Monday, November 25, 2013

By Faith We Are Justified

I have struggled lately to trust in God's mercy. Since I was a little girl I have been haunted by the terror springing from an idea that I may do something in my life to irrevocably offend God, and, then, no matter how diligently I seek him, no matter how greatly I love him (with all my heart and mind and strength), I will never draw nearer to him because of the burden of my own selfishness, foolishness, ignorance, and laziness and all the sin inherent to those weaknesses.

I try. I fight to remember that for freedom Christ set us free; as St. Paul tells us, "For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption through which we cry, 'Abba, Father!' (Romans 8:15)."

My dad has often told me that I cannot take Christ down from the cross and put myself up there. And recently a priest told me very much the same thing. No, we cannot do it ourselves; there is no way we can earn it. I read a piece by A Lady in France in which she described the gulf between us and God as being Grand Canyon-like, and I thought, Yes! We cannot bridge it ourselves. No. It is a gift of mercy, and by faith in this great gift of God's Son on the cross we are justified. (And that Mercy is Love, as Colleen Spiro briefly reminds us today.)

On Sunday's feast of Christ the King, we read the Gospel story about the Good Thief. He knew what he was - a sinner - but he turned and recognized God's sacrifice on a tree and was justified. If we sincerely turn back to God in contrition, we are also forgiven. We, too, recognize our Savior, and the truth will set us free.


"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1-2)."


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Shore Me Up

Two Sundays ago I berated my kids for not altar serving according to my standards. I didn't ask the good parenting question, "What happened?" or "How did that happen?" I simply scolded them for what went wrong.

I would like to defend myself and say that I had been pushed into irritability by the bad behavior of their little brother during all of Mass, but I have no excuse for my approach to their minor mistakes in the service.

You can imagine my contrition once both of them started to cry, and my husband stared in disappointment at my harsh tactics. And I certainly cannot say that Christ was pleased with me; I felt the opposite - that I had given in to the sway of my own imperfect, merciless judgment.

After the awareness of my meanness settled in my chest and began to swell uncomfortably, painfully, I apologized all the way home for my critical words and unjust assessment of the situation, but I could see by my husband's stern countenance and my children's red, droopy faces that I had ruined the day, Sabbath day.

When we got home I made an excuse to go to the grocery store. I roamed the aisles searching for treats for my kids, probably another false step, but I was trying to quiet the spirit of criticism that I had now turned on myself in full fury by getting something special for them to cheer them up and help them realize how badly I felt about it. I was a terrible mother that day, and I felt it keenly.

I passed a short, stocky, grey-haired gentleman in working clothes going down one aisle. I smiled weakly by way of greeting. A little while later, I met him again.

"So much to choose from," he said, or something like it. "I'm just wandering around."

"Yes, and so much of it junk," I replied. "And I'm being very naughty - I'm tempted."

I went to gather some really rotten-for-you chips that were on sale, and coming back through a little causeway cutting down three aisles, I met the gentleman again. Honestly, it felt like he was waiting for me.

"See how bad I've been," I said, slightly embarrassed that I was indeed indulging my inclination for unhealthy snacks. "I got all these chips."

"Ah, well," he said. "It happens to all of us."

"Actually, they're for my kids," I rambled on. "To say sorry. I haven't been a very good mother today." My eyes filled up at this point. It was coming, and I don't remember whether he actually asked what happened, or I read the question in his sympathetic eyes, serene clean-shaven face and his stillness.

"Well, we went to church this morning and...well, my kids made some mistakes at church, and I got after them...a lot. I made them both cry. I feel terrible, and now I'm buying all these treats just to say I'm sorry, like a peace offering."

"Sounds like you just needed to get away and think about the world for a while."

"Yes," I replied brushing away my tears. "But thank you! Thank you for listening to me and letting me get it off my chest," I meant to push on, feeling silly for crying to a stranger.

"No problem. Listen, I've been a dad for a long time now, and I've made many mistakes. But kids are pretty resilient...as long as it's nothing too traumatic."

I took a deep breath and let it go. "You're right. Yes, they are."

He smelled like cigarettes but felt like an angel of good will sent to shore me up, help me move on.

"Thank you so much for listening," I repeated, tearing up again. "It means so much. Thank you. Really. Thank you..."

