Monday, July 2, 2012

Liberation


This morning, I started thinking about the Fourth of July. I don’t have any plans this year, other than to stay in and avoid the heat and crowds. As I was thinking about the holiday, I remembered the time I spent in England two years ago. (Two years and a lifetime.) The Fourth was on Sunday that year, and in class that Monday, our teacher asked us (a class of mostly Americans), “Now, what do you do to celebrate, shoot fireworks and eat turkey?” Eh, mostly right. It’s a small memory that always makes me smile. Then I suddenly remembered how I had celebrated that year. That Fourth of July was the day the class had visited the Bronte house and museum in Haworth.

Haworth. The name of the little village has come to mean something personal to me. Looking back over my spiritual journey, I see the afternoon I spent at the church in Haworth as a turning point, a moment of planting that has continued to grow inside me. 

This is an excerpt from the journal I kept for my class while studying in Manchester. From July 5, 2010:   

view of St. Michael and All Angels from parsonage
As we walked to the museum earlier that day, I noticed the elderly women of the village, inching over the cobbled stone into the church (St. Michael and All Angels), the one Patrick Bronte served. The reverend in his white collar welcomed them, holding the door open. I wanted to go inside, to join them, to worship instead of tour. House furniture from the 1840s looks the same on both sides of the Atlantic--wooden, dark, heavy. But when else would I have the opportunity to compare American Episcopalian with Church of England? When I returned to the church, around 2 p.m., the service was long over, the members long gone, the space served up to tourists who bothered to enter and see where the Bronte vault was, where Rev. Bronte preached, where little old ladies probably gossiped about how unfortunate it was for those Bronte girls to be old maids. Churches seem to always have two histories: one of the universal Church and one of the community who made that particular church the center of their lives. If I was ever close to find the Brontes’ spirits, it was there. A small plaque listed all the reverends who had served the church. P. Bronte, listed somewhere in the middle. No special recognition. That seemed the most real to me. The Bronte sisters were educated, and their books sold well, but moreover, every day in Haworth during their lives, they were just members of the community, Rev. Bronte's daughters. Branwell walked down the path past the church to the pub and stumbled back up. They set in the pews each Sunday morning. That is what is worth seeing in Haworth.

It was raining that day, so I had forgone the walk to the moors to just sit in the church. I felt called to just sit in that church. And maybe for the first time ever, I just sat. I let myself do nothing more than exist in a holy space, in silence, alone. I was inspired to write poetry, pouring out emotions in a way I usually didn’t. I prayed to God for help (I was going through some relationship issues that had been magnified by me going overseas for the summer). And I heard God answer. It was an experience I had had before, but not often, and the unexpectedness and the power of this kind of relationship with God was still new and unsettling and exciting to me, though mostly just confusing. At the time, I didn’t have any inkling about the spiritual changes about to take place. The signs were there but I couldn’t read them yet.

But I did know there was something special about that afternoon. A few weeks later in my journal, writing about heading home, I wrote, “A religious experience in Haworth doesn’t mean I’m converting to Church of England.” And maybe not. But maybe it was a hint of my conversion to Catholicism. Now I know the power of just being with God, alone and silent. 

And so I remember Haworth as a step in my spiritual journey instead of a place of literary tourism. And I didn’t celebrate American independence that year. Yet it was still a day of my liberation.

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