When you start a blog, write two posts, and then fall silent for over a year you need to do some ‘splaining. So, this is my comeback post, my chance to ‘splain, and my small, but courageous leap back into writing outside my comfort zone.
What’s up with the one-year hiatus? I think the best way to answer that is with words often attributed to Aristotle (and Einstein), “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” From October 2017 to late May 2018, I had the privilege of studying Spiritual Theology at the Angelicum in Rome. How that came about astounds me and is worth recounting here because I believe it shows God’s plan and providence.
In the spring of 1987, I spent 3 weeks in Italy on an exchange program with my Latin class. It was the first time I had been to Europe, and more than the culture, art, and history, what interested me most was the absence of a drinking age and cute Italian boys. I cannot hide the fact that I was a wild rebellious heathen (WRH) and God really had his work cut out to transfigure that wild rebellion into something beautiful. He’s still working….
It so happened that the trip to Italy coincided with Holy Week. Lost on WRH me, was that my Latin teacher, Mrs. Z, was a devout Catholic (DC). She dragged our eye-rolling, angst-ridden, pimple-faced group to every chiesa in central Italy. She lectured on famous saints and Catholic artists. She swooned at every corner shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. She clutched her Rosary and bowed her head, genuflected at altars and made the sign of the cross at every statute and crucifix. I just thought she was weird.
Wednesday of Holy Week, April 15, 1987, we toured St. Peter’s. Our tour included hiking the stone spiral stairs to the cupola. There was a gift shop (that still exists) on the roof. Mrs. Z allowed us a few minutes to shop, and I will never forget that she specifically came over and helped me pick out a souvenir. With her guidance, I chose a small dove charm that replicated the stained-glass window behind the main altar in the basilica. Mrs. Z explained that I could have this charm blessed by the Pope at the audience we were about to attend. I had no idea what she was talking about. Further, it sounded sort of ridiculously superstitious. Nonetheless, I shoved the little dove into my pocket and followed our posse out into St. Peter’s Square to await an address from the Catholic Pope, now known as St. John Paul (the Great) II.
I don’t remember much about the Pope’s address. I remember a hazy day around noon. I remember an old man dressed in white appearing at the balcony to the right of the front of St. Peter’s. I remember he raised his hand in blessing. I remember a crowd and shouts of “viva il Papa.” I remember Mrs. Z nudging me to hold up my dove charm at the end of the address. I remember a second and final blessing. I remember tears all around me. And I remember that several days later, at Easter Sunday mass in a small Catholic church in L’Aquila, I fainted for the first and only time of my life.
Fast forward 30 years to 2017. I am a recovering WRH, fledgling DC. I’m married to my best friend, who can trace both his maternal and paternal Catholic genealogy to Peter. We have four daughters. I am two years into a master’s degree in Catholic theology. We move to Rome so my Active Duty Air Force husband can attend the NATO Defense School. I have enrolled in the Angelicum’s year-long Diploma in Spirituality program. On the first day of classes, I sit in the lecture hall where St. John Paul II defended his doctoral thesis. His picture is on the wall and I am certain he gives me a big sparkly Polish wink.
And the saint continues to wink…The first Sunday after I decided to reinvigorate this blog, our family attended mass at the University of South Carolina’s St. Thomas More Center. The Bishop of Charleston presided in order to dedicate the only 1st class relic of St. John Paul II in the southeastern United States. Drops of St. John Paul II’s blood, encased in a gold and ruby studied reliquary, will be permanently enshrined in the chapel on campus. I couldn’t help but think that my friend, who was not only the greatest shepherd of our time, but who also had lost all of those closest to him, was again nudging me on.
Returning to Aristotle/Einstein’s aphorism, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know,” last academic year, as I sat in lectures given by Dominicans who had vowed study as part of their consecrated life and who had spent decades upon decades doing just that, I began to feel small and uncertain. It would take me a lifetime just to unpack the one year of study I did under their tutelage. Further, who was I anyway to write about anything? I remember a series of classes I attended with a Benedictine monk while I was a student at the Little Rock Theology Institute. This guy showed up in full habit, sort of looking like a holy Darth Vader in Birkenstocks. He said that he would give us three keys to speaking with authority. We all sat attentive for the secret, looking for the formula for boldness to “preach it.” I can’t remember what the secrets were, but I am certain that none of them was absolute certainty and clarity about God.
In her TED talk called, “12 Things I Know for Sure,” writer Anne LaMott said, “every story you own is yours. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better…. Your truth, your version of things, your own voice. That is really all you have to offer us. And that’s also why you were born.”
This is it. This is why I write. My truth, my version of things, my own voice – this is all I can offer. Mine is the voice of a wife, mother, fledgling DC, spiritual seeker, two-time survivor of suicide loss, and noonday demon wrangler. I share my version of truth not as a master, teacher, or even guide, but as a fellow traveler within the communion of saints as together we journey home.