Wednesday, January 09, 2008
One of the gifts the ancient Church has given me that I missed in my earlier spiritual formation is the gift of Epiphany (January 6), as a day to celebrate in and of itself. I kinda let Epiphany go here on the blog, though at least I did put something here for you to celebrate Advent and Incarnation. I'm trying y'all. I really am.
I don't know exactly what I did on the sixth, when the Church was gazing at wise men coming to Christ with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I'm sure it amounted to a whole lot of nuthin', as has most of the past week has been for me. But I did mull the matter of Epiphany over quietly, somewhere deep inside myself.
Maybe I didn't want to deal with it a few days ago because right now, I'm in the midst of my own personal epiphany. I am realizing that I see a glimpse of the Christ Child in His Incarnation, and He is somewhere other than where I thought He would be, once again. But I am moved to go to this strange and wonderful place just the same. I am now going forward, with faith, on another perilous journey to kneel before Him and bring Him my meager gifts. All I have are a few stories to give. Some of them are shiny and bright, others bear the dull pallor of work executed too fast, while others still are marred by the mistakes of one who hasn't mastered her craft--in fact, it's clear that I'm a beginner. But it's what I've got. It's the best I've got, in fact. I want the Baby to have my stories.
Right now, in the wee hours of the morning, I am thinking about those wise men who sought the Christ child. I am thinking about their long journey, and the treacherous king who wanted them to find Him so he could murder the King of Kings who was not so big, kingly and kick-butt now, but a mere infant. What a wimp that evil king was.
So these wise man, they're following this weird star. They're packin' gifts. They aren't sure exactly what to expect, but they know He will be good, and holy, and hope-full. I don't think they knew they'd have the dreams they'd supernaturally share later, or that the path they took to get there would not be the path they took to go back to their homes. How could they have known such at the onset? But when you go seeking after God, prepare to be surprised and redirected.
I used to be virulently anti-Catholic. I had the rhetoric, the propaganda, and the books (and lots of Jack Chick comics. Remember Alberto?!?) to support my position. Never mind that I was young and believed whatever I was told if you just said, "God said so." That was back when every faith healer on television was a miracle worker. And Chick's Alberto was a victim of a vast Jesuit conspiracy to destroy all Protestants. And the Pope was no doubt the anti-Christ. That was before Christian investigative journalists revealed Alberto to be a liar and a hustler. It was before report after report (in the secular arena) exposed my beloved miracle working television prophets to be greed infected wolves in (expensive) shepherd's clothing, fleecing the flock to build their own kingdoms instead of God's. Before I grew weary and confused. Before I was broken in a million pieces by my own wretched choices. Before a wise man told me, "We know where God is, what we don't know is where God isn't." Before I knew an Orthodox church existed, and that, will wonders cease? Yes, Catholics are Christians who believe the same Creed as I do. Before I knew that none of us, has it all. We all see through a glass darkly.
And now I found myself walking on a path that feels like I'm on my way home. I thought the Church of God in Christ was home. And then the Word of Faith Church. And then the Emergent Church. And then the Orthodox Church. Yes! Yes, they were all home for a weary pilgrim to rest her head for a bit. But they weren't heaven. I was not truly home. I've still got a few more miles to go before I sleep. I still have more journeying to do. I'm still a pilgrim.
I've decided to stop telling God where I want to go or where I'm going, and to just listen so when He says "Follow me," I'll just dutifully trail behind Him. No hesitation. No wondering who will find me flaky. Just, "Be it unto me according to thy will."
Yesterday I said to God, regarding my currently spiritual journey, which has taken a decidedly Catholic turn, "You're doing this to get back at me for all that Jack Chick stuff, aren't You? You think this is funny." But He didn't answer me.
I don't think He thought any of it was particularly funny. Okay, He thought some of it was funny. I know He has a really wacky sense of humor. But some of it He had to find remarkably sad. All those years of smug and arrogant posturing on my part because I was "saved". I had the truth. I had comic books that were compelling! I was right! How much did I hurt my poor Catholic husband with my misguided notions? I don't even want to know. And I wonder why I can hardly get him to darken the door of any church at all.
I spoke with a kind and gentle Byzantine Catholic priest last year who was once an Orthodox priest. He said to me, "I found the Orthodox Church a little damaging to my soul. I had such spiritual pride. When I came into full communion with the Roman Church, I had to admit that I don't know it all, and I don't have it all. I gave myself some room to be wrong about a few things, and it made me a better person."
I was so moved by this. All my spiritual life I've wanted to be "right". I wanted what is true. And don't get me wrong, I still do. But maybe 27 years of seeking God and finding Him in some very unlikely places has taught me to look with the soft eyes of grace at my brothers and sisters in Christ, and do exactly what Jesus said. "Judge not." That leaves a lot of questions, doesn't it? Like, well what did you mean by "by their fruit you will know them?" It's a good question. Something to pray about and ponder. It's not a license to judge.
Gosh, I know there are even more troubling questions. What about Orthodoxy, big and little "o." What about apologetics? Defending the faith against heresy?
I have no idea. My head would explode if I did, so right now, He's just wooing me to where He wants me to go through His passion--I mean that in every sense of the word--and a great, spiritual/intellectual tradition. If I stumbled into Orthodoxy, I am reading my way into the Catholic church, one, scrumptuous, intellectual, passionate seeker book at a time.
Today I got yet another dose of anti-Catholic sentiment regardibg my new novel Wounded. Some one was put off by the book dealing with stigmata. To not be a Catholic person (yet) people have no problem kicking my butt about my interest in stigmata, and being quite vocal about it. Last year I had to publicly apologize for recommending Mariette in Ecstasy in a book review because of the stigmata thing in that novel. I mean, it really seems to bother people. Not that I can't see why. But fiction is just a big, "what if?" if you ask me. I asked myself, "What if a person, a younger version of me, inexplicably got stigmata?" I wondered how it would play out, so I wrote a novel to see.
I didn't get all my questions answered, but I did get some surprising gifts. One of my editors said she could hear "whispers from heaven" as she read. I didn't put them there. They were little God gifts I got (I believe) because I'm still trying to get to the Baby. I'm still on the road, traveling, not quite sure what to expect, guided by crazy stars and angels, gut instinct and dreams. An urge to find what (or Who!) is good and holy and protect him drives me. I'm still moved to get at that Baby, so I could give Him my gifts: my golden stories. My sweet-scented stories, and even my healing stories. And I still want to hold Him, the baby, in my arms. Like the wise men, I am finding He is still not exactly what I thought He would be. And it's a real education--epiphany! for me.
He's still a surprise, a gorgeous, incredible surprise.
In every way.