Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Wonderful Highway Accident

When Esther and I are planning a trip north to Arcata (Humboldt County) to visit our grandson (and his parents), I go to the library and pull three books-on-CD off the shelf. I do my best to pick something well-written and entertaining, but frankly it's a crapshoot. Whoever said you can't tell a book by its cover blurb was right. They all sound like the greatest things ever published.

In August of this year, I went through my usual routine. This time, I selected two novels, plus one nonfiction book I thought might have potential. But biblical nonfiction? As we approached the Benicia Bridge, northbound, Esther chose a novel--no surprise--and popped it into the CD player. By the time we reached Petaluma, we had both decided it was soooo boring. Trust me, that one which shall remain titleless didn't dance with the stars.

Somewhere in the Highway 101 portion of the Sonoma wine country, she inserted Disc 1 of the second novel. Clunker #2! After a couple of discs, we scrapped it. Two down and, with only the biblical nonfiction book in our entertainment bag, the several-hour drive ahead looked longer than ever.

"What the heck?" we said in desperation and opened up Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler. Another loser? Not at all. For the rest of our drive to Arcata and all the way back to our home, we sat mesmerized as the youthful author related his personal quest to find out just who this man was who is claimed as common ancestor by the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

This Jewish author's excitement for his subject and his great respect for all three traditions made listening to the book an inspirational learning experience. Though a lifelong student and practitioner of religion and the Bible, I had one "Wow!" moment after another. Several times I had to turn off the CD and exclaim, "That's really good stuff!"

Since returning home, I have purchased my own copy of Abraham and am now reading Feiler's Where God Was Born: A Daring Adventure Through the Bible's Greatest Stories. My reaction to this book is the same except, instead of having a steering wheel in my hand, I carry a yellow highlighter to capture my many "Wow!" moments.

Finding author Bruce Feiler was one of the highlights of my summer, and it all resulted from an "accident" on Highway 101.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Finding Faith in a Rock

Can't help it, I'm a church mouse. What else would you expect from a cradle Catholic with parochial grade and high school, seminary college and graduate theology education? Don't answer that! I know all the horror stories. Through it all, I'm both a survivor and an embattled believer. After all these decades, when I enter my parish church, Christ the King in Pleasant Hill, California (USA), a welcoming voice inside me still says, "You're home, Al."

While visiting several Baltic countries, Germany, Poland, and Russia this past July, Esther and I toured many Christian churches and cathedrals, mostly Orthodox or Protestant (only a couple of Catholic churches made it on our itinerary). Almost all of these edifices--some quite magnificent--felt like museums and art galleries. They demonstrated little evidence of a pulsing, 21st century faith. By that I mean real people engaged as a faithful, supportive, difference-making community. With one, wonderful exception.

As soon as I entered The Rock Church in Helsinki, Finland, my heart said, "The Lord is here." Architect brothers, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, designed the church and built it (1968-1969) by blasting it out of solid rock. Natural light brightens the inside through 180 panes of glass between the dome and the walls.

This was the only sanctuary in which I wanted to park my spirit and breathe the faith of its resident community. I thought it had to be a Catholic Church (pardon my bias), because I had that same "I'm home" feeling I get at CTK.

Several young men were setting up for a prayer service. I asked one of them, "What denomination is this church?"

"Lutheran," he said, seeming puzzled that I had to ask.

I wasn't surprised as much as I was impressed. In the lobby/vestibule of the church, I found a table with religious articles laid out, I suppose for sale. I was unprepared for my next surprise: the selection of devotional materials. The table monitor had spread an array of rosaries across the surface, along with books and pamphlets promoting devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

I couldn't help myself. I said to him, "I'm surprised to see rosaries being offered in a Lutheran church." It was his turn to look at me with puzzled curiosity. "We have great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary," he said with a warm smile. 

I stayed for the inspiring prayer service conducted--in English--by a young man and several musicians. About that time, Esther came to drag me away. "The bus is leaving!" she said in an all-too-familiar tone. I didn't say it, but my heart echoed the words of the 12-year-old Jesus in Luke 2:49: “Why were you looking for me? Do you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
What I said was a macho, "Do you really think I'd have missed that bus?"

Copyright (c) 2009 by Alfred J. Garrotto