Friday, September 30, 2011

Portrait of Peter?

So I've been reading various websites from various sources on the subject of paganism & the Catholic church. I can't deny that there are striking similarities between ancient Babylonian beliefs & (what I'll just call "The List" of) basic Catholic understanding. I can't deny that they seem to have deliberately changed the 10 commandments- altogether deleting the 2nd one that talks about not making graven images & bowing down to them or worshiping them. Part of me wants to jump on this bandwagon & shout "A-HA!" But then I wonder, how could deception be so ridiculously blatant? If the Catholic faith is truly rooted in paganism & deception, wouldn't you think the lying spirit behind it would do a better job disguising it? Or perhaps there's no need if the Catholic church sets itself up as the authority on scripture & all matters concerning the faith. If that's the case, what motivation would the faithful have to even read, let alone understand their Bibles with discernment? I suppose deception doesn't always have to be subtle... But a truly good one seems to start out that way.

Another question I have is how has the Catholic church survived for nearly 2,000 years? Was it because everyone was too afraid to buck the system for fear of punishment or death? That's not been the case since Luther burst onto the scene. Yet even with the countless Protestant denominations that have risen up over the last 500 years, Catholicism remains. Is it just a revival of ancient Babylonian practices? Or is it the "church" that Christ instituted for us? The Catholic church has made so many mistakes over the centuries, I would have expected it to melt into obscurity like some kooky fringe group. Yet it remains.

I also would have expected John to be entrusted with the church, but instead, it was Peter. Or was it? There's debate about this too. Still, there's no denying that Peter was a head honcho according to Acts... and Peter was apparently chosen over John for a reason. Remember Peter, a rough & tumble sort, always putting his foot in his mouth, always full of vigor & faith... at least when it was convenient. Who could forget his boldness, his walking out on the water, only to shriek with fear moments later at his sinking? And lets not forget how he denied even knowing Christ on the fateful night... just hours after the Last Supper no less. That boy took off & wept like a baby when he realized what he had done. Yet when Jesus came to him later, Peter saw Him from a distance & took off running, dashing through the waters half naked just to get to Him. I can neither confirm nor deny pagan influence or revival as it concerns current beliefs & practices sanctioned within the Catholic church. But perhaps Peter is a better, more accurate portrait we can use to shed light on the identity & purpose of Catholicism.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Bereans

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11 (NIV)

What sort of scriptures might the Bereans have been "examining"? The New Testament was still being written & not yet considered scripture. At that point, it was just a bunch of letters & stories floating around the Mediterranean countryside. What the Bereans had was the Septuagint &/or the Hebrew scriptures, which is where we get our Old Testament. How many of us take the time to dip in to books that aren't Job, Psalms, Proverbs or Isaiah?

Whenever the New Testament speaks of scripture, it might be helpful to remember that it's not referencing the canon we have today. It's speaking of the Old Testament. That's not to say that the New Testament isn't scripture or isn't worth reading, but how often do we consider reading the OT over the NT unless we absolutely have to? While we have both now, it seems there's a grand division between the two. The New Testament is seen as superior for Christian living, while the old is just history of how we ought not to live. The new is revelation of Jesus & the life we have in Him, while the old is all prophecy & waiting, rules & punishment. There's truth in this, but if we allow ourselves to be limited by these ideas alone, we also limit our potential to understand what it means to be fully alive in Christ. The Bereans examined the scripture to see if what Paul said was true. What did they know that we don't? What treasures might the now dusty, supposedly culturally antiquated, hard to understand OT hold for us?!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Roamin' Romans

I've been making a practice of putting away the Catholic material for a day or two each week. On these days, I get into the New Testament & read what Protestants of all shapes & sizes have to say about Catholicism on various blogs & forums. There are a lot of "proof texts" & arguments flying around, but everyone seems to have the same thoughts over the "big issues"- Mary, purgatory, scripture + tradition, salvation by works + faith, authority of Rome, etc. I must admit, I have the same concerns. However, I've yet to find many worth listening to because I don't get a sense of love from most sources- Instead, I find judgment & superiority & all those things that would make someone reject an argument on the basis of it's delivery. I don't want truth sold to me. Show me a person who can speak the truth out of genuine love for Christ & for others & I might be more inclined to listen.

Anyway, this past week, I began to wonder about the Catholic "Plan of Salvation" & felt led to read Romans. If there were any book of the Bible to proclaim a death knell over the basic precepts of Roman Catholicism, it would have be Romans. So far, I can see no reconciliation between the two & I'm up to chapter 8... I know the Word is spoken in mass on Sundays & I know the calendar of reading takes the community through the Bible over 3 year's time. Clearly, Romans is heard by all in attendance at some point, but is it really "heard" with the heart?

