Monday, September 6, 2010

The Searching Heart

It was a warm summer evening when the taxi pulled up outside the presbytery in a London suburb. A woman about sixty years of age rushed out, her face flushed as she greeted the Irish visitor. "Oh heavens above, I'm so sorry, there has been a terrible mix up. Your room is already taken." The grey haired lady introduced herself as Claudia Winston. "Please do come to my home, there is no one there as my two sons are away for the summer. I'm a widow and would be glad to have company. The talks for the month on the spiritual life & new evangelisation will begin as scheduled for nine in the morning. Let’s go to my house now, it’s just around the corner. I’ll show you around the centre in the morning.”

Catherine woke up to a continual drone of distant traffic. As she lay there, she looked at a hand painting on the wall opposite her. She studied the young Geisha girl, dressed in Madam Butterfly costume, sitting on the lawn under a willow tree, holding an open hand fan over her white face. Above the painting a scroll cloth with Japanese writing left her intrigued. To the left of her bed, a corner book shelf containing four rows of books caught her attention. She leaned over and let her fingers trail along the titles until she stopped at a slim book of essays. Sitting up she opened the front page and read down the awarded titles. 'Snow bound...by Edward Winston…page seven.’ She turned the pages to the titled essay written by Claudia’s son and skirted over the paragraphs until she stopped half way. "…I drove deep into the countryside. The beauty of nature whispered to me, almost beckoning me to learn silence, to know solitude. I stopped driving and got out, the click of the car door, the only sound; I remained standing there, beneath the umbrella of an aisle of trees. Suddenly the softest, whitest snow flakes floated dreamily over me and then onto my face and shoulders. Purity of untouched beauty sang her song and no one could interrupt my memories, my sorrowful regrets...." "Good morning!" Catherine jumped, startled as Claudia arrived in with a tray of tea and toast. "Oh, I'm so sorry; I didn't expect you to bring breakfast up to me,” the house guest apologised. "No trouble at all. You needed to rest after the long journey. Why not join me in the garden for a second cup of tea before we get moving?"

Claudia spoke with pride about her two children, their high academic achievements and their plans. “My husband died in an accident seven years ago so it hasn’t been easy.” She began clearing the table before taking out some bread and cheese. Catherine was not quite sure whether the well spoken elite English accent by her hostess was a naturally inherited one, or one that was acquired through practice. Somehow the latter seemed to be the case as Claudia slapped on margarine between two slices of brown bread, before adding processed cheese topped with Yorkshire relish sauce. "What ministry do you work in?" Catherine asked as she sipped her tea. "I’m a Eucharistic Minister for those who can't attend church, due to illness, but I’m also involved in the prayer group ministry, a core team of six who pray with people. I think I am called to be involved in praying for men with homosexual problems." "Why do you feel called to homosexual ministry?" her guest asked, surprised at the self selected choice of ministry. "I think my son Edward is gay. I find him quite difficult. Edward is an accountant. He came first in his exams. Now my other son, Stephen is wonderful. He has just finished college and has started work as a marketing consultant." Sandwiches wrapped, she picked up her Bible, and then checked her lipstick with her pocket mirror. "Well, my dear, let's go and meet the rest of the group.”

It was Wednesday evening, into the third week of her stay in London, when the phone rang. "Why didn't you tell me you were returning home? You were supposed to be in Japan until September?" The strained edge in Claudia's raised voice was a sudden change to her guest. "Alright, I will collect you but you should have told me." She replaced the phone receiver abruptly. “That was my son; he is at Heathrow airport and wants me to collect him. This is very inconvenient," she said to Catherine with an angry expression on her face. “I’ll be back in an hour.”

The sound of voices drifted up the corridor. Catherine sat on the bed, drumming her fingers on her lap, wondering if she should stay there for a while and let Claudia have time with her son. Suddenly the bedroom door opened. The young Irish woman was so taken aback she was unable to find her voice, as the tall sandy haired, handsome man looked down at her sitting there. In an unexpected gentle manner, which touched the heart of Catherine, he smiled and extended his hand. "I'm Edward.” “I'm so sorry.” She stood up. “There was a mix up in accommodation and your mom...." "No, please don't explain. It's perfectly alright. My room was not exactly prepared for a guest, though!" Catherine looked to the right and left of where she stood and said in a whisper, "I'm in your room?" "Oh dear," Claudia interrupted, arriving at the door; "I forgot about this and meant to give you the other room."

