I feel like I have been hanging on every word coming from Pope Francis in the month since his election. Just about everything I read intensifies a heavy, sweet, throbbing, bursting longing in my heart. As is common for me when this intensity hits, at the moment I can't really explain how I know this ... but this Pope means something for my life's moving forward. It's not just his nice words that grip me. This is about moving my life forward, or it has to be about that, "or I will die." I think I've come to know by now that when this phrase spontaneously erupts from me it is because God is leading me somewhere, and, yeah, eventually there is some form of death involved. Well, heck, that's Christianity. So yeah, somehow God is calling me.
What I read this morning (a papal tweet of all things!) was this: "Worshiping God means learning to be with him, stripping away our hidden idols and placing him at the centre of our lives." It struck me at once that this was both profound and obvious, once it was said.
But it also struck me that I have spent a lot of time in the last four years blogging my little heart out trying to discern in my own life and define just as pithily what "worshiping God" means for me. And so Pope Francis has given me a tremendous, monumental insight into my own life. Profound, and obvious. In other words, naru hodo. Big fat naru hodo.
Ok, brain, let's put these thoughts in order.
Way back when, back in my 20s in my pentecostal days, twice I received a prophetic message (meaning people prophesied to me) that God had called me to teach people to worship. "Worship" in those days meant (on my radar screen) mostly to sing to God in church. I was sometimes a Sunday night worship leader, and also a home fellowship worship leader, so in the context that I understood what it meant to lead worship, I was already doing that. But it always sort of stuck out of my heart like a nail out of wood that you catch stuff on when you go past it that the phrase was "teach people to worship" not "lead worship."
But after I became a Catholic, a lot of my pentecostal experiences sort of went to one side in a "yes, but I'm not really sure anymore what that was about" pile.
Starting about six years ago, I started rediscovering, shall we say, communal music. Then one Sunday after Mass it occurred to me that I should become a cantor. About a year later there was that Epiphany day that I fell backwards into my parish choir. Strange and powerful things started happening to me. I'm frankly used to powerful and strange things happening in my life, but that doesn't mean that each new thing isn't a complete shock to me. What I realize now is that God was teaching me to worship Him, even while I was learning how to lead in worship in a Catholic liturgical setting.
Learning to be with God. I knew how to be silent. I knew how to be introspective. I knew how to be alone and have my relationship with God. But I did not really, really know how to experience God in the midst of His people. Being in the midst of people was always kind of hard for me, a big risk, something I didn't know well how to do without bartering away my soul. And to be honest, I was always afraid that I would discover that it just wasn't true -- that God could not be found in the lives of normal Catholics. That's why I went 16 years as a Catholic without joining a choir. I was afraid that I would knock and find nobody home.
But instead, God inundated, walloped, overwhelmed, flooded my soul with a knowledge of His Church being my family. My real and only place of belonging. And how? Because I couldn't sing random harmonies as I felt like it. Mundane concrete detail; profound, life-altering spiritual exchange.
Stripping away our hidden idols. Ok, ouch. Idols are things we give ourselves to because we believe they will make us happy, but instead they ensnare us. And they basically hide within the recesses of our unexamined minds, souls, and lives. I learned quickly in this process that a big idol for me was certain friendships where I did not, or felt I could not, exercise the freedom to be myself. To be the person God created me to be. It was this nasty trap of sabotaging my own dignity, and again, in this choir context God quickly showed me that respect of personal dignity was not only what God demanded of people in relationship with each other, but also what He expected me to accord myself.
I also had a gargantuan hidden idol of my own self-estimation as a wonderful, upright and holy Catholic woman. Well that one sure got shot all to hell. God probably expended most of his energy on this lesson right here. For one thing, in this whole ordeal I went through no less than three periods of temptation to atheism, seriously questioning whether this God I struggled against even existed. Probably the only commandment that didn't get a serious temptation workout was the honoring your father and mother bit, but probably only because I had trashed that one so much as a child I didn't need to go over it any more. Stinking, reeking pride cannot worship God.
Placing Him at the center of our lives. This part was interesting. I've written a lot about a spiritual ordeal of the last year, and now I see that this was what that part was all about. It was connected to what I've written above, and so much that I haven't written. After all the powerful and strange, the blessing, the healing, the peace that came after wrestling free of hidden idols, the Lord wanted to see who I would choose Lord of this new place He was opening up in my life, this deeper-than-before center of all. Would it be Him? Or would it be me? It's easy to assent to the Lord with one's words and one's will, but it is another thing entirely when that cross starts messing with you. Because the real Lord Jesus always comes with His real cross. Therefore real worship means a surrender of one's life, a dying to oneself. Jesus at the center means the Lord is the one with the power, not me. It means being anawim. It means dying and being buried and knowing that I, in my person, do not have the power of resurrection. Only God can do that. He will, but I must wait and trust.
So, in reflecting one little papal tweet, I can summarize the most dramatic spiritual odyssey of my life to date. Pretty powerful stuff. Yet another gift God has given me. God's gifts always have such interesting timing, too...
P.S. From the Holy Father's April 14 homily, here's the expansion on that tweet:
You, I, do we worship the Lord? Do we turn to God only to ask him
for things, to thank him, or do we also turn to him to worship him?
What does it mean, then, to worship God? It means learning to be with
him, it means that we stop trying to dialogue with him, and it means
sensing that his presence is the most true, the most good, the most
important thing of all. All of us, in our own lives, consciously and
perhaps sometimes unconsciously, have a very clear order of priority
concerning the things we consider important. Worshiping the Lord means
giving him the place that he must have; worshiping the Lord means
stating, believing – not only by our words – that he alone truly guides
our lives; worshiping the Lord means that we are convinced before him
that he is the only God, the God of our lives, the God of our history.
This has a consequence in our lives: we have to empty ourselves of the
many small or great idols that we have and in which we take refuge, on
which we often seek to base our security. They are idols that we
sometimes keep well hidden; they can be ambition, a taste for success,
placing ourselves at the centre, the tendency to dominate others, the
claim to be the sole masters of our lives, some sins to which we are
bound, and many others. This evening I would like a question to resound
in the heart of each one of you, and I would like you to answer it
honestly: Have I considered which idol lies hidden in my life that
prevents me from worshiping the Lord? Worshiping is stripping
ourselves of our idols, even the most hidden ones, and choosing the Lord
as the centre, as the highway of our lives. Dear brothers and sisters,
each day the Lord calls us to follow him with courage and fidelity; he
has made us the great gift of choosing us as his disciples; he sends us
to proclaim him with joy as the Risen one, but he asks us to do so by
word and by the witness of our lives, in daily life. The Lord is the
only God of our lives, and he invites us to strip ourselves of our many
idols and to worship him alone. May the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint
Paul help us on this journey and intercede for us.