He gave me a little nod, and I took the long walk away from him down the cookie aisle, all the while feeling that God had reached out to me through this person.

I forgave myself for a bad day as I walked away. Glancing back at him as he scanned over product like any normal person, I realized how important our little words of encouragement, our patience, and our smiles are to each other. They make a world of difference. They lift up the sad, confused, and imperfect. The gift of our time, hope, and kindness is a delivery of God's love to each other, paying it forward through eternity. I mean to be that angel of good will, especially to my beloved children, just as an unlikely middle-aged, working man with a faint perfume of cigarettes was to me on a given Sunday.



Meditation from Catholic Catechism for Adults:

We unite ourselves to Christ's redemptive work when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God's healing, God's forgiveness, God's unconditional love.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Marriage

"As the family goes, so goes the nation."

Blessed Pope John Paul said that once on a visit to this country.

Family: the love that begins with a man and woman, a commitment made to each other and to the future by bearing children, a nucleus, a nourishing clan from which springs more love and commitment and continual strength. A chain that promises support even when the separate links are geographically removed from one another.

Someone said that the best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother. I believe it, because I witnessed it. My dad adored and honored my mother through near constant financial and emotional struggles while raising us kids, and they have now been married 40 years. They just went to Paris to celebrate.

I am the fruit of a lifelong, for better or worse commitment, as is my husband, and I have seen the harvest of such relationships through others. We recently had a young woman to dinner, a confident woman who is embarking on a great new chapter in her life, and she spoke throughout the evening often of her family. She was proud of her familial, spiritual, emotional roots. They were strong; she knows it, and we felt it in her words and expression. She knows who and where she came from, the safety net is there, and though she hasn't been immune to heartbreak, she has been better able to learn from it and continue on her personal journey with courage, and what's more, with hope. Her parents and grandparents gave her the tools and have her back.

The idea of this commitment, of marriage, seems irrelevant to society - an old-fashioned notion, an archaic idea from a less tolerant, more rigid age that believed in sin and didn't know how to efficiently prevent pregnancy. But marriage will only become unnecessary if humanity stops producing offspring as a race, if we are doomed to extinction and can no longer look to the future or hope, because children have an innate need to know, love and respect their parents as their foundation. It is instilled by God, because parents, for good or ill, are a child's first instructors, their initial survival experts, should be that first brilliant illumination of God's love for them.

I was recently shopping for my new niece with my daughters. Two young saleswomen were tending the shop and discussing their toddlers.

"Are you married to your baby's daddy?" one asked the other.

"No, are you?"

"No."

My heart sank, and it plunged more when one said to the other, "My boyfriend wants to get married, but I said, 'What's the rush? We don't have money for a wedding right now.' "

I believe in saying prayers spontaneously. For the homeless guy on the street corner, for the young man being held by security and yelling about it in the supermarket, for these young foolish women who don't understand what they are denying their children, their partners or themselves.

It's so common, I know, and I would be disheartened except that I remember how often in the gospels it was recorded that Christ sat down to a meal with sinners gladly and taught them, pulled them along by his beautiful Grace, and how they responded with abundant hope.

But seeds of love, respect and fidelity are still being sown. You can imagine our joy when my husband and I lately discovered that we will have the wonderful opportunity of celebrating a marriage on his side of the family with the extended family. It's joy bestowed by the Creator, a strengthening of the body of Christ, another steadfast link in the chain that connects us to our Heavenly Father and to each other and to the promise of the future.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Child Seeks


Sometimes I'm weary of searching for God, of trying to fit him into a human's linear understanding of the universe. Sometimes I find that Christ's words are hard to understand and accept. Sometimes as I prepare to read at Mass, I have to pray for enlightenment of my dull, truant mind. I drag my feet in the good soil often, tired of trying to do good - tired of trying, not the same as actually doing.

I've had a close friend tell me I have a childlike faith. When repeating this to another dear friend, she agreed emphatically with that estimation of my spiritual age. And I know it, and what's more, I thank God for it - except when my childlike faith shrivels into a fetal position.

