It was a week ago tonight that I found myself truly facing the reality that exploring Catholicism was the next necessary step.
I was sitting in the library of a local convent, surrounded by house church leaders that I’ve known for some time. Sitting there, surrounded by hundreds of volumes on Catholicism, I listened to a discussion (typical of house church groups) about the need to throw out tradition, to move into new waters, to be less organized and religious. The dichotomy of the situation hit hard, and my soul began to feel like it was being torn apart.
A sweet friend was sitting next to me, and must have read my face. I looked down at my lap when my phone buzzed with this message: “How is this conversation for you in light of your recent thoughts on Catholicism?” (She was one of the few I’d mentioned this possible direction to, and I’m so thankful she was there in that moment.)
I think I knew, somehow, as I packed for the weekend that those 24 hours I was meeting with other house church leaders for our bi-annual retreat, I’d need to face this looming possibility. I mean, I’d deliberately packed a new journal, one that I’d selected for recording this journey, and the “spare-time” reading that I’d included in my bag was a book with the telling subtitle “40 Catholic Customs and their Biblical Roots”. I knew, but I didn’t want to know, and the intensity of the pain I felt sitting in that library caught me off guard.
It was a sort of searing grief mixed with fear. Grief as I knew I was slowly moving away from things that had been comfortable, that I’d held dear. Fear as I considered relational ramifications as I move forward along this path. (I’d been with some of these people only a few weeks earlier, and listened as they spoke about Catholicism in the same tone and language that they’d use to describe a cult.) Later that night I scribbled in my journal:
It’s as if, as I sat there tonight, it really came home to me that I truly am embarking on a new journey of exploring this thing that Jesus has placed in front of me. This thing that I talked about with my new spiritual director, my therapist, and then with Karla and Kirsten. This thing that I’m terrified of; that has seemingly ominous ramifications in so many parts of my life and relationships.
Apparently I’m really doing this, and like Abraham when God told him to pack up and leave, I’m leaving a place of comfort with no idea where it will lead.
I replied quietly to my friend’s text message, explaining a little about how I was feeling, and asking if the two of us could find some time over the course of the short retreat to escape and pray together. I wrote, “I need to pray with a friend who is close enough to hug me, not in another country!” I mouthed “Thanks” to her as her quick reply “sure!” flashed across my screen, and tried to return my focus to the meeting.
In an hour of quiet time the next morning, the two of us huddled in my tiny convent bedroom and spent time talking and praying. We covered a lot of distance in both of our lives, and that room became a holy space for me as truth was spoken, and as we came before Jesus together.
Of the bits and pieces that stand out from the conversation and our prayers were these:
- She reminded me that I know Jesus, and that Holy Spirit resides within me, and I can trust these things to give me great wisdom as I journey and explore.
- There wasn’t judgement – just confirmation that this seemed to be necessary right now. (I keep expecting judgement, and Jesus has been so faithful thus far to provide confirmation in its place).
- She empathized with the messiness, and affirmed that it is okay to feel the tearing pain of that. She also reminded me that Jesus knows the fears I’m facing in this journey, and that he knows the journey, and can go before me to ease and prepare hearts in the situations I most fear.
- She prayed for equilibrium. That word has rung in my heart and in my ears all week. An equilibrium between the two polar opposite forms of worship in which I encounter God most powerfully. An equilibrium within me as I journey.
And then we shared chocolate and a hug and headed off to lunch.
That morning time of prayer gave me peace and courage and led to a tiny miracle for me later that afternoon. We sat in another session, and the 20 or so of us broke into groups of three and four, to share the things God had spoken to our hearts – for ourselves and for the home churches most are part of – and to pray together. I had no intention of sharing this particular part of my journey, this call to explore Catholicism, in that setting. These are not people I know extremely well, and most of them are very clear on their feelings about organized church, so admitting that it seems God is leading me towards perhaps the most structured church body on the planet didn’t seem wise. Two of the other three people in our small group were among those in the room with whom I had the least relationship, and for whom I felt the least trust and the highest expectation of judgement – one was a person I’d recently heard make offhanded comments about Catholicism that were highly negative.
And so, my turn came to share. I looked at my friend, who quietly reminded me that this was a safe place, and was surprised when I opened by explaining that the thing on my heart was a move back towards organized church, and particularly towards Catholicism. I shared that I was terrified of this journey, but so convinced that it is the one that Jesus has set before me in this season – that it’s one that has been confirmed over and over again.
And this was the miracle – shock registered on their faces, and I watched just a bit of the internal struggle play out in their eyes, but I also saw love. I encountered grace and affirmation there, too, and every time I find these things where I expected judgement and rejection, it’s a miracle, but it’s more of a miracle when it comes from the unknown, when it comes without trust or much relationship. They asked how they could support me (I didn’t and don’t know yet, beyond prayer) and told me that once I was part of this body of house churches, I was in for life, whatever that ended up looking like. And somewhere, there, in that moment, more than in the moments I’d shared with my most trusted friends, I knew that I was going to be okay.
It’s a fleeting knowing, a clinging sort of trust. A hope, really. And hope is good. It’s my favorite word, after all, the one I’d like to tattoo to my body someday in the future. It’s a peace and a promise of being held, being led. It was a tiny moment of the equilibrium I longed for, and my friend had prayed for. It was a moment of stillness – the eye of the storm stillness where you can still feel the tugging, swirling chaos, but just for a moment you’re not within it. It gave me courage to declare an official beginning of the journey, to stop talking and start packing and walking. And it was a miracle.