The Proper Dwelling Place of


The Proper Dwelling Place of God
A Meditation/Examen on the reaction to the Dedication of Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral

You have all seen the articles delineating the reactions to the Cathedral. One thing this inspired in me was an intense questioning and an intense examination of my own life.

2 Samuel 7:4-7 (RSV) 4. But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan. 5. "Go and tell my servant David, 'Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? 6. I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. 7. In all the places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"

God does not need me, nor Cardinal Mahony, nor the people of Los Angeles, nor any people to build Him a house. That is not what the Cathedral is about and it cannot be judged in terms of whether it is suitable for God. In fact, the building has been constructed, it is done, and the time for evaluating and judging is over. The great jubilee of worship can begin--that is the duty and the responsibility of the people who go to the Cathedral, and it is our duty to support them with all of our prayers and our hopes for them.

But what then is the proper dwelling place of God? If God is not confined to a house, where does He live? The only vessel potentially large enough, warm enough, expansive enough, alive enough is the human heart. In "A Temple of the Holy Spirit" Flannery O'Connor records the conversation of two schoolgirls as they joke about "being a temple of the Holy Spirit." But it is very evident in the context and growth of the story that Ms. O'Connor regarded them as exactly that. I turn to myself and ask the famous fundamentalist/evangelical question--"If I were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me?"

Now I rephrase the question, "To those who meet me, is there any indication whatsoever that my heart is a dwelling place for God?" And my answer, sadly is, "Vanishingly little." I leap to judgment, I am harsh, critical, unrelenting. My heart is a hard and stony place, fit only for my own prejudices and my own ways. I do not share the troubles of the world, rather I add to them through my inaction and through my judgment. This was resoundingly brought home to me through a post by our own Ms. Knapp in the comments box on this page. I had made some off-hand remark about Archbishop Rembert Weakland, based largely on hearsay and gossip. And Ms. Knapp responded:

. . .[D]o not believe all that you hear from the professionally outraged. You would have joined us in learning to live a holy and prayerful life, in love with Jesus and with the help of all the sacraments he gave us. (Yes, I will always owe a great debt to the ninth archbishop.)

As retirement neared, even before the debacle, we worried. Would the next bishop be a CEO, or a Church politician, or maybe someone kicked upstairs over The Situation??? We had become accustomed to a prayerful bishop of shepherd's heart, who made no secret of loving us --- could we even dare to hope for another like that in our lifetime?

I had listened to hearsay, gossip, and backbiting. Even now I hear the same things of other Archbishops, and sidelong blows to other officials, and I ask myself, do I listen to these? And if I do, what harm have I done countless who rely upon such men for the sacraments? Should I not rather pray and raise these men up before God rather than tearing them down before men?

In my prejudice, in my listening to gossip and half-truths (or even full-truths that carry more the fruit of harm) do I let my heart draw tight and become a narrow, restricted, hardened place? Do I listen to complaints about art, architecture, liturgy, and forget that Jesus is there, whether everything is exactly as it should be or not. Jesus is present. Jesus enters me, joins with me intimately. Is this the heart that Jesus would welcome as a home? (Fortunately the answer is yes). Is this the heart I would like to offer Jesus as home, this the dwelling I would offer to the Lord I love? (The answer is a resounding NO!) For "it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of him."

I think and I tremble, and I remember the exalted experience of Isaiah who saw the Seraphim who waited upon the Lord and was able to say, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King the Lord of hosts!" (Is 6: 5). But I am not lost, because Jesus can sweep this heart clean. He can move the walls of this heart so they are not so narrow. He can change this dried out, shrunken hardened knot of a heart into a gentle bower for His head. I need merely say to him, "If you will it, I shall be healed." And we all know that Jesus wills it. He wills that my whole heart be entirely transformed for His greater glory.

The only fit dwelling for the Lord of Hosts
is the human heart,
His only chariot,
human legs,
His only servants,
human hands,
His only rest--conversation in love.

Too long have I neglected you, O Jesus My Lord. Too long have I listened to what is not proper to listen to. Too long have I not spoken up and warned those who speak that every idle word will be called to account. I am an unworthy servant, and yet, I rejoice greatly in being even an unworthy servant because if you will, I shall be allowed even greater service. I shall be called up from the foot of the table to give you drink and serve you food. Lord count me among the humblest of thy servants, the most unworthy, and use this unworthy vessel to bring to you greater and more worthy. Lord, thank you, thank you so much for the invitation to serve, and the reminder that a servant does not remark upon the habits of those upon whom he waits. Thank you for the blessings of servitude. Better a thousand years your slave than a single moment my own! Amen.

Thank all of you for so patiently enduring this and allowing me a moment to apologize to all I have offended through action or inaction. It is not my intent to hurt any, and with every action I seem to knock down twenty. Praise God! In my weakness is His strength.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 4, 2002 4:57 PM.

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