Lessons Along the Journey — Introduction

Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes. The rest sit round and pluck blackberries. – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

             I stepped into New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral to escape the snow and sleet of an icy November afternoon. As the massive wood doors creaked closed, I shook off the chill and decided to tour the church while I warmed up. I’d never visited St. Patrick’s, and the exquisite interior caught my attention. I turned to my right and began moving along the Stations of the Cross. I strolled passed stained glass windows and lingered at statues of Saints illuminated in the glow of flickering candles.

 

            Then I noticed the other visitors also wandering through the sanctuary. Many paused when some object of devotion caught their interest. Others sat quietly in pews. A few knelt in prayer. Some slept. Most, though, continued their tour until they reached the front door and exited back onto the street. As I watched, I realized each person illustrated points along my journey toward Christ.

 

            My journey began in Judaism. Mom did her best to give my sister and me some semblance of religious training, but she was too caught up in her own life dramas to do more than live her Jewish culture before us during holidays such as Rosh Hashonna, Yom Kippur, and Passover. But because I saw her pray over the Yahrzheit candles commemorating her mother’s death, I learned there is a God in heaven, and that we can speak to Him.

 

            I still remember my first prayer. I said it every night for years during my early childhood: “Oh God, please God, don’t let anything happen to me, Andrea, or my mother.” For reasons I now forget, I didn’t want my mom to know I was praying, so I spoke secretly to God while lying in bed with the lights out.

 

            And also for reasons I now forget, I stopped talking to Him when I was around 12-years-old. We remained estranged until my later teen years when I grew curious about my mother’s God. What was He like? What did He think of me? Did He think of me? I wandered through the doors of faith in much the same way as one visits a church more from curiosity than devotion. I prayed, gave to charities, fasted, and tried to follow the Ten Commandments.

 

            But the longer I visited God, the more I learned He required things I was unwilling to give. Like obedience. Commitment. Sacrifice. It wasn’t long before I sought the nearest exit and stepped back onto the wind-whipped streets.

 

            All that changed when I was twenty-two. Protestant acquaintances introduced me to a kind of relationship with God I never knew possible. I soon experienced the warmth of our Savior’s forgiveness and acceptance. At times, I even sensed His presence as close as the air around me. During the following three decades in evangelical fellowships, I learned about prayer, worship, surrender, and confession. I taught Sunday school classes, led home Bible studies, and discussed theological nuances in spirited conversations with my friends over coffee.

 

            But like those asleep in the pews, I often dozed in the midst of the journey. I grew comfortable with my walk with Christ, I became satisfied with my Bible knowledge, church attendance, and religious acts. Without realizing it, I had lost the distinction between doctrinal accuracy and passion, between knowing about God and falling deeper in love with Him. My religion had become little more than monotonous routine. My church attendance faltered. My prayer life withered.

 

            That’s where I was in my journey that cold November day when I escaped the weather. That’s where I was when something else caught my attention in the Cathedral, something that reminded me why, despite my growing coldness, I continued to press forward.

 

            I stared at the crucifix suspended behind the altar, and meditated on why the King of Glory emptied Himself of unfathomable grandeur and clothed Himself with inglorious flesh. Why did He subject Himself to hunger, cold, pain, and a hundred other afflictions common to our frailty? Most of all, why did He permit Himself to be mauled, spat upon, and then nailed to a splintered cross?

 

            Scripture tells why. From the earliest hours of creation, to its final curtain at the end of the age, God wove His deeply intimate love for each of us into the tapestry of history, history that culminated on the Cross and exploded from the empty tomb through timeless eternity. The Cross is our assurance that, despite our failures, sins and heartaches, the Father stands beside us, urging us to fix our eyes on the journey’s end.

 

            The journey’s end. Although I converted to Christ in 1972, I didn’t begin writing about the lessons I learned along my journey until 1995. It would be another decade after that before the path led me into the Catholic Church.

 

            Written at different points along my walk with Christ, and compiled here in relative order of their initial publication, these essays tell of my ambling journey from trust, to doubt, to confidence, to uncertainty, and back again to trust. They tell of the many times I learned obedience, and the oh-so-many times I failed to obey. They illustrate how often I learned of God’s glory, only to take His glory for granted. And they chronicle how the heavenly Father continued to reach for me, even as I stumbled and strayed from the narrow way.

 

            I hope you will find my experiences of some value as you make your own way toward the Kingdom.

 

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I have wandered all my life, and I have traveled; the difference between the two is this – we wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.

 

– Hilaire Belloc

Richard Maffeo earned his baccalaureate and master?s degrees from Pentecostal schools, and taught Bible classes in a variety of Protestant churches before being received into the Catholic Church in 2005. He has published hundreds of inspirational articles and is the author of We Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed (Xulon Press, ISBN 9781602662056).

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