119/365 – Do we know God’s name?

Here's what God feels like to me, a beacon in the randomness.

Here's what God feels like to me, a beacon in the randomness.

Interesting discussion of the second commandment at RCIA tonight. (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, my Catholic class, for new readers.) Number 2 is about not taking the name of God in vain, and I have had little trouble editing out the “G-Ds” and “J-Cs” out of my swearing and cursing. In fact, since I’ve started this religous journey, I find fewer and fewer instances where I feel like cursing. I never really liked it.  I remember as a kid a group of my buddies asked me one day, “How come you never swear?”  I let loose a couple of F-bombs and so forth just to show them I knew how, but it didn’t feel right.

Sure, later on in college and “the big city” I could hold my own, peppering my sentences with all the choice swear words of the day, but I preferred making new ones up, like “Rat farts!”  Today, when someone cuts me off in traffic, I might make a comment about their intelligence or some part of their anatomy involved with the expulsion of waste, but”cussing” really doesn’t appeal to me.  Neither does losing my temper.

Anyway, to get back to my topic, I’m not sure anyone can ever know the name of the Supreme Being — not in this life.  It would be something beyond us.  The One God is fine with me.  I don’t feel the need for some mystical name known only to the inner circle.  That’s too Old Testament for me. I feel we don’t need a name, just the intention to acknowledge and accept something greater than us who cares about us and knows our name.

109/365 – My first mass, a meditation on faith

The altar of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Madison, Wis. Sunday, April 19, 2009, second Sunday of Easter.

The altar of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Madison, Wis. Sunday, April 19, 2009, second Sunday of Easter.

I feel called upon to help translate the Christian faith into English.  Actually, the words that came to me were, “Explain Christianity through English.”

Ah, but you say, the King James version of the Bible is nearly 400 years old, and many other translations, including one by Noah Webster, already exist.  What work remains to be done?

Well first of all, I’m not proposing to retranslate the whole Bible from Hebrew, Greek and Aramiac, just certain passages.  It’s not even the Bible itself I’m worried about, but the way the meaning of certain key terms commonly used to discuss religious faith have drifted or become fuzzy (or always were fuzzy).  I want to make sure the meaning of key terms is clear in contemporary American English, where so many words have become debased.  In addition, English is not always a precise language; it often takes a few words in a phrase to convey the meaning of a Latin, Greek or French term.  Or we just use the foreign term.

With that bit of background, let me meditate on a key word, perhaps the most basic term of all: faith.

“Faith” strikes me as a word that is open to a lot of interpretation.  To say, “I have faith,” seems to beg the question, “In what?”  And while Christians and Muslims speak of “the Faith” and know what they mean, other prideful rationalists rejoice in rejecting belief based solely on faith.

Digging back into the derivation of the term, I find it’s not originally a religious word.  It comes from the Latin fides (think “fidelity), meaning “to trust, have confidence in, believe.”  It was filtered through Old French as feid, and fei, then into Middle English as feith, a spelling I rather like.

The first definition in my Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th ed.) is: “1. Unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.”  That’s what I would call “blind faith” [good band], if I were making fun of it, and “divine faith” or “divinely inspired faith” if I felt it, which I do.  Interestingly, while my faith in God came to me through grace and I accepted it unquestioningly, I have also been provided with ample proof and evidence of both the existence of God and the power of God’s will in human life.  “Proof after faith” might also seem like a delusion to rationalists, but there are plenty of Christian apologists to take them on.  I’m just working on our vocabulary.

The second New World definition is the more familiar: “2. Unquestioning belief in God, religious tenets, etc.”  To convey this meaning, I would use a modifier, such as “religious faith” or “faith in God” rather than the bare word.  Because the religious cannot own the word “faith,” even when they capitalize it.  It’s a gentle, warm word to me, meaning complete trust, having complete confidence in something or someone, to rely on someone without question, as a child does a loving parent, or as loving spouses do.

103/365 – Maybe my last personal entry

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What to write?  Taxes?  Who cares.  Love?  Too personal.  Conversion?  Is it really anyone else’s business but me, Jane, and God?  Well, to be fair, I’ve already blogged about it and it’s only natural for people to be curious how it came out.

For those just tuning in, I have been studying Catholicism on Tuesday nights for the past nine months, and got confirmed on Easter Saturday, so now I’m a full Catholic, as is my fiancée, Jane, who converted 10 or so years ago. Jane told me of her conversion on our first coffee date and once I knew there was such a process, I was deeply moved to take part in it.

