- Posted by Lin Wilder
- On November 30, 2015
- 0 Comments
- a search for the sacred, blessing, catholicism, catholocism, christian, CS Lewis, obligations, sacred, spiritual, telling the truth, thinking, working
For much of my life, the four weeks before Christmas were jam packed with parties, mostly work related and therefore obligatory, shopping excursions to unearth novel gifts for people who did not need them. And making plans for a much needed vacation when the week of Christmas and New Year’s finally arrived. The holiday held no religious significance to me. When friends tell me they don’t want to attend church because no church feels right to him or her, I understand. There was a time I felt the same way and liberally quoted Nietzsche’s acerbic comment, “God is dead. He choked to death on theology.” But now I need theology as much as the air I breathe.
If I had been taught about Advent during the Episcopalian faith I walked away from as teenager, those lessons did not stick. Now, close to twenty years after conversion to Catholic Christianity, these four weeks before Christmas have become precious.
We converts become emotional when attempting to explain to cradle Catholics what it feels like to belong…after years of searching for a faith that reeks of truth. One with rules. Not suggestions. Even after nineteen years, I need to reign in the emotion to speak and write coherently. Because when I consider my life without faith and compare it to my life with faith, it feels very much like the Zen maxim: Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water; after enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. Everything changes and yet nothing does.
In a conversation with a good friend the other day, I paraphrased CS Lewis while explaining why I thought we each need church, religion, an association with some religious institution. Once again, I made use of the image of battle, of this deepening sense that we are engaged in combat. Spiritual combat for which the gains or losses mean no less than everything. Lewis learned what each of us has upon rejecting the faith of our fathers. We lose our way, get distracted, make stupid, silly choices.
“In a way I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology. I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten offi cer got up and said, “I’ve no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!”
Theology is like a map. (Italics are mine.) Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God—experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. There is nothing to do about it. In fact, that is just why a vague religion—all about feeling God in nature, and so on—is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in fl owers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.
In other words, Theology is practical: especially now. In the old days, when there was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a very few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones—bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novvelties today are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected.”
The four weeks before Christmas is a time when I can dust off Lenten practices like sacred reading, lectio divina, spend more time reflecting on her, this remarkable woman, the mother of God. Addressed as ‘full of grace’ by the Angel Gabriel. Ponder the gossip, this teen-aged girl endured, a pale prelude of the suffering she would witness at the foot of his cross. Ponder the truth of Christ’s love for me, that my sins bother me far more than they do him.