Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Here Am I

Today I went to the archdiocesan seminary in our neighborhood for Eucharistic adoration. While there, I thought of a passage I have been meditating on for the past few days:

I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, "Here am I, here am I," to a nation that did not call on my name. (Isaiah 65:1)

I thought about how Jesus substantially resides in the Eucharist, calling us, waiting for us, and how often we are deaf to that call, or ignore it. I thought, "How crazy is it that the God of the Universe is in that box up there? And yet, there He is."

After leaving the seminary chapel, I remembered a winter's scene from years ago when I was in graduate school at Rutgers University in New Jersey. I was an atheist then, so very far from God. And yet, somehow, I felt drawn toward what I did not understand. It was a cold evening, and snow had begun to fall. It was falling hard and accumulating fast. Around 11:00 PM I went for a walk on campus to enjoy the scene. Students were out, playing in the snow like children. I walked past where the students were and went to the chapel. I heard organ music being played inside. The organist did not seem to be playing hymns, but rather classical music (although it may have been sacred music composed by the likes of Bach, for all I knew). I stood on the portico, outside the front doors to the chapel. With a roof over my head, I was dry, but I still felt the fresh, cool weather, and I stood and soaked in the music as I watched the peaceful, falling snow. It was such a beautiful experience.

Looking back, I see it as the still, small voice calling to me. As the remnants of my shattered conscience calling to me. As the Holy Spirit, still there from my baptism and my confirmation, calling to me. And yet, all I could do was stand there outside the doors, unwilling to go in, unable to understand why I was there, and what that meant. However, God gave me the snow; God gave me the peace, as signs, as tokens. These were some of the bread crumbs that God left for me to lead me home. Fortunately, Satan, unlike Hansel and Gretel's hungry birds, could not take these crumbs away to keep me off the path that God was leading me on.

This memory coincides well with a book I am reading. I've started reading Anne Rice's novel, Angel Time. It is about an assassin who grew up Catholic but lost his faith. The description of this character resonates deeply with who I was once (without the assassin part). Here is a passage, where the narrator walks into the Serra Chapel at the San Juan Capistrano mission in California:

I loved the red sanctuary light burning to the left of the tabernacle. Sometimes I knelt right up there before the altar on one of the prie-dieux obviously intended for a bride and a groom.

Of course the golden retablo, or reredos, as it's often called, hadn't been there in the days of the early Franciscans. It had come later, during the restoration, but the chapel itself seemed to me to be very real. The Blessed Sacrament was in it. And the Blessed Sacrament, no matter what I believed, meant "real."

How can I explain this?

I always knelt in the semidarkness for a very long time, and I'd always light a candle before I left, though for whom or what I couldn't have said. Maybe I whispered, "This is in memory of you, Jacob, and you, Emily." But it wasn't a prayer. I didn't believe in prayer any more than I believed in actual memory.

I craved rituals and monuments, and maps of meaning. (p.7)

Like Francis Thompson's "Hound of Heaven," God seeks us even when we are not being sought. He is always here, whether we are aware of it or not, whether we believe it or not.

One of the ways in which He moves us to seek Him is through these impulses that are knit into our deepest selves that we do not understand. We crave rituals and meaning, and this craving leads us to God. If we are lapsed Catholics, then this sense of ritual and meaning has at least been somewhat nurtured in us. As Rice elaborates a couple of pages later:

Maybe when you're brought up Catholic, you hold to rituals all your life. You live in a theater of the mind because you can't get out of it. You're gripped all your life by a span of two thousand years because you grew up being conscious of belonging to that span. (p. 9)

I have always referred to what tugged at me during my apostasy as "ritual and repetition." I used to say "I believe in belief" even when I could not believe in God. Rice is doing a good job of laying out that dynamic interplay of belief and unbelief. "I believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).

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