Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What happened to my Lent?

I grasped the handle of the door to the church and knew that just from the weight of the heavy metal ring, that was the door pull, that I had better put some muscle in it. Good thought to have had, the door was as heavy as it was imposing. As I stepped in and my eyes adjusted from the bright sun of a late summer San Francisco day, I wondered if the door was designed to keep Satan out or sinners in.

Grace Cathedral at the top of Nob Hill was like a siren calling me to come inside, and I gladly dashed my boat against its rocks. When my eyes adjusted I could see that I was in a beautiful place, a place properly named.
The nave of the church has a very old world feel about it. As I walked down the side aisle I thought of Dorothy Gale saying to Toto, “I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.” (Funny that I should be quoting from the Wizard of Oz while in San Francisco.) There were elegant banners hanging just below the windows high over head and they invoked scenes of what I believed churches and castles in Europe to look like, though I've never seen them banner to face.

I walked about three quarters of the way back into the nave before I slid across the pew where I sat quietly and alone, though somewhere in the building someone was practicing organ and ironically, God of Grace and God of Glory.

The word Grace kept running through my mind. When I was in my early teens I learned in a little country church that grace was, “the unmerited favor of God.” Not until I was a little older did I come to understand that what I was being told was that God loved me, I didn't earn his love, I couldn't buy his love, I didn't deserve his love, but he was giving it to me anyway and he was doing it lavishly. He wanted me to have it and was pleased with me for being so open and willing to receive it. In fact, my taking from God what I didn't deserve somehow pleased him. Now, to truly make sense of all of that I needed twenty more years and a trip to the left shore.

There was a beam of light beating down through a small pane of clear glass in a window across the aisle on the Gospel side of the church, seems I always gravitate to the epistle side. The window was easily two stories above the floor. It was an intense beam of light and it focused on the altar, at least 150 feet ahead of me. My eyes followed the beam from the source down to the altar where it focused on a simple cross of gold thread embroidered on the green parament. The light was intense, it made me think of the childish prank of training a light through a magnifying glass to ignite a piece of paper or as the bullies do, toast an ant, essentially, that's what was happening, only without the smoke and flame and God is no bully. In that golden thread, fashioned into a simple cross on the altar of Grace Cathedral I came to see exactly what grace truly is. I had to leave Indiana to see the meaning of grace.

Simple, golden, intensely lit, laid upon an altar, an altar of sacrifice, a place where the two bodies of Christ meet. The body of Christ in the form of the Eucharist and the assembled modern day disciples that are also known as the body of Christ. This is grace, the laying down of Christ's golden life, the intense light of God in a simple message, “I forgive you and you can't help it, I love you and you can't stop me. I live in you and I'm not moving. I'm giving you my grace and it's enough for you.”

I sit in church on Sunday mornings, not in Grace Cathedral, but my church, the church at home. There are times that a bright beam shines across the nave, only here it is epistle to Gospel. The beam never seems as bright or as intense as that beam that burned through the glass of Grace Cathedral. The ray of light never falls where it did at Grace. I wait, wondering if it ever will fall upon that golden spot for me, will it land there once more to remind me?

Not long ago I sat there on a Sunday morning, internally there were tremors. I used to have them much more often than I do now, simply, they are periods of anxiety. I kept looking inside and prayed, “why is this happening? Why do I feel this way? Are you there Jesus?” Of course I knew that he was there, after all there is grace, that California revelation of, “I live in you and I'm not moving.” The tremors calmed, but not as quickly as I would have liked. When the postlude was played out and I was leaving two conflicting thoughts met in my mind and in my heart, “where is the holiness? And, 'I'm giving you my grace and it's enough for you'.”

It is Lent, a time of looking within and reconnecting with the reason that God would make one final sacrifice. For me the symbols of Lent speak volumes and help me to feel and to see that I am the reason that God had to sacrifice his perfect lamb. This year I'm struggling with what I most need from the season of Lent. I'm wrestling with other demons, vicious ones; the ever present feeling of loneliness, grief, turmoil that surrounds me in the form of being a sounding board for others and I am at the point of not wanting to listen any longer, there are the demons, then the sins and the shame, I have to remind myself that some of these are not the same as the other, that some of the demons are not shame, but it's a complicated chain and some of the links are oval, some square.

I needed the symbols of the church to remind me of what Lent is preparing me for. I needed the darkness and the way that the darkness causes us to look inward. I needed the reminders through solemness that my sin is serious business and the sacrifice made on my behalf is not to be taken lightly. I needed the quiet, not the raucous. Without these things in my life right now I don't feel the dawn coming, and it is growing ever nearer. I don't see the bright intense light being trained on a wooden cross causing it to become golden. Instead it has felt like business as usual, Tom Bodett has even left the old porch light to the tomb burning and I feel like Lent has been preparing me for nothing more than lighting one Marlboro from another. Will that happen?

Still, I hear the voice, “Where is the holiness? I'm giving you my grace and it's enough for you.”


Anonymous UNK said...

I can't imagine God could love any human on this earth more than he loves you and your beautiful words and thoughts. And it goes without saying how much I love you. UNK

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