Times like these call for the personal touch, and if just now I find that I cannot find God in the details, cannot throw a stone into the great pool of faith in things not seen to cause even a little ripple, then I lean on the memory of times when I felt God's presence strongly:

_When Dad used to read the Bible with us on Saturday evenings in my childhood, and it felt like Christ himself was speaking through him, there in the room with us

_The time God answered my prayer, very specific prayer, when I was pregnant with my first daughter

_The many times when I felt the Holy Spirit was delivering a little message to me, encouraging or reproachful, in the words of a friend, stranger or family member

-In picking the minds and hearts of friends and acquaintances to learn what they know of God's grace and mercy

_The lovely, serene moments in various sylvan or riparian environments when all the whispers and sighs of nature seemed to convey Him in every living thing

_In the hospital after my car wreck when I was mourning the man who lost his life when he hit our van with his motorcycle, and I turned away from my husband toward the room and felt that Jesus was standing at the foot of my bed with a smile, pleased that I had forgiven

_When I pray tiny, short prayers throughout the day for people I pass on the street and people I love or for myself, and I gain beautiful snippets of peace

These experiences don't translate well to others, no matter how they shore me up in my dry spells. All I can tell anyone who finds themselves in a fallow field is the same that I tell my children: seek Him, seek Him continually and pray always. If you don't seek, because you are lazy, ambivalent or tired, you won't find Him. You will not discern Him in others, and you will not respond. You will not gain awareness of how he works in your life through the lives of others or of how He desires to use your talents. As a priest once said in an apt homily, we learn the most about God through each other.

I still have my childlike faith. I've been aware of God from the time I was a small child; by His grace, I trust I will never lose that awareness. I know my understanding is imperfect, and I wage war with my constant selfish leanings, indolence and poor understanding. My baggage is not that of experience but that of complacency. I stagger along, praying a little here and there, but I am conscious of the emptiness that awaits me if I don't seek Him. I regret that many already feel that astonishing depression and don't understand there is a peace that Jesus left us for the asking.

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.



Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sabbath

A friend told me recently that in France everything is closed on Sundays, and I thought the opposite of what I'm sure she expected me to think: good for them! One day a week when everyone is forced to slow down, quiet down...spend more time with family, perhaps - spend more time in nature, I hope.

What could we all gain, I wonder, if we spent one day of the week in quiet, restful contemplation? In the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, one demon teaches another that the devil's goal is to fill the world with noise. Our world is choking with the pollution of meaningless, distracting sound - from our TVs, our smartphones, our computers, our shopping centers. Donald Miller, another Christian author, says that Satan wishes to distract us with pointless passions. We all have more than a few of those, I suspect.

We all struggle to escape the very alluring but soul-numbing noise. If we don't shut it down, there is no room for prayer or meaningful conversation with our fellow human beings, no calm in which to discern the movement of God's Spirit or His still small voice. No chance of keeping a Sabbath well.

I struggle to keep the Sabbath well. Oh, I believe in it; I was raised to keep it. But how do you keep it truly well?

There are a few things I have learned over the years. One is that I cannot go shopping on Sunday, especially for petty, unnecessary purchases. I always felt disquieted any time I gave in to the temptation to do so. I can't remember to keep the Sabbath holy or to talk to my Father if I am picking over clearance blouses or peering into the abyss of flat screen TVs. The noise of a mall, the pointless selfish traffic, is completely inconducive to holiness.

And our family must go to Mass. We used to skip Mass just because we didn't feel like going. Shocking to some, I know. I tried to remember on those days to read the Bible with the kids, pray with them, discuss scripture, but often I failed. My dad did it successfully with his kids for years. I felt as if Christ was in the room when our family read and prayed together, and He was ( ). And I know many families across the centuries have held home church, during the Nazi occupation, for instance. But my husband and I are not my dad, and our right to go to God's sanctuary is not threatened. We need to go to Mass, as my husband says. If we don't, the day feels strange and wasted.

I also try, try, not to do any work on Sundays. My efforts are very imperfect, however. I scramble on Saturdays to complete the chores, so the house will hold up alright the next day. And Sabbath does not start at sundown as it should. I stayed up until long past 11pm last night doing housework. Simple meals are made, but however bad the house gets on Sunday, I don't busy myself with efforts to tame it. We go to Mass, take naps, play board games (something I insist upon for family bonding that always seems to breed more arguments than camaraderie), and, unfortunately, watch far too much TV.

Ugh, the TV.

