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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Romance, Reality, and the Universal Truth

I have never been able to take a cue note from a guitar.

This was an embarrassing thing when I was a young Baptist.  So many of my friends and family sang with nothing else to accompany them except guitars, banjos, and other instruments associated with the Southern culture.  I would cock my head to the side, listening with all my might, but invariably, I had to wait until someone else sang to get my starting pitch.

I realize, now, that this was a precursor to my conversion.  How could I remain a Baptist when I couldn't sing along with a guitar?  It didn't help that I hated to clap, and certainly had no inclination to raise my arms to heaven when my eyes and thoughts would suffice.  Mine was a sedate nature in worship, although not necessarily so elsewhere, and I found the idea of "Be Still and Know that I AM God" an intriguing notion that deserved more attention.

I do not write this to offend my childhood friends and family.  I still adore attending Gospel sings and I'm more than happy to join in (once someone else has gotten me started on the tune).  I can't imagine how miserable my childhood would have been if my moments involving guitars, drums and pianos were eradicated from it.  Yet, while I enjoy these things, it is not my primary source of worship.  There is something beyond enjoyment, something greater than taking a personal pleasure in praising God.  There is something that is "meet and right so to do".

Anglicanism sated my initial desire for decorum.  There was a romanticism about it, a nostalgia wrapped in the trappings of the English language at its artistic height, its liturgy made fable by the hundreds of movies that used its rites for fairy tale weddings and to bury BBC heroes.  There was a gentleness that refused to recognize the abhorrence of the world, and the Church of England rolled on toward an eternity of black frock coats and ivy-covered country homes, and for ten years I drifted with it, content with the 1940 Hymnal, the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and the thought that God was in His Heaven, and all was right with the world.

Then came my conversion to Catholicism, the story of which I've already shared here in an earlier post.  I had no desire to disrupt my reverie of God, my firm grasp of His Goodness, my love for the trappings of faith to which I'd become so attached.  There was much in Catholicism that I found gauche, much I could not bring myself to accept, much that I sought to reject because it was not convenient for me to do otherwise.

Catholicism was not pretty when I came to her gates.  Her music was distorted by forty years of secular influence.  Her churches were bland and utilitarian, often downright ugly.  Her priests weren't exactly finding favor with the world at large in the year 2000, and even though the vast majority of them were very worthy men, the public images were enough to revolt someone who was already reluctant to swim the Tiber.

Yet, there is something to be said for a Faith that is not always beautiful to the eye.  Just as the old and infirm can light up a room despite their frailties, just as the quavering voice of an old monk can demonstrate the beauty of a chant, even as the Body of Christ can be displayed grotesquely and broken on a cross and still be a work of art, so is our Faith.  Her beauty is in Her Sacraments, in Her consistency from generation to generation, in handing to the next what those closest to Christ knew.  Her Beauty is in Her Truth, which is Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Our God, found in the Eucharist and elevated before us, whether in a Cathedral of marble or a basement school chapel, omnipresent in His Heaven, yet deigning to dwell with us on earth.

Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro.
Dignum et iustum est.  

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