In light of this, I'm not prepared to abandon the process of inquiry just yet... I can see there's clearly a difference in how Catholics respond to the Word, but I need to know why. It seems according to their view, salvation is found within continual participation in the sacraments rather than a "personal" relationship with Jesus. They don't seem to believe in one point of salvation- instead, it is a continual action, a journey whose fruit can be snatched away at any time & counted loss for eternity. I admit, I've believed this myself, way before my exploration began. I still have trouble with eternal security. But Catholics seem to live in a specific kind of fear & doubt... Things done are for safety's sake, to stay right with God so they'll have a shorter stay in purgatory & maybe make it to heaven. Their faith at times seems more like an investment in fire insurance... (Hmm. Where have I heard that term before?) One conclusion I HAVE come to is that we are all guilty, Catholics & Protestants, of reducing salvation & relationship with Jesus to rules, consequences, & reward scales. Heaven forbid that we should ever lose sight of our Lord & His love for us even for an instant...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Comfort Control

Today I attended another mass & participated minimally, singing songs & antiphons. I stood when they stood, sat when they sat, but did not kneel or cross myself. I'm not quite ready for that level of interaction. I love that the Word is preached, Old Testament & New. The gospel is read, a Psalm is sung, the Nicene creed & the Lord's prayer are recited- the latter, with hands upraised or clasped with your neighbor. Then there's something called the “Sign of Peace”, which is not just a “hi” or a handshake, but a full on smile, a hug & maybe even a kiss with the words “Peace be with you” attached. The atmosphere appears lively & warm during these few seconds of interaction. Some more words are said & then row by row, folks trickle down to the altar to receive the Eucharist. I quietly excused myself & launched back into the world with my bulletin & a heavy heart.

I have a heavy heart because it seems Laodicea knows no bounds. It seems there is no denomination, no culture, no country where it does not exert it's power over men (and women alike). One could tell there were a few truly devout Catholics in the crowd, but the rest seemed like they were just there... looking over the congregation, spacing out, reciting the words while contemplating their manicures, etc. I'm not attempting to make a blanket statement, but one could clearly see the disinterest on many faces. It was not real to some... it “just was”.

I considered moving on. Maybe I should try & find a more vibrant church to be a part of. But if everyone who felt that way left, Laodicea would remain. If those who recognized it stayed & let their own flame burn & shine, the church would have no choice but to notice... eventually. I'm not saying I'm going to mount a rally against Laodicea in the church, whether Protestant or Catholic. It has to happen within me first. And just because I recognize it doesn't mean I have the flame burning bright in me either. In fact, I see Laodicea in me when I'd rather see Christ.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Litmus Test

Mary's Immaculate Conception, Mary's Perpetual Virginity, Mary's Assumption, Mary's Coronation as Queen of Heaven, Purgatory, Indulgences/ Praying for the dead, Praying to Mary & the saints (communion of saints), Icons, statues, etc., Confession & Penance...

These are things that caused me to bristle in the beginning. But tonight a thought came to mind: Do any of these take away from the message of Jesus Christ? Do any of these things actually prevent one from ultimately being saved? If you were a staunch supporter of purgatory & indulgences for yourself & your loved ones, would it change the true status of your salvation (saved by grace, through faith & this, not of yourselves, it is a gift of God*)? Believing in these things would not change God's love for you or Christ's saving work on the cross. What about Mary? Unless the Church decides to deify her & the triune Godhead miraculously becomes a quad, even the details about Mary don't seem to impede upon Christ. At best, you might achieve what you desire from adhering to these things wholeheartedly. At worst, you would merely be wasting your time. But Christ does not change in the shadow of these beliefs, neither is His gift of salvation diminished by these things. What He has already done stands as a perfect sacrifice, a perfect representation of His love for us. What we do in response, whether we are Catholics or not, cannot change that. [*Ro. 2:8]

I still don't know what I believe about some of those things on the list, but I've come to see the worth of confession (now called reconciliation) & penance. It puts flesh to the act of repentance, offers accountability & even has the potential to teach us discipline in our lives. Being a sensory person, I can also appreciate the visual reminders of Mary & the saints. I don't worship a sunset or photographs or letters; I see these things & I am reminded of God, of experiences, of good friends. When I see Mary & the saints, I am reminded of this spiritual family I'm a part of. If I believe in the communion of saints, I speak to them just as I would a flesh & blood person in the same room. I don't worship them or “pray” to them as I pray to the Father- they are powerless in & of themselves to effect change in my life. They are subject to God just as I am. But apparently they can intercede with me & for me because God is God of the living & not the dead... What a gift that would be if He truly does allow us to “commune” with those who have gone before us, even that “great cloud of many witnesses”.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Once Upon A Time...

This is how most fairy tales start. I'm beginning to realize that for years, I've had sort of a fairy tale mentality about Catholicism. I grew up in the Protestant church, but was introduced to Catholicism early on as my neighbor's kids went to the Catholic school just down the street.