I have at least put my foot down and no longer let the kids watch it while Mama and Papa get ready right before we leave for Mass. I have also limited the shows they can watch, but, then, I always do that. Do I wish sometimes that the TV could go on Sunday, the remote missing, that box of din silent as the grave all day long? Yes, but I am afraid to make the attempt...and, sadly, I like my Masterpiece Mystery in the evening. But, oh the noise, noise, noise of it, as the Grinch might say. I am very glad there are decent periods when it is dark and ignored.

In the Little House on the Prairie books, that I am reading to my daughter currently, Laura Ingalls Wilder describes the Sabbath as starting sundown Saturday, a day when no play was allowed and only essential tasks were done. You sat quietly with the Bible or your catechism and studied in God's classroom of stillness. Kids hated it, of course. You got in trouble for laughing or running or sledding down a fresh hill of snow.

When I was a kid, even, there was a period when my dad would not tolerate radio or television on Sunday. It was family day, and electronics played little part in it unless you listened to gospel music. Of course, we could still run out into the woods or down the creek to play, and I always felt God in nature. I still do, so a hike or a bike ride or a walk with family never feels like breaking the Sabbath to me. It feels like a better way to enjoy it.

Neither scenario seems right for God's day, though: not the standard of old - the long silent sitting in one's best clothes, trying not to fidget, not really relaxing or speaking to your loved ones - nor the present, wasted days of catch-up projects or noisy solitude from the near constant belching of ingenious entertainment devices. There must be a compromise, and I'm trying to find it. I appreciate what Sabbath has to offer...to my family, to everyone.

But I recall that St. Paul said for freedom Christ set us free; the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Never Say Enough

St. Paul said, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

That mystifies me. At what point in one's spiritual development can one declare such a supernatural thing? I do feel sure, however, that to get there on that narrow road, one must never say, "Enough."

In one of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes that I was "helping with" (translate that to mean that I was learning wonderful and mysterious things about our relationship with Christ, with each other) this past spring, the co-leader and I were discussing discernment - how eventually you get to the point where you can see when Satan is trying to get you off course, distract you, immobilize you. The co-leader and I were nodding our heads vigorously in agreement with each other when she said something very wise. She said sometimes the way he distracts you is with the simple whisper of, Enough. You've done enough. You deserve a break. That must be the cleverest, most subtle approach, one to which we are all susceptible.

In the gospel reading (Luke 10:25-37) at Mass today, a young lawyer approaches Jesus, and after confirming that the greatest commandment in the law is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, being, strength and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself, he asks Christ to tell him who his neighbor is - wishing to justify himself, the gospel says. He was hoping to narrow it down, perhaps, to the guy next door, to people of similar social standing, to merely the Jewish people at least - to avoid too much trouble or putting himself at risk. Jesus tells him the story of the man on the road to Jericho, how he was robbed and beaten, left half-dead by the road. A priest and a Levite came that way and passed around the other side, avoiding, but a good Samaritan stopped and helped the man, bound his wounds and took him to an inn where he paid for him to stay until he recovered.

Jesus asked, "Who of the three was neighbor to the robber's victim?"

And it is clear. There is no saying, But that can be interpreted in so many ways....

The lawyer said, "The one who treated him with mercy."

Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Our priest in his homily today said that a Christian cannot hope to merely get by with the Old Testament law, Thou Shalt Not; we have the law of Christ which is much more. It is the law of the New Covenant, the You must do with love and service and selflessness, the law of taking up your cross daily and following Him. We cannot hope to be God's children merely by avoiding sin and being decent to family. There is a reason the greatest commandment is two, the first to love God above everything and the second to love your fellow human beings, whom He created in His likeness, as yourself. The world is open before us, full of neighbors whom we must serve when we can. And we do not get to say enough, or charity stops here! As Fr. Bill said today, "Not what we have to do, but what we can do...which is limitless."

And the Holy Spirit gives us courage not to be discouraged by our sins in what we have done and what we have failed to do, not to use them as an excuse to give up and to stop trying to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. No. We seek the strength and encouragement to fight our own proclivities, to keep striving to be like the good Samaritan, that good neighbor on the road to Jericho.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Home, Vocation


I was supposed to write on Sunday, but I didn't because I was tired and indolent and put out by my family after squabbles over a board game.

