I sat down this morning and wrote the first half of a very different post, letting words flow from a moment of clarity and inspiration, but as the day wore on it seemed that that was not the post I was destined to write today. It held thoughts that I want to expound upon in the future, but that seemed less and less ready to be shared today.
Not long after I wrote the last few posts in this space about holding tensions and about discernment and loneliness I got desperate. I felt like I was dying a slow death of spiritual starvation, and I decided that since that hunger was not a need being met in the particular context of the parish and RCIA program I am part of (because of the unique stages of that journey that seem to prevent depth for the time being), I would figure out how to meet that need elsewhere – to give myself a reprieve from that sense of lonely starvation, that sense that my mind and soul were atrophying.
I quit a lot of the more communal practices that had fed my soul cold turkey when I began to more seriously pursue Catholicism with the beginning of RCIA last fall. I reasoned that things came in seasons, and this was the season to be “all in” with Catholicism, and to set aside all things evangelical and charismatic (in the sense of communal worship anyway) in order to grow a depth of familiarity and comfort with the new traditions I am entering into. It worked for a while, as I went to mass each weekend and began the RCIA journey. I was surviving and slowly discovering new things to love in this new space that Jesus had led me.
And then dismissal started, and the thing I love most about Catholicism – to at least watch the Eucharist, while I wait to take part – was taken from me. The absence of the thing I’d been clinging to meant that I began to more desperately miss the sense of community that I had shared with the house church that I was last part of. I missed communal meals and evenings spent curled on couches, discussing scripture and praying for and with each other. I missed lengthy exposition and application of scripture in the form of sermons (though this was the easiest need from this list to meet, thanks to things like Lighthouse Catholic Media and talks from wonderful Catholic communicators such as Scott Hahn). I missed those moments when it became so evident that the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit had appeared in the midst of a service, and I missed the lengthy sessions of worship through music – dancing, lifting my hands, pouring out my heart in song to Jesus, and having the Spirit of God meet me in those moments.
By the beginning of January, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was desperate for some soul food, and I went in search of it. I felt guilty as I looked up the website of the largest local pentecostal church, and guiltier still as I registered for the weekend conference on prayer that they were advertising for a few weeks later – a conference that featured a speaker I’ve long respected and a wonderful worship leader. I felt guilty. I had, after all, given up these things in favor of becoming Catholic.
I still felt guilty a few weeks later as I showed up on a Saturday morning to attend the first conference session. I’d hoped for a packed house and a bit of invisibility, but prayer themed events never seem to attract the crowds that other events do and blending into the background wasn’t quite as available I’d hoped it would be. It felt odd to be in that room, and it took a while to let my guard come down, to stop wondering if I’d be judged if the people there knew I was pursuing Catholicism, to be able to enter into worship and prayer and let my heart be open to being there.
And here’s the thing, even though I struggled with a bit of guilt and feeling out-of-place off and on that whole weekend, Jesus met me powerfully. He knew what sort of food my mind and soul needed far better than I did, and He offered a true feast of that nature. And in that I found that the liturgical tradition I’ve embraced over the last year enriched what I was experiencing during the conference. I had my final laugh as the speaker who I had come to hear shared that he was recently confirmed into the Orthodox church. All weekend I’d been so obsessively concerned to “think critically” to discern what would and would not fit with my growing Catholicism, and now I’d discovered that I had in fact been given the opportunity to listen to a speaker from a church that Catholics recognize as having a valid order of priestly succession! How funny Jesus is, to answer my feelings of guilt in such a way!
And speaking of guilt, it’s been a few weeks since the conference ended and I’ve pondered that guilt, and pondered a question that I posed at the very beginning of this journey towards Catholicism, “how do I meld the two traditions in which I powerfully encounter Jesus – unstructured charismatic worship and teaching, and the very structured liturgy of the Catholic church?” Initially my response was to set that question aside – to acknowledge that I felt Jesus leading me towards Catholicism, and to set the other aside for a time – that cold turkey abandonment I talked about.
It turns out that that approach was wrong – at least for me. These two things are both integral parts of my journey with Christ, and the weekend conference offered a hint of encouragement (even as I battled guilt) that perhaps there was a way for these things to both be carried and expressed within my life of faith.
It’s messy – the weeks since the conference have seen more occurrences of questions of faith, questions of discernment, and questions of integrating this new journey of Catholicism with my long-established journey with Christ than the last several months combined. But messy is sometimes fruitful, and though I’ve been at turns angry, exasperated, and overwhelmed by the mess, I feel alive in a way I haven’t in a long while – confused sometimes, but gloriously alive. It’s as if my heart and mind have been awakened and invited back to the dance, and that dance isn’t so structured, in fact it’s messy too, but it’s beautiful, and it is paying dividends in my heart. I’m carrying two traditions within me – both rich and important – and I’m slowly learning to believe that they can be integrated to make something beautiful.