I remember the church used to hold a bazaar once a year to support the school. My family looked forward to it & usually went both days. Food booths, game booths & even a few mechanical rides were crammed into a tiny parking lot across the street. The weekend would be filled with beer, music & the scent of grilled onions & bell peppers. Their burgers were the best. The school itself was a huge 3 story brick building & each day, hundreds of blue shirted boys & checker skirted girls streamed in & out of its doors. The Catholic kids I knew were kind of snotty & foul mouthed.... the stereotype was effectively cast early on.

I sometimes went dumpster diving (it was actually safe 25 years ago) behind the church. That's where they threw out their half used candles- the pillar kind in glass- I would rescue a few & bring them home to burn. I wondered what would happen if I ever got caught. I saw an actual nun on the grounds once or twice & it both fascinated me & scared me... I had seen my share of “nun movies”. From these, I learned that nuns (which translated as all Catholics when I was a child) were stern, disciplined & took no guff. They had fun, but only at great cost of their obedience to the terrible, all seeing eye of Mother Superior. The ones who had kind, generous hearts were always portrayed as the misfits, the disobedient, the seemingly halfwitted (think the Sound of Music, the Flying Nun, the Singing Nun, even the Sister Act movies).

In general, only the symbolism of Catholicism was portrayed in the media, not necessarily the heart & soul of it. Crucifixes, rosaries, statues of the saints, genuflection, crossing ones self & the chiming of the steeple bells were frequently present. I equated these things with Catholicism, but I understood it was not a faith like mine... I was taught that symbols equated to idol worship or that they meant nothing to real Catholics. They were just outward manifestations born in response to the inner superstitions Catholics seemed to believe... They weren't really Christians, the hierarchy always wanted money & they were riddled with bitter guilt until they went to confession & said their Hail Marys.

So here I am, decades later. I packed up all these memories & fairy tale notions & put them in a pile next to my knapsack. I was ready to board the train & head toward "Rome", but it seems one has to go on foot. So I left my perceptions at the station & left the station with my knapsack. I carry only my faith, my intellect & the hope that my God will keep me & guide me on this journey.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tiny Boxes

Perhaps the problem isn't so much what I DO know about my faith, but what I DON'T. That is, most of us don't have a giant catechism. Perhaps we hold to a creed or confession, but the rest is written up & approved by councils or general assemblies or the like. Or maybe there's nothing written down... No matter what denomination we associate with, we tend to get our guidance from a group of overseers as well as preachers itinerant or otherwise, via all forms of media, old & new. But where does love actually figure in? And who has the right interpretation of the Bible anyway? I'm not talking translations or versions here, I'm talking theology. How is it we can have centuries of seminarians from so many traditions with pretty much the same kinds of divinity degrees & Ph.D's, who can't come into agreement? Is it enough to agree to disagree? Theology seems a necessary "evil" to guard against false teaching, but it can also be a roadblock when that's all that guides your faith.

If you've grown up in the faith, its assumed that you know what you believe because you've been exposed to the plethora of theology available to you. You should be solid, ready for ministry. But I think that's a fatal assumption. I don't think the disconnect happens so much with the intellect as it does with the lack of experience. I'm not referring to being in church, completing Bible studies, attending prayer meetings or even going on missions trips. I'm talking more about personal discipleship- living out one's faith in daily life; not to be a part of a church, not to save souls, not to be assured of your place in heaven, but for the genuine love of God. When I begin to live out of that kind of love, theology admittedly blurs a little. I feel like I'm just now coming to understand what I believe & why. Its not that I lacked the resources to know what I believed previously... the difference is in the striving to live a life of discipleship- indeed, rooted & grounded in love- instead of living for acceptance or the hope of merit from my fellow Christians. I realize I might not be in perfect agreement with either a Protestant or Catholic viewpoint at this moment in my journey, but if I'm not living out of love, neither of these matter. I'm simply not living. Church affiliation, labels & even theology are worthless if I don't have love. I'm not very good at it yet, but I want to get better. I'm not abandoning the fundamentals of the cross, just the tiny boxes I kept each fractured piece in.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Born Good?

I don't have time to give the concept of being born good or evil much thought at the moment. However, its definitely something that's been on my mind since my conversation with my RCIA director. She said something to the effect that in Protestantism, they believe we are born "bad". Catholics, on the other hand, believe we are born good. I have always believed we are born bad also, simply because of the scriptures that say "There is no one righteous, no not one", and, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God". Seems pretty cut & dried. I've even heard somewhere that we're sinful from birth, born into sin, etc. This certainly echoes the cry of the Psalmists, but is it really true?
Doesn't one sin only if they make a choice for or against something? If they don't know it's sin, if no one tells them, its technically not sin for them... But once they know, they are held accountable. So are we really born sinful? I believe we are born with the potential to be sinful, but it can't really manifest until we are able to comprehend right from wrong. Only then do we gain the ability to really choose to be "good" or "bad". Why baptize babies, then? That one, I know nothing about... Not really pertinent since I don't have one. But I imagine its a way to set the baby apart as God's... much like our Protestant baby dedications. I don't think baptising a baby can be a failsafe for salvation once they hit the age of reason. Who knows, maybe we ARE born good... innocent, if only for a short time. No wonder the birth of a child sparks such wonder in people, changes them...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sci-Fi Gospel

