there will be no Baptists in heaven.

by Antonia Terrazas

Santa fe church

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.

23 Responses to “there will be no Baptists in heaven.”

  1. Bethany Bassett February 4, 2014 at 4:29 am #

    Yes yes yes, so much YES to this, to the redemption of the capital-B Body, to grace seen clearly without the glass, to a God bigger than our theological bubbles. So beautifully written. I’m right there with you, sister.

    • Antonia Terrazas February 4, 2014 at 6:47 am #

      I’m glad our prayers join together, Bethany. thanks for reading!

  2. Kitty Swing February 4, 2014 at 8:01 am #

    This is absolutely beautiful to me. As a girl raised in a loving and devout Catholic home and growing up to now be part of a non-denominational reformed church… I see the various parts of the spectrum, and I ache that the church of my childhood and the church of my adulthood struggle so much to hold hands and become the Church. But I have hope that it will happen, because Christ has one bride, and we are all it.

    • Antonia Terrazas February 4, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

      oh man, what sides to hold within yourself! I think it begins with this ache, with the realizing of Presence with both. From there, Lord have mercy. thank you for sharing.

  3. Katie February 4, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    “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. ”

    Amen. So lovely. I hope it is like this because my own winding story includes a gold font and glorious hymns with my mother at the organ bench, but I also would not be who I am without the Friday night fellowship of the hippie-social-justice crowd pushing me to question church teachings on immigration and capital punishment. I would not be who I am without the praise songs and deep conversation and testimonies around a campfire every summer. And I would miss so much if I did not have gut-wrenchingly beautiful songs sung under an acacia tree by African women wearing so many colors I wanted to fly.

    • Antonia Terrazas February 4, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

      I love the fragments of stories that you just shared, Katie. what an amazing mosaic. I was recently convicted of the practice of praying for every church that made me–even the ones I would never ever return to. I get it.

  4. Douglas Beaumont February 4, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    “If Dante had lived after the Protestant Reformation” I doubt “Marty” would be able to hear Teresa’s greeting (Not a whole lot of schismatics in Dante’s Paradise). ;)

    • Antonia Terrazas February 4, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

      ah. one of my favorite things about Dante is that he is constantly jarring our expectations of who is ‘placed’ where–offensively so–and that his intention was not an eschatological rubric (though unfortunately the church interpreted that way for years) but rather a point of conviction for those of us living in the already-and-not-yet. I choose to pray according to the endearment. thanks for reading!

  5. R February 4, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    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.

    There is so much loveliness in this, as a Presbyterian girl with friends who graciously invite her into the mysteries of Mass, as she goes to the non-denom church that stretches her in all the right ways. It makes me glad to see these words.

    God is so much bigger than we can comprehend.
    All praise to Him for that.

    • Antonia Terrazas February 4, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

      I am glad that you have been able to meet God in multiple ways–this kind of thing has informed my story greatly. thank you!

  6. Luke February 4, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    You’re naming a tension here that I’ve been sitting in for a while. Part of leaving the certainty of a modernist faith behind is giving up our right to be right, I think. We become so certain of uncertainty that we’re certain that anyone else who’s certain has to be wrong (you follow?). It’s such an absurd cognitive dissonance, I’m often more graceful toward those of different faiths than I am toward those in my own family of faith (distant as I might perceive the relation to be).

    None of us has it all together, including (and perhaps especially) me, which means each of us could be just as close or far away from the truth as another. Thanks for this *gentle reminder. :)

    • Antonia Terrazas February 4, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

      I follow you definitely. “I’m often more graceful toward those of different faiths than I am toward those in my own family of faith” <<<< THAT RIGHT THERE kicks me every. time. Thanks for speaking up here, Luke. I'm with you.

  7. Emily Luna February 4, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    As a Pentecostal kid turned twenty-something tired cynic turned maybe-Lutheran (and lover of that NM azure sky) this was a blessing to me today :) Gosh, I remember thinking I had to try to set my Catholic friends straight when I was younger. I’m so sad about that; I must have hurt them. I’m the one weeping through liturgy now. I hope that means I can keep in mind that beautiful vision of heaven you described, and never cut off the possibility of learning from people who experience Christianity differently.

    • Antonia Terrazas February 4, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

      sounds like we have pretty similar stories! I have done some apologizing over the years. It takes a willingness to be awkward about old wounds, I will say that. I hope we all keep learning from one another.

  8. Kelli Woodford February 4, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    You had me at hello. I grew up as Baptist as a Disney boycott. When I went to Bible College, it was another denomination that ran the school. My roommate had been raised to believe strictly according to the exclusivity of their doctrine and in one of our very first conversations, she uttered these words in disbelief: “Do you mean to say that BAPTISTS ARE CHRISTIANS, TOO?”

    Although it would be easy to leave the story at that, villianizing her, I know that the ensuing years have been filled with similar questions from these lips – pointed at other “them’s”.

    Thank you for this. It’s a topic dear to my heart.

    • Antonia Terrazas February 4, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

      questions pointed at other “them’s” — oh my goodness, yes. I STILL do this on at LEAST a weekly basis, in a school that makes ecumenism frankly quite easy. thanks for dropping in here, Kelli.

  9. Diana Trautwein February 4, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

    Thanks, Antonia, for this gracious message. An invitation, really, to drop the defenses, the boxes, the my-way-or-the-highway kind of thinking that pervades too much of the church theses days. Beautifully said.

    • Antonia Terrazas February 4, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

      thank you, Diana. (If only I was willing to drop those defenses and boxes more often myself!)

  10. Juliet February 24, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    I think this is one of those great shifts in understanding. As we open our eyes and see God in each of our neighbours regardless of the old barriers of race, gender, sexuality etc so we see God unbounded by denominations. And if that is so maybe we too should be living first as followers of Jesus and members of the human family, stewards of creation. Our faith is transmitted and nurtured (and sometimes crushed and perverted!) within denominational churches. But they are waystations on the path to the Kingdom, not endpoints.

  11. Keli M. March 14, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    God always meets us where we are. God knows we are weak and young and that our minds and hearts are too small to embrace God’s bigness, so she comes to us where we can meet him, wherever that is. Ah, how I love our Good Lord!!! Thank you, Antonia for expressing the beauty of liturgy. It may seem showy to some, but for some of us (Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc.), those old movements touch very deeply and loosen all the tightness in our souls. God meeting us where we are. Just as the praise music touches others, and God meets them there.

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