Why I Am What I Am

Some of you have read my spiritual autobiography over at AFeatherAdrift. For those unaware, it’s under my autobiography and is the last 10 or so posts.

I yearned to be a Roman Catholic since youth, and but did not fulfill my desire until I was 43. Once Catholic, I expected never to waiver from my decision.

I did, as some of you know. I visited a number of other denominations, specifically UU and Unity. I thought I had found a home in the Episcopal Church, and for some time, felt emotionally happy there.

But, in reality, I never left my Catholic “roots”, if such could be said of a late convert to Mother Church. I merely tried to sing louder, pray longer, and otherwise quiet the tiny voice that never relented from calling me home.

So, for good or bad, I am home again. It has so far, seemed right. I am comfortable, yet of course, uncomfortable. Only a Catholic perhaps can understand that. It’s a bit like a family. You may objectively find your relatives obnoxious and overbearing, petty and self-absorbed, gigantically stubborn and denialistic in more ways than one. But, in the end, they are family.

It is always a surprise to me, (even though I did so myself, and know so many who did as well) when I find people who have left the Church in search of a more compatible spiritual experience. But that may only because I learned that divorce was not possible. At least for me.

I have concluded, at least for me again, that tension and abrasion are fine foils and necessary ones. It keeps my spiritual journey alive and fresh. It whets my desire to understand and to know. For better or worse I am tied to this Church, this Mother of all Mothers. It condemns me on paper, but it offers solace at the same time. I am sinner, sinned upon, and forgiving and forgiven. I am resurrected as I cry out in anguish at times: YOU PHARISEES!

I can not be complacent, and I’ve come to believe that we, as believers, never can be complacent, in anything. We can never stop trying to make the Church more of what she should be, any more than we can be complacent in a world that is less than it should be. Any more than I can allow myself to be less than I can be. It is a constant struggle. It is, I believe, why we strive, and why we grow in every way.

I was thinking of what the world might be like sans faith in God. And I’m not sure if we would have left the caves. I’m not sure that we would not have been content to make do with our short span on this bit of turf. Faith gives us something to strive for it seems. I’m not sure if we can do without it, or could.

God could, of course, have made all this clear to us. But what would that have looked like? Generations of sycophants, perfect creations, acting perfectly, feeling perfectly, believing perfectly. What indeed would be the point? No, I see worlds throughout the universe, life reaching upward, sentience reached, here and there, the thought occurring finally: Who, why, how? And then the conscious journey to know. Are you not in awe?

Yet, Mother Church is perhaps a poor example of that journey. I cannot know. I can only know that she is ingrained in me as if my DNA were inscribed with her blessing.

I shall, I suspect, always be in this dance of push-pull with her. I shall desire her, and despise her, perhaps at the same time. I read this a few weeks ago, and kept it. It describes in some ways, my own feelings. It is not perfect, but nothing is. It gives a sense of what my words are too poor to convey.

How much I must criticize you, my church and yet how much I love you!

You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe you more that I owe anyone.

I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence.

You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.

Never in the world have I seen anything more obscurantist, more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful.

Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face – and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your arms!

No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you.

Then too – where should I go?
To build another church?

But I cannot build another church without the same defects, for they are my own defects.

And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church.
No, I am old enough. I know better!

It is by Carlo Carretto, and I read it via Enlightened Catholicism. It is perhaps a bit too dramatic, a bit too intense, but it in some ways speaks as I would.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Thomas Bryner
    Jan 30, 2011 @ 16:31:02

    I left the Catholic Church and joined the Hare Krishnas, but I’m still a fan. I wear a medal around my neck honoring Father Solanus Casey.


  2. Tim
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 11:45:57

    Yes, Sherry, she is the Mother and those of us who belong to her extended family owe her no less respect and appreciation than you who reside in her walls and dine at her table.

    Personally, I’m always a bit suspicious of anyone who doesn’t struggle with the same strains of ambivalence with their faith communities that you describe. No church–whether local body or denomination–ever lives up to its billing, and those who believe they’ve found perfection should think again.

    The mystery of the Church in all its variations is that it somehow survives our determination to demystify it with our dogma and politics. The majesty of it comes by its power to overcome our foolishness and fulfill its purpose in spite of us and itself.

    Should this surprise us? Probably not. After all is said and done, Christ remains the Head of the Body and God’s Spirit dwells in its midst.

    I’m truly touched and inspired by what you say here. You speak for every believer, regardless of where he/she worships.



    • Sherry
      Feb 01, 2011 @ 14:48:07

      On Tim, thank you so much. I read something in Tillich that suggested that comfort in a denomination or in one’s theology was a bad sign…It’s the tension that drives us to continue actively journeying, rather than just moving along without thought. At least it made sense to me, so I went back into the fire to be a rabble rouser where it’s needed rather than an echo where it’s not.


  3. Tim
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 22:57:06

    We are journeying, aren’t we? Living, evolving, morphing, waxing, waning, learning, and unlearning. That’s why I cringe when I hear the Church referred to as an “institution.” (Although, to my shame, I’ve done it myself.) God help us–save us–if we accept the idea it was born to be a monolith instead of an active, engaged presence in the world.

    As a fellow traveler who’s also tried a few different roads, I can attest that God leads us to the place where we can nurture our gifts as well as be nurtured. A church without rabble rousers, especially one that won’t tolerate them, edges dangerously close paralysis.


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