on the hill -it feels a bit like hovering over the streets.

To be honest, I am surprised at how much I am enjoying this morning ritual. But maybe what surprises me more is how each time I go, I expect to receive some kind of affirmation. To hear my thoughts or beliefs echoed back to me in the homily. Every. Time. And still, it has yet to happen.

 

Like today.

It was a clumsy homily based on today’s reading of Matthew 11:16-19. There were a few starts and stops, a bit of tripping over words, and it all ended rather abruptly with the suggestion that we question the path we’re on.

Most mornings I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing there. Yes, I enjoy it and something in me resonates in response to the mass. Is this the ‘right’ path? I’m still not sure. But I trust I’ve been brought here for a reason, whatever it might be.  

 

With this in mind, I came home and read 1 John even though I had read just a few days ago. It’s a letter I come back to often but somehow, until today, I had missed this: “…what we will be has not yet been revealed.” (3:2)

We are children of God and this is all we really know with any kind of certainty. And our commandment relates directly to this, the one thing He really asks of us: that we love one another, the brothers and sisters we have seen, because the One we have not seen loved us first.

So maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s why I find myself during so many mornings these days, kneeling low in the company of strangers. Maybe that’s why I return even after a particularly disappointing homily, even though I know there will be that one woman who insists on shouting the hymns from the back, even if the person beside me speaks during otherwise silent prayers.

Incarnational love, it didn’t just happen once and doesn’t end at the boundaries of ourselves or circles.

Someone, I forget who, said it’s hard to be a Christian alone and I can see now how that’s true. Alone, spiritual practices can become self-indulgent; maybe not always, but sometimes. It’s easy to feel loving and peaceful when you’re praying in a quiet, empty house. It’s easier still to love those already close to you. But what that is new can be born in this closed-off loop of love?

If the lips we use to bless God must also bless each other, than this might be the most challenging spiritual practice of all for an introvert like myself. Faith will ultimately push you to the boundaries of your being and you’ll stretch and be uncomfortable. But the pain is for the growth of something good.

 

Lately I find myself smiling when I hear that off-key singing from the back. And the voice near me, whispering His name, I find myself praying for whoever it is speaking those words.

It’s not easy and some mornings I do better than others. Some mornings I just clench my jaw and wait.

But community is never exactly what you want it to be, and neither is love. Yet somehow it’s always what you need.

So I keep going back.

 

Jacobs

When he said humans were co-creators with God, it felt like coming alive, like live wires sparking. And I looked out the window and thought of all we had made and would make. The world we could shape.

But it isn’t only about what we assemble. Our identity is also a creation and the process is one in which we are intimately engaged with God. This creation -it’s our vocation. It’s the work of our soul and it is only with God and through God that we are ever able to shed the layers and lay bare on the altar.

This is how we engage with the Mystery and this is where I find myself now.

 

For ten years I was absent.

Not once did I attend mass or a service of any kind. Not even for the “big holidays.”

And yet already this week I have gone twice. When it is still dark and the air is sharp, I make my way to the church on the top of hill. It looms over the city and for the years I have lived here, it has loomed over me too.

Opening its doors felt both familiar and strange. The creak of wooden pews, the rustling of pages. The quiet anticipation.

More than once I found myself overwhelmed and in tears. Sure, there was joy and adoration and forgiveness. And the church itself -well, it’s more a cathedral. Who could sit there and not help but feel small? My mind drifted to those peasants, the first to enter the cathedrals of Europe, and I thought myself at that moment a peasant too. The walls, the windows, the light all spoke of God’s grace and magnificence.

I looked down at the dirt on my shoes.

 

As I walked out, that old injury aching in my knee, I felt confused.

Here is the Church I grew up in, the Church that has housed us for generations.

All of the questions and struggles of these past few years and for what? To have come full circle, back to where it all started?

So far I have avoided labeling myself but here I am caught somewhere between Catholic and Protestant. Not really wanting to give up one for the other, unable to reconcile the present with the past.

I felt alone. Lost.

Someone followed me out and I heard their steps behind as I descended the stairs. Me, limping. Him, more spry. And I thought to myself this isn’t unique to you. You aren’t alone in this. Haven’t we all wrestled with God and now walk with holy, clumsy limps? Aren’t we all Jacobs?

 

Our vocation, it’s work. We were never promised it would be easy or that it would come easily to us. Most of the time we aren’t even sure what exactly we’re grappling with. But we wrestle with it all the same because what else can we do? 

If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him…
-Thomas Merton