Inscape

Yesterday at RCIA class we were asked when in the last week we had felt the presence of Christ. We were supposed to think about it as the lead team member read the week’s scripture, and then to share with the members of the smaller group into which we had been organized. I had a hard time answering the question until I reframed it to mean the presence of “God,” which I wrap in quotation marks because for me the term is so loaded. The presence of “Recognition of what Is,” I suppose, might fit my sense of what God is more aptly. Or G.M. Hopkins’ term “inscape.” No, his word “instress,” the force, or energy, that allows one to perceive the inscape of an object. There’s a flow of energy implied in instress, I think, that separates it from inscape. All objects have inscape. When we see them, really perceive them as they are, seeing them as more than the sum of their parts, seeing them in the light of God, we see their inscape. The energy that allows us to do so, an energy that is the grace of God opening up in us the ability to perceive in such a way, is instress. So I reframed it in my head and then, when we were broken into small groups to discuss our experience, I avoided speaking. I didn’t know how to say that for me, it wasn’t about Christ. Not that Christ isn’t a nice fella, really. Not that in the end it isn’t all the same (I call it instress, you call it Christ’s presence). I just didn’t want to deceive. But then one of the team leaders, an older woman and a cradle Catholic, mentioned her own difficulty with using the language, because, she said, saying “Christ” so clearly ties it to one tradition, a fairly narrow view. It seems to draw a distinction between Christians and unbaptized Africans and Hindus and so on, she said. “And we’re all children of God. It doesn’t matter if you’re not baptized or if you’re’ Hindu or Buddhist. We’re all children of God.” I saw her as acknowledging the difficulty of trying to use words to name a universal concept (and concept‘s not the right word either).

It occured to me then that all through this process, every time there’s been a moment of difficulty (except during the one speech by the one guy who filled in at the last minute and enraged everyone in the room with his black-and-white inflexible childish thinking and for whom the team leaders apologized the following week), someone has anticipated it, has dropped something into the conversation that calms my concerns. How many times have references to Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, other Christians, become part of the conversation? Way more often than I’d expect in a group of Catholics. Not dismissively. Not condescendingly. Just as different ways to worship, acceptable, reasonable, filled also with grace.

There’s a risk of oversimplifying in talking of these matters in such a short space, but what’s becoming more clear to me is my feeling that I could be comfortable in such a community. Week after week I’ve indulged my propensity to hold Catholic ritual or doctrine up the a yardstick of multiple other religions, to compare, differentiate, find commonalities, but until recently I’ve never spoken. I said nothing at all at first, a year ago, when I first started this journey. I just listened. But the more I listened, the more I felt drawn in to a group of people who might not necessarily say, “Yes, and this is how Catholicism parallels Hinduism” as part of the lesson, but who would acknowledge their own difficulties with exclusive language, or who would nod and agree when I finally spoke up to draw a comparison, and then branch out to make comparisons of their own. Last night my friend noted that of course they would be inclined to agree with me. After all, the goal is to draw me in as a member. But I’ve heard them mention, without my contribution to the conversation as a starter, enough to realize their own openess to other ways of framing an experience of “God.”

And then, as I began this entry, I found myself using the language of inscape and instress. Hopkins was, of course, a Jesuit priest. Catholic. For a moment that didn’t occur to me. I was just looking for language that would suit, that would fit what I was trying to muddle my way through. And in the end, I landed on the language of Hopkins, a Catholic.

I think Kuan Yin is laughing again.

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