March 8, 2016
It’s the first week of March, and the trees are starting to bud. It’s odd—this much life shouldn’t be, so early in the new year. Not by this North-eastern farm girl’s reckoning. But I don’t mind, and won’t complain. It’s sunny, windy, and 69 degrees (a record high for March 8th, according to Google, since 1987). It’s long past bare feet weather. It’s sun-dresses-and-short-sleeves weather. I’m sure it won’t last—Michigan is temperamental and they say it will rain tomorrow. But I’ll enjoy it as long as I can. It’s beautiful out.
This past week was full, and it’s taken me many days to recover from it. I have thought much about few things, none of them homework. I’ll regret that, come Friday.
Last Wednesday, Hope invited Sister Miriam James Heidland, a nun from Texas, to speak at the morning chapel service. She gave a talk in the evening as well, which I skipped out on other responsibilities in order to attend, like the desperate senior I am. Her talk in Chapel was amazing – you can listen to it here, if the player below doesn’t work. I encourage you to do so – it’s only eleven minutes long, and I promise it is worth it.
I wish her evening talk had been recorded, but it wasn’t. It was titled “Merciful like the Father: Living in Forgiveness and Freedom.” I can no longer remember the specifics of her message—she spoke on forgiveness and mercy and Star Wars and mother-love, and the overwhelming wonder of Christ. Afterwards, there was an Adoration of the Eucharist and a Mass—I stayed for the Adoration (which I could probably write a whole other post on). Sister Miriam’s talk was the most amazing thing I have heard in pretty much ever.
And it shook me to my small spiritual core.
I know slightly less about Catholicism than I do about my own church tradition, which is to say, not much. I’ve never attended a Catholic mass or anything like it. I know the Catholic church is just as broken in its own ways as the Protestant church is. But I left Sr. Miriam’s talk with my head swimming.
Every word Sr. Miriam spoke bled with a profound wonder and passion for the Lord like nothing I have ever felt. I have been deeply discouraged by the fact that many of the Christians I know seem only able to talk about their faith from an impersonal, passive position, speaking from head-knowledge rather than heart-knowledge, regardless of the strength of their faith. They seem only able to vocalize established truths of the Church and Christianity, and speak about and through an intellectual faith that doesn’t seem to reach their heart. Perhaps this is because of the terror that is opening oneself fully, especially in matters of faith, to another.
Sister Miriam spoke these same truths, and yet her intensely personal belief in, her heart-knowledge of, every word she spoke flew at me. It was unavoidably evident, and its force overwhelmed and overthrew me. Her wonder, passion, and personal conviction were too much, too real, too full.
It seems that the faith, mine or anyone else’s, which I encounter in my life is so petty. So substanceless and weak. Posturing. Intellectual. Unimportant. Never life-changing. Never a Thing to be dwelt in, to color every word and deed. And yet the words I listened to Sr. Miriam speak were anything but. It’s easy, and tempting, for me to attribute that to one of the most obvious differences between us: Sr. Miriam is Catholic, I am Protestant, and no Protestant church I have ever set foot in has held out to me the image of a faith like that. The liturgy of the Protestant church, if it exists at all, cannot offer the support I see in Catholicism. I long for that support. I joked with my roommate after Sr. Miriam’s talk that I wanted to become a nun. I was a great deal more than half serious—it’s something I’ve thought about before, and will think about again.
I am hungry for the profound reverence and awe that filled Sister Miriam—that slipped out in the deep stillness behind her voice—that filled the whole sanctuary. I am realizing slowly that I have lived off of General Revelation for a long time, and that it is no longer enough. If there is one thing my Religion class this semester has taught me, it’s that so many of the things I believe I only believe by accident—through the time-clouded memories of Sunday School and family devotions when I was little, through the assumptions I’ve made and not bothered to verify, through half-heard conversations other people have had. Through what I see outside my window. And I’m exhausted by that.
I suppose, when I listened to Sister Miriam talk, that the unbearable longing I felt was not to be like her in her expression of faith, the habit she wears and all it stands for, but to be like her in faith itself. Yet I don’t know who could teach me. For days after Sister Miriam’s visit to campus, I felt utterly worthless—as though me and my sorry excuse for faith were too pathetic, too painfully inadequate and petty and useless, to go on with any hope. I’ve been slowly pulled back to my feet by the thread of a verse in 2nd Timothy I memorized many years ago, which trickled into my mind a few nights ago as I lay sleepless, brooding hopelessly in ever-sinking spirals. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. If anyone has a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline, it’s Sr. Miriam, I thought, but mine is only timid.
But that timidity isn’t from God. And therefore, it is something that I can fight. I don’t know how. I don’t know how Sr. Miriam fights, how my pastor fights, how my parents or my roommate fight. I know that the devotions I try and fail to read daily feel utterly worthless and petty. I know that I find prayer pointless because, rightly or wrongly I don’t know, I don’t believe my Lord bothers about the prayers of the unrighteous. And I know that I desire fervently to do whatever it takes to learn how to fight, and to claim the spirit of power, love, and self-discipline God has given me. Regardless of where that leads me in faith.
Are nuns allowed to have cats?