Sunday is the one day when I feel truly inspired to write here, because I have been to Mass. My second home, spiritual home, I call it, but it is really my first home; it is where I touch Christ and see less darkly, less muddily, through the glass of this existence.

I could go anywhere in the world, and Mass would be the same except for the language. And despite the language, I would understand clearly what is going on; the Liturgy does not change from parish to parish. No, it is always home.

In June I went with my oldest sister's family to their church. Such a beautiful church! With its sweeping verdant lawn, its bordering woods behind and up the hill, and its views of Virginia farm country, it was a place where one could definitely talk to God and hear Him call back in the symphony of insects, see Him in the prance of the deer and the hop of the curious rabbit.


I loved it. Yes, the Gloria and almost every other song in Mass was sung much slower than at our parish, and the church was much smaller than our own in Arizona, but home is home, and after all I was back in the South, the place where I grew up amid all that untethered green. And two things impressed me very much in that small parish. The first was the way in which the priest, Father Staples, repeated Christ's words at the last supper. Like the songs, the Eucharistic Prayer was recited much more slowly than I had ever heard it done before. I had heard my sister praise Fr. Staples' for his reverence in Mass, and my husband and I began to understand and appreciate just what she meant as we knelt before the Sacrament, meditating.

The second thing that impressed me had a great deal to do with my sister Vinca's family, I'm afraid. My sister is parish secretary and a cantor and sometime lector. My brother-in-law is an usher. My nephew is an altar server. All three of them serve nearly every single Sunday. The parish, as I said, is small. Line for communion is short. Each person in that church must do more to keep their community vibrant, and my sister's family exemplifies that commitment. My nephew shows up to each Sunday prepared to serve if need be, and usually he is needed. Amazingly, every Mass had three altar servers while we were there in that tiny parish. In our own huge-by-comparison church, we struggle to have one or two.

As for Vinca, the deacon recruited her for months to be the new secretary, and she resisted. But if you're sincere toward God, you're walking on that suspenseful road toward Him, trying your darndest to chart what might be coming around the next corner, but willing to say yes to the surprise. Vinca eventually said yes, and she works pretty much constantly. Still, she's good at it, just as God and her deacon knew she would be. And she was only confirmed a little over three years ago! Now, it seems to me, her little sister, that her family is the backbone of that church. But perhaps I'm biased.

More importantly, it makes me ask just what I am doing for the kingdom of God. I wonder if I am sometimes saying no to the One we cannot refuse simply by turning my face away at the hint of a question, fearful of what I may need to give up, frightened by the inconvenience. I recently read this great, thought-provoking article and this essay. The first one made me think that my sis and her husband Dave could cry with Jeremiah, "You duped me, O Lord..." Their lives are full and full of God's work. It can be stressful and exhausting, even discouraging....but it invariably brings light and life to us and to others when we accept our vocation. So, shouldn't we all wish to be duped by the Mastermind of salvation? God hears the faintest, shakiest whisper of, I think I'm ready. Lord, help me.

Pray the Lord of the harvest that He will send laborers into the harvest.

I find myself praying more and more here and there throughout my day, trusting God, my Father, to bring me along despite my weaknesses and inclinations toward self-preservation. I ask Him to make me less selfish, more humble, to guide me in using what talents I have in His work. I am learning to pray, without fear, about my vocation. I'd rather cry, "You duped me, O Lord!" then fail as the servant, seeking no profit, that Christ told us all to be.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Handmaid of the Lord

I am trying to gain understanding of Mother Mary as Catholics see her role now. The pure young woman whom the Angel Gabriel visited and said, "Full of Grace! The Lord is with you," is known to all Christians. The young woman betrothed to a good man, bearing her child in a stable as portrayed in Nativity Story, I love. But I do not understand Mary's role now. Just as I struggle when I read the Book of Revelations, so I falter while reading accounts of Marian Prophesies.

I was confessing this to my friend Dana this past week, and she said that when she thinks of Mary she thinks of the woman who said, "Yes." This is what the Liturgy of the Catholic Church so often brings to mind, she pointed out. Mary said yes, when, as my friend pointed out, she was probably terrified, but she chose faith and trust in God in spite of any fear or personal reservations.

