March 09, 2005

Child-like in Love and Trust.

This was going to be a post about how I'm giving up the "Catholic" label. I am reminded tonight of the opening of the Wiccan Rede, "In perfect love and perfect trust." And of the Bible's appeal to being "like a child" in our longing for God. It seems I know so many people--Neopagans and Christians alike--who have a certain cynicism entrenched in their worldview. Reverence, respect, awe and even simple gratitude are, to them, mere signs of a "fluffy" faith or shallow spiritual life. Despite a supposed emphasis on a "Law of Love" or loving union with our Mother and Her manifestation in nature, any actual profession of belief in the reality of that love in everyday life is taken as naiveté and lack of depth.

For a long time, that is why I could not pursue my interest in the Neopagan movement. The only Pagans I knew had this type of cynicism, and I just could not reconcile it. Isn't there a difference between childish immaturity, and child-like boldness of heart? Bernard of Clairvaux makes this point when he writes about the Three Kisses of one's spiritual journey, and about the Bride of Christ who, as if intoxicated, runs eagerly towards the Divine, not out of arrogance but out of self-forgetfulness. She has an innocence, a bold humility that allows her love and gratitude to overwhelm her sense of ego. She is simple and driven--or perhaps, better stated, drawn. Is there something wrong with this simplicity? Is there something to criticize in a Witch's simple enjoyment of the night and the wind, the sound of rain and the movement of trees in moonlight?

I realize that much of my religious life has been determined by an effort not to make the same mistakes I see others making. Where I see one person accept ideas uncritically and shallowly, I strive always to define and analyze, to deepen my understanding of the many paradoxes and complexities. And where I see another advocate some mystic "interconnection" and yet scoff at simple acts of charity and faith, I work even harder to act lovingly and respectfully towards the world and towards individuals.

Sometimes, I feel tired and torn by these two efforts in seemingly opposite directions. I want so much to be Catholic and challenge myself to work out the intricacies of that religious tradition in an intellectually deep and communicable way--and to do so without sacrificing my catholic (lowercase) leanings, that eagerness to explore and embrace the whole world in all its diversity and uniqueness. It takes a certain boldness that is child-like in its innocence, in its disregard for looking foolish and yet committed to seeking answers wherever they lie. It takes a certain amount of trust--a trust that I often find lacking in myself. It's difficult to trust in living simply when I am so immersed in the academic standards of my discipline and the cynicism of young adulthood in modern society. It's difficult to trust in my own ponderings and theological explorations when I am at every turn confronted by a Church that encourages me to simply accept their formulations as time-tested and approved.

Whenever I insist that I really am Catholic, I find myself feeling the intense need to cite all sorts of theological works in order to justify that claim. I forget that the Church is not simply an institution that I must answer to, but the body of seekers defined not as "Christian" but as "Christ-like." Who is Christ-like? Even those who do not accept the man, Jesus of Nazareth, as a revelation of the Divine are Christ-like, though they may not call themselves so. My relationship with God through my relationship with Jesus is like a marriage--without expecting anyone else to love him the way I love him, I accept that others still touch the heart of love itself and live it fully in marriage to their own particular revelations of the Divine. I could give up the "Catholic" label because of political and social conflicts with the institution, but it wouldn't change the foundation of my religious life. I need to remember this, and not be so concerned with definitions.

I need to remind myself sometimes that I must be gentle with myself. I need to love and trust myself as I would love and trust a child and God. I am in many ways still very much a child. And it is good.


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