Wednesday, January 09, 2008

My Epiphany


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.
mair

10 comments:

nedra said...

Mair, it's funny you should write about this now, though as always you are relevant.

I grew up in and decided to become a member of the Church of Christ. I know it's different from the Church of God in Christ that you mentioned.

I'm working on being obedient to God rather than man, not taking a preacher's word, but checking it out for myself.

My goodness. I'd never heard of Jack Chick or Chick's Tracts until I read your post. You are always a teacher, and that is why I am likely to always read your blog because I am always going to learn something. Always.

I noticed while cleaning house the other day, that there were a few copies of the Catechism and other religious books on my mother's shelf downstairs. (As I may have mentioned before, we moved into her upstairs about 9 months ago.) Those books weren't on the shelf and neither were my mother's Saint Francis posters, until after my father, the late minister, died in 2000.

When you used the phrase, "virulently anti-Catholic," I had to do a self-check to be sure that the things I say are spoken in love.

Seeking is right because we must know the truth to be free.

You are a dear. I want you to know that seeking the truth is never flaky, but is "soul necessary."

Katy McKenna said...

Claudia,
I am thinking of Abraham, who "went out, not knowing where he was going." I left the Catholic church (in body) 37 years ago, when I became a Jesus Freak. On Sunday, the feast of the Epiphany, my husband and I went to Mass. I don't know where we're going, either. But we still have some gifts to be laid at His feet. Bless you for including us in your journey!

Elysa said...

I'm with Nedra...the Jack Chick stuff is brand new to me but not he prejudice you speak of. I also grew up with some of that. I didn't harbor the virulent brand, but I did think that they were "less" in their walk with God. I believed all the misinformation and misunderstandings PLUS I judged a whole strand of the Christian family based on some bad examples.

I really should have known better than that since I was Miss Southern Baptist and had PLENTY of experience with fellow church members (myself included at times) who definitely weren't living up to the teachings of Jesus. But, I was young and stupid and very narrowly focused on what real Christians were supposed to look like and talk like and worship like.

I started getting the bigger picture where God's church was concerned during my college years and when I went to Africa, but I really didn't learn to embrace my Catholic brothers and sisters as part of my family til after I got married, met a wonderful Catholic Christian pro-life ob-gyn (she delivered my first babies), and got involved in the pro-life movement in our area.

During that season, I met more and more Catholics who did live the life of Jesus. It wasn't about worshipping saints, or sinning it up just to go to confession, or any of the other things I'd thought about Catholics in gen'l, it was about them loving Jesus and seeking to walk with Him and live for Him.

And then as I left my safe, narrow, denominational world and started hanging out with folks from many different streams of Christianity, I started reading books and listening to teachings and learning that first of all, we have so much more in common than I ever imagined. And secondly, I liked some of the differences and could benefit from them.

And its been amazing how God has used some great Catholic and Anglican thinkers/writers/ministers in my life such as Brennan Manning and C.S. Lewis. Oh...and though he's not Orthodox, Anglican, or Catholic, he used Presbyterian seminary prof Steve Brown to totally set me free from God's grace! This was huge considering the fact that when I first met my husband one of the main reasons I didn't want to date him was because he was PrEsByTeRiAn!!! YIKES!

Anyway, a long way to say I'm so glad that God has helped me get beyond a lot of my denominational prejudices. He's blessed my life so richly by so many...some who are the same, but so many who are beautifully different.

And you, dear FABULOUS Mair, are one of them!

Holy Kisses,
Elysa

paula clare said...

Hey Sistuh,
WOW! It's no wonder God kinda threw us together as we stumbled along the path...I grew up in very much the same way...the Chick tracks...oh maaaaaaaaan do I remember those. They always hit me kind of funny...(not ha ha funny, but "something's not right" funny) as I would go littering the countryside with my self righteousness.

However, allow me to encourage you...on MY journey, the Catholic Church spelled FREEDOM. Can you imagine? I joined the ORder of Ecumenical Franciscans thinking I (and the denomination of my childhood) had cornered the market on conservative religions...only to find out there were several in our order who considered their religion even MORE conservative than MINE! What a mind blower THAT was!

The point is, God takes us where He wants us to experience Himself and His love. Truly we turn up in some of the most interesting (and odd) places, don't we?

Your friendship is a treasure that has come out of one such place...for that I am truly grateful!

Peace, dear Mair. Peace...

Marie4thtimemom said...

