As I feared, this blog has replaced my old handwritten journals. I simply don't have time for both. In many ways I prefer the blog because it forces me to bring some order to the thoughts rolling around my head. That is good. But sometimes I need a place to record memories - the raw material for future contemplation. Unprocessed, stream of consciousness journaling does not make good reading, but it is good for the writer - a way of "treasuring things in one's heart."
I have many memories from my trip to Rome which need remembering. Since I don't have an active journal, I will record them here on the blog in a rather raw form, expecting that the Spirit will help me understand these gifts in deeper, fuller ways in days yet to come.
I began my journey to Rome with a bit of repentance. Before I left, I wrote that I did not like flying which was true enough. But as the time of the trip drew near, I was increasingly aware of the richness of this gift - being in Rome for a week of prayer with dear brothers and sisters! I determined to be grateful for every part of the journey, even the travel. And I must say, it was by far the most enjoyable series of flights I have ever had.
The first leg of the trip took me from Austin to Charlotte, which was the most Christian feeling city I have ever visited. In Charlotte I overheard several phone conversations which referenced God, Jesus, or "Kingdom work." Store clerks wished customers a blessed day. But what really got to me was the bathroom attendant. Her mere presence surprised me, and her joyful service touched me in an unexpected way. "Welcome to Charlotte, beautiful ladies! You are welcome here. Do you need a towel? a mint? Have a wonderful, blessed day." My kids would have laughed to see the tears welling in my eyes.
On my flight to New York I overheard an elderly woman giving some fellow passengers tips about the layout of JFK - where to eat, what trains to take, etc. One of the passengers asked her, "How do you know JFK so well?"
"My husband and I were married there forty years ago," she replied.
"Why there?" the man asked.
"Because it was the only chapel we could afford," she laughed.
That story evoked a bittersweet smile from me - happy that she spoke with fondness of a wedding and marriage forty years old. Happy that any place can become a holy place. Sad that lack of money could keep anyone out of a proper church.
The flight to Rome was undersold, granting us passengers a little leg room. The plane was old, and the entertainment system failed, which gave us another unexpected gift. There was nothing to do except to talk.
"What takes you to Rome?" asked a lady across the aisle from me.
"I am going to a conference of Protestant and Catholic Christians to pray for unity in the church and repent for sins which have led to our division." (I am not usually this forthright, but a commitment to engage my fellow travelers in any desired conversation was part of my repentance.)
"Really?" she asked. "You must be Protestant, right?"
"No, I am Catholic, " I responded. At that, her brother began to cheer. He was sitting behind me, eavesdropping. So I quickly added, "But I used to be Protestant, and I love both churches. I believe the division between Christians grieves God's heart."
This woman in her late fifties looked at me, as guileless as any child, and asked "How do you know what God feels?"
An excellent question, and a humbling one. How indeed can any human know the mind of God?
I had to think. I explained what I understood from scripture. I told her about my personal experience of God - the witness of the Holy Spirit in one's heart, dreams which I felt came from God, the testimony of other followers of Christ.
Her question reminded me of the danger of presumption, of assuming that one knows the full counsels of God. And yet, if God is entirely unknowable, what hope do we have?