Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Exchanging the Truth for A Lie

He nervously paced the floor, like an Olympian athlete engaged in visual imagery, going through the motions of the huge challenge before him. He waited outside the courtroom, his own attorney's gaze following the frenetic path of his client. Kevin occasionally reached inside his coat pocket, fingering the rosary he had bought long ago in Mexico. His mind groped for reassurance and comfort as his fingers searched for the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe that was attached to the rosary. In the other pocket nestled a scallop shell from his pilgrimage he had made along the Way of St. James in Spain -- "el Camino de Santiago de Compostela."

Kevin had brought these trinkets with him on the day he had been dreading: the day of a deposition involving an angry neighbor and his nasty lawyer. They were hell bent on intimidating Kevin with a long and drawn out deposition at the courthouse. It was an annoying and ridiculous property dispute ... a matter he tried to settle with his neighbor but to no avail. He had been dragged into court.

I have known Kevin for many years. He is a family man, married many years to the same sweet woman and the proud father of two -- a teenage son and a younger daughter with Down syndrome. His wife had battled some serious health crises herself over the years and, coupled with the extra trials a special needs child brings, Kevin's home life was filled with additional burdens and emergencies many other families do not face. But, he never showed bitterness or resentment toward the seemingly harsh and unfair chain of events that comprised his life, instead choosing to be jovial and a ball of fire in the workplace.

Over the years and through the numerous trials, crises and close calls, Kevin understandably wondered the same question any of us would: WHY?  Raised Catholic, yet having chosen to slip "the bonds" that Kevin felt Catholicism presented, he delved into various New Age philosophies and gurus to soothe his aching soul, seeking a spirituality that brought him comfort but not the "control" he believed religion forced upon its adherents.

One day at lunch, some of us were discussing religion ... the precise topic of the discussion escapes me now. But, I clearly recall Kevin interrupting the conversation, announcing to the group with pride: "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual." I asked him what he meant by "spiritual."

He talked about having a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe in his garden, a statue he had brought back with him on one of his winter trips to Cancun. He said that he found meditating before the statue in his garden brought him peace. He stated that spiritual means he does things that help him connect with the world and "a higher being" without the trappings of religion. He read books by such authors as are featured of Oprah. He said it helped him feel better and that it made him a better person.  I replied that it seemed very self-focused .... very selfish. Did his meditations lead him to reach out to his community to make the world better and not just himself?  I tried to be as kind as possible in choosing my words, but such a challenge is never welcome.

That conversation was years ago, perhaps not handled by me as best as it could have been. And now he was preparing for the dreadful deposition. His pronouncement of having his pilgrim's shell and rosary with him -- what I would deem his "good luck charms" -- only brought me sadness. He had exchanged the truth for a lie. He sought support and comfort from two small inanimate objects. They were not souvenirs from Christ-centered pilgrimages. I could understand their importance if they were accompanied by a Christ-centered faith. But, rather than using them to help bring himself closer to Christ, they were used no differently than a rabbit's foot -- mere good luck charms to help connect him to the universe. No relationship. No different from reading one's horoscope. No different from knocking on wood.

The "New Age", my friends, ain't nothin' new.  It's the same ancient paganism that's been around for millenia.  In the past two decades it has been repackaged, revamped, and been presented in a sleek Madison Fifth Avenue PR campaign.  

Ironically, in Kevin's revolt against the "control" of religion, he failed to see his own desire for control, for what is the purpose of superstition but to give us a sense of some control over our out-of-control lives -- our destiny?  If I throw a pinch of salt over my shoulder, I'll ward off evil ... that would vengefully attack me for spilling salt.  If I cower at the number 13, I believe I'm warding off misfortune, but I miss out on the full engagement in one day a month and the lovely "baker's dozen" at the bakery.  If I bury a statue of St. Joseph in my front yard in hopes that my house will sell faster, I worry that maybe I buried "him" the wrong way ... and I wind up putting my faith in a cheap trinket rather than connecting in close communion with my Lord.

Do these items drive me closer to God ... or do they serve to distract me from God, naively placing my faith in inanimate objects and rituals?  In my feeble attempts to control my life, I shut the door to the true Author of Life.  I exchange Him and His Truth for a life of cheap grace -- fruitless rituals, charms, and charlatans.

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