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Poet Flannery O’Connor once said of Communion, “If it’s only a symbol, then to hell with it.”  That appears to be exactly what the Quakers thought of all Sacraments.  If baptism and communion are only signifying something symbolically, as the Calvinists had reduced them to, then why bother?  

Parts of the Northwest Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice would ring true for most Christians: the dual human and divine nature of Jesus Christ, His miraculous conception and birth, the gift and workings of the Holy Spirit, the inspiration and revelation of Scripture, the fall of man and redemption by God’s only son.  Yet the definition of baptism is first where Friends begin to part ways with other Protestants as well as Catholics:  “We believe the Christ’s baptism to be the inward receiving of the Holy Spirit, whereby the believer is immersed in Jesus’ power, purity, and wisdom.”  What they do not add, though imply, is the omission of water in any form—dribble, squirt, sprinkle, or immersion.

The phrase “inward receiving” adequately describes the way Friends view all Sacraments.  I have heard Quakers say they have not abolished the Sacraments, but simply stripped them of unnecessary outward disguise.  There is still baptism, but in its true spirit form, omitting the water.  There is still communion, but in its spirit form, omitting bread and wine.  There are some Quaker churches that baptize its members and offer the symbolic form of Communion.  But in my experience within the Northwest Yearly Meeting, baptism and communion as they are understood and practiced by most Christians were not present. 

In the Declaration of Faith Issued by the Richmond Conference in 1887, Friends explained their view of Sacraments as follows:

We would express our continued conviction that our Lord appointed no outward rite or ceremony for observance in His church. We accept every command of our Lord, in what we believe to be its genuine import, as absolutely conclusive. The question of the use of outward ordinances is with us a question, not as to the authority of Christ, but as to His real meaning.

For this reason, the same verses I remember using to support not baptizing—John 3:5-6, I Peter 3:21, Eph 4:5, I Cor 12:13—are the same verses I would now use in support of baptism.  It is that very question of Christ’s “real meaning” that has rent asunder God’s great church, and while His “real meaning” is there for plain view in Scripture, history gives evidence of another necessary authority to sort out the confusion.  I would gradually see the need for some kind of authority, other than Scripture, once I began to look at the historical course of the Christian church.  But my wrestle with Baptism was the first great struggle that propelled me into further study of my own faith and practice.  When I realized how clear Jesus’ command was to baptize, my entire understanding of “sacrament” was forcibly and significantly changed.  But as it was the first struggle, it was also the most difficult. 

As my friend Justin set out on his own quest for Truth, he began to read the Scriptures for the first time of his own accord.  It was exciting to watch him discover the Bible.  Of course he had been hearing Scripture most of his life in Mass, but it came to life for him when he opened his own Bible.  After school, we would meet at local coffee shops to study and finish homework.  I was in the habit of having my Bible with me, and Justin usually pulled out his Bible intermittently to read, highlight, and take notes.  When he began reading the Gospels, one of his first questions for me was about baptism.  He asked with all sincerity why we Quakers did not baptize. 

“We baptize, but not with water,” I responded. 

He looked confused.  “How can you baptize without water?”  I quoted the same verses I had always heard in defense of the Quaker view of baptism. 

The first was from the Gospel of John, Chapter 3:1-21.  It is an exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisee.  He tells Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  Nicodemus is understandably confused, for no one can “reenter his mother’s womb.”  But Jesus explains that one needs to be “born of water and Spirit,” for “what is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit.”  When Nicodemus asks how this can happen, Jesus goes on to explain the salvation of man, leading to that famous verse all we Protestants memorized, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  In this specific passage, I understood that to have been “born of water” was our first birth, but to be “born of spirit” was our second and our life in Christ. 

The second was I Peter 3:21:  “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  What I focused on as a Quaker was on the latter part of the verse, specifying that baptism was not intended for the body, but for the soul.  The power and significance of baptism was spiritual, rendering the water unnecessary.  Other verses seemed to suggest the same:  I Corinthians 12:13, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,” and Matthew 3:11, “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I…  He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.”  These specifically mentioned “Spirit,” and even in the Gospel of Matthew John the Baptist makes a distinction between his water baptism and Jesus’ baptism of the “Spirit.”

Perhaps the most surprising to me in retrospect was Ephesians 4:5.  St. Paul is writing about unity within the body of Christ and encourages Christians in verse 3 to “preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace,” which included “one baptism.”  As a Quaker, I saw through my narrow Evangelical Protestant lens all the arguments between my Protestant brethren.  I didn’t see one baptism, but many.  Some churches baptized as babies, some as children, others whenever the person saw fit.  Some sprinkled, some dunked, some used pools, some fresh water.  And there appeared to be a good deal of passionate belief behind each of these methods of baptizing.  Casting off the water entirely appeared to solve this problem—one baptism to me signified the spiritual re-birth.

When Justin reminded me that Jesus was baptized, in my eyes it only proved my point.  Jesus was sin-less, so there was no need for repentance.  His baptism was one to initiate his ministry, something I had heard Quakers support, though I had never seen it done.  But in looking at the passage, Jesus’ words to John the Baptist, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” did bring up questions in my mind.  For which purpose did it serve?  And the effect of His baptism—the Heavens opening and God’s favor resting upon Jesus—was unmistakable. 

I was surprised that the Quaker view of baptism wasn’t Justin’s natural conclusion as he read through the New Testament.  Even though I did not let on to my doubt, for the first time I began to wonder about the legitimacy of the Quaker claim.  No one had ever challenged me before.  However, I desperately wanted to prove the Quakers right.  I no longer concerned myself with convincing Justin; the objective now was to convince myself.

I found an opportunity to enrich my understanding of Quaker thought and history when I decided to write my U.S. History research paper on the Quaker involvement in the Underground Railroad.  I was—and still am—very proud of my Quaker heritage in their opposition to slavery and their very active role in its abolition.  As I studied, I read through Barclay’s Apology.  I had expressed an interest in reading this book before, but I was encouraged to wait until college, when it would be required reading (under the assumption that I would naturally attend the Quaker university).  But as I had urgent questions, it could not wait for college.

Robert Barclay was an educated and influential Scotsman who was one of the Society of Friends’ apologists in the seventeenth century.  Concerning baptism, he wrote, “And this baptism is a pure and spiritual thing, to wit the baptism of the Spirit and fire, by which we are buried with him, that being washed and purged from our sins” (Twelfth Proposition:  Concerning Baptism).  Yet as this baptism is “pure and spiritual,” I was uncertain as to when it took place.  Perhaps it was when I had asked Jesus “into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior,” which was the act by which, I was taught, one accepted salvation.  But I had done this twice, once in the second grade at the urging of my Sunday School teacher, then again at thirteen when I felt a need to “recommit” my life to Christ after a particularly frightening sermon.  Though the verses of baptism were explained to us, there was never clarification of its importance or when this occurred in the life of a Christian.

