Thursday, February 24, 2011
In Mass a couple weeks ago, Father spoke of the divine dance in his homily. He described his own relationship with God as a dance. When we give ourselves over to the dance, we follow God’s lead, anticipate His will, and rest in His arms. And the Lord takes delight in sharing this intimacy with us. As he described the divine dance, I reflected on my own dance with the Lord. I wish I can say that Our Lord and I share an unbroken, uninterrupted dance from the beginning, but I can’t. Instead, my story is more of an unrelenting and patient Lord who did not give up on me. Yes, our dancing history is loaded with His mercy, grace and love. I don’t deserve to be dancing with him, but He never stopped asking and waiting. And so we dance.
My dance with the Lord began when I was a kid. I was baptized at age 6 in a tiny Baptist Church outside of Chicago. I know I was changed on that day. Of all the forgotten days in my early childhood, that one is still clear as a bell. On that day, we began the dance. As I grew older, we grew closer. My Dad was in the Navy, so we moved many times throughout my childhood. Aside from my family, He was the one constant in my life. In every new city, I always found home in His house. Church was the glue that held me together.
Then at 17, the Lord asked me to join Him in a new dance. It took a while for me to follow His lead because it meant that I would have to leave the church of my childhood. He wanted me to dance with Him someplace else. Leaving the Baptist Church was not easy. In the end, there were a lot of hurt feelings that would leave lasting scars. Even though I left behind my family and closest friends, I kept dancing. Eventually, the Lord and I danced right into a Catholic Church. And it was there I learned just how intimate the dance could be. At 19, I was confirmed, and then we danced closer.
As my college years wore on, the stress of 3 jobs and 21 hours of course work each semester started taking a toll. I missed Mass more and more often. The Lord and I were dancing less and less. And then, 9 months before my wedding day, I discovered that my fiancé and I would be welcoming a new life into the world. At the beginning of our relationship, we committed ourselves to purity. But, we failed one time. And that is all it took. In my young mind, it wasn’t fair. All our friends were enjoying carefree casual sex and they weren’t in this situation. We failed once and paid the biggest consequence. I got angry and I hung up my dancing shoes. As time passed, I chalked up our divine dance as a thing of my childhood. Now that I was an adult, I didn’t need to dance. I could take care of myself.
Even though I wasn’t dancing, the Lord still took care of me. I still had the wedding I wanted but at an earlier date. My husband found a job right away and I was able to stay home for the first six months of our son’s life. Although things were hard, we always seemed to make it through. Even though I was refusing to dance, the Lord didn’t leave. He took care of me while He waited.
As the years wore on, I grew more and more miserable. I felt like I had no direction or purpose in life. I felt as if a better life was always off in a future that I could never see. I did not know what was missing but I knew I needed to figure it out. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life waiting to really live. In my quest, I decided to try going to church again. I wasn’t sure if God was the answer, but I was ready to try walking through those doors. In my first experiences back, I felt like a fish out of water. Dancing seemed impossible and I wasn’t sure if the Catholic Church was the place for me to dance again. I was ready to go find the familiar church of my childhood. But before I did, I wanted to give it one last shot, so I decided to go to a lecture sponsored by the Holy Spirit prayer group. I have no idea why I chose this experience to be the deciding factor on my future in the Catholic Church, but I did. And I went.
I don’t remember the name of the person who gave the lecture, but he was a dynamic, passionate speaker. And he seemed to be speaking directly to me. Throughout his talk, he spoke of the love and mercy of the Lord. And he helped me remember the experience I once had - the relationship I once had. Then, at the end of his lecture, he told a story. When he was a young man, he went to a dance. There was a girl at the dance that he really wanted to dance with. But she was too pretty, too popular, and way out of his league. All night, he never got up the courage to ask her to dance and gave up hope that he ever would. As the evening came to a close, something happened that he never expected. She walked right up to him and asked him to dance. Of course, he said yes and they shared a wonderful dance he never expected to share. Then he said, “That is what Jesus is asking you tonight. It doesn’t matter how much you feel like you don’t deserve it. He still wants to dance. Will you take his hand and dance?” At that moment, I knew what was missing in my life. And I knew what I had to do. When I got home, I went to my room and got on my knees. I prayed, “Lord, I’m so sorry. I am ready to dance.” Then, there He was in my imagination. Jesus was sweeping me around the dance floor. He was so happy. I just kept looking up at Him and I would try to tell Him how sorry I was. And He would look at me and say, “It’s okay. I’m just so happy to dance with you.”
