Three Protestants and a Catholic go to Mass on a hot, hot day in the middle of the week. The three grip the edge of the wooden seat, scandalized by incense and roughly 500 years of distance between this and everything they’ve known. They stand when bid, nervously flip through a service book, give up eventually, sullen. They are prepared to walk out for all the things they’ve been warned about–the Mary-prayers, the Latin gibberish, the indulgences traded for salvation. The sermon is boring, and inaccessible. There are no analogies, no guiding stories. Suddenly, everyone is filing to the altar and the three can’t go but they move their knees to the side as the one passes, smirking I wouldn’t want it anyway.
The one returns to her seat, pulls out the kneeler, and weeps for the rest of the service, all the way to the blessing–elbows on pew-back, hair falling over her hands. The three steal glances of her, whispering about lunch.
They make their way back out into the mountain-desert heat under the impossibly azure sky, from one cathedral to the other, from creed and sacrament to the market pluralism of Santa Fe’s streets. They grab burritos and talk about the theatrics of liturgy, about how showy it all is, how staged, blithely ignoring their home-grown smoke machines and strobe lights.
The three never ask the one why she cried in church, what seemed to be too much to contain after the altar rail.
[She'll tell me much later that for a while, all she does in cry in Mass.
"It gets inconvenient," she laughs.]
I used to believe that God only spoke my prayer language. Then I thought He could only hear written petitions. These days I’m pretty damned confident that God only knows how to interact with humans who address God clunkily, without gendered pronouns. That is, of course, until I hear a He-prayer that splits my heart wide open.
She always knows how to overturn my expectations.
We live on this side of schism.
What if unity begins with realizing God does not only go to my church?
What if we cooperate with the work of the Spirit by that same admission?
[And maybe that even means something more offensive than I am willing to say out loud--not only is God with the uneducated, the "theologically illiterate" that I am so fond of romanticizing, abstracting, and therefore violencing, but also with the prosperity-gospel-beaters, the patriarchal ones, the profoundly all-white, the snake handlers, the heartstring-tuggers, the ones who like bad art and bad music in God's name, Amen.]
If I have any hope that God has not abandoned me and my bastardized version of grace-giving, I have to believe that God has not abandoned any of God’s children.
God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–is not far from any one of us.
God is BIG and that is unsettling.
There is a moment in Dante’s Divine Comedy, in Paradise, when Bonaventure–the walking Franciscan, mystical, the affective–turns to Thomas Aquinas–the sitting Dominican, scholastic, the rational–and addresses him in the Italian diminutive–Tomma, he says.
An endearment for his contemporary contrast before death. In fact, they each take turns, praising the founder of the other’s order.
Do you get how big this is? I weep every time.
I joke that if Dante had lived after the Protestant Reformation, he might have written Teresa of Ávila calling Luther “Marty.”
I cringe to think which enemy of mine he would write me to endear.
There will be no Baptists in heaven. No Lutherans either; sorry.
No Catholics, no Presbyterians.
I hope you know what I’m getting at–I’m not making any prescriptions for who’s “making it,” though I might have tried in the past. I’m just saying the Beatific Vision changes our need to find ways to see.
For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then we will see face to face. The trick is remembering that here, in the space between so many schisms and Eschaton (that final beginning and end of all things), each glass is dark and other-colored. Each glass shows Something a little differently.
Should the ideal even be a single melting pot to efface all difference? I’m just not sure we are all supposed to look the same. Maybe, actually, at the last and first we will all be baptizing each other over and over again (babies and teenagers, in rivers and gold fonts), we will always ever be speaking in tongues, communing with the saints, tapping tambourines, swinging incense, writing icons, having testimony time, forever passing around the bread and the wine, therefore let us keep the feast, Alleluia.
Maybe the things that divide us now will be transfigured, too; maybe this too will be the resurrection of the Body in the life of the world to come, Amen.
Photo by License by katsrcool (Kool Cats Photography), Creative Commons via Flickr.