The strain and tension between mother and son was rapidly growing as the three adults sat down to dinner. Claudia spoke to her son in a manner that was curt and somewhat cold. He became awkward at the table and suddenly shy. “He does not look twenty nine years old,” Catherine thought as he turned to speak to his mom. “He looks so much older and wiser, and perhaps much too experienced in the ways of the world for me to know.” The young Japanese lady came to mind as she looked at him again. Aware of her simple cotton summer dress, with her hair tied back in a rolled knot, she saw her self as a very ordinary woman. “Someone who must look suitable for convent entry,” she thought to herself smiling, but content in her own freedom. He was looking at her again, almost as if he read her thoughts and smiled back at her, a glimpse of amusement in his eyes. Tensions grew as mother and child ran out of conversation. Catherine wanted to ask about Japan. "I think the Japanese women are known for their gracious manner and their delicate beauty, would that be true?" she asked Edward, as Claudia poured his coffee. His face lit up as the conversation turned to Japan and he began to chat with an obvious affection for the Japanese people. Claudia suddenly stood up and said she had to visit a friend so did not have time to linger. Taking her Bible from the hall table, she walked out. Edward put down his coffee cup and stared at the table cloth for some moments before excusing himself. Upstairs the bedroom door shut with a bang and a sad silence filled the house.

"Good morning." Catherine opened her eyes and looked up to see Edward standing at the open patio doors in his faded wrangler jeans, a coffee cup in his hand, his hair still wet from the shower. "Do you usually stand there and watch people while they are praying?" she asked, a little self conscious. "No, but I am intrigued by your arrival here. Why do you pray?" he asked, pulling up another sun chair beside the rose bush. "When you want to know someone, when you feel something special in their friendship, you want to be with them, right? For me, to pray is to be with God," she replied, finding herself at ease with his gentle presence. "Mom told me on the way home from the airport that you have lived like a hermit for the past ten years, is this true?" he asked directly. "Not like a hermit, but maybe a semi-hermit, yes." "So did you go to university before that?" "No." "Why not?" he asked, a desperate curiosity racing through his thoughts. "They can’t teach the interior life in university, they can’t teach what I wanted to know," she smiled. "Which is...?" he waited. "Which are the things of God. There is the knowledge of experience and the experience of knowledge. There is the spirituality of the heart.” Edward looked intently at the young woman sitting beside him. He was enamoured by her peaceful disposition, her detachment from so much, including his mother. He was drawn to her obvious love affair with heaven and the beauty of the divine, which he sensed from her. But most of all he sensed in her a love that carried justice, a love still young. His gaze upon her was gentle and caring, curious and somewhat penetrating, a searching gaze that made no apologies, leaving her feeling exposed yet undisturbed. Peace fell over them like two souls brought together on a bridge of borrowed time. Here in the garden, the mirror of his soul sent S.O.S. messages to a woman of prayer who found a sincere plea in his eyes and in his ongoing questions. Time passed unnoticed as they both sat in the enclosed garden on a quiet Sunday morning.

The following evening Edward was listening to the radio with the news of the suicide of a local young man. The parents of the dead youth knew he was homosexual and had crushed their son with verbal abuse. Unaware of the front door closing with the radio volume on high, the house guest heard the broadcast as she walked into the kitchen and saw Edward’s face shake in horror and disbelief, as he stood looking out the garden window. Catherine coughed and he swung around. "How long are you standing there?" he asked in an angry tone. Before she could answer he flicked the radio switch off and marched out of the kitchen. Again, the bedroom door upstairs shut with a bang, leaving Catherine in deep thought. In the garden, led by the Spirit of God, she offered her rosary for Edward, and for the pain she saw on his face.

