God’s Call: Of Golden Strings & Fisherman’s Lines

God’s Call: Of Golden Strings & Fisherman’s Lines December 10, 2013

“Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.” 

– Thomas Merton

It was the morning of the Rite of Election, a special step of affirmation in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). And I was eager. After all, I was one of five candidates for conversion to the Catholic Faith being warmly sent from my parish church to the glorious Cathedral of St. Paul for reception by the Archbishop. The days were drawing near when I would be in full communion with the Catholic church and I hungered for it. So, that morning as we sat in St. Bart’s chapel with our sponsors and RCIA team leaders, I didn’t expect the words of a friend, team leader and convert to have such a profound impact on me.

Lee was a veteran team leader with RCIA. A wonderful, bright and engaging person, Lee has succeeded professionally and personally due to her astute intuition and enviable organization. The story she told us relayed the process by which she converted. Years ago, as Lee drew nearer to the Easter Vigil, communion and welcome into the Church, she relayed to her RCIA guide, a nun, all of the steps that she (Lee) had taken to bring her conversion into being. With an admitted self-approving confidence, Lee relayed the choices she made, the deliberations she undertook, the discipline and devotion she possessed that brought her to the Church. The kind eyes and patient smile of the nun took in all that Lee had to say. Once finished and satisfied with the path she had constructed, Lee awaited her nun’s sweet approbation. Instead, the nun responded with conviction,

“You didn’t choose this, Lee. God called you here.”

Evelyn Waugh was considered an intriguing, fashionable ultramodern mid-twentieth century novelist when he shocked his contemporaries by converting to Catholicism. His conversion generated significant chatter among the papers and spurred him to respond with a published letter, “Converted to Rome: Why It Has Happened to Me.” As his most famous novel, Brideshead Revisited, would be considered by a movie studio for film adaptation, Waugh reportedly submitted a memo outlining the impact of the the Catholic Faith on his life,

“The Roman Catholic Church has the unique power of keeping remote control over human souls which have once been part of her. G.K. Chesterton has compared this to the fisherman’s line, which allows the fish the illusion of free play in the water and yet has him by the hook; in his own time the fisherman by a ‘twitch upon the thread’ draws the fish to land.”

Malcolm Muggeridge was a British journalist with an array of experiences ranging from cloak-and-dagger wartime intelligence operations to the documentary discovery of Mother Teresa. But in spite of his intriguing assortment of successful experiences, Malcolm confessed that he was lost in the midst of agnosticism, sexual impropriety and suicidal ideation. In a book about his conversion, Confessions of a Twentieth Century Pilgrim, Muggeridge reflects on a stanza by poet William Blake,

“[William] Blake writes of a Golden String which we are to pick up and wind into a ball as we go along. If we manage to hold on to it, he tells us, then it will lead us in at Heaven’s Gate in Jerusalem’s wall:

‘I give you the end of a Golden String,
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven’s Gate
Built in Jerusalem’s Wall.’
– William Blake

Being received into the Catholic Church is a staging post for me in following the Golden String…Following my Golden String has led me into noisy newspaper offices and insulated radio and television studios; sent me questing for news in distant and strange places; had me telephoning and writing against the clock, and generalizing from meagre and often non-existent facts…I well remember my own first glimpse of Blake’s Golden String, glittering in the mud of wilfulness; how I stooped to pick it up, supposing it to be a coin or some golden object, only to find that it was indeed a Golden String which I thereupon began to wind into a ball. Thenceforth I often lost it, treading it back into the mud wearing dark glasses, losing sight of it for days on end, but always somehow finding it again. I have it still wound into a monstrous ball, though now I am too feeble to carry it far. Even so, I remain confident that before long, with tottering steps, and sweating under its weight, I shall indeed find myself at Jerusalem’s Wall with Heaven’s Gate built into it.”

The words of Thomas Merton. God’s calling of Lee. The Fisherman’s line of Chesterton and Waugh. The Golden String of Blake and Muggeridge. Each of these stories daze me with a staggering truth that I forget over and over again:

“I am not in control.”

Granted, God gave me dignity, free will and an understanding of the value of self-discipline to achieve certain ends. But, repeatedly, I credit myself too much, rely on myself too much, and aimlessly follow myself too much when I should me more aware that my God is present, active and infinitely invested in my life. How do I miss Him? Perhaps if I were simply a little more quiet, a little more content and a little more humble, I would hear the inner voice, understand the call, feel the glorious draw of the fishing line and once again find the Golden Thread. Perhaps. Yes. Perhaps that’s what I will do. May God help me.

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