Is it beauty? Is it truth? Is it the people? The art? The music?
What carries you past the time when you are kneeling in church, and suddenly everything looks futile, worn, a little tacky. "This can't be really TRUE, can it? Is Jesus around now? Can He hear me? Why do people bother? Does it make any difference if I'm here, or if I believe?"
I'm not talking about those little niggles of doubt, when someone in the Church gets a little too far over the line into Mariolatry, or yaws the other way and insists that the miracle of the loaves and fishes is that "Jesus convinced everyone to share their lunches." Those just send a momentary little frisson of discomfort and embarassment up my spine, and are gone, since I have gathered enough information to understand their human error, sympathize and continue with my faith undamaged, if a little amused.
I mean those times when you're praying your heart out. You're listening to the Gospel with every ounce of your attention, and there opens in front of you a future of similar effort and straining, for what?
Last night I went to a special prayer service at my church. It was a first of its kind for us, involving some decoration, music and prayer styles that are new for my parish (it's the first time I've seen hands raised and modest bashful suburban swaying in prayer in the pews in which I spend a lot of time). It was actually quite beautiful, in a homely sort of way. The music had some rough edges, the hems on the draping around the special altar setting were a little unraveled and didn't meet the floor evenly. Somebody in charge believed that if candles are nice, a LOT of candles are even better. The reader went too fast and shrugged her shoulders whenever she lost her place. The congregation didn't quite know what to do when, although all were willing to give it a good honest try.
I kept noticing the deficiencies, not in a critical way, but more in a clinical one. Resolving to keep my mind focused on the worthy reason for the service, I was still overtaken by the human reality of the middle-grade results. Part of my mind got busy solving all the problems, and I had graceful and economical solutions for every one, which didn't help me get un-distracted. Old helpful me....
But, thank the Lord, after the Blessed Sacrament was placed upon the altar, one of the priests began to pray, in spontaneous prayer, not rehearsed, but in his normal conversational cadence. It was heartfelt, aching with emotion, torn with truth. It was love, naked love, for Love. It was how any man would talk to one he greatly and tenderly loved. Oh. Oh.
Lord, thank you for the gift of Your Beauty. I can't stop seeing the rust and dents and dings of the world, (hell, my doors are dinged up pretty good, too), but Your Beauty comes right through them, permeates them, bursts forth from them. When I first slouched back to You, I was carried away and along by the Beauty of the logic of faith, the way everything fits and hangs together. Last night, and at a lot of cold dark morning Masses, it's Your Beauty now that pulls me forward, by the small gold and flame of the altar, the dignity of careful love by the priests, lecters and servers, the quiet of deep emotion and reverence in your people. Nowhere else in the world is that Beauty found, nothing else in the world can contain it.
What carries you guys over when you hit that flat part of faith, that featureless part of the road of worship and belief?