As I began to read through the Gospels on my own, scouring it for evidence in support of Quaker practices, I wondered what the Apostles’ understanding of Jesus’ command to baptize (Matthew 28:19-20) had been.  Even I knew this passage from Scripture as “the Great Commission,” the moment when Jesus sent out the disciples to all the nations, baptizing new believers in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Surely if they had understood the Lord to mean spiritual baptism, as opposed to water baptism, I would see examples of it in Acts, a book I had never really studied in-depth before.  Once I had my evidence, I could know for certain that the Quakers were right in their interpretation.  And if that were true, then the bulk of Christendom was mistaken about baptism.  I shuddered to think that the Quakers might be wrong.  For if they were, I would not want to be counted among them.

My inquiry into baptism raised two colossal questions:  one as to the true nature of Sacraments and what Jesus intended; and secondly, the issue of authority.  My knowledge of Christian history ended with the Bible and began again with George Fox in the seventeenth century when people were “called of God to the dispensation of the Gospel now again revealed; and, after a long and dark night of apostasy, commanded to be preached to all nations” (Barclay, An Apology to the True Christian Divinity).  I had never before considered the great weighty reality of assuming the church had long been in apostasy before the revelations of God to George Fox.  I had never before been so aware of the great many other churches within the Protestant realm.  It was like tip-toeing around the perimeter of my world, wondering about what stretched beyond the fog.  I was frankly a little scared to go any further, yet uncomfortable where I was.

It was while reading the introduction to Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis that I could justify my recent uneasiness and discomfort.  Lewis uses the analogy of a hallway with many doors to describe Christianity at large.  I can’t describe how flabbergasted I was at how true this analogy was to me at that time.  My little world had been so entirely Quaker that I never considered there were other possibilities.  I resonated with Lewis’s description; I felt a little lost and alone in that great hallway.  I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the Friends church anymore, but I was in no way ready to leave it.  In my trepidation at what I might find, I began to pray more often, more fervently, more ardently, and tried to more patiently listen. 

I had been taught as a Quaker to feast on the Word of God.  I was encouraged, even as a child, to read, study, and apply it to life.  I began to embrace those Quaker traits as I delved into Scripture in search of clarification about doctrine.  I would find quiet and privacy in my room or outside on my family’s five acres of forest to read, study, and pray.  I also spent more time at St. James.  I kept a journal to record my reflections and questions.  I clung to Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Most often I prayed not to be led into falsehood; I prayed God would lead me into Truth.  And I trusted He would.

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As much as the early Quakers were repelled by church hierarchy, eventually they realized the inevitable need for organization as their numbers grew.  The Friends churches in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho formed the Northwest Yearly Meeting.  The headquarters were settled in Newberg, Oregon, a quaint town nestled in the beautiful Willamette Valley, which today is rich with vineyards.  Each Quaker meeting defines their own terms of faith and practice.  While there are Quaker texts like Barclay’s Apology, John Woolman’s Journal, and George Fox’s writings, the Northwest Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice most accurately describes the specific Quaker practices with which I was raised.  (Yet, even as I write this, those specifications could and may be changed.  I will quote from the 2012 edition.) 

Faith and Practice states that the Northwest Yearly Meeting endorses “an inward encounter with God, a worship of communion without ritual, an individual responsibility for ministry and service, and a striving for peace and justice” (9).  This statement reflects my personal experience within the Friends church as well.  In reading these foundational Quaker principals, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched that I would eventually become Catholic, as there is very little un-Catholic about any of those endorsements.  Yet from the very outset, my perception and understanding of Christianity through the narrow lens of Evangelical Quakerism clashed significantly with all things Catholic.  I found my first impressions of Catholicism to oppose everything from my opinion of proper church décor to what it fundamentally meant to serve Christ.  I would gradually learn that these impressions were misconceptions, which was humiliating and troubling before it was enlightening.

The “inward encounter with God” is something George Fox discusses in his journals as unique to his experience of religion, and not something he ever heard encouraged within the confines of formal religion.  Most evangelical and fundamental Protestants use this “inward encounter with God” to define salvation.  Presently, this is called having “a personal relationship with Jesus.”  This specific vocabulary, while very common in Protestant circles, is not used in Catholic culture at large.  I always interpreted the absence of this phrase to mean that Catholics did not actually have an inward encounter or personal relationship with God, since it was never mentioned as such.  The quizzical look given by most Catholics after being asked, “Have you asked Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior?” seemed to imply the absence of a personal relationship with God.  (This, as I would later realize, was a simple and sad miscommunication.  Catholics familiar with this question often respond with, “Yes, I do—every time I go to Mass and receive His Body and Blood.”)

The Friends’ emphasis on “an individual responsibility for ministry and service, and a striving for peace and justice” was something I knew Catholics also stressed, even if I may have assumed their efforts were insincere.  I have since realized, however, the great breadth of Catholic charity throughout the world.  Early on, Catholic social doctrine was no obstacle and rather something I felt I had in common with a Quaker background.

One of the most significant points of misunderstanding, however, is that for the Friends “ritual” is a dirty word that Catholic practices are saturated with.  Ritual, in the way Friends and most Evangelical or Fundamental Protestants think of it, stands in the way of an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.  In my experience, nothing could be rote (except Scripture verses).  Every prayer had to be spontaneous.  Evenso, I knew as a child and adolescent that just because someone could pray aloud eloquently didn’t mean they were as equally sincere.  Yet in my experience, memorized prayers were looked upon as lazy, thoughtless, and juvenile.  

Viewing ritual as an obstacle to sincere worship of God was a significant hurdle I had to overcome in my conversion.  These theological issues were challenging.  Yet even the “drippings” were  stumbling blocks to me.  The fine adornments of the Church—art, architecture, vestments, music, etc.—were foreign and discomforting.

Since historical Christian doctrine had been stripped from Quaker practice, so had its churches—or “meeting house” as they were originally called—been stripped of religious décor.  Quaker meeting houses were simply large buildings with benches.  The sanctuary was divided; women were to sit on one side, and men on the other.  Meeting-houses built by Shakers, who are similar to Quakers in much of their theology, at least display the value they took in carpentry.  Yet the meeting-houses of Quakers were indeed plain and simple.  The intention was to have few distractions so that the mind might better concentrate heavenward. 

You might then imagine my first impression of a Catholic church.  I often joke that it was like walking into a theme-park for the first time—the sudden grandeur, colors, and sounds were overwhelming.  As a child I attended the baptism of a family friend at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Camas, Washington.  I just remember how large and colorful everything looked.  I remember the priest looking odd to me in his unfamiliar vestments.  It was all very foreign, and already played nicely into my childhood assumption that such opulence (as I thought of it) was unnecessary. 

Ten years later, I would attend Mass for the first time at this same church.  Justin had come to a service at my church, so I agreed to attend Mass at his.  I was naturally curious, but agreed to it more as a goodwill gesture in my quest to convert him.  When we walked in, I was already on guard, protecting myself from the trappings:  candles, stain-glass windows (which, had I looked more closely, portrayed biblical scenes), the smell of incense, and the bold colors.  The only familiarity was the stillness as people prayed.  I had brought my Bible along and was appalled to see no one else had one, even though Justin explained the Scripture readings were at our fingertips in the lectionary.  To be honest, I had a hard time concentrating with the new surroundings.  The altar-area disgusted me, like something right out of the Old Testament, complete with a curtain concealing who-knows-what.  I felt so sorry for them, living in the old covenant and everything Jesus had urged us to leave behind.  I judged the people to be lifeless, stoic, and dull.  I assumed they were caught up in exactly what I had been taught about Catholics—empty ritual.

