Falling into Ecumenicism, or Something I Never Thought I’d Learn From the Public Schools

Falling Into Ecumenicism

When I was 18, I became Catholic. For months, leading up to the day of my entrance into the Church, I sat in the pew, in awe of this beautiful Church which had shown me so much in so little a time. I was amazed by the depth, the beauty, the wisdom, the overwhelming love. The dozens of questions I had asked, for my entire life, which had been so easily answered. Finally.

I was love-struck, after a very long race. My heart’s desire was finally here.

So, naturally I was protective. And fiercely loyal. I wanted everyone to join me, holding hands like the ‘We Are the World’ video of my youth, traipsing through the doors together, all united, all loving my same Jesus. All at once, just like that, I wanted it. Badly.

But, that did not happen. My family and friends remained who they were. Still attended their various churches, or none at all. And I was perturbed. Couldn’t they SEE? Why did they not FOLLOW me? Could they not tell, just by the look on my face, that my whole life had changed?

And so, my view toward Ecumenicism (the effort to promote mutual understanding and, ultimately, unity among all Christians) became that of total conversion or nothing. If you’re not with me, you’re against me. (just so you know, that’s not a very good place to be.)

Slowly, as years went by, I softened. Thank goodness. I became more accepting. Wondering at the ways of God and all these churches scattering the sides of the highways. “What saint is that one named for, Mommy?” my children would ask, as we passed the Chinese Baptist Church near our house. “Oh, I don’t know.” I would resort. Not wanting to explain all that just yet.

And so, I was able to ignore all of this for years. For almost 20 years, in fact. Until now.

This year.

The year all my children entered public schools.

There is good there, don’t get me wrong. Good kids, good teachers, good learning. But there is just so much, too – big and loud and barging in – so many lives intersecting. The children come home with stories of this or that, of the many times they’ve had to choose the right path, and maybe be the only one. Of my son only having a handful of friends who don’t cuss like sailors. My daughter ignoring, daily, all kinds of misuse and inappropriateness. I won’t go into detail. That’s not what this is about.

It’s tough sometimes, to say the least.

Then one day, I met at fellow school parent while running errands. We chatted about some difficulty or another, and she said, “Well, I’ll pray for you.”

I looked in her eyes. And smiled. And said, “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Then, a teacher, in a conversation, “Do you mind if I share something personal?” And then she tells how she sees all of her students as unique creations of God, and infinitely precious in His sight. Regardless of grades, math facts or reading levels.

The teacher who plays the Christian radio station in her classroom.

A Mormon friend who encourages me with her strength, kindness and family unity.

The student teacher who noticed my daughter’s pro-life t-shirt and asked, “So, are you going to the fundraiser tonight?”

For a few weeks there, my 2nd grader would come home and say, “So-and-so goes to Blankety-Blank Church. Is she Catholic?” With her big blue eyes, trying to figure it all out. “No, she’s not Catholic. But she’s a Christian, just like we are.”

Over and over, she’d ask, about this classmate and that classmate.

And then one day, after school, eating a graham cracker, crumbs skittering all over the wooden tabletop, she said, “Well, I don’t know if she’s Catholic. But she loves Jesus, Mom. That’s a good thing, right?”

And I stopped in my tracks, setting down the stack of school papers I was sorting. No longer worried about those dashed crumbs. “Yes Katherine. That is a VERY good thing.”

I’ve come to see, for me at least, that ecumenicism is so much less about explaining tenants of faith, of debating theology or translations of Scripture. I used to think that was it. But no. Instead, I’ve come to see and love that one common gaze. Our eyes focused on Jesus, as we trudge and stumble and drag our families through this world full of obstacles and challenges.

Maybe we can hold hands in this, altogether, after all.

It’s easy to become insulated, some of us, who lead sheltered lives. Who see only a few people of our choosing. Who have complete control over with whom we interact. But most of us don’t have that small world. It’s not an option, and probably won’t be an option for our children. And while, at the time, it might seem like a good, safe, comfortable place – it might really be like living in a terrarium. It seems like the whole world, but it’s not. There’s so much more going on outside the container – real people, real lives, real situations that need us as much as we need them. Real people, for whom the Heart of Jesus beats, just as strongly as for us. People that need us and our faith to shine a light.

And as cliche as that sounds, that is what it is – light. Whether an adult or child, when you come across someone – in the workplace, school playground, grocery story, book club, PTO meeting – who believes,  who LOVES Jesus, you are so glad. And you can stop there. It’s okay.

