A reader writes: "The structures of religion and dogma are necessary. They are to spirituality what grammar is to language. They give a scaffolding and context so that we can share meaning and communication. But grammar is not language, merely its container."
I have no trouble with dogma. What makes me nervous is when we mistake dogma for the mysterious, ever-changing, vital experience that constitutes our ACTUAL LIVES. When we jab our finger at the Catechism instead of consenting to observe and feel what goes on every second in our hearts, bodies, souls, and minds--because what we experience and feel allows us to encounter the Catechism in all its richness. When we forget that religion is about relationship; when we forget that religion is open, roomy, a mansion. "In my Father's house there are many mansions," said Christ, and let's not forget it's a mansion. It's not a barracks, it's not a psych ward, it's not a jail. It's a mansion. It's a mansion we get to heal in, to learn how to love in. It's a mansion.
One form my own mansion takes is the city of L.A. Surely paradise must be very much like Southern California in early September. Sometimes I wish these late summer afternoons would last forever. Recently I was headed to a seven o'clock Taize "hour of prayer" at St. Francis but first I took a long walk, up and around the steep streets north of Sunset Boulevard, lost in thought, the air rich with the fragrance of lavender and wild fennel and sage. Way up near the top of the hill, I ran into a shirtless man who was also walking.
Apparently we'd passed one another because he stopped and said "Is this your regular walk? I saw you up at the crest."
"Yeah, I'm out here all the time, wandering about."
"I live over by the Franklin Hills but I thought I'd come over this way today. I've had heart surgery so I have to get my exercise. Beautiful, isn't it?"
We stopped and gazed out over the hills, at the cypresses and the palms and the sky just beginning to turn pink.
"Beautiful," I agreed.
"This time of year...there's a reason they call it the Golden State."
I extended my hands, palms up, as if to embrace the whole world.
"We love L.A." I summarized.
It was one of those serendipitous moments of communion that, to me, are some of the sweetest fruit of the contemplative life. And all the way down the hill to church, I thought, That was Christ. I just ran into Christ.
|cross, lit at night, on hill above Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, California|