Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Super Heros of the Faith

Many things about the Christian life are strange. I don’t think I ever fully appreciated that aspect of Christianity until recently. I was always awed by the theology; sometimes awed because it seemed so damned naive and stupid, other times because it was so majestic and wondrous. But the Christian life, the real Christian life, was even more obscure to me than the most archaic books of exegesis.

I have always thought about real Christianity as being lived out by monks and nuns, priests and bishops. I have this bizarre childhood holdover of thinking of those sorts like Christian super-heros. As if a robe and a crucifix endows someone with sacred, mystical powers unparalleled by mortal men. As if, upon meeting just any random priest at all, he could look deep into your soul, divine your darkest secrets and instantly shed the light of God upon them. Of course, it would take place in a dramatic fashion, with tears and kneeling and beams of light sent from heaven.

When I was younger, I followed a Greek Orthodox priest all over a grocery store, hoping some great blessing or gem of wisdom would be bestowed upon me because I was standing in his shadow. Don’t bother telling me that the theology of that is off; I know it is, and I didn’t learn to teleport because of my mini-pilgrimage either, darn it. The trip wasn’t entirely wasted, however, as I did discover that a certain Greek Orthodox priest in my neighborhood has a weakness for chocolate; that information may become useful for me someday in the future.

Great protestant apologists will be quick to tell me how duped I’ve been by the trappings of the Roman Catholic worldview. Vestments do not impress God, they’d say. God is no respecter of persons; clothes do not endear you to God. And then they’d give me a dirty look for wearing jeans and a t-shirt in their church on Sunday.

I think that’s a lot of what got in my way about Protestant Christianity all these years. All the railing against mystery and wonder. All the attempts to boil God’s miracles down to science and numbers. Maybe I just have a mystic’s temperament, but I am much more impressed by Jesus multiplying the fish and loaves than I am some modern argument that he simply convinced them to share.

Oh, the latter would be a great miracle too, no doubt. But you’ll never convince my heart that that’s what happened.

I’m very bad at explaining my feelings on this. As a matter of fact, just generally, I’m very bad at explaining my feelings. So much of my life I’ve wasted trying to control things! I have always been taught this very scientific worldview. As if love can be quantified and wonder reduced to numbers and flow charts.

But science be damned, to be honest with you.

I don’t know where I’m going with all this. I guess I’m just amazed with how two seemingly opposite realizations have been operating in my soul as late. Christianity is full of paradox, and somehow that’s how I know it’s true.

On the one hand, priests and nuns, I have found, are just ordinary people. They do not generally heal you with a mere touch of their garments. To walk in their shadow will generally bring no great blessing. In fact, priests and monastics struggle as much as ordinary people do. Perhaps more so because of the depth of their calling.

And on the other, they really are quite amazing people. They give all that they have to God, forsaking the comfort to which the rest of us are so madly clinging. And priests can heal you. The people of God can perform miracles. They can cast out demons. They can call down fire from heaven.

A priest may not be able to glance at you, narrow his eyes and cleave your very soul. But then again, it may be that he can.

There’s a lot spinning around in me right now. It’s a strange thing to think that I’m not aware of it all. I can feel that something’s happening, but I don’t know what that something is. I know that the Holy Spirit is healing me and strengthening me. I don’t know why. I think it may be better not to think of it in those terms actually. I will know when it’s time to know, and not before, and it will probably be a blessing. It’s wrong to dread God’s plans for you. Though ordinarily, that is the normal human response. God is always forcing us to do more than makes us comfortable; to give more, to sacrifice more, to receive more. The harvest is great, but the laborers few.

In any case, I still have two final exams to write. And while I’d much rather be here writing about whatever something it is that it feels like it’s in me to write, I would be wise to hustle off to my homework.