When I was a Roman Catholic, and was convinced that my serving was through becoming a sister in the Dominican order, one of my favorite, no, not one of, but my favorite hymn was one called “Here I am Lord.” I think there are a couple that go by that name, but this one went something like, “here I am Lord, I have heard you calling in the night. If you call me, I will follow, I will lead your people. . . .” or something to that effect. It was the only hymn that would drive me directly to tears, for I felt that in offering myself to the convent I was in effect following.
The gospel passage that speaks of giving away all that one has and following Jesus, was and is connected to that hymn to me. It broadsided me I guess you could say the first time I remember actually reading it as a Christian. It frightened me, and at the same time compelled me to look deeply at my life and where I was going.
If you read the bible often, you will no doubt realize that throughout the Old Testament particularly, when God spoke directly to humans, they always, always responded with “Here I am Lord.” I always thought it a bit funny, given that God clearly knew where they were, a simple, “Yes?” would have been sufficient. But it seems the writers who wrote of these encounters with God always saw a sense in the recipient of readiness for service that the phrase seems also to convey.
In the OT reading today, Moses responds to God’s call of him from the burning bush with “here I am, Lord.” Oh indeed I suspect that at least initially Moses wished he hadn’t since God had a great deal in store for Moses, much of which he wanted no part of. Mostly Moses felt inadequate to the tasks set before him. Yet, of course, God supplies us with what we need, when we need it. According to a Midrash comment about Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, the Midrash writer says that God did not part the sea when Moses raised his staff. No, not until Moses, in faith stepped forward did he do that. (I am stealing shamelessly from our Priest, Barbara today, who taught us this.)
And in the Gospel reading from Matthew today, Jesus tells us that we must lose our lives to save them. To become his follower, we must take up our cross and follow. And it seems to me the message is clear. God will be there to both sustain our journey and will provide us what we need when we need it. All else may be quite mystery to us. We may know almost no details, we may not know the purpose nor the end. We need only have that faith that sustains and upholds and provides as needed to continue. The cross is the fearless going forth in the following, not having any assurance as to the destination or the means by which it will be attained. And of course, it also means it may be done against the good wishes of many or most of our friends, family or even strangers.
Therein of course lies the rub. Just how do we discern when we are following the call of God, and when are we merely allowing our own preferences to slyly dictate a subconsciously chosen path? I confess I have no real clue. I can say easily that it is a intuitive thing, a deep feeling, one that seems, feels, right. But truthfully, “entering the convent” seemed the intuitively right thing to do at the time. Similarly, moving from Roman Catholicism to Anglican Episcopalianism seems the right thing to do as well right now.
I have turned this over a bit in my head lately and while I don’t have clear unrefutable answers, I think I many have a clue or two. I came from no faith at all, and with exposure pretty much only to Roman Catholicism as a child. It defined my concept of church. I don’t think it is possible that I would have entered the arena of “church” unless it had been Roman Catholic. So I can but think that God accepted me where I was and saw this as a beginning.
Now with a more mature outlook, having spend years trying to reconcile my faith, my Church, and my deeply abiding personal views about a whole range of social issues, I have come to see that I must release that “childish” adoption for a more mature one.
Now I in no way claim that adherence to the Roman faith is childish. But my reasons for adhering to it were in a sense based on childish misunderstanding of what constituted “Church” in the first instance. I have no bad feelings against the Roman Catholic faith, none whatsoever really. I just realize that is not for me. It does not fit my mind and heart. And a religion should do that it seems to me. And no I don’t mean that churches should be “feel good” places either. But I do mean that we, each of us, is like a puzzle piece looking for our place in the picture.
We must, it seems to me, find a place where doctrine, ritual and congregation intersect in a mutually rational way for us. I met with the assistant rector of my church last week. She said to me, that as much as she worked for interfaith dialogue, we put too much emphasis on establishing agreement on all kinds of doctrinal issues. There is nothing so very wrong about envisioning God and/or Jesus in multiple ways. What is important is that we respond to the call of service to our neighbor. That should come first, and in that I think she is very right.
Rome spends a lot of time working, so they tell me, to collect all of us back into the fold. I suspect it will never happen. And I suspect God is quite happy about the arrangements we have now. More than likely, not a single one of us with our massive or not so massive denominations behind us, is totally right. We each bring threads of “getting God” to the table. The sad thing is that instead of creating a tapestry, we try to get everyone to agree to dye all the threads the same color.
So I see myself mostly as just another fellow traveler, climbing the mountain, meeting lots of different folks along the way. Some crossing my path, some traveling with me, others along a parallel or angled path to mine. Some no doubt are confusedly backtracking. I have, at least for now, found a community of fellow travelers who seem to see the world as I see, and who see God’s call the way I do. So I’m not traveling alone right now. I’m in fact having a joyous time. God seems closer than he has in a very long time for me.
While I could say, that this is me now, and that five, ten years from now, I might be some place else, I just don’t know. I tend to think my present Episcopal Church is broad enough, wherein I can lie with ease for all my years to come. I guess, it seems a church which continually calls itself to examine and re-examine itself. And that to me is essential. Times change, and God has new and previously unknown challenges for us.
In the end, I’m not sure that there is more that any of us can do than our best. I am here, Lord. I am doing my best, trying to discern your will, trying to uphold your will, and please you. Here I am Lord.