Sunday, 20 December 2009

Grief, Denomination and the Love of Christ

I've been surprised by my reaction to the death of our family friend and neighbour who died in early December (see here). I'd known him since being a child. Sadly he lay on his kitchen floor for a couple of days before he was found. We'd noticed his curtains shut for two days but presumed he was ill. After he didn't answer his phone for a couple of days one of his closest friends called the police. Before we knew he'd died Mum and I prayed for him. Later that day I stood outside my Mum's looking at his house and silently asked God if he was OK. I felt such peace I can't describe. I didn't know then that he'd already gone. An hour later my Mum rang and said, "I've had a shock T-'s died". It was then that I took the peace that I felt to be God's comfort that all was well - that T- had gone to be with Him.

I still feel grief now, he wasn't family or a very close friend, but just a good neighbour and a friend to our family for years (he moved next door to us [Mum & Dad's] the day I was born - he always for this reason remembered my birthday). I am surprised though by my reaction and grief; I don't know whether I should be surprised that I feel grief or surprised that I am surprised!

After attending the Requiem Mass I really wanted to know more about what T- believed. He was a Catholic. We'd discussed church and faith only very lightly, I think my Mum had gone a little deeper with him. But he was very private about his faith. However, the experience has made me think also deeper about my own faith and where I am in the grand scheme of things. It has also made me think about how much blogging amongst women of various denominations has affected me and the way I perceive other Christians.

I have a deep love for Jesus Christ and my church and have been going to church since I was 4 and studied Christianity to A' level at school; however I was very naive about the denominational differences and arguments that existed in Christianity (my own church has always taught love for one another and our pastor tries to avoid the direct criticism of particular denominations). Outside of Anglican wrangling over women priests and knowing that Mormons didn't believe Jesus is God I knew very little. Indeed I remember a Catholic friend from university saying to me that she believed that anyone who wasn't R. Catholic was going to go to hell - I was taken aback, "But all Christians go to heaven", I said. This exchange happened whilst I was inter-railing around Europe, at the time we were in Venice. It was the same day that in a small chapel in Venice as I contemplated a crucifix that I was suddenly flooded with the beautiful realisation that Jesus loved me. It was no longer a head knowledge but a heart knowledge. From then on my faith took on a new lease of life, I call this my 'born-again' moment. Although I had professed faith years before, this was the first time I had had a deep spiritual sense of Christ.

When I started blogging I was still pretty naive about inter-denominational differences, I thought we were all one big happy family (barring the odd row here and there). But I soon found out that they existed, and it could get quite acrimonious. I plunged in and researched and researched - and kind of got myself a bit muddled at times. I decided this was true, that was true...but then perhaps not, perhaps so. I argued for this, worried about that, got in a twist about this, lost sleep about that.

I think really I have come full circle. I like the naivety of a simple faith (it's a lot easier to handle, lol!), but I am fascinated by history and I do like to understand where other Christians are coming from; and like all Christians I want to know the truth. The trouble is we Christians all believe we are right about our own particular doctrine and are desperate to refute everyone else and to convert people to our way of thinking. Every section holds up the Bible and claims they have the true interpretation.

I have been reading up about Catholicism to try to understand T-'s faith, I don't think I am any closer to any kind of understanding because there is SO much information. I truly believe T is in heaven, I believe he knew Jesus and loved God. I say this because of the peace I felt before I knew he'd died. I know, that feelings can be deceptive - but the peace and comfort was indescribable.

I don't think any denomination has got it right entirely. If you read the arguments back and forth each side can be very convincing, but it can also get nasty. As long as we don't return to the days of rabid religious persecution among Christians - I just read about reformers during Henry VII's time burning Friar Forest over a fire built of images he had sought to protect! I suppose we now resort to flaming one another verbally. Perhaps I am too woolly.

I realise this post has no conclusion or core premise. I'm just rambling because of all the feelings T-'s death has brought up. It does, however, make me want to draw closer to Christ, which is always a good thing. However, my aim is not to spark a big debate about the rightness or wrongness of any particular denomination. I know that passions can run high and people can be hurt. Plus there are plenty of apologetics sites and forums that are better informed for a deep discussion.

I believe that this experience has taught me one thing, that it is the love of Christ that conquers all - knowledge will pass away. It's brought me back to that chapel in Venice, where Jesus showed me His love for me; in that moment of peace outside my Mum's house He showed me His love for T-.

I love my church and I love Jesus, that's my base for the journey. Perhaps this is just another step on the road as I strain towards the beautiful goal that St. Paul described in his epistles.

Peace and love in Christ to everyone who reads here.

NB: After writing this post, I came across this quote:

"You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you"
St. Augustine.

7 comments:

  1. Sarah the more you search the more confused you can become. I tried to study for awhile and I couldn't come up with any definite answers about this church or that church having all the answers. This I know:
    When I die I will go to heaven because Jesus died on the cross for me. I can't buy my way there, I can't be perfect enough to go there. He died for me. I am one of His children. Just like the thief that hung on the cross with Jesus and was saved.
    God Bless

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  2. Thanks Joyce. I don't really know what I was trying to say with my post. It's a muddle of feelings I think dealing with a variety of things going on in my head.

    I'm not in a state of losing my faith or wanting to leave my church. But I have got myself in quite a tangle on occasion over this and that.

    It's a few things that have happened, the death of our friend and neighbour and the deep comfort I felt before I even knew he'd died. I suppose I'm trying to make sense of it all.

    Lol, even this comment doesn't make sense!

    xx

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  3. I questioned my Dad about this years ago when a friend died who was not from 'my' church. He wisely said
    "Your friend has passed from us into the hands of a loving God - and who could wish him to be anywhere else?"
    Hang on to that - and the simple truth "Jesus loves me - this I know, for the Bible tells me so"
    Wrestle with the theology later!!!!
    New Year Blessings [oh and thanks for all your lovely comments on my blog]

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  4. I'm behind on blog reading and reading some of your posts out of order :).

    As you know from my blog, I am Catholic. I was brought up Methodist, in a very solidly Methodist family. My dad remained Methodist until he died; my mum is now a reader in the Church of England, and I converted to Catholicism in my 20s. I stopped attending church as a teenager, so it wasn't a case of switching from Methodist to Catholic, more of deciding where to drop back into Christianity. If you would like to read a blog post I wrote a couple of years about my conversion, you can find it here.

    If you want to know what the Catholic Church teaches, the best place to look is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Not an easy read, but it does go straight to the horse's mouth (so to speak) and avoids all the horrible internet mud-slinging on both sides. This is what the Catechism has to say about non-Catholic Christians ...

    "All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements. Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity." (CCC 818-9)

    What it boils down to is the heart of the Church is Christ, and all who believe in Christ are part of the Church in its fullest sense.

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  5. Thanks Bookworm. The mudslinging is sad. Particularly as Christians we ought to be aiming at being 'one' as Christ put it. Not that it's likely we'll all agree on doctrine but that we ought to love one another as family does.

    Thanks for the link to your conversion I'll read that with interest.
    x

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  6. Thanks for your comment on my post, Sarah. I have a book written by a blogging friend that has the best explanation of the whole Marian thing that I have seen. I have a feeling you would enjoy it - Karen has a very friendly, easy to read writing voice. If you would like to borrow it you would be welcome ... but don't worry, I shan't be offended in the least if you don't want to! If you want you can email me at thebookworm ( at ) tiscali.co.uk.

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