As I filed out with everyone else and passed the priest, who was cordially greeting everyone with a smile, I was disgusted at the sight of him.  It disgusted me that he was dressed in presumptuous garb, as though he was set apart from his congregation.   It disgusted me more that everyone seemed to respect and admire him as they shook his hand on their way out of church.  They were all caught up in the façade. 

Yet as soon as I left, I was filled with regret.  I could feel the hardness in my heart.  And though I had no intention of changing my opinion of the Catholic Church, I wanted to return without malice in my heart.  I knew I couldn’t rightfully judge anything if I was looking at it with so much hatred and disdain.

And I got my chance.  I had been preparing for a year to accompany my grandparents and cousin on their trip to Spain to visit friends and tour the Iberian Peninsula.  It was my first trip abroad and I had been ecstatic for months.  I was aware of Spain’s tumultuous Catholic history, but I learned much more while there.  All the architecture was much grander than I was accustomed to seeing in the Northwest—political headquarters, palaces, and of course the churches.  I was particularly taken with the Cathedral of Sevilla.  Our tour group went inside only briefly, more with the intention of participating in a popular tourist ritual of rubbing the foot of one of the coffin-bearers atop the monument of Christopher Columbus’s tomb in hopes of returning.  I felt ridiculous being prodded along like cattle in and out of such gorgeous churches while people were knelt in prayer.  I was stunned by the detailed architecture and majestic paintings of heavenly things.  I wanted to sit and take it all in.

We spent a few days in Portugal, which included a stop at Fatima.  I knew very little of Fatima at the time.  As we waited in the parking lot to be released for an hour to look around, our tour guide briefly educated us on the three shepherd children to whom Mary appeared at the onset of World War I.  She told us of the three “secrets,” emphasizing that the third “secret” had not yet been revealed (this was in 1997).  She added with a coy smirk that many speculated the Catholic Church would not release this “secret” because it predicted the demise of the Church.  (Of course, three years later the third secret was made public.  I’m sure the tour guide must have been disappointed she could no longer add that quip to her Fatima lecture.)

Because of how I had behaved at my first Mass and my general dislike of Catholicism, I should have found Fatima appalling.  But I didn’t have a strong aversion to it, mostly because of what I saw that day in the faces of the faithful.  The atmosphere of peaceful reflection that permeated the grounds was familiar to me as a Quaker, yet it possessed a fervent penitence as well.  As I walked the grounds with my grandparents and cousin, we noticed an older man walking on his knees along a paved path that led to the church.  I wondered at his reasons, but I didn’t doubt his sincerity.  My cousin and I walked along the path together.  It was such a perfect day; the pavement reflected the clear, sunny skies which made everything on that hill bright and beautiful. 

Just before it was time to leave, while my cousin and grandparents were heading back to the bus, I ran into the church.  I don’t even remember what I saw because I only had a glance and it was absolutely stuffed with people.   From the gift store, I bought a fan with the image of Our Lady of Fatima, her kind and sweet face bent towards the shepherd children.  Fatima undoubtedly made an impression on me.  In all the paintings and sculptures of Mary we had seen in churches, she always looked full of love.  I didn’t understand the devotion to her, and I feared Catholics might favor her above God, but I recognized there was something about it I did not understand.

While we were visiting friends in Valencia, it happened to be a Sunday.  Our friends were sad they didn’t know of a place where we could pray and worship.  Though the sentiment was appreciated, as Quakers we didn’t believe we needed a place to pray.  As we walked around town, we passed a church with a side door opened.  At a glance, I saw a woman standing in the back in prayer.  She seemed transfixed, not bored with “empty ritual.”  This image encapsulated the increasingly confusing perception I had of Catholics.  The more I became aware of the Catholic world, the more I saw Catholics who weren’t lifeless automatons.  There appeared to be Catholics who knew how to pray, who seemed intent on following God’s commandments, who may even have “a personal relationship” with Jesus.  Even the cathedrals did not seem distasteful.  Though they were full to the brim with images, there was nothing terrifying about the artwork; all the paintings were celestial or biblical. 

Up to this point, I had assumed the majority of the world was Protestant.  At sixteen, my trip to Spain was an eye-opening cultural experience in many ways, not in the least of which was exposure to a long, Catholic heritage.  This would later open the doors to an entire history of the formation of theological beliefs of which I was completely ignorant. 

Back in the States, I now began to eye some of the older, Catholic churches in the area that reminded me of my time in Europe.  There was a particular church in downtown Vancouver made of brick and shaped in a Roman cross that stuck out among the office and apartment buildings.  For the first time I was curious about the interior.  At that time, it was unlocked during the day and open to the public.  (Later the doors had to be locked, except during daily Mass, because of vandalism and theft.)

It was dark and chilled on the inside.  I remember the great weight of the door as it closed behind me, like an arm urging me to step inside in spite of the suspicion and fear that curbed my curiosity.  Any sound shot straight up to the Gothic arches.  I expected the few people scattered throughout in prayer to look right at me.  Even though I felt like a clanging gong with every step down the side aisle of the still sanctuary, no one turned around to notice, to my great relief.  I saw the small fount of water attached to the wall.  I had seen people dip their fingers into it before and cross themselves.  I had assumed it was another mindless ritual.  But I was beginning to wonder about the significance of such minute details.  I could understand how any Christian might want to remind themselves of the cross before them like a mighty shield. 

The ambo of the church was discomforting; all I could see in the dim light was a statue of Mary, and two other statues on either side of her.  But on the far left wall there was a statue of Jesus.  I was immediately attracted to this particular one.  I did not genuflect nor did I kneel in prayer, primarily to show that I knew there was nothing for which to show respect or reverence.  I sat and prayed for some time, settling into the silence as I had been accustomed to as a Quaker. 

I returned every so often to St. James for solitude and prayer.  I always returned to that same spot in the sanctuary near the statue of Jesus.  His face was kind and beckoning.  He wore a deep red cloth draped across his white robe.  One hand reached towards me and one hand touched his heart, which was lit by a flame and crowned with thorns.  This image depicted a truth I had been taught, embraced, and created an aching in my own heart:  Jesus’ sacred heart was enflamed with love for me.

One afternoon while resting in the comforting stillness of my usual spot, I heard the words as clear as day, “I am here.”  Though not from an audible voice, the words were so distinct and real that I opened my eyes to look around.  When I returned to prayer, I heard the words again—“I am here”—and again I looked around me.  I was entirely alone in that part of the church and the few others present were deep in their own thoughts.  I went to pray again and heard a third time, “I am here.”  I grew so agitated about it that I quickly left.  I thought about this for days afterwards. 

After witnessing faithful Catholics in prayer and action, I had been struggling to make sense of their belief and the falsehood behind their theology.  If I had been wrong about the personal devotion of Catholics, then could I be wrong about their beliefs?   I interpreted my experience in prayer at St. James to be peace from God not to fear the Catholic Church and let go of my intense prejudice.  Ironically, a Catholic building and image, two things I had assumed would detract one from adoration of God, had captured my heart and seemed much more palpable than any mental image I might conjure up in prayer.  It paved the way for my omission that Jesus might just be with the Catholics too.  I wrongly assumed that my quandary had thus ended.  It was only just beginning.

