Sunday, October 11, 2009

Because I Ate But Was Not Satisfied

“What's Haggai to me, or me to Haggai?” or so I thought until this morning, when I read the beginning of the Book of the Prophet Haggai in the day's Office. Haggai is a "minor prophet," after all. As a convert coming late to the game, I don't have time for "minor" prophets. Do I?

Then Haggai described exactly what I felt in the years before I was received into the Church:

Now thus says the Lord of hosts: 
Consider your ways!
You have sown much, but have brought in little;
you have eaten, but have not been satisfied;
You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated; 
have clothed yourselves, but not been warmed; 
And he who earned wages
earned them for a bag with holes in it.

When I was moving from high school into college, I was searching, as many people do at that age. I left the Episcopal Church and began an eastward journey, studying zen meditation, yoga, sufism—which is to say non-Christian spiritual traditions. Finally, and through a sort of minor grace (since we're concerned today with a minor prophet), I encountered a way of being and doing in the world that I found deeply satisfying—for a time. Without going into specifics, I can say that there came a period of disillusionment with this way, partly on philosophical grounds. And the experience felt just like this: eating without satisfaction, drinking without exhilaration, earning money and finding that it slipped through the holes in my bag. In other words, going through the motions. I imagine that many people find themselves in this situation.

It was very hard to admit to myself that I was not satisfied, that nothing was sticking. I loved the people with whom I had entered into this way of life, I still do. And this way was for me an entire life, all-consuming, and as such it was the only way I knew or could imagine. I remained on this way for many years, partly through devotion to friends, partly through inertia, partly through fear of setting out in any other direction.

Fortunately, I did not have to build a temple, as Haggai instructs. The temple was there in my path. It had been literally across the street from my office since I first arrived in town. The temple was called St. Mary Star of the Sea Church. However, I do understand, from Cyril of Alexandria's commentary on Haggai, which accompanies the prophet in today's Office, that a different kind of construction project is asked from all of us who call ourselves Catholics:

Haggai, therefore, declares that peace will be given to all who build. One builds the Church either as a teacher of the sacred mysteries, as one set over the house of God, or as one who works for his own good by setting himself forth as a living and spiritual stone in the holy temple, God's dwelling place in the Spirit. The results of these efforts will profit such men so that each will be able to gain his own salvation without difficulty.

Construction in progress . . . The work goes slow, but it does satisfy.