|THE CONVERSION OF ST. PAUL, DETAIL|
“Religion consists of the belief that everything that happens to us is extraordinarily important. It can never disappear from the world for this reason.”--Cesare Pavese (1908-1950), Italian poet and suicide
I once attended Mass where the Gospel reading was St. Paul's conversion on his way to Damascus [Acts 9:3-9]. Afterwards, the priest observed in his homily: "Well, our lives are very different from St. Paul. Our lives don’t have such drama in them."
And I instantly thought, Mine does! Mine has unbelievable drama in it every day, all day! Will I get that photo of the wisteria buds just right? Will I for once in my life "pause when agitated" in this conversation I'm about to have with the billing department of T-Mobile ....whoops!....Will my half-gallon of milk hold out for my coffee in the morning or will I have to walk down to the 99-cent store and if the latter, should I go past the liquor store and pick up the Weekly, or should I take Marathon up the hill and see whether that fig tree that hangs over the sidewalk (thus making foraging allowable) is bearing fruit yet? Will I ever mange to get this sentence, paragraph, essay, blog post, book just the way I want it?....
Everything that happens to us isn't important because we're important, but because God is. My own conversion was, and continues to be, absolutely underlain by the understanding that religion is not separate from life, or something extra we add on to life, it IS life. Religion is the meat of our experiences. We come to believe not through what someone tells to believe, not because the good people or the nice people or the holy people or, God forbid, the "together" people believe, but through what has happened to us.
|iced tea in hummingbird glass|
Religious experience is absolute; it cannot be disputed. You can only say that you have never had such an experience, whereupon your opponent will reply: ‘Sorry, I have.’ And there your discussion will come to an end. No matter what the world thinks about the religious experience, the one who has it possesses a great treasure, a thing that has become for him a source of life, meaning, and beauty, and that has given a new splendor to the world and to mankind….No one can know what the ultimate things are. We must, therefore, take them as we experience them. And if such experience helps to make life healthier, more beautiful, more complete and more satisfactory to yourself and to those you love, you may safely say: ‘This was the grace of God.’
My primary religious experience, and the central fact of my existence--then, now, and forever, which is why I've mentioned it before and I'm sure will mention it many times again--is that I drank for twenty years and sometime during the month I spent in the fall of '86 at a Minnesota rehab, the obsession to drink was lifted.
I can't pinpoint the moment; I didn't have a falling-off-my-horse-and-being-struck-blind experience, like St. Paul (although now that I think of it, I did fly into the ST. PAUL/Minneapolis airport...) If anything, "it" probably happened when my heart was opened by listening to the stories of my fellow female alcoholics and realizing that I was not alone, I was not crazy, and I had not, as I had feared, put myself so far beyond the pale of the human circle that I could never come back.
|food for the journey|
1: God is merciful.
2: I didn't "go up" to Him, He came down to me.
3: I had been given a stupendous gift without having done a single thing--quite the contrary--to "deserve" it.
4: The "conversion" came AFTER I'd received, and as a result of, the gift, not before.
When the Prodigal Son came home, he wasn't sincerely remorseful--not yet. He was tired and ashamed and hungry, just like I was when I finally landed in rehab. It's AFTER they lay a feast for you that the remorse comes. The joy, yes, but also the true repentance.
You keep wanting to say, Really, a feast? Yeah but don't forget I was a total whore, and God says Yeah, I know, put on this beautiful robe. And you say, Really? Because I've spent the last fifteen years on a barstool, squandering every gift you ever gave me, and God says Yeah I was there, look, just for you! These very cool jewel-studded sandals. And you say Really? Me? Because I'm hateful, judgmental, envious, slothful, prideful, fearful, a liar, a cheat and a thief, and I may not even believe in you, and God says, Well no doubt, and let me have your hand, I've been dying to give you this golden ring.
When I say riches I'm not talking about money, clothes, houses, cars and sex. I'm talking about the riches of being so grateful that of course you're going to want to step up to the plate and in my case start changing pretty much everything about your entire life. I'm talking about some basic kind of peace, ability to laugh at yourself, and joy.
I'm talking about the riches of realizing that if you're human, at this very moment you're lusting after someone, pissed off at someone, jealous of someone, resentful of someone, troubled by someone, feeling abandoned by someone, afraid of someone (possibly you're feeling all those things about the same person, which is always fun). You're worried about your finances, weight, teeth, transmission, aging parents, aging self, wayward children, cancer markers, whether your husband or wife is cheating on you, whether you're going to get caught, whether you made a fool of yourself last night, the parking situation at Trader Joe's, that you're not way kinder and more compassionate than you are, and what you're going to have for lunch. Religion is not what we do after we get all that squared away. Religion is realizing that a power greater than ourselves is with us in the midst of all that.
|san antonio capilla, valdez, new mexico where they say the rosary every monday at 6|
in front, Blessing (the dog) and my friend Lise who made pan-roasted lobster
in chervil butter Sunday night
In fact, the danger here is that life becomes SO interesting, SO extraordinary, that you can't contain your feelings and like Pavese, end up killing yourself. Thus--again, and as always--Christ. Only Christ can contain our our full heart, our desire, longing, aching, yearning, our hunger and thirst, our love.
All of which is by way of segueing into Br. Joseph Schmidt's insights on St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Because one of the most exciting things about my week-long retreat with Br. Joe is that he has thought through and articulated (and then brought to new heights) all kinds of half-formed hunches and ideas and echoes and whispers that I'd experienced in my own walk with Thérèse.
And one of the other exciting things is that he feels St. T. is a "bridge" figure that is going to bring together all kinds of factions who have been at odds for centuries: men and women, the right and the left, non-believers and believers, the hierarchy of the Church and the people of the Church.
So stay tuned!