Hello dear ones.  It has been some time since I have written.  The reason is twofold:  one, I am home-schooling my four children and nursing a small business on the side; two, most of my free writing time has been spent on my conversion story, something I’ve been meaning to put down onto paper for the past several years.  I’d like to start posting the chapters.  This is a work in progress and I would welcome and appreciate any helpful feedback!  I hope to publish it someday, should it please God, and should a fairy appear to help with housework.  I hope you are well.  Without further ado, here is Chapter One:

He that offers up a sacrifice of praise glorifies me.—Psalm 50

May 31, 2001 was an unusually warm day for spring in the Northwest.  I rode uncomfortably in my ’85 Honda with no air conditioning through the back country roads of Vancouver.  It was a half-hour drive across the river into Portland.  As I crossed the familiar overpass, I could see the dome of charming St. Patrick’s, tucked obscurely away in Portland’s industrial district. 

I joined the other catechumens and my soon-to-be godparents, Gary and Nancy, in the church hall.  My friend and soon-to-be-godsister Mary squeezed my shoulders as she ran to the choir loft to offer her angelic soprano to the liturgy.  When it was time for Mass to begin, we stood outside the large double doors—which were now open to let in the evening breeze—and waited for our cue.  I could see the heads of my parents.  I knew it was difficult for them to be there; I loved them all the more for coming.  We had been through so many arguments, tears, and misunderstandings over theology throughout the previous three years and understood each other little better for it.  Yet they had still come.

I was the first of the catechumens to walk.  Though I had been on stage numerous times with absolute comfort and enjoyment, I was nervous as I walked down the aisle.  I wore an ivory linen dress that my mother made for me after rounds of frustrating shopping excursions to find a modest, simple gown suited for a baptism.  I wore linen wedge shoes I had bought in Spain when I was sixteen, just at the dawn of my conversion.  My hair rested simply at my shoulders and the only jewelry I wore was a simple silver chain with medals of St. Faustina and St. Therese, the two saints I had chosen as my patronesses, and a cross from Rome.  When I sat down, with a glance I saw several familiar faces—a few dear friends from college, the Defilippis family, and many young men and women whom I had met while filming Therese the summer previous.

As I faced the beautiful altar, it was suddenly outrageously funny to me that I, who had once abhorred all things Catholic, was sitting in the front pew of a Catholic Church to willingly be baptized, confirmed, and receive the true Body and Blood of Christ.  I knew that I was embarking on a new life, but in that moment, what I felt even more was the sense that a great journey had finally come to a glorious and climactic finish.  I couldn’t have been more convinced that I was right where I should be, even though it was the last place I would have ever imagined to beJust three years earlier, at the age of sixteen, I had been content and even proud to be Quaker.  So much had happened in those few years, and though it may not seem such a long time in number, at nineteen to reflect upon the previous three years was to contemplate a substantial fraction of my life. 

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Often, the only familiarity one has with the word Quaker is the Quaker Oat man.  Some people mistake it for Amish.  (For the record, I grew up with electricity and rock ‘n’ roll.)  On occasion I will meet someone familiar with Quaker teaching, but as a whole I was fairly used to explaining what Quakers believed by my adolescence, when I had officially become a member of the church.  When I explain that Quakers do not practice the Sacraments (or as they specify, not in the physical sense), people are often surprised that I would have become Catholic.  There appears, at first glance, to be a great chasm between the two.  Though there was a great deal of history to sort through, and within that a lot of theology, in the end I found my Quaker upbringing had laid a decent foundation in my heart and mind for the Catholic Church to reign upon.

The Quaker denomination, or Friends as they also call themselves, is relatively small and not of one creed.  Today there are different sects of Quakers, some who no longer associate with Christianity.  However, the church I grew up in referred to itself as Evangelical Quaker; indeed it was more broadly “evangelical” Protestant in its practice than traditional Quaker. 

The Quaker denomination was born in England during the seventeenth century.  A young man named George Fox was dissatisfied with the church as it was.  He felt the rituals and hierarchy of formal religion was dry and empty.  In reading his journal, he also appears dissatisfied with life in general, and often isolates himself from society.  One of the lines from his journal that I often heard quoted while growing up was a private revelation he had allegedly received from God:  “There is one, even Jesus Christ, who can speak to thy condition.”  From this personal revelation, George Fox surmised the church didn’t need pastors, priests, or bishops.  Indeed, God need only speak to us individually.  According to Fox, everyone has the “Inner Light” of Christ that reveals truth through the reading and study of Scripture and through silent prayer.  Therefore, the outward signs of the Sacraments are rendered unnecessary.  George Fox called himself and his followers “The Children of Light” and “The Society of Friends” taken from Jesus’ own words, “You are my friends if you do what I command.”  George Fox and his followers were convinced that they had finally discovered the true way to fulfill what Jesus had commanded over 1500 years before. 

The Society of Friends was met with much opposition.  The word “Quaker” was meant as an insult, referring to how they quaked with fear of the Lord.  As they began to spread their message, many were imprisoned.  Longing for religious freedom, they took their chances in the New World.  Along with Catholics, they were driven out of Massachusetts by the Puritans and even hanged for preaching.  They eventually settled in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, named after the prominent Quaker, William Penn. 

Quakers began moving West in the mid-nineteenth century via the Oregon Trail.  By the end of the nineteenth century, they had begun organizing their churches.  Eventually, the Friends churches in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho formed the Northwest Yearly Meeting.  The headquarters were established in Newberg, Oregon, where there are presently four Quaker churches within a twenty-mile radius.  

In my own family, a Quaker identity, while not as tantamount as simply being Christian, was important.  My half-Swedish grandfather began attending a Quaker youth group in the small town of Camas, Washington, where he met my half-German grandmother.  She began going to a Quaker church during her teenage years, which was where her awareness, love, and commitment to Christ was awakened and richened as it had never been.  They fell in love and were engaged right before my grandfather left for France.  Even though Quakers are traditionally pacifists, my grandfather proudly fought in World War II, defending his choice as a call to just war, and was awarded the Purple Heart.  After their two-year war-time engagement, my grandparents married in 1946 and my grandfather went to college on the G.I. Bill.  He made a name for himself as an architect, specializing in schools, college dormitories, and churches.  One of his largest series of projects was for George Fox University, a Quaker college in Newberg, Oregon.  One of his most significant projects for our family was the design of Vancouver Friends Church, where they raised their four daughters.  They were active in church leadership, Bible studies, outreach, and education.  All four of their girls attended George Fox University, and all of them returned to Vancouver where they began to raise their families at the same church. 

While my mother’s childhood was rooted in a love and appreciation for God and Scripture, as well as continual involvement in church community, my father’s experience of God as a child was powerful, but sporadic.   He had a powerful conversion experience during his adolescence, but like the seed dropped into rocky soil, his enthusiasm waned.  Like many, he was swept into the ‘60’s, but God’s hand was still on him.  Due to Vancouver Friends’ active bus ministry, my father’s two little girls began attending church.  Slowly he began to attend as well.  Several wonderful people took him under their wing, made him feel welcome, supported him through a painful divorce, and by teaching and example led him to a deeper understanding and love of Christ.  My mother, who had returned from college and started her teaching career locally, taught his daughters, Carrie and Spring, in Sunday school.  At a church potluck one afternoon as my dad stood in line with his girls near my mom, Carrie asked, “Aren’t you gonna ask her?”  And so finally he did ask her out, and two years later they married with my sisters as bridesmaids.