Perhaps the gospel isn't so much that Christ paid the debt for our sins so we can be with Him in heaven. Yes, its definitely that, but I've always had trouble connecting with that picture. Honestly, it doesn't make me want to follow Him. Why would a spiritual being leave heaven 2,000 years ago & come to earth as a baby so He can grow up in human skin in order to "save" me from some invisible, inevitable consequence of an eternal damnation whose origin I personally didn't have anything to do with? (Phew!) Sounds a little sci-fi to me. Then He let Himself be nailed to a cross & killed after just 30 some odd years on the earth. I'd be expecting some sort of dramatic finish... lightening bolts & chariots of fire, maybe a legion of angels to thwart His enemies... that is, if He really was Who He said he was. That was the reaction of the witnesses gathered around Him that day as well... “If You're the Son of God, save yourself!” As if His dying wasn't enough, His resurrection 3 days later was even more disturbing. He conquered sin & death & the power of the grave & hung out on earth for another month or so before ascending back into heaven. Just as the Israelites called the bread God gave them “Manna” (meaning 'what is it?), so I have to wonder, who is this guy? Or, in slightly more biblical language, “what manner of man is this?!”

But the simple gospel message boils down to the fact that I would indeed be trapped by the inevitable consequence of sin if God didn't send His Son into this mess of a world after me. He had a plan all along & at just the right time... Christ. God had no intention of leaving me alone on this earth to rot. Why? Because I was made in His image. He breathed His own breath of life into me, just has He had done for Adam & Eve & every other human being on this earth. He was invested in me. He loved me & He knew I wasn't going to be able to get through this life on my own. He knew that sin would entice me & the consequences would swallow me up if He didn't step in. I'm not a disciple because Jesus paid the debt created by my sins. I'm a disciple because He anticipated my vulnerability & came to protect me. I believe because He saw my lack & came to fill it. I confess Jesus is Lord because He is the only thing that makes my life liveable & worth living.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Foster Child

"The world needs Protestants." This is the phrase that went through my head when I visited a charismatic meeting the other night. They worshiped God, they prayed much, they read from the Bible. They danced, they shouted, they laughed & swayed. They smiled. A lot. Still, I thought the evening was disorderly, irreverent at times & forced. It seemed to be all about getting caught up in the emotion to attain some kind of blessing.

The world needs these Protestants too. Why? Well for one, everybody is different. Some folks might languish in a Catholic church, but thrive in a charismatic congregation. I feel my experience with (this) Protestantism left me increasingly empty & disappointed. It took me years to realize that emotion can become mere filler that doesn't necessarily equal faith. It took me years to realize I had no clue Who God was. Not that I do now. But I think I get a greater understanding of Him via Catholicism. I always think that it was me who abandoned (this) Protestantism, but in a way, (this) Protestantism abandoned me. It left me wanting on God's doorstep & Catholicism was there. Even in my short time of exploration, she's shown me a family in the saints, tradition in the faith & discipline in practice that leads to a deeper understanding of Father God's love for me. I am, in truth, a foster child of faith.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Going Through the Motions

In my Protestant church, its easy to walk into the room, shove my hands in my pockets or grab a cup of coffee. Its easy to wander over to the snack table & start talking to someone I know. Kneeling or bowing doesn't even cross my mind because there's nothing to kneel or bow to. In prayer & the reading of the Bible, any number of us may bow our heads or close our eyes, but no other sign of solidarity is usually given. Instead, in some unspoken way, we seem to understand why we're there: we are Christians, this is our community, & this is what we do because we are "free".

If I walked into a Catholic church, everyone would know me by this same silence. I don't think I could remain anonymous for very long. I suppose I could go through the motions just to fit in, but why bother? I would be known by my fruit soon enough. However, if I were to believe I was in the actual presence of God when I walked into church, if I were there out of true reverence for God, I think I would feel very humbled. The Sign of the Cross, bowing toward the altar or kneeling- these things are acts that have the potential to mortify me, & perhaps rightly so. I would be expressing my faith for all to see & revealing that I too am in need of a Savior, I too am in need of the community of faith to make this journey with me.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cohesion

Today I watched a Canadian Mass online. I went to a Catholic website for readings of the day & was slightly surprised to discover they were the same as those read in the mass I had just viewed. I then remembered there was a mass on the local Catholic radio station at noon. Curious, I tuned in. They also had the same readings & celebrated the same saints, but they had bits in Latin & the homily differed. One spoke of secularism & shared encouragement from Pope Benedict to “Fight the good fight” & the other took the message of the reading quite literally & spoke about the love of money. The thing that impressed me most was the cohesion between these three. No matter where I looked, the same scriptures were there... the same martyrs were celebrated & the red vestments were called for in their honour.

