Five years ago I came across a new book that seemed like the perfect book for where I was in life. The opening quote was from Solzhenitsyn on how Beauty Will Save the World. After purchasing this book on my kindle I did more research on the author, and discovered he was fascinating. He went to a political and Evangelical conservative university, had been a devout Evangelical Christian for many years, and almost out of nowhere converted to Catholicism. I have a few other friends who converted to Catholicism, and admittedly there are aspects of that tradition I find remarkable and lovely. Thomas Merton is one of my favorites, I also love all of Henri Nouwen’s work. Brennan Manning inspired me, and so many others.
After doing all my research about this author’s life, I realized he was from Seattle and worked at a nearby university. I wanted to meet him.
I’m not altogether sure why meeting him at that time was so important to me, but it was. I was packing up my life and preparing to move to South America, a predominantly Catholic country. I have been interested in Catholicism, in the mystics and the contemplatives for most of my life. Mainly because that’s where I feel most at home. Whatever it was that motivated me, it was enough for me to send him an email and ask if he’d be willing to meet me for coffee.
I was in a weird season. I was exhausted with my particular brand of Christianity. I was fed up with the show, the glamour of the Evangelical mega-church. It made me want to vomit, if I were to be honest. The lights, the entire service leading up to the speaker who was supposed to say something life-changing and transformative, but instead seemed repetitive and dramatic, rather than authentic and real. I was bored with it all, unimpressed and in need of something, anything. Maybe I was supposed to become a Catholic, I thought.
I quickly shoved that out of my head because my family and church would think I’d gone round the bend.
Note: That the thing I most worried about concerning my faith was what people would think of me if I found a Christian tradition more accessible to me might give you a small indication that I was not altogether healthy. The substance of my life was built more on impressing people, on maintaining their good esteem of me, than living out my life and the practice of my faith in the most honest way. End Note.
The professor, a gentle and kind man, agreed to meet at a Starbucks in Seattle near his university. I drove into Seattle excited to meet someone I admired, whose work and life achievements as a writer were something I wanted to learn from.
It was late spring. The sun was out, bright and hot. Car windshields glimmered in the parking lot around me and the water glistened in the distance.
I arrived early, ordered my coffee and pulled out my lap-top so that I might impress him. I, too, am a writer like you. See, I have a Mac Book. I write novels.
He arrived on time, ordered his coffee and sat down across from me. We exchanged pleasantries. He wanted to know why I wanted to get together. I closed my computer.
It took a long time to get it all out, but essentially I told him I was fed up with my faith. I told him all the things I mentioned above, probably in a much more muddled confused way. But it all came out. I didn’t know what to do with my faith. Something was wrong with me. I was bored as hell with it and nothing made it better.
He didn’t say much. He nodded and listened and added nothing. Finally, I looked at him and asked my question. “Why did you convert to Catholicism? Why does that work for you? What was so wrong with the Evangelical church?”
The professor shrugged, almost like he didn’t know, or maybe didn’t care anymore. He nodded his head, shifted in his seat. “The Catholics aren’t so afraid of suffering. They are more willing to step into people’s pain and walk in it with you.”
“Suffering? That’s the reason?” I was expecting some extraordinary response about the theological differences of Protestants and Catholics, something about the Eucharist, maybe Mary, not pain and suffering.
He shrugged again, clearly not in conflict with any of it. It was a decision he made a long time ago. He loved Evangelicals. He loved the Catholics. He wanted to be Catholic. There wasn’t a lot more to be said on his side of things. I wanted more answers.
I pressed him further. “A lot of Evangelicals want to move through the suffering and get to the resurrection,” he said. “I don’t think that’s helpful for our lives here. There’s a lot of suffering on this earth and we need to be more at at peace with the reality of it, with loss, with the cross. Catholics walk in it with you, they don’t tell you to have more faith or to believe more and it will get better. They just sit there with you.”
Have you ever had a moment in your life when the exact words you needed for the next season of your life come and you know they’re like a direct message from God? That was my moment. I didn’t understand it, but I knew his words were going to be some of the most important of my life. I was right. They were important words that I latched onto for dear life.
So, here we are at the beginning of Holy Week.
I am still an Evangelical. I didn’t convert to Catholicism. I have a deep and powerful respect for Catholics, but I stayed in my own tradition. It’s the one I know.
But I’m not bored anymore.
I don’t attend a mega-church. I go somewhere small and normal. There are no flashy lights. It’s wholly ordinary. Nothing to commend it, except for that: its lovely, extraordinary ordinariness.
And somehow, in the dark places of my heart, in the corners of shadow, places haunted by confusion and sorrow, by rejection and pain, the parts that demand a reckoning, I got a relationship instead of an answer. In those painful places that commune with God in the most real way, I’ve made my peace. God is mystery. Jesus is the face of God. And Jesus suffered.
Resurrection comes … but the timing of it is something I don’t altogether comprehend, nor should I. I am but dust.
God be with you during this Holy Week.
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