I will always, ALWAYS, be completely in love with my Catholic Faith. I will always, in my heart of hearts, hope that everyone on this planet will join me. But I won’t let any curtains fall on those moments of light, for me or for my children, when with joy and relief we find that common home, a common companion, a common follower, that one common gaze. We we can say, with joy, “They love Jesus. And this is good.”

I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death;  I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same. 
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

  • Mark

    Lauren, thank you so much for sharing this. It is such a breath of loving, nourishing and soulful fresh air. As a United Methodist who holds the spirit of ecumenical relationships with people of all faiths as a dear and core value, I appreciate it deeply. As I do my Catholic brothers and sisters for teaching me. You can love and hold dear your own faith and also learn from others faith. We are here to understand and learn from each other, and every human encounter can unveil the beautiful mystery of God’s undying love if we let it. God bless you. And keep sharing your faith!

    • Lauren

      Thanks for reading Mark! I’m so glad that you’ve ventured over to our world here at ACNM. We value you. I am thankful for your view of ecumenicism – what you said it true and beautiful – “and every human encounter can unveil the beautiful mystery of God’s undying love if we let it.” One of my dearest and oldest friends works for one of the Methodist Churches in Austin. I’ve learned so much from her over the years. Thank you for reading and for your encouragement!

  • Amy T.

    Amen, Lauren!!

    • Lauren

      thanks for reading Amy!

  • http://fillingmyprayercloset.com/ Cristina

    I loved walking into the office this morning, because as I scrolled up the steps, I read this! My husband is an atheist, a very supportive one at that. Our boys are in Catholic school, but we’ve already decided that they will go to public school in a couple of years. We are both products of public school. I can say that faith, is alive and well there – from all different people. It’s in public school that I learned about the Jewish faith and traditions, Muslim, Pentecostal, Mormon, Methodist and others. I converted to Catholicism in 2012 (but was baptized as a baby – not receiving any other sacraments or catechesis). My point is this, the big and loud barging in towards my little Catholic boys won’t be any different than the big and loud when they’re adults. They love God, they (super) love Mary and I know they will always, always find them.

    I just….loved.this.

    • Lauren

      Thanks so much for reading Christina! You’re very right – they’ll have this to manage for their entire lives. It’s nice to walk with them through it at the beginning, to help them and guide them. I am glad that you’re with me in this journey! :)

  • Samuel Maynes

    If you are interested in some new ideas on ecumenicism and the
    Trinity, please check out my website at http://www.religiouspluralism.ca, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be
    Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic
    theology.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan
    Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the
    Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned
    Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their
    variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas
    reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept
    of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the
    logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the
    first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known
    as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other
    names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty
    messenger prophets), and others.

    2. Christians
    and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second
    person, i.e. the experiential Universe or “Universal” Absolute
    Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna;
    represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of
    souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we
    expect will be the “body of Christ” (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or
    Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus
    Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite
    Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the
    first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality –
    unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the
    absonite* Unconditioned Absolute
    Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected
    to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being –
    represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas,
    Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological
    variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of
    the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the
    Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two
    insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions
    of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The
    ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their
    ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path
    and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit
    is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme,
    so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a
    synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe
    Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned
    Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit
    Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny
    Consummator of All That Is.

    After the Hindu
    and Buddhist conceptions, perhaps the most subtle expression and comprehensive
    symbol of the 3rd person of the Trinity is the Tao; involving the harmonization of “yin and yang” (great opposing
    ideas indentified in positive and negative, or otherwise contrasting terms). In
    the Taoist icon of yin and yang, the s-shaped line separating the black and
    white spaces may be interpreted as the Unconditioned
    “Middle Path” between condition and conditioned opposites, while the circle
    that encompasses them both suggests their synthesis in the Spirit of the “Great
    Way” or Tao of All That Is.

    If the small black
    and white circles or “eyes” are taken to represent a nucleus of truth in both
    yin and yang, then the metaphysics of this symbolism fits nicely with the
    paradoxical mystery of the Christian Holy
    Ghost; who is neither the spirit of the one nor the spirit of the other,
    but the Glorified Spirit proceeding
    from both, taken altogether – as one entity – personally distinct from his
    co-equal, co-eternal and fully coordinate co-sponsors, who differentiate from
    him, as well as mingle and meld in him.

    For more details, please see: http://www.religiouspluralism.ca

    Samuel Stuart Maynes