Friday, September 16, 2011
St. Cornelius, Pope, Martyr and St. Cyprian, Bishop, Martyr
1 Timothy 6:2-12
Psalm 49:6-10, 17-20
Luke 8:1-3

I wonder if you can imagine the sense of excitement this instills in me, to realize that as I hear these readings, someone on the other side of the world is most likely hearing the same thing. Their local priests are probably clad in red to celebrate the same martyrs. Just as we Protestants marvel that the Bible came from so many sources yet is cohesive to form one story, so I marvel that there is such cohesion among the Catholic church, even over so many miles & in the midst of so many individuals. On any given day, in almost any place in the world, I can share in this community.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Painting Lines

I was walking to the grocery store when I spotted a hurking mass of metal & flashing lights on the corner. It was one of those road stripers, warning everyone of a wet, white line. There was quite a commotion– no one seemed to know what to do. Traffic was at a standstill. When I returned home, the striper was no where to be found & a single bright, white line designated a new bike lane. A few hours later when I woke from a nap, I looked out my window to discover the detailed fog & the divider lines all the way up the road, each in respective bright new white or gold. The brightness of the paint really stood out against the asphalt & the cool, grey clouds looming above. I hadn't heard a thing. It happened while I was sleeping.

Tonight is the first night of RCIA & I find it fitting that I've awakened to bright, new lines drawn on my street. They stand out against the cool grey of my own heart... They herald clarity, definition & the understood necessity of their existence that had worn away over time...

Saints

I was reading a little about Rich Mullins today, having remembered he had apparently intended to join the Catholic church. It makes sense, given the direction his music went toward the end. I read how he considered St. Francis his patron saint & was heavily influenced by his life... and I got to thinking, really, I've been led to the church by the saints as well. Even in Protestantism, we know about Francis, Patrick & Benedict. I saw that classic movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”. I knew the legend about St. Patrick driving all the snakes out of Ireland. I had heard about the Benedictine rule. John Michael Talbot, the man whose music drew me closer to the church, is also (I guess you could say) a student of Francis. But there are so many other saints besides these three.
Sometimes I laugh that the Catholic church has a “Saint of the Day”, but when you think about it, it's quite the witness. Look at all these people who have gone before us in the faith. They were human, just like us, but God did extraordinary things for them & through them because of their faith & perseverance. Their lives were remembered, their stories were written down for our benefit, that we might somehow be encouraged in our own arduous journey toward God. How are their stories any less valid or exciting than the missionary stories of the 20th century? I find it kind of sad that the Protestant church seems to downplay the existence & worth of the saints... as if to remember them or honour them in any way would somehow detract from God's glory. Instead, we are told we are all "saints". Perhaps its a matter of prejudice toward Catholicism- the saints were primarily Catholic as far as I can tell, and to approve of them might equate to promoting the Catholic faith... What a tragedy that would be. I think perhaps the bigger tragedy is the tendency of the Protestant church to strain out the substance of faith & hand us a watered down cup. My faith has not made much sense to me all these years. I've always felt there was something missing. But as I explore Catholicism, the faith of the saints makes sense in light of the Catholic church where it doesn't in the shadows of Protestantism. My own faith is finally beginning to make sense to me. Quite honestly, this scares me. What if they're on to something? What if Catholicism is true?!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Passion

Some Protestants would probably not equate passion with Catholicism. Passion is atmosphere, rowdy worship, thrusting hands to heaven, shouts & tears & laughter welling up within. Passion is volume & how excited the pastor is about some new ministry or some great book, program or product. The depth & effectiveness of his passion is reflected by how many people get on board & carry the zeal home with them. Passion always rides on emotion & if it doesn't sweep you off your feet, you don't have it. This is how I've always understood it, having been raised in a Pentecostal/Charismatic denomination. I left my roots in search of something more. Not more “passion”, but substance. Passion to me has been nothing more than a catch phrase: “What are you passionate about? Pursue it!”

I don't know that I've ever truly been passionate about Jesus or loving others. I don't know that I've ever been truly passionate about the gift of salvation & the hope of heaven. Still, I've attempted to pursue passion for these things, because that's what a good Christian is supposed to do. I had no clue what I was doing or why. I knew repentance was a part of it, but no one around me seemed to care about that. We were saved once & for all & there was no need to worry. I knew humility was a part of it, but most around me were more concerned with being “bold as a lion!”. They of course encouraged me to try & follow in their paw prints. I read the Bible & prayed. I noted many things that we didn't do as a body of believers, & there were things we did do that weren't in the Bible. I was told my lack of faith & my doubt were a stench in God's nostrils... that I needed to humble myself & repent.
(Here's where I throw in a "selah".)

