My reversion to the Catholic faith was in some ways launched in full force when I was on a trip to San Antonio, touring about, and failed to feel the presence of God upon entering a Catholic Church. I tell the whole story here, and here’s the bit about Texas:
But I wasn’t really happy. I spent several years trying this and that in the spiritual cafeteria. We attended the local Unitarian Universalist congregation, but it never really took. On a trip to San Antonio I discovered the depth of my departure from God when I visited one of the historic mission churches, still an active Catholic parish: I entered the church, and could not feel the presence of God.
I knew then that I had gone terribly, terribly astray. Something had to change.
Later that year, driving home by myself from a road trip in Virginia, I prayed to God in desperation. I received an immediate response: An inner voice told me to quit doing nothing, and to just jump in and practice whatever faith was at hand. Buddhism came to mind. Back home, Jon observed: This is the South. It’s Christian. Let’s start there.
I skip over quite a bit in my telling of what happened after, and today I was reminded of something important that happened shortly before my radical conversion experience. I had read Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, a gift from a lapsed-Catholic relative to my lapsed-Catholic husband, and between my interest in things spiritual and a good review at the Wall Street Journal, I read the book. (The conversation: Tom Zampino mentioned he’d read it just before his reversion, too. We’re like reversion twins. If that’s a thing.) If I recall correctly, I took the book with me on yet another spousal business trip that was vacation for me, this time to Hawaii.
While the husband did work things, I took the rental and wandered the island. In a small town, I parked and wandered around. There was a beautiful historic Episcopal church, and since I like architecture, I popped in and admired it. I picked up a nice tract on Christianity, which I would go on to take home to the hotel room, and read, and be edified by. But still there in town, I wandered across the street to the local Catholic church.
It was not beautiful. It was one of those dowdy 1970’s things, more or less church-shaped, which is a consolation, white with wooden accents, and a weak slope to the roof like it couldn’t quite decide between traditional and contemporary — think the suburban three-bedroom ranch of sacred architecture. Inside it was bright and drab and unimpressive.
Also inside: The unmistakeable, palpable Presence of God.
I wished Catholics could have nice churches. But I knew that this artless place was the one for me. Art is good, but God is better. I shouldn’t have to choose, but if I did, I knew which one I wanted.