Sometimes I am overwhelmed, as I stand with my sons in the cathedral, by the feeling of safety. It’s not something I ever felt in church as a child. In those days I felt out of place. I thought I was pitied or judged because my parents weren’t there. I felt condemned by an angry god who demanded something I could not give.
Only later did I realize that I was pitying myself for not having a functional family, that most people cared more about what went on up front than they did about the comings and goings of an awkward boy. Still later I realized the hateful god of my childhood was the creation of dead men who had long ago come unmoored from the Church.
Church was never, however, a sanctuary. Not like this.
The world is filled up to groaning with untruths. They hook themselves into our flesh and hearts, tugging us in wrong directions, distorting us. We learn hunger for what does not fill, thirst for what does not slake, longing for what brings no comfort. We are taught that none of us is beautiful. We come to feel we do not belong. We come to believe that home is a house, and love a feeling.
The world overflows with untruth, and our children are tempted to drink from this arid fountain every day. All that protects them are the adults with eyes to see and hearts that love, the fierce and present Spirit of God, and the intransigent Church.
I am a parent with clouded eyes and a scorched heart, which means that every day I battle not just the world but myself, and it is for them, has always been for them; without them I would likely founder. The rooms where they sleep have crosses and icons and they are prayed in more than any other rooms I traverse, and this more in desperation than confidence, a sense that I am not enough, can never be enough, that one more whispered prayer, a cross over the bed, a blessing muttered over their sleeping heads can fill the gap, fill their hearts with what is good, so there is no room left for the great black empty of not God.
All of this is an admission that I haven’t enough confidence in the intellect, in theirs or mine, that with enough verses memorized and catechisms embraced they can reason their ways to heaven. They know more verses by heart, these children, than I, but it’s the heart we must protect, the heart that too often can be overcome even as we stand vigilant at the doorway to the mind.
There are days I think my heart is too far gone, but not theirs, not theirs. In the cathedral filled with word and prayer and song, where they are surrounded by a cloud of heaven-bound witnesses, I can rest. This is the feeling. Sanctuary from the world, from myself. For these two hours they are safe.