On that night, we resumed the dance we began in my childhood. But it hasn’t been easy. I know I stepped on His toes more than a few times. And He’s had to convince me on several occasions to keep dancing when new, unfamiliar songs started to play. In all our dancing, He never stops smiling down at me. I always find strength and comfort in the merciful love etched on His face. In the years since that night, we have danced in places I never dreamed we would dance. He has healed scars I thought I would carry forever. He has led me to experiences I never realized were possible. And in each new song, I dance a little closer to His heart. I experience a deeper revelation of His love. And I live the life He made me to live.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Seriously, this experience has been a little eye-opening. It is amazing how quickly an entire city can become and remain paralyzed by a natural event. It’s as if God is saying, “it’s time to slow down and figure out what matters.” No matter how much we build up, God can always tear it down. No matter how fast we run, he will always beat us there. This week has been a forced slow down. It’s been a time to look around and realize what really matters and to look in the mirror and see who we really are. Sometimes slowing down isn’t easy or comfortable- especially if it’s not our idea. But it is necessary so that we can get some perspective on where we are and where we are going.
One of the things that I was supposed to do this week was lead a middle school youth night. The topic was “The Beginning and the End” and was based on the Book of Revelation. It’s kind of ironic that we were supposed to explain this apocalyptic book on a day when “Dallas stood still.” It’s also ironic that we are trapped in our homes much like John was trapped on Patmos when he had the vision. Maybe God has to get us cornered to get our attention, although that probably wasn’t the case for John. Anyhow, the thing that really stuck out to me as I prepared for the lesson was the beauty described in Heaven- the court, the angels, the saints, and all the worship. And as we look more closely at that beauty, we see the Mass. We see the Mass celebrated right there in heaven. The Revelation to John isn’t so much about the end of the world, but rather it’s where Jesus shows us how to worship. He gives us the blueprint to worship as Heaven worships. As a good friend of mine puts it- Mass is where Heaven kisses earth.
When I first started going to Mass, I was uncomfortable because it was so different than the worship services at my Baptist church. I was used to going to church to get something from it. I was used to a prayer at the beginning, listening to some music, singing some hymns, and listening to a whole lot of preaching. In fact, there was at least an hour of preaching. When I went to Mass for the first time, I was shocked at how short the Priest’s sermon was. I was also surprised by the amount of time dedicated to prayer. And how all the music was sung in a prayerful manner rather than for entertainment. It all seemed a little boring at first but then it started to capture my curiosity. And then one day I was sold. It was the day I realized where the focus of a Catholic Mass was. It was on God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They were the stars of the show. They were the reason people came to church. People weren’t inspired to come because of the passionate preaching or talented musicians. They came because Jesus was there. They came to worship. The Mass isn’t a show put on by people for people to facilitate worship. The Mass is worship given to us by Jesus himself. It’s where Heaven comes down to earth so that we may join in the divine worship of our awesome God.
But that was 13 years ago. And I think that when you participate in the Mass week after week and year after year, it’s easy to get caught up into the routine. It’s easy to go through the motions and miss the big picture, especially when there are so many distractions swirling around in your head and in the seat next to you. I think that at this point in my life, I have to make an effort to fully participate in the worship. Just like my marriage needs to be refreshed and renewed, so does my attitude towards worship. I find that the more I learn about the Mass, the more exciting the ritual is. And I need to maintain and strengthen that excitement if I hope to pass it along to my children.
So, as we are forced to slow down this week, let us too slow down for Mass. Let us get some perspective on what is actually happening. Let us take it all in while we surrender all of ourselves. Let us mean what we say as we recite the ancient prayers. Let us sing to God rather than singing with the congregation. Let us lift our hearts to the Lord rather than just lifting our hands. Let us hear our Lord’s voice when the Priest recites Jesus’ words at the moment of consecration. And especially, let us be still enough to feel His life in our hearts and souls when we receive Him in the Eucharist. When we surrender ourselves to this kind of worship, we experience the celebration in Heaven right here on earth. And I don’t think our perspective can be any more beautiful than that.
It is my hope and prayer that I will experience this little bit of heaven in Mass this week- as long as my driveway is thawed out by Sunday. Until then, I’ll hold out hope for the Cat and his machine while I try to tune out the fish and entertain the cooped up children. And hopefully, I’ll find my sanity amongst all the melting ice.