"God has carved a place…"

"God has carved a place…" December 30, 2009

One of the good things about a Catholic church is that it isn’t respectable; you can find anyone in it, from duchesses to whores, from tramps to kings.
— Rumer Godden, In This House of Brede

Over at Inside Catholic, Zoe Romanowsky links to a piece by the newly-conservative psychotherapist known as Robin of Berkeley, who has chronicled her recent experiences at a Catholic Christmas Mass.

To my amazement, the painfully shy child sitting next to me came out of her shell. She started singing her heart out. She was even praying like a pro.

Beyond the music and pageantry, what moved me the most was being with hundreds of people who loved God. Maybe some were questioning his presence or feeling abandoned. But they showed up, and that’s half of life.

It was a stirring night for this wandering Jew who has traveled from east to west, from Left to Right. As the Sufi poet Hafiz wrote, “This moment in time God has carved a place for you,” and sitting in the sanctuary, I felt that place.

Even though I didn’t know the right words, or the hymns, or how to pray, it didn’t matter. All the differences among people — race, class, politics, even religion — vanished. Faith, I realized, is the ultimate uniter.

And in a heartbeat, I understood why leaders from Marx to Mao try to keep people away from God, and why they will always fail. I flashed to an image of those mothers who somehow find the superhuman strength to lift up a car and free their children.

It is a lovely, often funny piece which could actually could be called the second of two parts. Robin did not go looking specifically for a Catholic church, as she recounts here:

Being a secular Jew, my first step should have been a temple. However, the synagogues around here are practically recruitment stations for Obama (aside from the Orthodox ones, but I don’t speak a word of Hebrew). So I decided to experience church on Christmas Eve.

Checking out churches online, I found almost none that offered political neutrality. Most heralded their progressive credentials, welcoming the transgendered, but not conservatives.

I was pleased to find an Episcopal church whose website focused on religion, not ObamaCare. I left a message for the priest that I was looking for a church that didn’t press a political agenda because I wasn’t a liberal.

I received an icy reply from the priest, the Reverend Lucy, who said with barely-contained disgust, “I don’t think you should check us out.”

This is, of course, the attitude that all politically-active Christians must guard against – the shutting out or discouraging of a believer (or wannabeliever) because of our passionate ideologies. When we reach that point, we really need to examine whether our ideologies have become our idols, or our patriotism is sometimes serving as a sacramental. St. Paul teaches in Colossians:

Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body you have been called to that peace. Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you. In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another. Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns, and inspired songs.

Wisdom, made perfect, would likely include the open door, always. We all make mistakes; we all try, we fail; sometimes we really blow it and disgrace ourselves and our creed and thereby give scandal to the Body of Christ. I know more than a little about that. But we must get up and keep trying – keep trying to see each other within that Body, first and foremost – with ideologies shoved somewhere behind us. There will always be time to argue about politics and laws.

A good reminder from Robin, and something else to pray about and guard against, in the new year. Do read her posts, when you can.

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