Faith Lutheran Church

A Journey Begins

It was the winter of 1985 and I was spending it in Duluth, Minnesota. Duluth has much to offer, but its winters are as one might expect—cold and snowy. It is also a steep town, built as it is on a bluff on the far west of Lake Superior’s north shore. The local joke in Duluth is that when driving, the right of way belongs to the car coming down the hill sideways. It’s one of those jokes that’s funny because it’s true.

But I grew up in and around Ashland, Wisconsin, just one hour east of Duluth and also on THE great lake, so I wasn’t surprised or overwhelmed by its archetypal winter weather.

But the winters of my youth were not the only help I had in surviving those dark months; I was also listening frequently to U2’s album, The Unforgettable Fire, and something about the spare, haunting music of songs like “A Sort of Homecoming” and “MLK” felt like an apt soundtrack for my walks along the frigid white streets.

I was in Duluth attending graduate school at UMD, and I wasn’t enjoying the experience. The MA program in English was clearly second rate, I wasn’t feeling especially engaged intellectually, and I missed keenly the friends I had left back in my undergraduate town of Stevens Point. Of course, one of those I missed most was a young man with whom I was desperately and unrequitedly in love. While Mike saw me as a close friend, and while he also missed me greatly—a fact made evident by his frequent long letters—he was beginning to accept his sexuality. He could no longer deny that he was gay.

While I knew Mike was gay, and was coming close to accepting it myself, I still felt deeply the loss of his daily presence in my life. The distance between us was just too great, I thought, for my heart to stand much longer. My heart ached; it really did. I now understood the age old clichés. The longing to be with my friend was physical. Not sexual; we’d never had that kind of relationship, and now it was clear we never would, but there was an undeniably tactile element to the way I missed him.

This longing was so real; it was making me rethink some of my beliefs. I had been for several years an avowed atheist. Disenchanted with the Catholic church of my childhood since high school, I had dallied with Protestantism, but most protestants I met were of the Christmas and Easter variety, and therefore uninspiring. The few more devout protestants I met were annoying (read self-righteous and pushy). Eventually, my doubt stewed in the humanism of my college education, and I became an atheist. If anyone asked me about spirit or soul, I would say they didn’t exist. That when we died we simply rotted and our consciousness ceased to exist. When asked about love, I would explain it as the firing of synapses and chemical responses in the body—purely physiological.

But this love, this ache that I felt when I missed Mike, seemed too deep to be explained by physiology. To help me understand it, I started reading, and I happened to pick up C.S. Lewis’s apologetics: Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and The Abolition of Man.

One day–another cold, gray, lonely Sunday–I was reading one of these books and listening to U2 on the headphones. This time I was listening not to The Unforgettable Fire, but to an earlier album, October. As I read, I sat on the hardwood floor of my small studio apartment, my back against the radiator to better absorb its warmth. Lewis’s words began to touch me, to speak to the feelings that betrayed the presence of a soul in my simple body. And then Bono began to sing the opening syllables of “Gloria.” Although I had listened to the song many times before, in this moment I finally truly heard it.

I try to sing this song
I, I try to stand up
But I can’t find my feet.
I, I try to speak up
But only in you I’m complete.

Gloria
In te domine
Gloria
Exultate
Gloria
Gloria
Oh, Lord, loosen my lips.

I try to sing this song
I, I try to get in
But I can’t find the door
The door is open
You’re standing there, you let me in.

Gloria
In te domine
Gloria
Exultate
Oh, Lord, if I had anything, anything at all
I’d give it to you.

Gloria
In te domine
Gloria
Gloria*

The realization came to me in that moment, that what Bono was singing in that song was true for me, too. I had been trying to stand on my own two feet, trying to speak my mind, but I had no feet to stand on and no clear mind from which to speak until I could acknowledge my soul and allow that soul to recognize its savior. I heard Bono’s strident voice exult in the Lord and offer himself to Jesus, and I began to tremble. I felt all at once the presence of God in my life, of Jesus’ pure sacrifice of love for me, and I rejoiced. I felt overwhelmed by pure joy as I bathed in the light of that Love. And at the same time I wept and felt ashamed, because who was I to deserve such a pure gift? I had denied Him. I had sinned against Him. But as surely as I felt my guilt, I still felt His forgiveness and His love. I continued to tremble and weep until, exhausted, I allowed myself to fall into a dreamless sleep.

That day began the journey which brought me just over a year ago to Faith Lutheran Church. It has taken me more than twenty years to get from there to here. In the meantime I have nurtured and maintained my faith in much the way it began: by reading—more Lewis, along with St. Augustine, Anne Lamott, Phillip Yancey and others, as well as the Bible—and listening to the music of U2. Bono’s lyrics have continued to speak to my experience of Christ, both as I glorify Him and as I struggle with doubt, dread, or despair for this world. They help me articulate the complex all-at-onceness that was my awakening in that Duluth apartment and that continues in my walk to this day.

Gloria
In te domine
Gloria
Gloria

*”Gloria” Music and Lyrics by U2, 1984.