The Luminous Mysteries: the Broken Road

Antiphon: God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

In your baptism, O Christ, our God, you opened the pathway of initiation for us, into your Mysteries. I thank you for all who have moved me along this path, awkward and jerking though I have been. I’ve been on my way in for so long. And I have to thank those men who held the door open: the Pastor at the Marietta Baptist Tabernacle that wouldn’t know a trinity from a hole in the ground, and did it all wrong… but he taught me how to swim. And Pastor Pinto who gave me communion first. And Jim Lowery who got me wet again – this time in all the right names, and it stuck… Then Paul Moore with Henrician hands, but wait we’ll try again. And Bill Swing, who welcomed me back into Christ’s flock after I had gone a Paganing. And then Father Victor, who Confessed, Chrismated, and Absolved me into the Church Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. There was another turn unexpected, and Father Michael welcomed me into communion with Peter. God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

At the wedding, O Christ, you changed the water into wine. The things we offer are not divine, but what we offer in good faith, you take, and change, and elevate. And all the things I thought I’d have to carry all this way, you let me drop. All the things that were not according to your plan. But each one taught me by not being yours, each one held me in arms that were not love… but so nearly there… that I could not but keep looking, more and more, in the right direction. Do what ever he tells you, and you said, love… and I tried loving and even through I was wrong, you took it – and drew it deeper into yourself, the jars were full, the guests were drunk: and you brought out the best wine last.  God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

In preaching and proclaiming the kingdom, O Christ, you laid out in words, in simple human terms, the divine truths of all time. And I would be woefully arrogant if I did not know and see all the places you have taught me. I would not be me if it were not for Pastor Pinto, Pastor Lowery, Jeanette and David, my Sunday School teachers, these people gave me love for the Bible. And Pastor Lowery opened the door to John Wesley’s writings – and they, in turn, showed me the Church Fathers. And Mr Witkowsky opened my high school brain to history, and Dr Carlson confirmed the Freshman me in those mysteries. Jim Carse showed me the Tao and Games, and Frank Peters (SJ) showed me the Torah and the Church. Nina and then Starhawk danced me round the spiral for ten years, then Shadwynn called a change and Donald and Rick brought me back to Christ. And then they again opened to me the Fathers as well: and so out again to Fr Victor and Fr Joseph, to a wider Dance with Sare and Cam. In the end, though, stumbling along, it was Steve and Steve and Mom and Dad pointing the way. Then Michael. And again Father Michael, and last, my little brother, Joey… God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

On the Mountain, your truth was revealed. All things that are, are yours. Nothing that is isn’t yours. Only, without you, nothing alone is strong. Your light is all – and there is naught but darkness where you are not. And by your light, we see light everywhere. And so I can thank you deeply, that I have known the joys of all the wrong places, and I have known those pains as well. I have never once stopped looking, but you were always further along, just a light around the corner. A couple of times I thought, let me rest here… but no, the light was higher up the mountain; further up, and further in. You were in the cloud and I, unknowing, stumbled right into your arms. God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

Bread and wine are your body and blood. And Christ, there, is the mystery in sum. The things of this earth are made divine – see it in water, see it in the wedding, see it in the words we use to proclaim you, see it by your light in all light: this broken world, is transubstantiated by your grace. The whole damned thing is lifted up and blessed and broken, and it is you that we receive when we take it up in love. Every fracture, every quake, every tear, every wet eye, sobbing lung, and running nose, is held up in your hands, every broken heart is not healed but rather is iconified by the offering, made into your image which is the only true image there ever was, is, or ever can be. What is not you is not. And under the weaving of failure, runs the water of blessing, changed into the wine of love. Under the waving of the rotted grains of earth is the bread of heaven – and the whiskey of life. You, God, this broken road, is your narrow path destroyed by us in our pride, and damning ourselves to walk the other way, you went behind us and said, “boo”. Interception! God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

Seven Storey Mountain – reading along

At the tweeted suggestion of Steve, aka Steve the Missionary, as part of my post-RCIA Catechesis (Adult Reading for the Catholic N00b) I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith (from which edition all the page numbers are cited below). I very much dislike autobiography, to be honest, as of course would anyone like me who spends hours a week blogging a real-time autobiography. My ego is too big to make room for another’s… but I first met Thomas in high school, reading The Sign of Jonas, and although the meaning of that book escaped my young self, this one punches in the gut from nearly every page, and not occasionally takes away breath, rips out tears, and stuns with phasers aimed at the heart.

It’s not expected. More Merton is heard from Liberal Mainlines than one cares to note. Merton is the Liberal Mainline’s go-to Catholic. I had no idea at all that the warm, fluffy, nearly New Age Merton I keep hearing quoted by the Spiritual but Not Religious would ever rip a new one like this:

How did it ever happen that, when the dregs of the world had collected in western Europe, when Goth and Frank and Norman and Lombard had mingles with the rot of old Rome to form a patchwork of hybrid races, all of them notable for ferocity, hatred, stupidity, craftiness, lust and brutality — how did it happen that, form all this, there should come Gregorian chant, monasteries and cathedrals, the poems of Prudentius, the commentaries and histories of Bede, the Moralia of Gregory the Great, Augustine’s City of God, and his Trinity, the writings of St Anslem, S Bernard’s sermons on the Canticles, the poetry of Caedmon and Cynewulf and Langlad and Dante, St Thomas’ Summa, and the Oceniense of Duns Scotus?
How does it happen that event today a couple of ordinary French stonemasons, or a carpenter and his apprentice, and put a dovecote or a barn that has more architectural perfection than the piles of eclectic stupidity that grows up at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campuses of American Universities? (7SM, p33)

Yet it is not cultural punches but the Spiritual Journey for which one goes to Merton. Journey is not the right word: Merton is not on a happy-go-lucky labyrinth-winding pilgrimage without possibility of failure here. Merton’s engaged in Jihad, a spiritual struggle, a Podvig as the Slavs would say.

Souls are like athletes, that need opponents worthy of them, if they are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers, and rewarded according to their capacity. (7SM, p92)

He’s aware in hindsight (even though he was not in real-time) that he had lived on the edge of a precipice, that he needed only to stumble one way too far and all would have been lost. He knows, again in hindsight, that the world almost got him.

And so I became the complete twentieth-century man. I now belonged to the world in which I live. I became a true citizen of my own disgusting century: the century of poison gas and atomic bombs. A man living on the doorsill of the Apocalypse, a man with veins full of poison, living in death. (p94)

Then he quotes Baudelaire, but he’s talking to the reader… Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère… (??).  Thomas puts the reader in his own life: this is not the ego of the blogger who puts his own life before the reader to say “look at me” this is the kenotic love of a spiritual writer who says, “you are where I was and I’m worried, praying, holding a little light…”

There’s more anon… I’m 256 pages in already, but it’s so stunning that I have to take time to digest.