It was the last weekend of Catherine’s stay in London, when she heard the raised voices beneath her window sill. It was still early as she finished her morning coffee. She had left her bedroom window open with the heat wave that hung over London. She leaned her elbows on the sill and looked down into the pretty garden below. Edward had set the summer table with a full breakfast that looked so inviting. He was placing fresh scones just out of the oven, onto a plate. “You should have asked me, I don’t have time to have breakfast with you,” Claudia said to her son in an irritated tone. “You never have time to sit with me, you don’t even want Catherine to sit with me,” Edward replied, his face red with stress and upset. “I prepared this especially...” Before he could continue his mother took out her pocket mirror, and rechecked her lipstick. “I have to go out and do some early shopping. Not now, haven’t time,” she shouted over her shoulder, as she walked out of the house. Edward slumped into a chair, his face buried in his hands. A sight which gripped Catherine’s heart as she slipped back down onto the bed and started to pray.

Catherine continued to pray daily for Edward, at Mass and in the evening. As she prayed for him, she became more aware of his gentleness of soul, his yearning for love, his longing for truth, his desire to return to the Church, his seeking for sincere friendship. He shunned from superficiality, and from toe dipping in shallow waters. He wanted authentic witness, he wanted to walk where buds would bloom, where pain would open up to redemptive grace, where the educated could learn what the heart wants to experience. It would not be an easy journey for him but Catherine knew he thirsted for all of this. She knew little about homosexuality, but now she knew the man in question and the heart that she saw through the eyes of grace. The rest would unfold as it should, according to his desire for truth and love, for confessions and conversion which every pilgrim participates in.

“Mom hides behind the Bible; she escapes reality by always running away, by always propping an image of God up in front of us. Yet she is not able to sit with herself and others, or to converse naturally without having to bring in prayer, prayer meetings and so forth.” He spoke openly as they cleaned up after dinner. “She sees that everyone has issues that need to be addressed but does not see the need for her own issues to be addressed. Pride is a terrible thing. My brother and I find religion so off putting.” “Some people stay in the same spot without moving on in themselves.” Catherine said. Edward walked over to her. “I want to return to the Church, I want to know Him.”

When the morning arrived for her departure she had a short while alone with Claudia’s son in the garden. “Why did you really return home early?” she asked him. “When my brother phoned to tell me about a missionary lady, in her early thirties, who was in mom’s house I thought it may be an answer to prayer, or to the beginning of prayer,” he smiled. “Is there more to a Geisha girl than mere high society socialising?” she asked unexpectedly. He looked at her, a serious look that searched her face and he knew he couldn’t lie. “Yes, there is more to the Geisha girls that I know,” he replied honestly. He walked with her into the house and held her in his embrace for one brief moment, before he kissed her lightly on the forehead and said farewell.

As the car moved out of the driveway, Catherine turned her face to the window, brushing away the falling tears before Claudia could see them, tears from a heartache which was already given to the Lord, for Edward. It was not everyday she had a little arrow of love shot into her heart. But neither was it everyday that she met a soul such as Edward, a gentle soul who carried the wounds of childhood rejection and sexual abuse, the same young man who still carried the dreams of unknown love. She knew that this sad young man longing for the truth, would sip from the waters of God’s well, grace which would revive his drooping spirit and lead him on, bit by bit into God’s healing light.

Edward watched the car turn the corner, and for the first time in a long time, began to pray. He would not see his Irish friend again but that dart of love, still lingering in his aching heart was already opening up a new hope for the future, in his silent tears. For after all, He who had formed him in his mother’s womb was calling him.

2 comments:

  1. Your best story. Very gentle (oh, they all are). I try (well, sometimes I fail) to be circumspect about homosexuality, for esp. the women I know quite well are very vulnerable people.

    You are a good Christian witness.

    Additional benefits to your writing: I now know what a presbytery is - where priests live. A rectory (as I would say).

    I'm about to write a post in the next few days which will contain the question Anthony Lilles asked, which you may be able to help him with. Anyway, it will be a hodgepodge post, a little of everything.

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  2. Thank you, Penny.

    I don't think you fail sometimes, as you say. More like your great intellectual ability knows there is a deeper understanding to experience, through the gift of discernment, and other spiritual gifts, which only the Holy Spirit can give us, and which is an ongoing learning process!

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