I have spent long years in Muslim lands. This is not a complaint; the exotic and the different and the meaningful; friends and a fight worth fighting. But ‘other’ after all, as the Call to Prayer fades into the background of my life. Suddenly, somewhere else, somewhere new but yet familiar and comforting I am happily startled by the tintinnabulation of the bells; and I realize I need some time to be still.
To “be still and know He is holy”. That’s what the Bible says. It is Sunday and I am in Stuttgart, and I have followed the melody of the bells into a Catholic Church. I am not a Catholic (Protestant of the generic sort) nor do I speak German. What a better way to be still? Listening to the old hymns, the words of the priest; and though I don’t understand them I let them form themselves into meaning in my imagination. Because I know what they are singing and what they are saying – even if the tongue is not mine.
The church is about half-full, not bad for these days of chaos and emotional violence; reminding me there are good people in the world who still spend Sunday mornings staring up at the arched domes of the cathedrals, pointing the way to heaven and reminding us how small and fleeting is our existence on this tumultuous little orb.
Community – the gatherings on Sundays are as much about community as they are about worship. Worship we can do alone – and should always; devotions with our children, a prayer of need or gratitude in times of trouble. But to be with others who believe alike – to enter a community which transcends our pigments and our passport colors to make common cause with billions of others who also look up for their meaning; that is the point.
America – the west has become individualistic. I don’t mean this in the facile sense of which the communists or the anti-consumerists shriek. I mean in the philosophical sense; taking the word “freedom”, emptying it of all community and weaponizing it so as to make war against those who object to the terrible tyranny of the “I”. “I think I should be able to walk naked!” “I think that manger scene offends me.” “I am tired of hearing about God!” – I, I, I.
That’s what we have done.
“I don’t believe in organized religion” they sometimes say, as a way of weakening the foundations of our community of faith while taking aim at a republic which in God trusts. “I can worship God staring at the rocks and the trees”. Perhaps – but do you? Or do you in fact worship yourself?
Yet man cannot live in isolation; we cannot live on that island of one. So what is this new wicked “I” that we have constructed? Faithless; Godless; dominated by that new religion which knows only victimization and offense. “You can have your faith” they tell me “because so too all other faiths. All paths lead to God, after all” they go on; their excuse to place themselves as judges and juries over the motivations of so great a cloud of witnesses – martyrs many. “Just don’t taint me with your ancient oppressions.” As if true faith oppresses, instead of frees. A bait and switch by those who sell only fraud and by it obtain power, but only for a season.
Of course what good is my faith to me if I don’t actually believe it? If all ways lead to the same place, why take a path torturous and rocky – if naked and drunk I will also arrive in the end? Communion. The replication of the last supper when we remember the body of our lord broken and the blood of our lord spilled. Why would He have done that – if His was not the required way?
Our community of faith. Have you noticed that there is a solution to the terrible emotional violence that is ravaging the social fabric of the west, ripping apart the good and the true to make a new “community” – a community of the individually victimized, to which you too can belong so long as you envy and blame and seethe. That solution is found, as it always is, in remembering the greatest victim of all; the only perfect man who was murdered for it, and how he turned that victimization into his greatest victory, our greatest victory. The solution is remembering our place in the world through those who have come before and that this terrible place is a transient one anyways – so don’t fret so much. And the diversity so craved; that new utopia of the religion of “I”? Why, it is found in the African woman who is sitting to my left and the Filipino family to my right and in myself who speaking not the language and being not from here am nevertheless part of this community.