When I was a child, the rays of sun gleaming through an array of clouds seemed a miracle beyond measure, a singular experience that whispered of the presence of God. Enthralled, I was shocked when I realized everyone could see it but everyone interpreted it differently. As I grew older, that awareness developed depth: common experiences speak to each of us uniquely. We look at the same things, and we see them in multiple ways. To appreciate that means stepping away from dismissing, judging or stigmatizing another. It means entertaining the existence of an array of realities and perceptions, viewpoints and understandings. In some ways, this is the invitation into a world of gray where sharp edged distinctions are somehow not quite as defining. And now, growing older still and living long in this world of gray, the memory has resurfaced on a snowy winter weekend as an invitation.
Winter roared last night, and there are downed branches and snowy paths to prove it. And the bitter chill cuts quick past warm layers and relentlessly exposes human fragility in the face of Mother Nature’s majesty. It is not much different from the child’s view standing in a lot on a street the Bronx, awed by colors streaking through the sky. But it is far from the same. Decades of living have spilled into this now, and even more is visible.
Beneath this sky, there is room for all of us. And that sense of something greater than self, that faith, can be the key. The Catholicism of my experience allows that, allows and even encourages, the diversity of thought and practice. It opens to every person’s experience of wonder and goodness, and it embraces the discomfort of being uncomfortable. It suspends the cruelty of judgement and enables, even empowers, the forging of better human pathways. Recalling the parting skies and even the winter storm, the truth is that Catholicism rests not on ritual or practice but on that sense of something greater than self that constitutes faith. It transcends the limits of our human thinking and behaviors: it sees past the humanity and human limitations that are woven into the insitutional structure of the church itself. It drills past the surface compliance to the core of the soul. Faith becomes a companion for the journey, and it recognizes and validates other religious traditions and customs and rituals. Faith finds and focuses on the commonalities among us rather than the differences, and so it invites us to be kinder, gentler, more understanding and simply better than we were before. Faith allows us to celebrate the diversity of what it is to be human, and it dares us to be truthful and honest with self and others. Acknowledging that with the whisper of gratitude is hardly enough but it is a beginning, a soft spiraled step towards enriching faith and deepening humanity.