I was their first child together and in May of 1982, they stood in front of the congregation and dedicated their three-month-old daughter to Christ.  The people of the church (many of them my relatives), along with my parents, promised to raise me to love, serve, and follow God.  And they did.  My family identity was, in many ways, intimately connected to my Quaker identity.

As a child, my Quaker upbringing fostered two very important things:  prayer and a love of Scripture.  In the spirit of simplicity, churches are not a place of beauty (even though the churches my grandfather designed had unusual splashes of decor, like stained glass windows, or a simple cross behind the pulpit).  Growing up in the Northwest where there is plenty of natural beauty to admire, I learned early on to appreciate God within His own creation.  It fostered the contemplative side of me, which was encouraged in the Quaker church, and later attracted me to Carmelite spirituality.  We grew up in a poor suburb, but our yard was an occasion of adventure for my brother and I with rows of trees, evergreens and hazelnut, and a fowl farm right across the street.  (I think my dad resented the frequent visits from ducks and chickens, but it was a great source of entertainment to my brother and me). 

My father was a carpenter and worked out of a shop adjacent to the backyard of our house.  Even though he was very busy, my brother and I would often visit him after school.  He would let us play with the scrap wood, sweep the sawdust, and watch him work.  Sometimes he would sketch pictures on scraps of wood for me to color.  Of course, we had a generous amount of toys, but these are the kinds of treasures I really remember. 

My mom was a high school teacher and earned her Masters in Education while my brother and I were in elementary school.  She worked very hard, like my dad, as they saved to one day buy land out in the country and build their dream house.  She was also a gifted seamstress and made all my special occasion dresses and Halloween costumes.  My brother and I attended the schools in the district where she taught Home Economics.  We sampled the goods from her cooking class after school and took advantage of the art supplies in the back room.

Our church community at Vancouver Friends was constant and dependable.  I had many friends there, including my cousins, and was surrounded by loving and caring people.  I have many happy memories of church picnics, vacation Bible school, Christmas programs, weddings, and summer camp.  I consider it a great blessing that I was raised with faith as a child.  I believed in the existence of God and that He loved me without question.  People who I loved and trusted consistently reminded me of this beautiful truth.  I enjoyed Bible stories; my mother and grandmother made them come alive in song and dramatic story form.  I remember each of my Sunday school teachers and the great care they took in not only teaching me, but showing me God’s love.  

Edith Pearson cared for me in the nursery and I felt a great affection for her everyday after.  Marian Larsen taught me about the Trinity.  I still remember the triangle drawing on the chalkboard with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit written at the points.  It was in her class that I accepted Jesus into my heart.  Mel and Lila Kern taught me so many songs—some silly and some biblical—that I sing to my kids today.  Mrs. Snow sat in her wheelchair and told us Bible stories with a felt board and felt figures.  Michael and Delynn Walz, a couple that would become very dear to me, braved a class of hopeless middle schoolers.  We had scared away countless teachers, but they stuck it out and developed lasting relationships with each of us.  These precious souls, and so many others, showed me the Gospel through their faithful and loving relationships.

As a child, I was very struck with the stories of visiting missionaries.  The Northwest Yearly Meeting had a small presence near Lima, Peru and had ministered there for a few generations.  Photos of our missionaries were always displayed on a table in the foyer and I often looked them over.  I hoped to be one of them someday.  At a young age, even though I was generally cautious, I wanted to show God my love in a dramatic way.  I wanted to show Him that I was willing to do whatever He wanted—even the dangerous, the crazy, the unthinkable.  As a little girl, being a missionary was the most radical way I could think of to serve God.

I didn’t begin thinking about our distinctions as Quakers until my adolescence.  By then we had moved out of our old house, lived with my grandparents for a year (which was a very dear time), and moved into a new home out in the country.  We had a new pastor at Vancouver Friends, someone my mom had gone to college with, who professed to be a Quaker (he later pastored for a different denomination, and eventually started his own congregation).  He had written tracts about Quaker beliefs and had them displayed in the foyer of the church.  I was becoming more and more involved with church activities.  To become an official member of the church, I had to take a brief class on a Saturday morning.  Though I wanted to be thoughtful and prayerful about my decision to become an active member in the congregation, I didn’t really have any objections to the Friends church to consider.  I felt a familial bond with the church and I looked forward to serving it more.

A lot of what I learned that morning in the Friends membership class I already knew simply through observation.  I knew we believed in the Bible as God’s inspired Word and that it was absolute truth.  I knew we believed that baptizing with water was unnecessary.  I knew we kept a plain sanctuary, so as not to distract our minds from God.  I knew instead of bread and juice, we had a spiritual Communion.  We had silent time when the Holy Spirit could move among us freely.  I knew silent prayer was important in order that we might listen to the Spirit in our hearts.  I knew I needed to accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior to get to Heaven, which I had done when I was seven. 

Yet it was at this membership class that my first questions about Quaker theology and practice began brewing in my mind.  I remember our pastor giving us a diagram of church “hierarchy”—or lack thereof—in a Friends church.  It was shaped like an upside-down pyramid:  the people of the church were at the top, the committees in the middle, and the pastor at the bottom.  Simple physics could prove that an upside-down pyramid is sure to topple over.  I would not have pictured Friends hierarchy in such a way if I were to look at our church as an example.  In practice, the pyramid of power seemed to go the other way.  The pastor was the one in leadership, at least by appearance.  Even if the elders and committees had more power and say within the church, the pastor was certainly the visual head.  Though this thought lingered in my mind, it wasn’t enough to dissuade me from membership and I made my commitment to Vancouver Friends on the following Sunday.

I did become more and more involved in the church after I officially became a member.  I enjoyed organizing social events for the youth, helping organize and teach Vacation Bible School, and lead lessons in our youth group.  I had great faith and pride in my distinctions as a Quaker.  I felt as though I belonged to a rich history and thoughtful theology.  In fact, I had confidence that being Quaker was the best expression of Christianity. 

One religion that I did not think favorably of was Catholicism.  Any form of liturgical Protestantism was almost as unfavorable.  Clearly, Catholics believed that their works saved them.  I, however, knew that wasn’t true.  Everything I did as a Quaker was a movement of the Spirit, a spontaneous and authentic expression of love and service to Christ, as opposed to a ritual.  My prayers were heartfelt, not vain repetition like the formulaic rhymes from a prayer book.  Our family had Catholic friends and acquaintances, but up to that point I had been too young to connect my ideas about Catholicism to an actual Catholic.  In spite of the fact that I had never actually talked to a Catholic about their faith, I assumed I knew all I needed to know about their faith and practice. 

Then I got to know and care about an actual Catholic. 

Justin—gregarious, sweet, and often in trouble—was not the kind of boy that a girl like me—academic, careful, quiet— was likely to hang around.  We had mutual friends and became acquainted in the hallways of our high school.  We had a lot in common and quickly became dear friends.  At our best, we complimented each other—he brought possibility and spontaneity to my life and I brought some stability and thoughtfulness to his.

