Friday, September 2, 2011


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


  1. Whenever I read your blog I encounter holiness.

  2. I enjoy reading and seeing the beauty and loveliness you have found in Los Angeles.

  3. Beautiful. Joyful. Grateful.

  4. Los Angeles is my home town. I was born here. I remember it from before the high rise buildings when the city hall was the highest building in town. I remember it when there was a real downtown. I remember it when there was a true sense of community. I have tried to leave it before in disgust of what it has become but I had to come back. I love it. Where would I go?

  5. "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."
    Amen to that, Heather!

    Cathechism in school was for me just another subject that gave me immense anxiety when tests came around. I, unfortunately, had teachers who failed to mention the love of God; it was all about the rigid rules and the wrath of this impossible-to-love God. My God was in the stars, and I intuitively knew he was, as Dante says, "L'amor che move il sol e l'altre stella," the love that moves the sun and the other stars. And that he was the One who loved me and would do anything for me. It was sad that I did not see that Cathechism God and my sky God were one. I hope teachers today make those kinds of connections for their students.

    My mansion is South Florida, Heather. It's as beautiful as your L.A. mansion. Yesterday, I went to the Everglades, so silent, peaceful. and beautiful, a facet of God. I did not however have a serendipitous meeting as you did; just as I was about to sit in contemplation, I was attacked by a horde of vicious mosquitoes. I guess this reminded me that it is not all play in the fields of the Lord-yet. Or maybe God has a quirky sense of humor.

    I'd like to thank you for your wonderful writings/meditations on St. Therese and her confidence in God's love. May God bless you in carrying this message to many people far and wide.


  6. What a lovely relaxing post, Heather.

  7. Of course it depends on what kind of eyes I'm seeing through on any given day, but coming from back East, where the general view is that L.A. is the anti-Christ, I always want to say, "Look, look! No, it's beautiful. It's maddening. It's paradoxical. It's glorious"...Walking through downtown the other night I was struck by how it has got to be one of the few great cities of the world where at certain times of the week and in certain blocks you can almost have the place to yourself...

    Maire, the Everglades! Ever since reading Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' Cross Creek, I have felt a kinship...the bird life alone must be incredible (hence, bird on a roof?..)

  8. No, Heather, not a bird watcher, although I do love birds. Bird on a roof is from Psalm 102:7 - Prayer of an Exile. I think you will agree that, as Catholics, we often feel like exiles in this world.


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