I spent last weekend at the Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Kentucky with a group from school on a silent retreat. This is some of what happened during that time.
After Saturday’s lunch I slipped over to the church. The enormous wooden doors whispered shut behind me and I sank into a back pew. Just me and God and the silence in this gigantic space. My fingers traced the wood grain on the top of the pew in front of me.
I was still restless but starting to quiet down. Rain pattered on the windows. I pulled out my journal and started the long, slow work of detangling. A combination of processing and petitions emerged on the pages. I had more questions than I did answers and for the moment, that was okay.
The door opened again and a woman shuffled in. “Will it bother you if I play the piano?” she asked.
I looked up and smiled. “No, of course not.”
She walked across the sanctuary, pulled the heavy black cover off the instrument, and sat down. The melody that fell from her fingers was that of an ancient hymn. She played many of them. Some I recognized, others I didn’t. I leaned back into the pew and let them sink in.
The next notes she played were the beginning of a hymn I knew well. It was one I did handbells to in kindergarten. It’d been a long time since I’d heard it last but I still remembered every word.
To God be the glory, great things he hath done…
I could still picture what it was like to stand on the stage of that small protestant church playing and singing my heart out. Oh, for faith to feel like that again. There I was, thirteen years later, sitting in a Catholic sanctuary hearing the melody and crying.
This faith, the faith of my fathers and mothers and grandparents, handed down from generation to generation, is shifting under my feet. I am wrestling to make it mine and some days it feels so frail. But still the foundation stands. And through her fingers on the piano keys He whispered, “I am the same in kindergarten and in college and forever.”
These days I am learning to pray a new kind of prayer. It’s a kind of confession, I suppose. Not one about actions but belief. “I don’t trust you with this. I can’t do this. What the heck are you doing?”
In the moments when the rug is pulled out from under me, when I feel lost and I don’t know what’s next, the only prayer I can muster is, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
Or sometimes, “Lord, I’m not sure that I believe. Help my unbelief.” Like Jacob and the angel but this time begging, “I don’t know how much longer I can hold on. Please don’t let me go until you bless me.”
We slid into our pew early Sunday morning. Five protestant kids in the back of a Catholic sanctuary. We looked at each other not quite sure what we were doing. Together we stumbled into a liturgy different to many of us but so beautiful. Standing, we sang the Responsorial Psalm, an arrangement of Psalm 23.
Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants,
Beyond my fears, from death into life.
The words were sustenance in the midst of all the questions.
At lunch we talked about the morning. We couldn’t get over the wonder of it. I said, “I grew up in a charismatic United Methodist Church, I currently go to a Nazarene school and a Presbyterian Church, and I attended Mass this morning. Detangle that one for me.”
“Well,” a friend said from across the table, “You’re just an ecumenical movement.”
We laughed and others began telling the stories of their faith and how they spent these years in this place and those years in that place and look where God had brought them now.
Yes, this faith is changing. It is hard and good and right and beautiful. After all, what would it be if it weren’t growing? So today I sit in the questions. I wrestle with the tension of faith and doubt, hope and despair. Still, in all of it He whispers that He is the same yesterday and today and forever.
To God be the glory, great things he hath done.