He also happened to be Catholic.  He didn’t appear to care too much about his faith, as seemed appropriately Catholic.  Not too long after we met, religion came up in conversation and I let it slip what I really thought of Catholics—they weren’t really Christians.  I was genuinely surprised at his astonishment.  He asked me how I could assume such a thing. He admittedly did not take his faith seriously, but Catholic was in his bones and blood.  It had not sounded as presumptuous and arrogant in my head.  To see how it had hurt him made me question at least the sensitivity of my approach.  Even though I never said that very thing again, I did think that perhaps I would help him find a true, authentic faith.

One evening we went to an event at a local Pentecostal church where a lot of our mutual friends attended.  I was accustomed to emotionally-charged praise and worship meetings, especially with other youth.  Justin was not.  I was personally and visibly moved by the event.  As he drove me home afterwards, he was very quiet and introspective.  When I asked him what was wrong, he said that he wanted what I had.  He wanted to know God and feel His presence as I and so many of the other young people there had seemingly experienced Him.

Soon after that, he informed his family he would not be getting confirmed, at least that year.  He wanted to seek and find truth before he committed to any one church.  I was excited to see him come alive with questions about God.  But I wasn’t expecting with what zeal he tackled his questions.  Though he talked about what he read, he started a journey quite all his own.  People all around him—friends, family, teachers—watched him transform into a more thoughtful, studious, and prayerful young man.  I was proud of him, and proud of myself for thinking I had some hand in it.  I committed to being a supportive friend, but his excitement and curiosity was catching. 

As I got to know his family better, I was forced to confront my assumption that Catholics weren’t Christians.  Though his family wasn’t perfect, and did not pretend to be, there was a sincerity and genuineness about their faith.  Something I had always looked down upon as “cultural Catholicism”—when  faith and practice is intimately woven into a person’s character or being, as natural as the color of their eyes or cadence of their voice—I began to see as a virtue. My world was assuredly Quaker, but their world was just as assuredly Catholic.  Though I couldn’t see it at the time, my relationship with Justin and his family was slowly peeling away a deep and generational prejudice.

Today, May 30, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Joan of Arc, patroness of soldiers and France. Though she lived and died in the 15th century, she wasn’t canonized until 1920, just five years before St. Therese. I have no doubt that St. Joan’s canonization was brought about, in part, by St. Therese’s fervent prayers inspired by her admiration for this brave shepherdess-turned-solider who awoke France from its cowardly sleep under English rule. In fact, one of the most famous photographs of St. Therese is her in costume as St. Joan in a play she wrote and performed in Carmel.
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There are many reasons why St. Therese loved St. Joan—Joan was called by God as a young girl, just as Therese had been. Joan was not only courageous on the battlefield, but courageous in following God even unto betrayal, humiliation, and death. Like Jesus, Joan was abandoned and executed by her own people. Pierre Cauchon, who played a key role in Joan’s capture and execution, was later made bishop over Lisieux, giving the townspeople of Lisieux four hundred years later good reason to storm Heaven with prayers for Joan’s canonization. And Joan had saved France from a dark time, while during Therese’s lifetime, France’s faith had been struggling and continued to struggle after revolutions and amid hopeless atheism. France had executed priests and religious, including Carmelite nuns. In fact, the wig we see her wearing in the photo of her as St. Joan was one of many wigs and worldly clothes kept hidden in the monastery in case the nuns ever needed to flee for their lives. Therese pleaded Joan’s intercession for France’s salvation.

Like many little girls, I was fascinated by Joan of Arc in the same way I was fascinated with the story of Esther—that a young woman’s faith could propel her to pursue and even accomplish the impossible. I didn’t really understand the spiritual side of Joan of Arc because I only learned of her from a historical perspective, one that depicted her as a fanatic (albeit brave) nutbar. But as I studied St. Therese, I could not escape the allure of St. Joan. Therese’s peaceful and content expression in the photograph of her as Joan of Arc is alone enough to draw one into her love for this saint.

St. Joan has been an object of curiosity by writers, painters, and filmmakers. My husband introduced me to a play called The Lark written by French playwright Jean Anouilh. I quickly fell in love with the play; besides that it was beautifully written, his portrayal of Joan was honest and human. She was suddenly less of a hallucinating fanatic and more of a saint—someone plucked by God, someone in rapturous love with God, someone who really believed “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Mark Twain wrote an account of her life and in his introduction said she was one of the few people he truly admired.

Perhaps one of her most admirable traits was her faith—a faith synonymous with confidence, a faith that inspires blind and undying trust. It was the same kind of faith King David had. David was a little boy, a nobody-shepherd. In human terms and expectations, he should have taken one look at Goliath and ran, just as his brothers and fellow Israelites had done—and even the anointed King Saul. But David was indignant that the Israelites appeared to have such little faith in their God, the great Creator and I AM. It was his message of faith—in both word and action—that stirred Israel to believe and fight. Joan did the same thing for France. She reminded her king, the soldiers, and all of France that if they believed that God would give them the strength to do the impossible, they must put that faith into action.

Unfortunately, most of the time I am the cowering France saying with my mouth, “I believe!” while hiding my face in my hands. I struggle with hope. That is probably why I admire David, Esther, Therese, and Joan. They were not the usual suspects. Yet, they were put on earth “for such a time as this” and answered God’s call. And in their faith, they did not cower—or when they did, they confessed, again drew strength from our Lord, and went on. With true hope comes a healthy degree of optimism. I tend to be one of those oh-well-the-world’s-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket sort of a person. I see the waves and I sink. But Joan obviously believed in the strength and power of God. France was not perfect when St. Joan rose up to fight for her. A number of the soldiers she fought alongside were undoubtedly sinners—thieves, cheaters, adulterers, rapists, murderers. But she believed in what France and her people could become, just as Jesus sees the beauty in our souls beneath the muck and mire. God has hope in us.

There has never been a time when I couldn’t write: This is a trying time for our world. That’s as true a statement as it was 600 years ago when much of France was hopeless they would ever escape England’s rule. And their savior didn’t come in the form of a giant-warrior-king. It was a small, young, innocent, uneducated girl. The wealthy, powerful and educated men disdained her for what they didn’t have—unshakeable faith. And it didn’t take long for people to realize their great mistake after she had died her terrible death. It’s no wonder that St. Joan is today revered as a saint and a hero in England, too.

Humility is one thing. But if we believe in our inherent dignity as human beings, we must believe we are something worth protecting. Just recently at Pentecost, we prayed at Mass, “Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” This hearkens back to Creation when the Spirit was over the earth, when God breathed on man. We were made in His image, the Church is His Bride, and we His living tabernacles. Therein lies real HOPE. Strengthened with holy hope, we really can believe that all things are possible with God. And how can we help but to act, just as St. Joan did in the face of so much doubt and opposition? Maybe our courageous acts are small ones, maybe they happen in our home, maybe in our hearts against temptation, or in our work. Or maybe we’ll be called to do something revolutionary. Whatever our call, may God give us the faith and hope of St. Joan.

Let our hearts trust in You and Your strength.