Hmm. I guess I'm coming from the other side a bit (although I'm right there with you on the Chick Tracts.) My mother (and her parents) are more Catholic than the pope, and were horrified when I accepted Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. My mother rejects justification by faith because "it doesn't jibe with her Baltimore Catechism". I have been told several times what a "disappointment to [my] family I am for leaving the religion [I] was raised in" (sic).

Yet, of the whole family, I am the only one who's ever read the Bible (a priest told my religious mother in the early '50's that laypeople shouldn't read the Scriptures, and she's believed it ever since), or trying hard to follow after the God Who's revealed Himself to us therein. I have been called everything from a "nut" to a "fundamentalist" (I am neither) by my uber-Catholic family. The parish priest told my mother Campus Crusade for Christ was a cult when I joined in college....what's worse, she believed him. When the current pope stated publically last year that we Protestants/Evangelicals are "separated brethren" and our houses of worship "cannot properly be considered churches", it only re-confirmed what the Vatican has always held - simple, Bible-believing Christians are considered heretics.

I have endured incredible hurt from those claiming the Name of Christ, yet trusting in an autocratic institution to save them. In fact, I am near tears as I type this. In many ways, my journey to the Lover of my soul has been much like yours, Mair. You know, you are one of my favorite sisters in the Lord and I'm crazy about you!!! Please let only the Word of God, and not the word of man (including doctrines and dogma developed in the 11th, 12th, 14th centuries) be what you put your faith in. Yes, as in any church that lifts Christ up as Lord and Savior, there is much that is good within Catholicism. But please do not ever for a moment think that the institution has inflicted less hurt than another (I am speaking mainly of their actions and attitudes towards other Christians, from the Inquisition to the present.) If only Pope Benedict were so "tolerant" of us Baptists as he is of Islam!

Please forgive my bluntness. If I didn't consider yo a friend, I would not feel I could say anything.

M. Nole said...

I was raised as an Episcopalian until the mid-80s. Then, for a reason that was never explained to me, my mother became upset with our parish priest and we never went to a church service as a family again.

As a teenager I alternated between saying snide things about Christians, praying when I felt really desperate about something, going to Episcopal youth retreats to meet boys and occasionally attending Catholic or Episcopal churches with boyfriends.

I felt a slight pull toward organized religion, but at that time I felt a slight pull toward ANY group. I was lonely all the time. At 18, I took a few steps toward becoming confirmed in the Episcopal church, but I was put off by some very preachy, shaming things an Episcopalian acquaintance said when he found out about my plans. He had some spiritual pride issues, but all I knew at the time was that my feelings were hurt. I changed my mind and decided to stay out of organized religion.

1994-1995 came. The eating disorder was back. "Cutting." Alcoholism. In AA I learned to ask for God's will to be done, and suddenly prayer started to change my life for the better. I was full of gratitude and fell head over heels in love with God.

1996. I started visiting Catholic churches again because my fiance's mother really hoped we would have a Catholic wedding, and what problem could I have with that? Catholic churches in our city are beautiful. I started going to Mass in different churches to find the prettiest one, and something startling happened. I was HOME, and I hadn't even wanted to find home. I was WHOLE, and I had thought that I was already complete.

1998. I became Catholic. This wasn't the end of my spiritual journey, only the beginning. Each year I become more fully Catholic. Each year I become more deeply aware that I can never meet the ideals of my denomination, but also become more aware of how overpowering and mind-numbing God's love and mercy are.

There are times I have mourned the fact that I became Catholic. I am such a perfectionist that I project that onto God. I feel like my confession has to be perfect or we're hopelessly separated. Kind and loving priests (both the living and those who have passed away and speak to me through their writings) gently tell me how wrong I am. I pray to believe in mercy.

There are times that I rejoice in the fact that I became Catholic. There are times that I kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and feel that the love of Jesus and Mary are pulling my heart outside of my body with their love.

No matter what spiritual stage I'm in, there is one thing that I can never deny. I was called to become a Catholic, and I exist most fully as a Catholic. I am more Catholic than I am white. I am more Catholic than I am female. It's not a denomination; it's my composition.

I was taught that the Catholic church does NOT believe that you must be Catholic or even Christian to have salvation. I hope that anyone who has been hurt by ignorant Catholics will google "baptism of desire." It is an official belief of the church. One of the priests who nurtured me into the Catholic church said, "I really can't imagine a heaven where Ghandi isn't there." Same here.

Some days I wish I were Methodist. It would be so much easier given the fact that I suffer from OCD. But it has been the richness of my Catholicism - my belief in Divine Mercy Sunday, the rosary, St. Lucy, novenas, the Eucharist - that has given me the spiritual strength to survive the trials (dare I say just about as difficult as a degreed, Caucasian American can face?) that I've encountered.

