Friday, while on a little tourist-y jaunt of the neighborhood, we stopped in a small town not far from here and visited a Roman Catholic church I'd seen a dozen times before, but had never entered. It was gorgeous--inside and out. And it's clear, just from the foyer, that the place has been renewed by the Hispanic folks who've come, in droves, to the area in the last decade.
There's a new Protestant church in another town not far from here. It meets in the showroom of a used car lot. When pendulums swing, as they tend too, some day we'll look back on our places of worship, on parking lots and empty shopping malls, and wonder what good Christian people thought. Just being there, in that old Roman Catholic church, midday, no one else around, was a blessing. The slant of an afternoon sun streamed through the stained glass, and the altar up front, with its towering spires, seemed reaching for God.
Just exactly how deep its legacy runs is hard to measure, I'm sure, but I am, inescapably, a child of Reformation. But the poet on my tour was an old Irish Catholic, who nearly swooned when she stood inside that old church, the old and deeply traditional sanctuary left her almost speechless.
"You know," she said, finally, pointing at the walls,"all that stained glass and all those pewter images of the stations of the cross--you know why, don't you?"
I could have told her the Sunday School answer, of course--that Roman Catholics had a penchant for breaking the commandments and worshiping statues. Just look at those silly saints on their dashboards. That's what I could have said.
"So many people were illiterate," she said. She'd been talking about her own Irish Catholic family not long before, their eccentricities and odd histories. "They couldn't read the Bible themselves, of course, so the pictures all around--they were teaching tools. That's how they learned the story."
Even though I'm 60 years old, unlearning the half-truths of one's childhood is still a joy. Honestly, I feel immensely richer, having learned that all those graven images, all those colorful sun-lit stories around me were little more than a flannel board, just infinitely more beautiful.
For that lesson in history, this child of the Reformation is muchly grateful this morning .