September Journal, Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

There is something wet outside, coming down from gray skies, straight, then slanted, tapping on my window. Is it rain? How do I know? Do I trust my senses? Do I trust my past that tells me yes, this is rain, and you’ve seen it before. It drops from the skies like that. California doesn’t have enough, we are told, and so it is difficult to believe our senses.

I’m auditing an online theology class this fall and we are reading Francis Hall’s Dogmatic Theology. He tackles first things first. He speaks of reason and authority and truth and how one must use reason to arrive at any conclusion, including matters religious and supernatural. It is true of course and reminds me of the argument for the existence of God, that we have self-consciousness at all, that we have any ability to look at ourselves from outside ourselves, that we are even having these thoughts typed on this page.

Our world today tells us that truth is relative, that there is no objective truth, and yet most folks will not deny the truth of gravity by jumping off a roof rather than taking the stairs. We all live with assumptions of truth, truth from our past, from our teachers, from our parents, from all those who raised us, who educated us.

And so most will say yes, teachers teach us because we trust they have authority in their subject. Just so, we reason, we look to our clergy to teach us because we trust they have authority as well.

I wrestle with these questions in all of my novels to some extent, because the question of belief in a loving God is such an important one to every single person on our planet, a matter of life and death. We ask why we suffer, what happens when we die, is there meaning to life, why are we here?

And thus as I look around me the last few years and see the fertile soil of belief in a chosen truth authority become the quicksand of materialism – the belief that there is no belief – my heart aches. For to have no answers to these crucial questions is to invite meaninglessness, despair, and death, and there is no need for such quicksand to claim so many hearts and minds. It is an unnecessary and perhaps evil tragedy that is unfolding in our world.

Many institutions we have trusted to be authorities in our lives now lie to us. We see it in government agencies, in major universities, in multi-media industries, in the creative world of books and films. We see it in the boycotting and blacklisting of those who try to speak truth to lies and correct the damage done.

And so today I see how vital it is to choose correct authorities. How do we know? We trust our own past, our own senses, our own reason, our own education that gave us the sum of man’s learning in fields of endeavor – math, science, literature, history. We find those who are honest enough to tell the truth, who are brave enough to stand for true classical learning, who will not be silenced by thugs with the steel boots of slander, vilification, and ruin.

The world has been given a short reprieve from the stifling of debate and the lauding of lies. The world now is watching Great Britain mourn their Queen Elizabeth. A commonwealth of over fifty nations benefited from the virtues she embraced, from the faith she practiced, from her uses of the past to inform the present. Today their leaders and other world leaders are gathering in London. Tomorrow they will pray for the queen’s soul in Westminster Abbey. They will give thanks for her life of authority and her life of truth. There will be processions and hymns and canons saluting. The fanfare reminds us there is more to life than mere matter. There are those we can trust and look up to. There is meaning.

Monarchy embraces the truth and value of tradition as informing the truth and value of today. Why study the past? many ask. To inform the present, many answer. And it is true. We learn from our history who we are, the wrong choices we have made, the good choices we desire to repeat. Without such examination, however prejudiced or personal, we sink in the quicksand of modernity. We have no lifeline. And we give thanks for those who remind us of such gifts, such graces, as not only the study of the past, but the rituals of seasons, both secular and sacred, that add to the truth we are seeking.

True authority can also be found in conciliar bodies, tested by time. Such is found in the Church, and such is found in Congress and Parliament where selected men and women represent many others. They gather together (they congress) and they speak with one another (they parley). No one person rules.

As I examine the authorities in my life of seventy-five years, I have come to trust those who reflect true science, true faith, true liberty and freedom. It is difficult, at times, to separate the wheat from the chaff. Yet I know I must make the effort – to read widely, to check facts and figures, to consider opinion versus true reporting. As a citizen in a still free country, my vote is important. It counts not only in the ballot box but in the final accounting. As I dig into the various narratives, I ask, which is true? Who can I trust? Who can secure our freedoms and our constitution that guarantees those freedoms? Who can stand up to the thugs who threaten and throw away lives lived truthfully?

I am one of the blessed ones, graced with belief. I needed reason however, to put the puzzle together, and C. S. Lewis helped with that. Writing my first novel of ideas, Pilgrimage (set in Italy), helped too, for it set out the questions that needed answers. In the writing, the truth emerged. For writing is speech, and speech is love, for thus we meet one another in the pages turned. I continued the conversation in Offerings, considering visions and healings in France, and in Inheritance (set in England), praying in the great abbeys and walking through the history of Christianity in the West. These conversations – these paths – revealed the truth of our lives as human beings in this world of time.

I watched the lines in London today, the queues of mourners bringing their children to pay their respects to the late queen. They know this is a moment of truth, a moment in time, in history, a pivoting of the world, as we stand on the edge of a cliff. Will we lose our balance and fall? Will we see that these rituals reflect who we are as human beings, as truth seekers, as those who say meaning matters?

We must seek the truth. If we seek Him – the Living and Loving God – who is all truth, we will be graced in our search. For Christ healed ten lepers today. He heals us. He leads us. He loves us. He is our shepherd and we are his sheep. He is our creator-authority who knows us best, knows the reason for our seasons in this life and the next. And like the one leper who returned to give thanks in today’s Gospel, so we give thanks today, for true reason, for true love, for true belief, for true grace to be healed as well.

The sun just came out, turning the grays green, brightening the sky. All is grace.

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