Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

August 9, 2009

For the Feast of Edith Stein

For the feast of Edith Stein,

Hello, dear readers. Yes, as you know, I have been remarkably absent from our blog, absent from my sisters, absent from the country….literally. But, in one week, I returned to the United States from North Africa, got engaged at the airport (yes, my now fiancé simply could not wait one more minute to propose to me after I had been gone for two months), I reserved the Church and reception site for our wedding, talked to my professors about teaching classes and my dissertation topic, and also found my wedding gown – but did not buy because it’s too expensive, but I love it. All in less than a week’s work.

I decided that today should be the day I “re-debut” – on the feast of my patroness, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, or Edith Stein. I know that she got me through this time, and for some reason, I know that St. Therese the Little Flower was with me too. I have a lot of ‘Theresa’ saints on my side. This blog will be less about Teresa and more about how she helped me get through a very difficult experience abroad. As I get myself back on track from being in Africa, I find there are so many things I need to refocus on. As I told my sisters when I returned, my time in North Africa was the most difficult time in my life. I studied Arabic intensively, did quite well in the program, I lived with a native family, I lived in a Muslim country as a Christian…and that was the most trying experience I have ever had.

Now, I have nothing against Muslims whatsoever. I think there are customs and traditions in the Muslim faith that are quite beautiful. In fact, I find the veil – the hijab – one of those beautiful traditions. While I could not agree with the reasons many women gave me for wearing the hijab (such as “I am not an object anymore when I wear it” – my reply “You were never an object, who told you that you were??”) , I could respect the women who told me that they wore the veil to show their love for Allah. But the women were such a conundrum. They wanted to be secular and worldly, but in secret. Many of them felt that if they wore the hijab (which is not compulsory in the country I was in), they would have a better chance of getting a husband because he would think she was pure and pious. But when they met me, they assumed that I must drink, have sex, live with my boyfriend – all things they wanted to do. And, they absolutely adored radical feminist authors….conundrum!!

But after being proselytized – yes everyone does indeed want you to convert – I am more confused about Islam. In the country where I lived, it seemed that the Islam practiced was more reliant upon superstition than upon faith formed in love. The God that they spoke of is a whimsical God who wills all, for good or for bad, and man must just accept it. To try to understand that will is considered irreverent. The religion practiced there was rent with a kind of worldliness that I still do not understand how to process. Now, I don’t know if this is Islam, but it is the Islam that I was exposed to while I was there….

Which brings me to the experience of being a Christian in this Muslim country. I was able to go to Mass, thank God. The Lord is so very good because He even gave me a Catholic Church within walking distance of my school. Masses were always in French, which was a shame – I would have loved to have listened to it in Arabic. But the Christians were a bit stand-offish. There is an unspoken tension there against Christians. I encountered VERY FEW Arab Christians, most were African ex-pats or European tourists (oddly, many Polish tourists in North Africa). Even the clergy members seemed skeptical of me, as I look quite Arab. It was so strange for me to be such an outsider even among my own people.

There were days, my sisters, that I would just cry and cry because I felt God was not there. There were days when my host mother showed me the virtues of my Heavenly Mother, and I was overflowing with joy. There were days when prayer was burden, and I simply had a block to prayer. There were days I doubted God, doubted the Church, doubted His Love and Grace. There were days when I did not even understand how God could let His Son die upon the Cross. There were days when nothing made sense to me whatsoever. Then there were days I would go into the Church and cry tears of joy because I knew He was there and that He loved me so much, and everything fell back into place.

But God showed me something. He revealed to me the RADICALITY of Christ’s love. He revealed to me a society that does not know Christ in His fullness – a society where Christ waits on the periphery to come in with His Light and Love. God showed me what Christ came to do. I cannot even put into words for you. It only lasted a few days, just like a little snippet of something.

I feel upon my return that if God wanted me to learn something on this time away, that it was what my name sake called “The Science of the Cross.” Edith explains, “When we speak of a science of the cross . . . we are not dealing with merely a theory . . . . Neither are we dealing with a structure built of ideas laid out in reasoned steps. We are dealing with a well-recognized truth – a theology of the cross – but living, real, and effective truth. It is buried in the soul like a seed that takes root there and grows, making a distinct impression on the soul, determining what it does and omits. . . . From this living from and strength in one’s innermost depths, a perspective of life arises, the image one has of God and of the world.” (Science of the Cross, Introduction, pp. 9-10).

I know that God is teaching me this way of life, a way of thinking, breathing – everything – through the Cross. Even though I don’t know the depths of Edith’s words, I do know that they will indeed “take root and grow” in my soul. In so many ways, I am at a threshold – a point where I can only mature in my faith. I know that God will take me there, and I trust in His Love. Oh my sisters, it feels so glorious to be home!


Margaret Perry said...

Thank you for sharing this with us! Happy feast!

Julian said...

Sounds like you're getting the invitation to share in the perspective from the cross. Usually reserved for saints, so you know what that means!

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