“The Christian of tomorrow will be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or he will be nothing.” – Fr. Karl Rahner
On Christmas Eve morning of 2009 I stood before a Catholic Priest in a small town in rural South Korea. At my side was a man who had become my Godfather, a man with whom I had walked to Mass that morning, braced against the incoming Siberian winds. That man, Caleb Botton, had abruptly and somewhat mysteriously come into my life months prior, arriving seemingly with one purpose: to guide me as my treasured friend and teacher through the closing months of my Conversion. That morning, following the daily Mass, I was baptized.
Christmas Eve was spent with Fr. Maximillien Marie and the Community of St. John on a steep hillside above the neon glow of Busan.
It was there that I received consecrated Holy Communion in the soft candlelight, surrounded by loving strangers. I can still feel the warmth of that night as if it were before me now: the soft faces of those witnessing, the calm serenity of Fr. Max and Caleb’s knowing smile.
Two years later as the anniversary of my baptism approaches, I am reflecting back on a seemingly ridiculous warning Caleb made one afternoon shortly afterwards. I remember his words almost verbatim. They seemed so ominous and at the same time totally absurd in the context of my life at that moment.
In his deep baritone voice he proclaimed that I should prepare myself and hold on, that God would now take away everything that does not serve him through me. He warned that I should be prepared to loose my family (my immediate family consisted of two siblings and my father’s widow, all steadfastly agnostic) as I now have a new family. Continuing, he said that I would more than likely loose all of my wealth, all of the material constructs with which I had defined my old life, a life that no longer existed. He said that I had died to that old life and with my baptism, was born into a new one and that I now belonged to God and to the Blessed Lady, and it is to their will that I must submit. In the face of my confused protest he sternly professed: “It doesn’t exist anymore Nancy, its all gone.” He was adamant that I shed the trappings of my ‘old’ life as quickly as possible by my own device or risk having them torn from me in ways that perhaps would be not so pleasant. ”The closer you come to God Nancy, the more fiercely the enemy will attack.” I took him as being a bit dramatic to say the least, but the steady urgency in his voice gave me pause. There was clearly something he feared, something he feared on my behalf.
So heavy these words weighed upon me, yet, at the time they were simply that: words. I flippantly regarded them as such and nothing more. My conversion was strong and undeniable, this I remain in awe of. Nothing could have stopped it. My entire life prepared me for it, led me relentlessly toward it. In my ignorance I presumed my baptism was the crescendo, the accolade, the culminating triumph of a lifetime of meeting each challenge. I could rest now and find solace in my prayer life.
What I failed to comprehend, what my Godfather attempted to make clear to me, was that it was in fact just the opposite: my baptism marked the very beginning of my life. This made zero sense to me at the time. Intellectually, I convinced myself that my 4+ decades of making my way in the world prior to my Conversion amounted to a life fairly well lived, a life of accomplishment, hard earned. I was proud of it, all things considered. I had overcome many obstacles and educated myself. I had travelled and achieved professional as well as artistic success. Yet, this man, my Godfather, now referred to me as a baby. Informing me that I knew nothing of what was to come. Over the two years since, my Godfather’s words have returned again and again to haunt me, at times comfort me, and in the end: prepare me.
It is now December, 2011. Over the course of the past two years since my Baptism, Confirmation, first Confession and first Holy Communion, each and every caution given me by my Godfather has indeed come true. It has been a relentless, merciless and breathtakingly thorough stripping away of virtually every single facet of my old life. Some by choice, others by circumstance and still others by malicious and seemingly baseless attacks. My beautiful home is gone. I am peacefully estranged from the toxic and atheistic constructs of my family. My material wealth is gone. My livelihood that sustained me at the time is gone. Virtually all that I thought I held dear, as the cornerstones that defined my life, my identity, my place in the world have been stripped. I will not deny it: this relentless culling has often left me physically riveted in fear, broaching terror, paralyzed in my own mind and cast deep into an internal silence I often thought I simply could not bear in the throes of many, many a dark night.
I understood little of what was happening to me nor why, nothing made sense. It did not make sense to me for one reason: I continued to evaluate and process my life through the lens of my old self, a self that no longer existed. I had not let go of it, in spite of my conversion and baptism. And yet, I endured, as it was ripped from me, piece by piece over the months that followed. In the valleys of these times, racked by confusion, I reached for my Rosary and held tight, held tight to the very Rosary given to me by my Godfather after all of the previous ones I had purchased either broke or disappeared. Of heavy cord and wood, bearing the St. Benedict Crucifix, it holds strong and rests now draped across my heart as I write.
It seems this period of shedding the remnants has come to an end, for now anyway. What remains? I contemplate this question daily as I work to discern the direction of my life. If God has removed from my life that which does not serve him through me, then what remains therefore MUST be nothing other than his will for me.
As I look at my life now what I see astounds me: Many who played significant roles in my previous life are gone, peacefully so in a natural departure. The people and things that existed under false premise in my previous life are gone. Liars, parasites, and those seeking to reflect well of themselves in the shadows of my past wealth have been removed. Material constructs that buoyed a life that was not my own but the expectations of others, are all gone. More profoundly perhaps, the very desires that drove my behavior, the petty needs, the external affirmations, remain no longer.
In grace, a very select few individuals have emerged within this new life with renewed understanding, and the warmth of knowing. The selflessness and humanity of these people whom God has selected to remain in my life, after all the culling, have demonstrated to me the divine nature of true humility.
Each day is filled with a purity of intention, a focus that is direct, yet not attached to false desires. There is a peace that anchors the core of my being. Do I fret? Yes. Do I experience anxiety about the unknown going forward: of course. But, where there was no anchor prior, where there were only temporary, external ports of safety to which I would cling, there is now an internal base upon which my soul rests. A glorious repose. Emerging from these years, I am at peace. I know not what tomorrow will bring yet I will meet it with the one thing I now know to be true: that the strength of my Faith will guide me steadfastly through whatever may come.
What I previously viewed as cliche, I now know as a governing Truth: Those God casts into darkness, he casts out of his eternal love for them, never to be abandoned by that love. It is there that you will find him, and truly know him.
©2011, 2012, 2013 Nancy Kotting All Right Reserved Reproduction by Permission Only