My good friend then added that when she reflects upon Mary saying Yes, it helps her to be a better Christian. Her inclination, she confided, is almost always to say No. She wants to say No. But then she recalls Mary, and it changes to alright...yes!

That I could grasp. For how many in the Bible questioned God and tried to deny His Will was possible? How often do I myself question God, squirming in my fear and uncertainty and self-preservation? And how many times have I said no or maybe....but what's in it for me? This is what society is trying to tell us all now in various "self-help" articles: the better way is to learn to say No! and to grab as much "Me time" as you can. This is a false road, but how tempting it is!

Let me explain a mistake I made recently, a time when I did not just say yes. A friend asked me to volunteer with her at our children's school. I was to write the newsletter for the parent volunteer organization. She was excited when she called me and told me that she thought I would be great for the job, that the principal agreed with her. But almost as soon as I heard the suggestion, I began to reflect on me. What would this opportunity bring me? How would it help me achieve my writing goals? How many new readers might I pick up from such an endeavor? In short, I was concerned only with myself - not the needs of the school, not helping to make my friend's load lighter. Selfishness reigned.

Eventually I did say a yes, but. I angled for a spot where I could write a short piece in every newsletter to highlight my writing or at least link to my blog. She was confused, but she agreed.

That next week, after things began to move more quickly than expected, my friend wrote me an email requesting my help. I told myself I would get back to it later after I had more time to consider the responsibility. I also did not recognize that she wanted my help right then. She left me a phone message, too, and again I told myself I would get back to her. But that whole weekend I did nothing.

My friend had to move forward on the project without me. She wrote me another email which I did not see until too late. In it she expressed her disappointment that I was not there when she needed me to be. She was right to admonish me. I did not just say Yes! and respond to a request. I hedged; I was selfish.

I tried to repair my damage later. I apologized profusely in emails and left a phone message. That is how it goes when you obey an inclination to say no to the opportunity to do good for others. I let my friend down. I broke trust, and our friendship is still not what it was. It is all my fault. The opportunity to strengthen our friendship has passed.

What is so terribly ironic about it is this: when my husband needed her to take our youngest children while I was in the hospital after our car wreck, she said Yes. She came quickly. She comforted our kids, distracted them and fed them. What a blessing from God that was! Through her.

So when Dana told me that she thinks of Mary as the pure woman who said yes to God, I thought almost immediately of how I said uh, maybe to my friend and then said no through my subsequent actions. I lacked faith; selfishness never leaves room for it.

In light of my sin, then, I understand more fully how amazing it was that Mother Mary said yes to such an extraordinary and strange plan. I need her to pray for me. She knows how to say yes. God needed a humble girl to say yes to his plan. He needs us to do the same.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

You Bring it With You

Recently I read the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. It was certainly an unconventional Christian tale, but I enjoyed it. The opening chapter is called Beginnings: God on a dirt road walking toward me. In it he discusses an encounter with God one Christmas Eve and how the experience moved him past the thin concept of the "slot-machine God" into real and uncomfortable territory. He also describes the journey toward God as a slow one - God's just a speck in the distance, eventually a discernible figure; finally one gets close enough to see His face.

I found the book in a Lutheran Church's library, the same library where I had picked up a couple of great anthologies by Christian writers. I read it over several mornings while waiting to drop my little girl off at preschool. As soon as I read the subtitle of that first chapter, I had an image of myself from childhood running toward God on that dirt road, stumbling, tripping, sweating, eating dirt, picking up myself to run again. God knows I'm coming; I am so eager, and yet sometimes it feels like I go nowhere or I wake up after an uneasy doze and head in the wrong direction.

Yesterday I told my friend that I feel like I am building cubicles in my mind: here go the Catholic ideas; here the Protestant ones; and here the ones from my first spiritual mentor - my dad. It's a little uncomfortable, but all of them make up my unique spiritual territory.

As a child I was taught to seek God in what many would call "home church" but what my dad called "family convocation". We read the Bible together and discussed it and prayed together. I was baptized in the creek down the lane from our home by Dad. As a very young child, I knew I loved Jesus mightily, and I made up songs about Him as I skipped around the yard. When my family read together, I felt like He was right there in the room with us, a very real and warm presence.

