My New Gateway Drug

Last week I was in Geneva for a few days related to my role with the Innovation Fund.  I arrived mid-afternoon, so I quickly took a bus and headed for the historic Old City, where I soon found myself at Calvin Auditory, a small chapel next to the old cathedral that was long ago stripped of its religious symbols and whitewashed inside as a result of the confrontive preaching of John Calvin, the great reformer.  Entering this unassuming former hotbed of the Reformation, I stumbled into the rehearsal of a dozen women who were preparing for a concert of sacred choral music, a style I’ve grown to love more each year.  Inside this small and spare, almost tomb-like, auditorium, the lovely Latin phrases wafted all round me, as I sat quietly on the back row, trying not to be expelled from their private session.
I think of Calvin, not because I was ever much of a fan, but because I owe a debt to him and to other theologians, Catholic, Reformed and Orthodox.  I netted it out today to Janet, as we sat on a bench enjoying a little picnic on a hillside at nearby St. Michael’s Abbey, before walking the Stations of the Cross there (including a powerful encounter I’ll save for next Good Friday).
“Theology was my gateway drug,” I announced to her. It’s true: My faith needed to get past the gateway of my brain before my heart could truly become enveloped in the love of God in Christ.  I needed to believe that it all more or less made sense to me intellectually in order to ally the doubts that would revisit me regarding this somewhat radical path I/we had taken.
But now that I am hopelessly in love with Jesus, theology has become less important to me; almost an annoyance at times.  You see, I no longer have to understand how — or even if — the whole theological house of cards fits together just so.  In fact, I rather believe that if I could understand all that God is about, I’ve probably invented that god.
I find that nowadays my doubts are actually about my theology, not about God’s care for me or my love for Jesus.  And I’m even finding some strange inexplicable comfort when I face those doubts head on and don’t try to resolve them.  There’s an honesty about it, which I hope makes me more approachable and more willing to listen to others.  I read a devotional the other day where the author, a “contemplative,” demystified that term by equating it with “nonjudgmental listening.”  I liked that; these days I enjoy contemplating other people’s viewpoints.  I’m not afraid of doing so, I suppose because my bedrock of faith feels solid, that its foundations are set firmly in love, not in my limited understanding.
So instead, I’m finding a new gateway drug these days: sacred music, and language that is poetic enough to allow in some mystery.  And so it was that after traveling the Stations today, I went for a bike ride up Trabuco Creek Canyon while listening to a few sacred songs performed by the Westminster Chorus*, one in Latin, one Russian Orthodox, and then in English “Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go.”  This last piece is a perfect illustration of my new gateway to communion with God, and a beautiful exclamation of love’s antiphonal call back to Love, and of the impact of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
I’m pasting a YouTube link:, which I encourage you to listen to while meditating on the lyrics below.  
O Love That Will Not Let Me Go, Lyrics by George Mattheson
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Eastertide blessings,
March 2013
*  Not to be confused with Westminster Abbey or Cathedral (though they won “Choir of the World” in 2009 in a UK contest), the Westminster Chorus is a group of over 100 young men from Orange County, CA.  All are under age 35, and they’ve won every international barbershop competition they’ve entered since 2007– they are the future of barbershop singing, but they do so much more…  They are worth any chance to hear them perform.  The album is featured on their website, or buy it here:  By the way,the other two sacred songs I mentioned are from the same album: Bogoroditse Devo and Lux Aurumque.

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