God doesn't offer many neon signs - but this was one of them.
Today, 40 days after Easter, is the Ascension and a holy day of obligation. Normally, that would mean that if I can't make the 18.00 solemn mass - as would have been the case today - I could have gotten up early and gone to the 07.30 or, in extremis, the Vigil mass last night.
Unfortunately, NOT in England and Wales where, for some reason, the Bishops decided to ignore the fact that Jesus ascended 40 days after Easter, not 43, and transfer it to the Sunday. I have to admit, liberal as I am, that gets on my (not inconsiderable) tits. 40 days is 40 days.
That left me with a decision: business as usual, and go to the Sunday mass, or make a statement and go to the Tridentine rite (Extraordinary Form) mass of the Ascension today?
I leaned towards not going for three reasons:
1. Paz and I hadn't had a lunchtime walk all week, and I was looking forward to a catch up.
2. I had to leave early for counselling, and going to mass might cut out too much of the day.
3. More often than not, those associated with the Tridentine mass drive me into a murderous rage. Not ideal.
I got to work early, checked my nemesis, Outlook, for email messages that needed attention and got down to business - once I'd made coffee in my Pizzazzadoodle mug, of course. Nothing happens without morning caffeine. When Paz came in, I asked her what she wanted to do for lunch. She looked at me apologetically and said, 'I'm going to get my hair cut.'
I know when I'm being railroaded by the Holy Spirit.
In a last ditch attempt to avoid being run over by the Paraclete Express, I texted a friend in the know, asking him how long he thought mass would take. He reckoned 45 min - 1 hr, but I suspected I knew who the celebrant was and that I could shave about 5 min or so off that guesstimate, which made it more than feasible.
After many whacks over the head with a clue-by-four, I've learned that if events are lining up towards a particular choice, going with the flow is the way forward, no matter how difficult it might seem to be. So I gave in and decided to go to the 12.15 mass - though I couldn't IMAGINE what God had in store, aside from irimtating me for the rest of the day.
Even so, I wondered - much has changed since the last Tridentine mass I'd attended. I've been in spiritual meltdown since March, when a decision I'd helped someone come to went from being simply 'very important' to 'life-changing'.
Now the work, of course, was hers. But in that moment, I suddenly realised that however much I tried to take myself out of the equation in what had happened, I couldn't. That I had been there *mattered*; that it was *me* mattered; that *I* had been placed there and worked through: I couldn't have orchestrated this, imagined it, made it happen, forced it, any of it.
Suddenly, I saw God's hand all over this and that He had used me - not just for brightening up someone's day; not the 'this is how I see it'; none of the stuff I'm used to. I looked away for *two seconds*, tops - and God put me THERE, where her having someone to listen, be there and ask questions to, so she could come to her decision, made all the difference. And I realised, 'Oh. my. God. If I let You all the way in, what the hell are You going to do?'
I guess I thought that I had figured You out
I knew all the stories and I learned to talk about
How You were mighty to save
Those were only empty words on a page
Then I caught a glimpse of who You might be
The slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees
Suddenly, briefly, I caught a glimpse of the tapestry and the Weaver - and I was absolutely terrified by how wrong I was and how limited my vision had been.
What do I know of You
Who spoke me into motion?
Where have I even stood
But the shore along Your ocean?
Are You fire? Are You fury?
Are You sacred? Are You beautiful?
What do I know? What do I know of Holy?
Most of my faith had been dissolving for a while: certainty of who God is, what He intends and how He acts has made me recoil more and more; a lot of stuff around me has been making me uneasy. Much of my own armour was beginning to feel uncomfortable. I feel unsure that I have any idea what faith is, what holy looks like, how God works or what my journey to Him is meant to look like. I'm even less sure, meandering as it has been, that my journey has been a mistake at all - and I've been dead certain about the wrongness of my life for at least a decade.
And so began the descent into the Underworld.
I can take great emotional shifts in my stride, but this, on top of paper thin boundaries that meant I was feeling the emotions of everyone around me - which, just my luck, were mostly intense and chaotic - made my knees buckle. Early on, it became clear that it was too deep, too intense, for almost anyone to hold the space - and I was far too raw to be able to bear watching close friends squirm uncomfortably or look away. If I tested the waters and no response appeared to be forthcoming, I simply took it as 'I can't/don't know how do this kind of intensity, I'm sorry,' and left it at that. It was easier than asking again and hearing the 'I don't know how to be here for you.' I could go it alone, I knew that. So I got moving.
Traci and Ari were too stubborn to let me do that. Traci, a fellow Catholic, held the religious and emotional space; asked the questions; was there to wrestle with the relationship with God and the theology; called it like she saw it; called me on dissociating and not feeling what I was going through; let me be scared, angry, unsure. Ari was Ari - the friend who has known me in the darkest of places and moods, and just sat with me - listening, asking, letting me be fully me - intensely emotional - something I wick away from most people. I owe them the deepest gratitude - not feeling alone during the inner hurricane; being able to have space held for me when I couldn't hold things back to protect others - I couldn't even protect myself - was the most precious of gifts.
At church and work (which has a religious culture), I locked up tight. I was numb for most of Lent, and when I wasn't numb, I was furious. The Triduum was beautiful as ever, but I felt locked in ice; not even Tenebrae, which always moves me deeply, could touch me. There was the odd thaw - I can never shut out those close to me, and if they needed support, love, affirmation, I was drawn out of my icy enclosure to connect, which helped me too - for the most part, though, I wasn't there.
But the desert wasn't as barren as it seemed. Fr Dom's talk on prayer at the Passiontide Oratory unlocked something that took weeks to emerge. If I could pray, I did it. If I couldn't, fuck it. I prayed as I was, not as I wasn't. I remembered Mark Poulson's words from the pulpit at a funeral I'd been to: "I think God can take our questions, our doubts, our grief, our anger - all of it. I think He says, 'Give it to me. I can take it.' And He wants it all because He loves us." At some point, when I couldn't carry it any more, I must have let it go and handed it over, just saying, 'Fuck it. I have no clue. Let's see what happens.'
Only when I let it go - and let me be honest, not out of faith, but out of sheer exhaustion - did it begin to happen. A friend waxed poetic about Stephen Cope's The Wisdom of Yoga: a seeker's guide to extraordinary living in a blog entry or several. 'Huh,' I thought. 'I'll give anything a try.' I checked Amazon, and when I couldn't stop reading the VERY long excerpt from it, I ordered it - and then couldn't put it down as truth after truth launched themselves at me from every page, shattering my icy prison.
I was finally fully present; the game was afoot. I had no idea how things were going to unfold, but finally, I was good with that. Early days, but I was going to try to follow the signs and go with the flow. As far as I was concerned, God and life could bring it on.
It was in this state that I found myself under the Oratory arch this afternoon at 12.05. 'All right, Lord, I'm here. Bring it on.'
I took a deep breath and stepped through.