I’ve been having an interesting conversation with a woman on a forum. It started out innocent enough as it were. “What are you doing for Lent?” It was posted on a forum section for non-Catholics. This section is presumably for non-Roman Catholics and for Catholics alike to explore the differences in their various faith traditions and also hopefully where they are in line.
Reading a bit more of the original post, we got a bit different sense. She claimed that she understood that most Protestants don’t observe the time and wondered if we had any idea what it was about.
Many of us responded giving our personal Lenten observance. More than one of us inquired as to her placement of the thread in the Non-Catholic forum given her belief that Protestants by and large didn’t observe Lent. In other words, some of us smelled a rat.
She replied to these remarks by saying that she knew eight Protestants and they didn’t observe. She never explained why then she chose to place the thread on that particular subforum.
In any case, she was clear, Lent was invented by the Roman Catholic church, the only church, by the way that was started by Jesus Christ himself.
No amount of logic will dissuade her of this, and that is as one would expect. But no amount of logic will dissuade of her of the notion that that is a conclusion she has come to, and other people faced with the same information have come to quite different conclusions. In her mind, there is no difference.
As she told me, “you are ignorant of Church history. ” I replied that, on balance I probably knew more than the average person, though I certainly was no expert. Moreover, I inquired, “how do you come to that conclusion when you know exactly zero about me or my education?” “Oh,” she answered, “that is easy. If you knew Church history, you would know that I am right.”
More than one person scratched their heads in disbelief at this statement, but she insisted, that no matter what, the Roman Catholic church was first. No mind that penance and ashes and sackcloth had been a part of the Jewish religious life for centuries before. No, that mattered not. Jesus presented Lent to the Catholic Church through the Holy Spirit.
We, the great non-Roman world, are just copiers, as we have copied and use their creeds, their words of consecration in our useless Eucharist, and their bible. We are wannabe Catholics who aren’t strong enough for the discipline required, so we pretend to be Catholics with our watered down versions.
One of course realizes that discussion is impossible. The mind is too closed tight. There is something too threatening in the idea that God may uphold his people in all the mosaic of Christian thought and practice. Apparently God does not in fact read the heart, but instead studies the liturgical rules and practices as evidence of true faithfulness.
I have come to see this as amusing in some sense, and sad in another. I don’t let it bother me. I was reminded of it this morning in reading a lovely passage from a book recommended by Jan at Yearning for God.
The book is entitled, Into the Silent Land, by Martin Laird, and I urge you to pick it up. I confess that I have only reached chapter 2, but I can tell you it is a wonderful book about contemplative prayer and I look forward through it to improve mine. It is one of my Lenten disciplines, to read and incorporate this book.
In it, Mr. Laird relates the following story:
When overwhelmed by the days events, he often walks. He walks along an area with open fields, and enjoys that. He often saw a man walking his dogs along the fields. The dogs would run free and so very happily, jumping and racing, turning and joyously exploring. All but one, who stayed close to the man and ran in tight circles as they progressed.
One day Laird felt he could ask, and did, “Why does your dog do that? Why does it run in little circles instead of running with the others?” The answer was that the poor dog had spent most of its life before the man got him, living in a cage, where he could only exercise by running in tight little circles. Sadly, the animal could not break the notion that this is what running meant.
The led Laird to this remark: “And so we run in tight, little circles, even while immersed in open fields of grace and freedom.”
Read it again, and let it sink in. We do, we all do. The poor lady from the forum cannot escape into the freedom and grace that God has given her to think openly about her God and the people of God. She is trapped in a tight circle, looping illogically but somehow satisfying for her. It brings her some safety and comfort that her world, her God can be defined in definitive terms. Her version of Roman Catholicism is akin to fundamentalism of course, but she cannot see this. She may remain stuck all her life with an image of God that never changes or expands, and thus she will neither expand nor change either.
She is but a striking example of us all. To some degree, in some areas of our lives we live in the ever looping video of the way things are and must be to keep us comfortable. We cannot relate to the dogs running in the field, they are in some sense not us, not like us. We are different, and must remain tightly controlled here.
As we meditate and contemplate our God, let us all ask that we may be shown those places within us that are closed and hidden, fearing exposure to a greater and perhaps uncomfortable new truths. Let us ask to be opened from our illusionary securities and face the reality of life and the world. Let us ask to grow up a little more today. Blessings.