Through a Glass Darkly

July 27th, 2021

 “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12

“The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself.” – Thales

“Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.” – Alan Watts

I got a text a couple days ago from my sister-in-law, Shawn. She wrote:

“You were in the Eagle yesterday.” (“The Eagle” is the local newspaper in College Station, Texas. That is where Shawn resides.)

She continued in her next text:

“A much edited version of what I had written on my blog.”

I wrote back to her, “That’s disturbing.”

I got a “LOL” back from her.

I did not know what she was talking about, so I asked her to send me a link to the article. Shawn writes a regular column in “The Eagle”. She generally writes about religion.

Shawn wrote about my interactions with members of various faith traditions. Everything she wrote was positive. However, reading the article made me uneasy. I kept thinking,

“Did I actually say that? Did I do that? Is this what I am like?”

It was like the feeling I get when I hear a recording of my own voice. It takes a moment for me to realize, “Oh yeah, that’s me.”

There is nothing in Shawn’s essay that struck me as being incorrect. I am certain that she was as accurate as she could be. It just felt weird to see myself through someone else’s eyes. I write about other people all the time (I’m doing it right now), and I assume that I am being objective.

Maybe I’m not.

I don’t really know other people very well. The fact is that I don’t myself very well either. As the Apostle Paul said, “We see through a glass darkly.” Maybe God knows me, but He doesn’t like to pass on that information.

The Buddhists insist that there is no “me” to know. The “I” that I think I know is simply an illusion, a mirage. Maybe they’re right.

Maybe my goal in life is discover who I really am.

I haven’t figured that out yet.

Here is her article. Read it if you want.

“Journey through other beliefs leads to better understanding of personal faith”

Sitting on cushions at a low table, enjoying shisha from a shared hookah, I have set out to interview Frank, my first late husband’s oldest brother, about his experiences of inter-religious dialogue.

Shawn Chapman

I have been reflecting on Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document on the relationship of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions. It seems to me that Frank is a living example of what respectful friendship between the faiths could look like if taken seriously and personally, lived out in individual relationships and respectful, curious overtures, even shared prayer.

Francis K. Pauc is a West Point graduate, Army veteran, father and volunteer. He is a recently retired dock foreman of a shipping company, a devout Catholic who is active in his parish, and he agreed to talk about his journey.

He is also the token Catholic at the Buddhist Sangha at Milwaukee Zen Center, frequent attendee of the Orthodox Jewish synagogue in his area, and he now and then hangs out at his local mosque. He is a regular visitor at the Sikh temple in his neighborhood.

Fortunately, his journey learning about other faiths is among his favorite subjects.

When did he first learn about other religions, I ask.

Frank says his first real look at another religion was learning about Islam in the Army, since he had to learn Arabic. Then he took a refresher course in Arabic, years later, at a Muslim culture center. He made friends there. They didn’t talk about faith all the time. They moved from learning Arabic to talking about their kids, their wives, their work, their daily lives.

After 9/11, Frank wanted to do something personal to cross the widening divide in our country between non-Muslim Americans and Muslim Americans. He ended up going by the mosque. He found the front locked so he went around back to the kitchen. “I thought you guys might need friends.”

“Are you Muslim?”

“No. I am a Catholic.”

Frank is the only person I know who would show up to an unfamiliar place of worship and ask, “Anybody want to talk about God?”

Years ago, Frank says, he became curious about the Sikh temple in his neighborhood. He smiles when he remembers his visits there. “They always feed you. You never leave without eating.”

The desire for contemplative prayer was what got Frank to visit the Zen Center in the first place. He had tried to find a place to learn forms of Christian contemplative prayer and practice in a group and had not found one. So he went and sat with the Buddhists. Frank became part of the life of the Sangha, even though there are some things that as a Catholic he can’t do.

He decided to learn more, and he loved hanging around. They appreciated his thoughts as a Christian. He liked sitting in silence with them.

Going to “Zen practice” regularly brought visible changes to Frank. He became more open, peaceful, even playful, less grumpy.

He says getting to know his friends at the Zen Center helped him delve into his own faith and prayer traditions all the more.

“It’s made me a better Catholic.”

He says learning about how other people love and understand God is an act of love.

I asked him what drew him to visit the Orthodox synagogue in particular. He said it was because that was the closest synagogue to his house. “What made you want to learn more about Judaism?” One of his more rare expressions crosses his face; an innocent, child-like look. “Because I wanted to understand.”

He says he became close with the rabbi there and began to take Hebrew lessons. He was often invited to dinner at the rabbi’s house, and even to Passover. He says he doesn’t think anyone can have the fullest appreciation for their Christianity if they don’t get to know Judaism. He said attending their liturgies changed him as a lector at his parish. He grew in his appreciation of the Scripture and reading the Old Testament at Mass was a more profound experience after seeing the solemn and reverent way it is read in the synagogue.

He still likes going to the synagogue regularly.

Frank says Jesus was a good Jew, and that he thinks of Jesus as his older brother. I smile, remembering that is what John Paul II said about the Jewish people. They are our older brother.

I say that it strikes me that his inter-religious ministry and journey seem to be about making personal connections, about being a friend. He agrees with that, though he says he is less conscious of that than just wanting to understand others and share with them. He feels compelled about this.

He says he is most impressed by the people who are deeply and “completely sold” on their religion. He respects those who have “their faith woven into the fabric of their everyday life. When it’s just who they are.” Those are the people it’s easiest to talk to, and who return the interest he gives to them about their faith.

At times he has wondered if he should stop hanging around Buddhists and the Orthodox Jews. They were quick to say they needed him around and enjoyed what he had to say. They felt spiritually uplifted by him.

At one time in his life, following a series of crises, he struggled with his faith. It was his friends at the Zen Center and the synagogue who said, “Whatever you do, don’t leave the Catholic church.” They cared more than anyone else, he said.

(Bryan resident Shawn Manning Chapman, a twice-widowed mom of two daughters, is a Secular Discalced)

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