I've found that faith is actually a gift of God (not something I can muster up on my own) & doubt is the proving ground. Just look at the book of Job or Psalms... How these men struggled! Yet they hung on & God honoured them. Passion, I believe, is not cultivated in atmosphere, emotion or charisma. It's not cultivated by books or programs or products. Passion grows from the seed of faith. Its planted by God in the soil of humble doubt. But that seed must die in order to take root & grow. "...unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24 NASB

Lack of faith & doubt it seems, can be precursors to passion. As I begin my journey toward Catholicism, I have never felt more excitement about my faith, about what God has done for me in His Son. Still, there is a fearing, a doubting. There is no visible shoot, but my roots are forming. The darkness & mystery of a rich, loamy soil holds me fast... and so I wait.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Re-Entry

So I'm finally home. My apartment complex was still standing. My key still fit the locks. I retrieved exactly 6 pieces of junk mail & a birthday card. No messages on the machine. It was shocking to re-enter my life, to re-acquaint myself with all my things as I had left them a week prior. They seemed familiar, but I felt different inside. I had somehow forgotten this part of me even existed. I'm hesitant to re-attach myself to my possessions or to the routines of everyday life. But I must return to work so I can pay my bills in order to rent a place to hold all my stuff... Is this really what my life is about- carving out a niche in the world so I can dwell comfortably with my things?! But I'm not comfortable. I actually feel a bit overwhelmed... and I'm not quite sure if I want to keep carrying it all with me.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Being

I neglected prayer while camping. Aside from reading a few pages of the catechism, I didn't read or think of anything "spiritual". God seemed unnecessary out there in the wilderness. In fact, I seemed to forget my need for Him altogether. I looked for Him in my heart & could not find Him. This bothered me & I had to ask myself why this was- why didn't I feel the urge to pray, to write, to even acknowledge God? And as quickly as I asked, my answer came.

He was all around me in the light, the air, the colours. He was present in the height of the trees & the sap that bled from them. He was there in the sweet smelling manzanitas along the ridge, in the boulders that lined the trail. God was in the enormity & clarity of the deep blue green water. He was in the snow covered mountains standing guard in the distance. He was the life of the birds & animals that caused my heart to swell each time I saw them. They did not live despite me or because of me, they just "were", even as God "is". I realized it was I who had disappeared, not God. He had swallowed me whole & there was no need to say a word. I was consumed. I felt no guilt, I felt no striving. How wonderful it was to not feel need, to not think... to not worry about the content of my day, impressions made, bills looming, people to talk to, things to do or avoid. I was allowed to merely "be", just as He "is", just as the wildlife "was".

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Thoughts On Wildlife

I just got back from 5 days of camping. I took multiple books & plenty of paper (thinking I would read & write profusely), but I barely finished a chapter & came away with only a couple pages of scattered observations. I actually spent most of my time sitting by the lake, noting the patterns of wildlife each day. I didn't feel compelled to think of much else. Why bother?

The water was smooth like glass as first light began to make it's way through the trees. Shadows seemed to melt away into the lake itself & the reflection of the forested hills formed & shimmered on the water, gradually becoming all vibrant green. There was a notable chill in the air, appropriate for September I suppose. I filled my blackened coffee pot with water, lit the stove & waited. Loons were predicable in their early morning passages, heralding their presence with shrill whistles & mournful vocalizations. They would stay a considerable distance from shore, disappear into the depths & pop up somewhere completely unexpected. A small group of common mergansers usually followed within the hour. They made the circuit more often than the loons, coming closer to the shoreline throughout the day. Two bald eagles appeared alternately in the late afternoon, always flying back & forth to the same group of trees on either side of the lake. A visual search from a nearby trail yielded no clues as to the locale of a nest, but there was something about knowing they were there. Chipmunks, hummingbirds, stellar jays & chickadees kept us company during the day & a lone female blue winged teal made rounds through the campground close to dinner time. She would float by, quacking incessantly & looking for handouts. My companion & I stopped what we were doing to greet her. While she never came to shore, she seemed to appreciate our attention & stayed with us for an extended time before moving on. As the day wore down, the wind would come up & the waters got choppy. Boaters made their way back to dock for the night & a pair of nutria braved the current home. The sun dropped down behind the mountains & swarms of dragonfly nymphs & moths erupted from thin air & thrashed about wildly on the surface of the lake. Hungry fish leapt like breaching whales, taking advantage of the smorgasbord. It lasted but moments & as the afterglow faded into a dark reddish, purple haze, all became still once more. The lake lapped at the shoreline, inching up over rocks, creating a soothing rhythm as darkness swallowed all.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pursuit

Someone mentioned the other day that they don't get my fascination with religion, let alone my current interest in Catholicism. Well quite honestly, neither do I. Sometimes I feel like a moth to a flame, following by instinct & nothing more. I know the world leaves me feeling empty and the chasm only seems to get deeper the longer I'm on this earth. The pursuit of God, on the other hand, seems to sustain me. Belief & denial, logic & tradition, superstition & skepticism, who hasn't experienced these same internal battles? Everyone's journey of faith may be defined differently, but we seem to share the common struggle to know truth & be known in truth, within & aside from temporal things. I think this is what fascinates me most.