P.S. If you’re looking for a fantastic film about St. Joan of Arc that doesn’t portray her as a hallucinating crackpot, please track down The Passion of Joan of Arc. It’s a silent film with subtitles, but it’s truly stunning and primarily covers her trial. I believe the script is taken mostly from the trial records. The score is incredibly moving. Maria Falconetti, the actress who portrays Joan, is exemplary. (And there’s quite a story of mystery and intrigue behind the making of the film too!)
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Two years ago when my husband and I decided to move across the country with our little ones, it was no easy task saying goodbye to friends and family. It was particularly hard to say goodbye to my grandparents who I have been close to my whole life. My grandpa said to grandma, “This may be the last time we see their faces this side of Heaven.” So when I recently heard my grandfather was dying of leukemia, I thought I would need to choose between attending his memorial service and saying goodbye as there was no way I could afford to fly out twice. I wanted desperately for my children to come with me so they could say goodbye, but the cost would be astronomical. I couldn’t sleep for several nights as I debated about what to do. Meanwhile, my grandfather, even though he was an 89-year-old faithful Christian, was struggling with his diagnosis. I don’t think it was how he expected to go; in fact, he told his doctor, “What I want is a miracle, but I don’t think I’m going to get that this time.”

And my grandpa had every good reason to believe God might deliver one. Grandpa had survived a challenging childhood during the Great Depression. He survived the battlefields in France during World War II, survived an injury that could have maimed him, but instead brought him home safely just as the war ended. He survived a heart attack in his ’70’s, followed by a quadruple bypass, and he survived 25 years of life with diabetes. So I think he was a little surprised to realize he would not make it to 90 or his 67th wedding anniversary.

While he did not get the miracle he hoped for, there were little miracles happening for me and my dear ones as he lay dying. I had settled on the idea that I could afford to fly out for a long weekend. It would be just enough time to see my family, sit with my grandpa for a day or two, and say goodbye. It would set our finances back a good deal, but I couldn’t focus on that. And then the first miracle arrived— two checks, one from an aunt and one from a cousin. I was delirious with tears of joy as I called my aunt to thank her. She told me that both she and my cousin (her son) had prayed about it and felt that God had whispered these amounts to them. Sure enough, when I went to buy the tickets for myself and my children, the amount totaled exactly what my aunt and cousin had offered.

As we were flying over the country, my grandma, mom, and aunts made the difficult decision to transfer Grandpa to a hospice house. There was no mistaking now that it was the beginning of the end. The morning after my kids and I arrived, we surprised my grandma at her home and lovingly embraced. Then we all headed over to the hospice house.

I was shocked by what I saw. My grandpa actually looked younger; his hair had grown out and it was still black-grey in spite of his age. His eyes were a piercing and alert grey-blue. Though his body was visibly drained, he said his usual, “Well hello there!” when we walked in. He talked to the kids and listened to their stories. He cracked jokes and asked us questions. One of the highlights was watching him eat breakfast— after 25 years of diet restrictions (which he found most irritating), he was fed bacon and eggs with hashbrowns. There were no more diet restrictions; the compassionate and friendly nurses gave him whatever he wanted to eat—even milkshakes. A little foretaste of Heaven.

As we left that first day, it didn’t seem possible that he was dying. But in a few days he began to wane.

The last time I saw him, he was grimacing from pain in his sleep. I sat next to him with my grandma—who never left his side those last several days—and two of my aunts. There have been times that I have resented the closeness of my family; that we all know each other’s business, that we all had to be together every holiday. But it was during those several days that I saw the beauty and blessing of a close-knit family. No one bickered. No one domineered. Everyone settled into the moment and watched it play out in prayer and mutual support.

I woke up suddenly one morning, then heard the telephone ring. I knew right away that he was gone. My mom came into the guest room where I was sleeping and we hugged each other. That was the second miracle: that I was there for his passing. Not just for my sake, but so I could grieve with my mom. And the third miracle: my husband was scheduled to arrive that evening at the airport. We had booked his ticket weeks before, never knowing how graciously the timing would work out.

The next miracle was the weather. Even though it was spring in the Northwest, which usually means overcast skies and rain, on the days of his burial and service the sky was clear and the sun was shining. Grandpa’s four girls and their husbands, ten cousins with their families, and my grandma’s siblings stood around her as the American flag over my grandpa’s coffin was meticulously folded and handed to her. We all went out to dinner—which would have been my grandpa’s favorite part—and filled an entire banquet hall at the restaurant. The family he and my grandma had worked so hard to build and strengthen with God’s love was present and clinging to one another for support.

The day after the service, I left with my family. I marveled the entire way home at all the little miracles. Sometimes God seems so quiet. I never doubt that He’s there, but I do wonder sometimes what He’s doing. But He showered me with roses during that time with my family. Those little miracles that my grandpa had come to believe in and depend on washed over me. Besides feeling grateful, I also felt peace with the reminder of God’s great and loving provisions. My grandpa would be pleased. Rather, he is pleased.

What is Hidden

“What’s that noise?” Eve says as she sews the last fig leaf on her bodice.
“It’s God!” Adam replies, horrified. “Quick, hide!” (And at this, the birds nearby chuckle.)
The omniscent God, not the least bit fooled, amuses all creation by calling out, “Golly gee, where could they be?”
Then after a less amusing game of hide-and-seek, finds the couple crouching behind a rhododendron and asks, “Why did you hide from me?”
Adam and Eve look at each other innocently, trying in desperation to keep up the game until they realize their secret is out.

Now every time I read or hear the story of the Fall from Genesis, I marvel at how foolish Adam and Eve were to think they could hide from God. Yet I also have to own that my whole life I have been prone to the same silly game. Children are so transparent this way; when they are guilty of something, they often physically hide or sneak away to avoid punishment and humiliation. We would all desperately love to avoid our own shame and guilt, yet it’s not even possible. Not only did Adam and Eve fail from hiding from God, their sin has been broadcasted throughout the world for all time (not to mention Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, etc.). Though we might try, we cannot hide from God.

We can, however, hide our true selves from one another. We all do it in our own little way. Men can be cruel and nasty fathers, but loved and appreciated within their church community. Women can be mean and catty to their closest relations, but share nothing but smiles and compliments with acquaintances. We’re so inclined to hide our true selves because we, like our first parents in the garden, are ashamed and embarrassed of who we are in secret. The outward façade is so much easier to love.

A life in Christ requires a very difficult thing from us—that we reverse our inclination. Instead of hiding our guilt, bring it to the cross in Confession. Be anointed with the holy balm of forgiveness and penance. Yet other things, like sex—something society exploits and over-indulges—should be kept glorious and protected within the privacy of marriage. The true nature of everything we have in life is a hidden treasure. Hiding out of shame is very different from treasuring what’s hidden.

People ask me if I miss acting. Yes, of course I do. But do you know what I miss the most? Not the art—I find many forms of creative expression at home now. Not the auditioning—who wants to be rejected multiple times a day? If I’m completely honest with myself, I miss the audience. I miss the attention. Transitioning into motherhood and the even bigger step of home-schooling and home life was torture at first. It went against every natural impulse, every dream or goal I’ve ever had for myself. But I can honestly say now that it was THE BEST thing that could have happened to me. Why? Because I desperately needed to learn about the beauty of the hidden life.

The Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday was Jesus’ directions about fasting. He said:

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them…when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Matthew 6)

How powerful to have Jesus remind us that God is there in the quiet, still, solitary places of our hidden world. It is largely from that which He judges us. In the end, what will it matter that I played a saint on film if I never attempted sanctity in my hidden life with my family?

I first began to think on this contradiction when reading St. Therese’s writings. She lives a hidden life, runs towards a hidden life, embraces a hidden life, and becomes holy within a hidden life. Out of this understanding, she wrote in one of her letters, “Jesus is a hidden treasure which few souls can find, for it is hidden, and the world loves what sparkles.” And because we all naturally love what sparkles, we want to hide the dirt and the grit of those mucky parts of our lives and only show off our “sparkly” bits. It’s easy for me to be jolly and friendly to a new acquaintance, but it takes a lot more effort and thought to treat my own tired and hungry child with the same degree of grace and patience. Both are important. But in a way, Scripture hints that there is a greater reward for that moment of grace and patience with my child in the privacy of my own home where no one is there to see and admire the act.

Before I was Catholic, I loved praying in Catholic churches. I couldn’t explain at the time what attracted me there, but it was one of the only places I felt true peace. And later when I learned about the Eucharist, about Jesus’ Body and Blood hidden under the appearance of bread and wine, hidden in the Tabernacle, I was overcome with joy as though I had just opened a treasure chest. All that time the treasure had been right before my eyes, at my fingertips, but hidden from plain view.

I am encouraged this Lent to try and please “the Father who sees in secret” by focusing on my hidden life—the life at home that the world doesn’t see. It is in this hidden life that I notice my faults more than ever, where I am most ashamed of my mistakes and failures. One of the reasons I write this blog is to shed light on those darker corners of my life. For one, it helps me to be honest. I also believe honesty about our failings helps others confront their own. But it is in the hidden confessional where I can bring these faults to God, who is merciful and forgiving. And it is Jesus hidden in bread and wine who heals and renews me in the Eucharist.

Love for Life

G.K. Chesterton wrote that when a euphemism is used, then one knows that true evil is being committed. Historically, this certainly rings true. When Hitler wanted to kill Jews, he referred to the “solution to the Jewish question”. When the Europeans wanted the vast, fertile land occupied by the Native Americans, they first called them “savages”. When the citizens of the first colonies wanted to justify their use of slaves, they declared them three-fifths of a person. These are euphemisms, terms people—and governments—use to justify less savory acts.

I know we don’t like talking about abortion. It makes us nervous and uneasy. Indeed, it should. I know many priests and pastors who won’t touch the subject at the pulpit. I don’t bring it up with friends. Sadly, like all political agendas, it has become just another debate on the floor of Congress, a matter to divide parties, a subject for parties to rally around or against during elections, but with no intention, it seems, of ever taking action. Congressmen are afraid to lose favor and votes, just as they were historically over slavery and racial equality. And I, along with others, just haven’t mustered enough energy for the argument.

There are so many social issues to care about and fight for. Even slavery is still something to be fought against, particularly sexual slavery. But no one—unless they’re stupid or sick—justifies sexual slavery in this country. Everyone agrees it’s a horrendous act that deserves a valiant fight. It’s accepted by our culture as wrong.

So why have we given up on abortion? I know most of you who read this haven’t. But our culture at large certainly has, particularly in the name of women’s liberation (and as someone who knows closely women who have aborted their children, I can say in confidence that it hasn’t liberated a single one, but only enslaved their heart to pain and regret). I’ve never heard a euphemism for sexual slavery. But I have heard plenty of euphemisms for abortion—well, like abortion for one. Each time I’ve been pregnant and gone to the doctor, I’ve been asked if I would like to “terminate this pregnancy.” Terminate. Abort. In what other context do I hear these words? My job has been terminated. Something suddenly cut off, ended, no more—a life. Abort this mission. End it abruptly, pull out, a sudden failure—a life.

Somehow our culture has been subdued by the word fetus. Are we really so uneducated? A fetus is the beginning of life. Simple science teaches that. But we can’t call it a baby. Then we imagine little fingers and toes, a cute little button nose, small pudgy arms reaching and stretching, round lips and piercing gaze—a living, human being.

I know many people, some of my friends, believe that abortion is in the best interest of women. I understand why people want to justify abortion for victims of rape and incest. But it operates under the assumption that abortion erases something from our lives. Aborting the child who is a product of tragedy and violence doesn’t somehow erase the trauma from the woman’s life. I don’t want to pretend that I know what’s it like for a woman to face that decision—though my heart bleeds for them, I don’t know. But I do know you can’t undo evil with another evil.

What we don’t hear in the media is how traumatic abortions can be for the women (not to mention doctors, nurses, boyfriends, husbands, families) involved. Many women who go in for abortions have to keep it secret forever after and suffer quietly through the physical and emotional pain. I know many argue that at least now women get “clean” abortions instead of the harrowing methods used in days past. Complications and even death are still consequences of abortions today. But you won’t find those statistics published on your everyday news show. No one wants to hear about it.

We have all been desensitized to the terrible evil that is being committed hourly. We cry out against the evil being committed elsewhere in the world: the carnage in the Sudan, the tyranny of Syria, the sex trafficking of young girls, ethnic cleansing, even some of our own acts in war—all terrible, evil, heinous deeds. But we fail to see the quiet, hidden, hushed terrors of our own stained nation. I’m not going to begin some political campaign over it. I’m not sure how successful that will ever be. But if anyone taught me the value in the little things and acts of love, it was St. Therese.

One thing I will commit to is stop using the euphemisms that evil produced to blind us. It’s not abortion, it’s murder. It’s not terminating a pregnancy, it’s most definitely killing a baby. People will squirm, but don’t you think they should? People will feel uncomfortable, but don’t you think they should? This won’t be easy for me. I hate confrontation and making people uncomfortable. But I know one way to strip evil of its power is by bringing it to light and calling it what it is.

Another small, but powerful act is compassion. Most women who seek out desperate measures in the face of an unwanted pregnancy are frightened and alone. This I can sympathize with. Though I’ve never been in that desperate of a situation, I have faced pregnancy with worry, doubt, and disbelief. There are great organizations that educate women about the many resources available to them. Organizations like Birthright are welcoming, loving, and a fantastic resource.

Women need to be educated on the physical and emotional costs of having an abortion, details that our culture and abortion-providers conveniently and dangerously fail to mention. They need to be comforted and loved. And, should they choose to kill their baby, they need to be welcomed and loved even more. There are great organizations out there that do this very thing—Project Rachel for one. They provide services for not just women mourning an abortion, but men and family members connected and affected.

The Abolitionists recognized that they weren’t trying to save slaves, rather they were trying to save human beings—men, women, mothers, fathers, grandparents, sisters, brothers, cousins, daughters, and sons. When the concentration camps were opened and its prisoners released, the liberators did not free Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies, rather they saved human beings. When the Native Americans were slaughtered in the name of manifest destiny, it wasn’t the ethnic cleansing of savages, but the massacre of fellow human beings. And even now as I write this, as you read this, a fetus is not being aborted, but a fellow human being is murdered. It’s not Republican or Democrat. It’s not racial or religious. It’s just a fact.