As for the ceremony itself, there are so many steps and stages, you have some time to prepare yourself for the final rite of communion, but there’s really no way to anticipate it, and I tried to remain in the moment.  As I wrote on Sunday (101/365), I got real emotional after communion, but luckily it was a short trip back to my pew where I could kneel and be as emotional as I needed to be.   It was a feeling of coming home, to a home I really never had, but which was waiting for me all along.

I feel different now, and will conduct my life differently as well, with more joy and less sarcasm (well, not too much less), less mean-spirited, bitter sarcasm, but still some righteous indignation where needed to puncture pontification and pretense — especially my own.

I’ve been to confession twice, and haven’t covered all 10 commandments yet.  I keep on dredging up heavy things on my conscience to confess to, and Jane tells me that process will continue. 

I continue to try to make things right with my past relationships with women.  As I face up to each situation, I feel a powerful cleansing emotion – that human blend of sadness for a life that might have been mixed with gladness for the lives that came to be.  I just want any harm to stop and healing to begin.

48/365 – God is in the details

Isn't St. Patrick's inviting?

Isn't St. Patrick's inviting?

Becoming Catholic is happening to me in ways both grand and small. My original conversion experience was as overwhelming as an ocean wave, and I felt completely swept up in faith, which filled a void in me. Subsequent waves washed through me, and then my internal ocean got peaceful after this cleansing.

Now it was time to work on the details of living a holy life, or growing towards holiness.

In RCIA tonight, we were discussing the topic of “Law, Justification and Grace.” Right away, I have to tell all you modern rationalists that “justification” does not mean “whatever you can talk your way out of.” You can’t justify an immoral act. What the church means by justification is the act of God making us just and holy by taking away our sins, sort of adjusting us so we can participate further in a good life, one that we can now see more clearly.

Anyway, didn’t mean to lose half my audience on that point by mentioning God and sin and stuff modern folks don’t believe in. I’m just bringing you to the part of the discussion where we got into the way one can begin to live a moral life, which is by examining each decision, each action, each place we let our eyes stray, and asking if that is a good thing or not.

You see, seeking God or seeking to become more like Jesus is a process, one that takes great application of effort and truth. Where you used to be happy that you got extra money back in change, now you give it back. You no longer seek to chisel your way through life, stealing stuff when no one is looking. God is always looking.

So I want to take the phrase that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (one of the pioneers of modern architecture who brought us those glass and steel monstrosities that dehumanize most major cities) made famous, “God is in the details” (apparently borrowed from Gustave Flaubert) and apply it to becoming closer to God rather than claiming my architectural designs are holier than yours. Seek God in the details of your life, and the bigger things will follow.

41/365 – My Demon Comes Calling

Full moon behind scudding clouds

Full moon behind scudding clouds

I think I saw an apparition out of the corner of my eye last night as I was entering the apartment .  It was about  11:00 p.m. (full moon), and I  had the key in the door when down the hall to my left towards the elevator, something flashed by, as if coming out of the apartment down there.  It was mostly reddish with some white*, human-sized but wraithlike.  (I get tingles just writing about it.) I felt a huge sense of dread and got goose bumps as I entered the apartment and closed the door behind me. I tried to stay calm, and put a Catholic calendar that has a Christ and cross icon on the front at the doorway to guard and block the threshold.

Thing was, the state capitol dome was lit in red, and I wanted to go back out and take a picture of it.  The blog must be fed!  So I grabbed my camera, prayed for protection, then walked back out and walked down the hall to wait for the elevator, half expecting to be joined by some demon or other.  My skin crawled and I felt a kind of visceral fear wash through me as I waited, but my mind was calm and I stayed resolute. As I got in the elevator, I turned around to face outward and saw my reflection in the hallway mirror — I have never seen my face so haggard.  I looked half-dead, with huge bags under my eyes!

After my shoot, I was almost carefree about returning, but felt the presence once again, much weaker.  There was no trace of it this morning.  The demon of my past transgressions apparently does not want to let me go, but I am denying it access.

They made the capitol dome read for heart disease awareness, and I risked a meeting with a demon to get the shot — it was very windy and my battery failed before I could find a way to really hold the camera steady. Still, I like the effect.

*(Thinking back, the apparition looked a lot like a freshly slaughtered side of beef, blood red with a mottling of white fat.)

 

It was windy, and my hand was not steady, but I like the effect. (The dome is red to mark heart month.)

It was windy, and my hand was not steady, but I like the effect. (The dome is red to mark heart month.)