I think that God led me to the Catholic church because he knew how much I was going to need it. God help me.

Mair, if you're called to us, come. If this is your home, the joy and comfort you will find here are indescribable. I felt like I had to say I have found some sorrow here, too, but that may be due to my own makeup. I think I am destined to experience spiritual lows in order to keep growing.

If you don't become Catholic, Jesus already loves you (of course!), and you are already a light that shines. I pray he will lead you to your home. Actually, I know he will lead you. I pray that the journey is exactly what it is supposed to be.

Lots of love,

the othe Mair.

Marie4thtimemom said...

Dear m. nole:

(a.k.a. the "other Mair"): I can relate to much of what you write about your journey, especially the eating disorder part. I was an anorexic/bulimic for 17 years. Like you, I fell head over heels in love with God, but it was renewing my mind with the water of His Word and prayer that set me free. Not a religion (I'm sure you found the same to be true.)

To the First Mair: please forgive me for hijacking and hogging your combox. I promise that this will be the last time, and then I will bow out (hopefully gracefully.)

There were a couple of things in the above comment that I wanted to respond to, if I may.

I was taught that the Catholic church does NOT believe that you must be Catholic or even Christian to have salvation. I hope that anyone who has been hurt by ignorant Catholics will google "baptism of desire." It is an official belief of the church. One of the priests who nurtured me into the Catholic church said, "I really can't imagine a heaven where Ghandi isn't there."

m. nole: The BIBLE teaches that you must be a Christian to have salvation! "No one comes to the Father except through Me" is not just one verse pulled out of context; merely one of the most oft-quoted. I won't post a list of Scripture references, but I once did a spot-study on this question, going through the New Testament Matthew to Revelation, and filled up 3 pages of a legal pad with all the verses that allude to Christ being the only way to heaven.

Forgive me for saying so, but the priest who told you this was far afield of BOTH the Bible AND the Catholic Church's teaching on the matter (although I have no doubt he loves God and meant well.) No Christian church teaches universal salvation. I am trying to speak the truth in love, but my sisters, sound doctrine does matter. A course in systematic theology is not necessary to agree on that point.

"Baptism of desire" does NOT refer to non-Catholic Christians who have studied the official teachings of the RCC, held them up to the light of Scripture, and rejected many of them on biblical grounds. We are, in fact, considered aberrant (despite the fact that, as pointed out, we all adhere to the same Creed.)

Mary is our sister in Christ; not our mother. She was a humble, obedient servant of God just as in need of a Savior as we are (Rom. 3:23) not the Queen of Heaven. Why pray to her when we have Christ as our Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 8-9)?

Please know I have nothing but love and respect for you as my fellow sisters in Christ. I do not mean to start an argument or debate at all; just to humbly submit these things for you to think about in light of what God's Word plainly says. Always, (and I am speaking as much to myself here as anyone, based on past experience), root and establish your relationship with God on the immutable Truth of His Word; not on emotional experience or the comfort of tradition.

Mair, forgive me for any feathers I've ruffled. I won't bug you again, promise. Love you!! ;)

M. Nole said...

Marie, I disagree with you but love how gracious and humble you are. If every religious person could express themselves the way you do, we would be so much better off. I have never understood Christians who speak with venom. I think you set an example of how Christ would want us to talk to each other.

Like you, I don't want to hijack Mair's comment spot. I wish you love, serenity and comfort, and I have tremendous respect for you.

THIS Catholic believes that you will be in heaven someday, and I hope I'm there with you. Christ's peace.

The other Mair.

Marie4thtimemom said...

Mair,

Thank you -- that made my day. Seriously, that means a lot coming from someone as kind-hearted and in love with the Lord as you are.

You know, actually I was just thinking about this the other day, although in a different context: when I get to heaven, I really won't mind Jesus sitting me down and gently correcting my theology where it was a little off (and we all have some error in our theology, amen? Even John Macarthur himself.) But, what I think would sting much more is if the King of Love rebukes me for my critical spirit and unloving attitude. And I have had both and try constantly to be on guard against that.

Just seeing ourselves as former pit-dwellers in the light of His amazing love should be enough to knock the arrogant right off o' us....at least, that is my goal. I want to know Him better, and be more and more humbled by the process.....

I'm glad I stopped by. It's always a blessing to fellowship with other 'ragamuffins' in love with the Savior.

Anonymous said...

Mair: PREACH IT, MY SISTAH!!!

marie4thtimemom:
i don't know how to break this to you but you will come back one day.

everyone:
God bless YA'LL!!!!!!!