Havering on The Way_7
I love the fact that The Way isn’t about being or becoming Catholic or anything else for that matter. As Ishmael tells Tom during the “intimate” Gypsy party, “Religion has nothing to do with this.”
Yet Catholicism is the backdrop in The Way. After all, the Camino de Santiago is a Catholic pilgrimage. I must admit, I echo the reaction on Jack’s face as he sits in the church at the end of the road in Santiago. Each time I watch the scene in that church with it’s huge, vaulted ceiling and the huge incense holder swinging majestically overhead, I get goosebumps and find myself choked up before something truly wondrous. The beauty of holiness. It leaves me awestruck. As Brunner observes, the Catholic Church is the most churchly church. The Protestant churches I have run with, even back to my Presbyterian days growing up, seem like rank amateurs by comparison. Just saying.
It’s what I experienced in my forays to Scotland, perhaps most vividly in walking through the grounds of St. Andrew’s cathedral. Awestruck. Gobsmacked. Godsmacked. It’s simply impossible to quantify the impact on my spirit, my imagination, as I walked on what seemed to me holy ground.
I experienced it again this past week when I attended a Catholic Mass for the first time at a friend’s invitation. First the weekday Mass on Friday, then the weekend Mass on Saturday. Curiously, it was the weekday Mass that most captivated me. Don’t know exactly why. Perhaps it was the novelty of it. Perhaps it was because I was just coming out of last week’s chemo fog. But it was a holy, moving moment for me. First, the “box” had a wondrous, high vaulted ceiling with a huge heavenly portal at its apex flooding the room with light. No God-Mart this. Simply glorious.
Arriving early I heard people praying responsively. Formerly biased Protestant ears would have called it vain repetitions. To my ears now it was a beautiful song. The readings from the Old Testament, from the Gospels, from the New Testament. . . I closed my eyes and savored each Word. Comments, analysis or explanation would have totally ruined the moment. Fortunately there was none. The Word was read and allowed to hang there, suspended over us – alas, all too briefly. It left me deeply hungry for the Word. That was unexpected.
During the brief homily, my eyes were continually drawn to the huge, suspended crucifex and to the stained glass windows representing the four Gospels.
I simply have no words. Though here I am trying to type them anyway.
I also saw reconfirmation of one of my key observations about Church life: all Churches are simply variations on a theme – and it’s a Catholic theme. The line of continuity between what I witnessed in the Mass and what I have experienced in Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Willow Creek, Vineyard and even the Church of Christ is simply undeniable. Protestants are just Catholics in denial.
And here is the point of this havering on The Way: I experienced a Catholic “hostel” last Friday morning. A pilgrim weary with slogging through his own ever-deepening chemo ruts found his soul refreshed. The revolving door that took me in took me right back out in the company of friends. My eyes had been drawn upwards and refocused outward. Perhaps to others accustomed to being there it was just another morning Mass. But I was filled.
And that is how boxes fit into the Way.