We moved to Idaho when I was a teenager. All my dad's brothers are Protestant preachers. Dad headed adult Bible study at my Grandpa's church, and my Uncle Kip preached most Sundays. Most of my conversations about God still happened, as they always had - nearly every day, with my Dad, but I was grateful for the insight of so many others.

Then at 20 years of age, I fell in love with a newly baptized and confirmed Catholic man. I couldn't believe it when I found out he was Catholic. I had never really been Protestant; more than anything I was running on that dirt road toward God as Dan Hylton's daughter. But I had all the vague but virulent prejudices toward Catholics that most Protestants have.

Then I went to Mass with Matthew, my Catholic man, and I was astounded. Every Mass they repeated Christ's words from the Last Supper. I had never seen communion offered in such an authentic and holy way. In the Creed I heard and recited ideas from scripture and prophesy. The Our Father was prayed by the whole parish as they locked hands, and then a "Peace be with you," was said to all one's neighbors. I thought it beautiful.

But I held on to my Protestant pride for a good ten years before becoming confirmed last year, and I don't think it has left me completely yet. I am not a cradle Catholic. I am not a charismatic Protestant. I am some kind of hybrid spiritual creature.

When it seemed as if I was too much at war with myself, fractious cubicle dwellers taking up arms, I went to speak with a retired priest who sometimes says Mass at our parish. I sat down with him before the Palm Sunday liturgy and told him all about being baptized in a creek and our Bible-centered family convocations, about my Protestant family, about my mistakes in taking the Eucharist, about my ambiguous feelings toward confession and so on. He listened intently. Then he told me that he found it fascinating. He was almost envious of the diversity, because he was a cradle Catholic. He pointed out the advantages of the strong Biblical foundation that my dad had given his children, and that through every aspect of my faith formation, God was there.

"God was working through your Dad, through your Protestant family...and now through the Catholic Church. You bring it all with you...and He's not done. It's not like He has dropped you off at the grocery store and is saying, 'Okay, you're on your own!' Then He's off to pick up some new person. No, He's still working on you. There's more to come."

I found that comforting, so very, very comforting. And my joy, my confident stride, on that road toward God was restored.

But now I'm struggling with old doubts, old arguments between various ideas I've accumulated from different sources. I'm getting hung up on rules, wondering if I've skipped essential steps, asking if I have to pray a certain way instead of talking to God in sound bites every little bit throughout my day as I think of people and struggles, needs and hopes.

I need to get back to my Bible. I should remember the wise words Father Bill spoke to me on Palm Sunday, words I was still so grateful for when I ran to hug him the next week to wish him a Happy Easter. I want to live by the passage my dad so often quoted to his children to explain what God wants from all of us, the passage where God told Abraham to walk upright before Him and be sincere.

We are individuals. We walk or run toward God from different places on that dirt road, and He is undoubtedly walking toward us, reaching out through our neighbors, and illuminating guideposts along the way. We have to believe that we'll get there, be sincere in our efforts, no matter how many times we trip over stones and fall on our face along the way. We trust we will someday see His face distinctly and cry, "Abba, Father!"

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lector

I love reading at Mass. I am honored. But it scares me; it scares me bad (yes, I know that's incorrect English).

I try to prepare well. I study the words several times, and what a beautiful thing; it has encouraged me to read my Bible more often, perusing the chapters in which the reading is found in order to gain a greater understanding.

But it doesn't fail. Sunday morning comes, and I'm anxious. My stomach feels as if its writhing.

It helps to do deep breathing, to throw myself into singing, mostly off-key, the opening hymns, to hold my husband's hand or my children before I go up as Lector 1 (usually Old Testament) or Lector 2 (New Testament epistles or Acts of the Apostles). Still, the greatest secret to overcoming my fear - to calming down, braving up - is too pray, to offer it up to the Lord.

If I tell Him first at home and then on the kneelers that I want to please Him, to do His will and to be freed from vain concerns about my own appearance or "style", then He gives me the hand I am requesting, the brave up. I no longer feel alone in the endeavor; I feel the presence of the Advocate and Comforter: the Holy Spirit. And then, of course, if I fall flat on my face as I walk to the ambo or stare dumbly at my parish community for several minutes, I can consider myself humbled at the hands of God.

But I don't feel alone while reading His word, because, to quote St, Augustine, I am doing it Through Him, With Him, and In Him. Thanks be to God.

Pages