As for Catholicism, I'm drawn to the symbolism, yet not the outward appearance of the symbolism itself. I'm drawn to the liturgy, but not the rote forms. I'm drawn to what these things tend to reveal in my heart. I catch a glimpse of who God is, what it means to be a Christian, what it means to follow Christ as an individual in community. Still, there are those hallmark issues of Catholicism... Beyond the abuse & other atrocities of the ages, the minefield of apologetics threatens the most nimble traveler. In light of these things, how can I possibly, with all the faculties of logic & understanding available to me, even consent to think anything more of Catholicism? Then again, how can I not? As I attempt to put my journey into words, a bigger picture begins to form. So I write to make it real, to know truth & be known in truth, within & aside from temporal things.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tis the Season...

...for spiders, that is. It seems there's a bumper crop full of 'em this year, crawling in from every crevice to seek refuge with me, of all people. I don't like spiders, but they fascinate me. I usually enjoy this fascination out of doors however.

This evening, I spotted something writhing about on the carpet, so I bent down to see what it was. It was no spider as I had feared, but the giant horsefly that had been making it's rounds through the house all day. He was struggling in a dusty web attached to an end table (Note to self: dust.). Anyway, this beefy fly was caught only by the very tip of his right wing & nothing more. He twisted & turned until he was plum tuckered out. It was then that the owner of the web, a very tiny spider, came meandering down a thread to inspect his catch. The fly was probably 4x bigger than this little guy, but the spider was bold & descended upon its stomach to paralyze him. The fly gave no fight. He would make a tasty meal... perhaps a last one, if I ever get around to evicting my little squatter.

The thing that got me was how big this fly was in comparison to the spider. I expected he could get himself out of such a predicament by sheer strength. He was only caught by the very tip of his right wing after all. It certainly wasn't a mortal wound or moral failure on the part of the fly... He just happened to get too close to the web. I wonder how often we have the same mindset about sin & indiscretions... Do we think we can break free because we're only caught a little? Perhaps we scoff at the tiny spider waiting in the wings, not knowing that he's biding his time till we wear ourselves out with all the struggling. Our size & our strength can't save us. The flimsy silken net is deceptively deadly. We're doomed to become prey, paralyzed & drained of life unless we're rescued from this tangled web woven for us.

Repentance

I don't often encounter this word like I used to, save the time of Lent or some other observed season. I hear instead words like "confess", "forgive" or "submit". Words like "Love God with all your heart & your neighbor as yourself" almost seem to surpass the necessity of conviction coupled with repentance anymore.

Can we confess our sins to God &/or one another with conviction but not repentance? Can we forgive others & neglect to repent of the same sins that find repose in us? Can we submit to one another out of reverence for Christ without a real change of heart? I think its entirely possible, yes. I've certainly done it. But God knows our hearts... our hearts, which will always betray us. The necessity of conviction and subsequent repentance are what make confession, forgiveness of another's sins against us, even the ability to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ not only possible, but effective & powerful.

In Love With Your Ghost

I took some time to find out more about the apparitions of Mary over the years.
I was curious as to the role they play in the hearts & minds of Catholic believers. I'm kind of like a doubting Thomas in this way- I wouldn't have believed Moses had he told me about the bush. I wouldn't have believed Elisha if he told me he saw Elijah carried off into heaven. I wouldn't have believed the women or the other disciples if they told me Jesus had risen... I would have to see Him with my own eyes. I would have to hear His voice, touch His hands & side, maybe even feel Him in an embrace to know it was all true. Though I might not have believed in the day, I believe now. To be honest, I'm not sure why. Perhaps I believe because the stories are written down, preserved in the Bible, preserved in the tradition of the saints & apostles. I'm admittedly skeptical however, as it concerns apparitions of Mary. She “unofficially” began appearing as early as the late 300's & again in the 500's & 700's. Visits became more frequent in the 19th & 20th centuries. While some of these claims weren't able to be substantiated by the Vatican, many others were. Certain similarities became visible over time:

The apparition seemed to appear mostly to children.
“She” would always encourage prayer. "Pray, pray, pray!" Was a familiar cry. (Later on, this would be via the rosary, which she apparently introduced with special graces attached.)
She would often request that a church or a chapel be built in her honour in the place which she appeared. She apparently also requested once that a statue be erected in her honor.
She confirmed that she was the Mother of God (this was after the dogma had been established).
She said “If you love Jesus, you will love me.”
When Jesus appeared with “Mary”, He always appeared as a child in her arms.
When asked her name, the apparition proclaimed she was “The Immaculate Conception” (This also came following the establishment of new dogma).
Healings & miracles followed the appearances.
She often requested that her glory be made known...
She said she was all merciful & held sway with her Son... He is so devoted to her that she can move His hand or restrain it.
She said she had come especially to save sinners.
She often appeared in times of war or political unrest, sometimes offering related prophetic words & warnings.
The Catholic devotions of the rosary, the scapular & the need to do penance was regularly supported by the apparition.
She pleaded that we offer Jesus Christ our Redeemer to God the Father by offering the Holy Mass as thanks to God.
She said “If MY people do not obey God, I shall be forced to let go of my Son's hand.”
And, “You will never be able to repay me for what I have done for you.”

Many of these statements make me want to step back & say “Whoa”. If these apparitions are true, I don't know that I can accept them as being Mary. The statements this “Mary” makes seem to fly in the face of everything the Biblical Mary represented... While the apparition appeared with "Jesus" on occasion & even promoted God as Father & Jesus as our Redeemer, it also seemed to rob Christ of His power & rights as the Son of God... Why would Jesus appear with her as a child? Perhaps it signified His powerlessness & the necessity (as a child) of submitting to His earthly mother who cared for Him. Deception can be subtle. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. At this point, I'm not sold one way or another & mean no disrespect to those who do believe...

Fast or Famine

I decided to attempt a good old fashioned Catholic fast from meat on Fridays (three weeks ago). And I failed as each Friday came & went. I'm not usually a big meat eater- once a week is extravagant. But I noticed that I seem to crave meat more toward the end of each week now. Yesterday was yet another Friday. I made a conscious decision to avoid the freshly cooked drumsticks sitting in the fridge. This time, I was successful. I'm not saying this to boast. I have nothing to boast about. Attempting the fast has shown me that the Bible is true when it says the law makes me a sinner, but where there is no law, there is no transgression. If I had not made a point to fast on Fridays, I could eat meat to my heart's content because my heart would not condemn me. But when a requirement is imposed, when an expectation hangs in the air, my heart is challenged to fulfill the requirement or fail... And if I fail, I bear the weight of guilt, of perceived sin, of a profound deficiency in my conviction & sense of power. “Its just chicken, for crying out loud, how can eating it be sin?!” It has nothing to do with the meat itself, but my obedience to the concept- can I lay this thing down for one day? The threat sends me reeling. Suddenly, I must have steak. I must cook chicken. I must fry sausage. And so it goes, the “law” shines its spotlight on my greedy little soul. If the law were not at work, I wouldn't care what I ate. But the law is present & the law is good because it reminds me of what lurks inside. Without the law, I might not care. Without the law, I might not notice my need for change, let alone my need for a Savior.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Crown Of Roses

The Rosary is sometimes referred to as Mary's Crown of Roses. Apparently, every time someone says a Hail Mary, they're giving her a rose, and each complete Rosary makes a crown of roses for her. I don't know what to think about that, but I know I've only ever gotten through praying a full Rosary two or three times in my life. I just can't seem to get my head around the need for all that repetition. As a concession of sorts, I say the "Hail Mary" as an introduction to each "mystery", but I only say it six times in the entire prayer (as opposed to the 53 times prescribed in a normal Rosary). I still don't understand how you can say multiple Hail Marys AND inwardly meditate on the mysteries of the day. I don't have the head space for that! I'll repeat the Our Father following the Hail Mary, putting it into my own words to keep it fresh. Then come the mysteries, followed by the "Glory Be" & "O My Jesus". As for the "Hail Holy Queen" at the end, I'm admittedly uncomfortable proclaiming Mary as queen (of Heaven). Mary, Mother of God, I "get" because of the belief that Jesus is God also. But the Queen of Heaven thing keeps me on the ropes.

So why bother with the Rosary if it's so troublesome to my conscience? Because if I were to pray the prayers (sans repetition) & meditate on each mystery with a present mind, it actually becomes a very powerful way to remember the life of Christ. That is, of course, unless one happens to be meditating on the Glorious Mysteries (the last two of which are Mary's assumption into heaven & coronation as queen). I usually end up in some internal fuss, debating the validity of such claims. I know I don't have the foggiest clue as to how to truly say the Rosary or why, even though I've technically done it & still do it (in a bare bones, Protestant way)... I don't do it to give Mary roses or to receive special favors... I don't even do it for world peace. I do it to remember who I am in light of Who Christ is & to remember Mary, "Blessed among women" indeed.

Discover the Mysteries of the Rosary here.
Learn how to pray the Rosary here.