September 23, 2007

“This post from a year ago August is one of my favorites, as it tries to describe the feelings I have about life in the Church and my bittersweet experiences with it.”
The Great White Shank


A confession right up front: I love the Church and the feeling that comes with going to church, even though my relationship with it has seen its fair share of turbulance and trouble over the years.

I’m not talking here about the Church as a single entity or congregation or parish. And I’m not talking Protestant or Catholic, either: Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Orthodox, or Roman Catholic, over the years I’ve attended and preached in enough parishes to more than get the gist of just about everything and anything each stands for in its own history, theology, and worship traditions.

So many times I’ve walked into a church – it doesn’t matter what denomination or whether I’m a member or not – and immediately felt God’s presence surround and envelop my senses. Sometimes its from something as simple as the architecture or light through stained glass; other times it’s a kind of “sixth sense” radiating through the building’s history (good and bad), traditions, or simply the way God feels present there. I’ve often thought about trying to put into exact words how and why this happens, but I guess that’s why the Church has its mystics like Julian of Norwich and St. John of the Cross to put into words the longing and completeness one’s soul can experience whenever present in the house and worship of the Lord.

But this doesn’t mean checking your brain at the door and seeing the Church through rose-colored glasses. Quite the contrary.

Thirteen years ago, God called me to be a priest in his Church, a calling that led me to journeys and places I could never have believed possible. Unfortunately, whether through some fault of my own or the Church’s own fallible internal workings, things didn’t work out too well and the calling was shelved. And I’ll admit it: the Church’s rejection is one I still feel keenly. Yet, over time, I’ve come to realize that in these kinds of things there’s no one to blame – you just have to learn to accept it and find a way to move on. One of my favorite contemporary writers, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, has written about this very thing – that people often seem to expect the fallible human beings and institutions in their lives to be, well, not human at all rather than accepting and coping with their imperfections.

This past Saturday, I had been listening to some classic, summertime Beach Boys music prior to attending Mass at St. Anne Catholic Church. After taking my place in a pew, I found myself contemplating the journey that had brought me there, and suddenly the very same words I had heard Brian Wilson sing to a lover in his song “Please Let Me Wonder” just minutes earlier found their own special relevance and poignancy within my own heart. For him, they communicated the longing and desire he felt in a physical sense to a lover; to me, it communicated everything I felt in my heart and soul to the Church:

Now here we are together
This would’ve been worth waiting forever
I always knew it’d feel this way
And please forgive my shaking
Can’t you tell my heart is breaking?
Can’t make myself say what I planned to say

Baby, please let me wonder
(If I’ve been the one you love)
Please let me wonder
(If I’m who you’re dreaming of)
Please let me wonder, love

I built all my goals around you
That some day my love would surround you
You’ll never know what we’ve been through
For so long I thought about it
And now I just can’t live without it
This beautiful image I have of you

Baby, please let me wonder
(If I’ve been the one you love)
Please let me wonder
(If I’m who you’re dreaming of)
Please let me wonder, love

Wilson’s lyrics express the tension that exists between the sensual and actual, and the dream of a “beautiful image” that may or may not exist in reality. Nevertheless, love is the mystery and the motivation, and it is the very mystery and motivation of God’s love and presence that I find at the core of my own longing and desire for intimacy with God through His Church. This is not to say that the Church is only means by which one can experience God’s presence, but it is the only place where God can be experienced both physically and symbolically through the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood.

To those who have suffered hurt, disenchantment, or disillusionment with the Church due to its many failings, I can only say that while it may be imperfect, the One it serves and seeks to emulate (no matter how much it might fall short in that regard) – is perfect, and revealed in the wonder and majesty of God’s boundless love for us all. Because we know ourselves, our failings, and our faults all to well, we might ask how such a love is possible, yet it is in that very question where the true wonder lies.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:22 | Comments Off on Please Let Me Wonder
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