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Impossible to control real experience of God.

When Jesus enters Jerusalem for the flu time, the crowds erupt in praise. They throw their coats on his path, shouting, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"

The religious officials observing this are not pleased, so they insist, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples."

But Jesus responds, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out!"

The religious leaders saw themselves as guarding orthodoxy against uneducated worshipers who seemed on the verge of idolatry. These folks hadn't been properly catechized. They lacked the moral credentials to be representatives of the faith. Who knows what lifestyles they practiced.

Yet Jesus not only welcomed their praise, but considered it unstoppable. If the people went silent, the rocks would start singing. In other words, it is impossible to control the genuine experience of God. That doesn't, of course, keep people from trying. In our current church, one doesn't have to look far to find officials trying to control the church.

In an interview last year, Andrew Sullivan, editor of The New Republic, 30, Catholic and gay, talked about his experience of going to church in Washington after seeing the AIDS quilt. The gospel that day was the story of the 10 lepers. There was no mention of AIDS during the Mass.

I went up to the priest afterward,

and I said, "I just want you

to know that I've just been to the

quilt. It's here in Washington. It's

the most extraordinary event. I

came here to pray. I came for what

the church is here for, to help me,

and to help me understand this.

And you said - with this gospel - you

said nothing."

[The priest] said, "Well, we prayed

for the sick."

When Sullivan sees the AIDS quilt spread on the Washington mall like a cloak, his response is to pray. The stones cry.

In a new book, Operating Instructions, novelist Anne Lamott tells of her first year as a mother. She is unmarried, a recovering cocaine and alcohol addict, a believing Christian, and a great writer.

When I got home, I found the sonogram

picture of Sam when he was

a 4-month-old fetus, and a picture

of me at 35 holding the kitty, and a

picture of me at 7 years old because

I can still feel that girl inside my

soil. I taped them all under the anns

of the crucifix in my kitchen. Then

I took a Polaroid close-up of the whole

scene and carried it in my wallet for

the rest of my pregnancy, as my family

portrait - me, Jesus, Sam and

the little 7-year-&d girl.

An ex-addict, an unwed mother finds a new way to pray. The rocks sing.

Neither Sullivan nor Lamott are likely to be invited to give the homily at a church service. But they are struggling, using words, images, gestures - quilts, crucifixes and Polaroids - to articulate their experience of Jesus Christ, in spite of a church that, on the basis of their lifestyles, would question their right to worship God. Neither Sullivan nor Lamott claim to be perfect. They do claim to be immensely attracted to Jesus Christ. They throw their coats onto his path and howl their desire as best they can.

I began to read the New Testament when I was in college. My life was a mess. I found the gospels mesmerizing. But I would only read the Bible late at night. I turned out the lights and used a flashlight. If anyone came near my room, I turned off the flashlight and pretended to be asleep. I was embarrassed to be reading something as unrespectable as the Bible and I was terrified that if any of my friends knew, they would laugh at me. This was a fairly cowardly way to begin to follow Jesus, but it was all I could do at the time. Thankfully, Christ seemed to welcome this feeble attempt to reach him.

Liturgy might be a place to express our desire for God, whether in the form of words, pictures or something we peel from our haves and drop m Christ path. It seems pointlees to criticize the theological precision of someone's attempt to reach out to God. We should rejoice that anyone has the courage to do so at all.

Sullivan concludes his interview with this comment: "I listen to gay America, and I hear this great cry for spiritual help."

Orthodoxy doesn't need to be protected, but expressed. Liturgy is one place we can explore this expression, insist on the spiritual possibilities.
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Title Annotation:Starting Point
Author:Peatman, Bill
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 17, 1993
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