The young boy made his way to the altar and knelt down. Clasping his hands together he lowered his head in prayer. Little boys pray for funny things, sometimes things not really known to them but only felt deep inside. Gregory did not feel quite right. Other than this, he had the same old sins that haunted him, like teasing his family members, like looking at Playboys and having bad thoughts. But he was not going to confession right now. He came to do the stations of the cross.
After a few minutes he stood up, went to the back of the church and headed to the first station. Little Gregory proceeded, looking up as he went at the pictures of the Saviour's passion. "Jesus falls the first time...Jesus falls the second time...Jesus is nailed to the cross." He was gliding right through them. The recess bell would soon ring.
His innocent devotion was a precious thing. He thought about what Sister Maria Gloria had said, that if you wear a scapular for seven whole years straight, you're assured of a place in heaven. Young little Gregory yearned for God; he wanted to be with God; he wanted God to point the way, to comfort him, to make his soul pure and his mind bright; he wished more than anything that he could have a mystical experience of God, to see or hear something truly from heaven; he wanted a sign from above to make him feel the presence of God. He was told that the eye of God sees all things, but he longed to know that God really did watch over him. But, much to his disappointment...nothing ever happened.
He could hear the bell and he hurried out of the church. He certainly did not want to be conspicuous to his classmates. They might make fun of him or think he was weird or something. And so little Gregory filed back into the school like a good Catholic boy. His secret visit was hidden in his heart and his hopes were high that God heard his yearning pleas. He really wasn't sure why he felt the way he did.
A half a dozen years slipped by. Little Gregory was not so little anymore. He was a young man sitting in high school waiting for the day to end. Gregory turned his head from his Latin classwork to glance out the window. He saw a black man outside outside on the street peering under the hood of his car. The man seemed frustrated and angry because his car had broken down. He wondered what that man did during the day while he was in school, whether he was married, where he lived, what kinds of things he wanted from life. He wondered whether they had anything in common. Just then, the bell rang. Gregory grabbed his books and bolted out of the room.
The afternoon sunshine on his face renewed him. It was Friday. In his head he went through his plan for tonight. Actually, the plan didn't matter much. Tonight was just another chance to drink beer and mess around. Of course, meeting some cute girls somewhere, somehow was always in the back of his mind. Gregory had come of age. The precious little one was now dangerous, and getting wilder as the months passed by.
Gregory enjoyed the high life. He was not unlike many of his peers in the late '60s. No one knew what was happening in society. What all of them understood, however, was that everything, all structure, was breaking down. The concept of a role model on the straight and narrow was all but dead. From time to time Gregory wondered where to go to find some answers. He knew he had lots of questions, though most were only just then welling up inside of him and were hard to formulate.
Outside of school his life was wild excess and he acted out his bent repressions. Young Gregory lived for his weekend pleasures. His solipsistic world was his personal empire. Hedonism was the way. He followed the whims of his will. Between beer joints, drifting from party to party, young Gregory kept wondering - he kept thinking and hoping. He still prayed too. But...nothing ever happened.
One night, over-medicated, he slipped and fell into a puddle while walking through the rain. Gregory lay there, not really wanting to get up. What was happening to his life, he thought. Where had things gone wrong, so wrong? He rediscovered something just then. And he knew what he had to do - he would do it.
The following day, he walked back to the old stately church of his childhood. He entered and blessed himself. It was virtually empty. Gregory then walked up the aisle top the altar rail, opened it, genuflected, and then climbed the few steps up and laid himself down there with arms open wide. He lay there on the altar staring at the ceiling for some minutes and then closed his eyes. His meditation was interrupted by some hushed muttering. As he had feared, one of the parish busy-body "holy women" came up to him. That was that.
His mother pulled up to the rectory. Gregory walked out and got into the car. headed home now, he felt empty, nauseated, helpless. Unknown to him then, young Gregory would be going in and out of this semi-spiritual half-world for a long time to come.
In college is where he met his sweetheart, who seemed to be an answer to a prayer. She was from the Midwest; a lovely blond girl, as endearing as she was obstinate - in all, a remarkable test of his patience. And though she was needful and precious, she was also wonderfully eccentric in a way that pleased him. Gregory obligingly watched over her and he enjoyed the admiration she showered on his talents. They were soon inseparable co-dependents.
Gregory the man now stood tall in the Southern breeze. He was an old car lover and he was proud of his '64 Ford Galaxy. It was cool. He was cool. What a hustler he had become! Reaching the height of his physical prowess now, he had attained a kind of street-wise mystique. His girlfriend was enthralled with him on that level. Yet she was working on him, taming him, asserting some feminine softness to round his rugged edges. The greatest gift she gave him was a consciousness of women, which he desperately needed. She was a comfort. They watched over one another. He had someone to care for; she had a certain depth of understanding built on courage and a willingness to plumb the depths that would have beaten lesser women. In fact, that had been a problem for him; most women in the past had been frightened off by Gregory's intensity and the rawness of his emotions.
They attended a Jesuit university. They had different majors, but at one point both of them took a course in Judaism together, to fulfill part of the credits in religious studies. Neither participated in the religious life at the school. They had formed their own world, living off-campus in a small apartment. But remnant of their early Catholic training surfaced from time to time. Gregory gauged that she was still retaining at least some of that doctrine which he had let go of a while back, especially when she said, "Gregory, I love you, but I could never marry you because you don't believe in your Catholic faith." She was right.
From time to time there was real trauma in their relationship; terrible fights that brought tears of rage and eventually, sweet tears of reconciliation. In the extreme sadness of the bad times between them, Gregory searched his soul and prayed, wanting to overcome some of his ways that he knew were not right and were holding him back somehow.
Gregory knew in his heart that there was some unquantifiable something missing. Sometimes, when he was alone, he would examine his life and wonder at it. He had thoughts about God, too; not the corny, folk-mass God of his old religion, but another God, omnipotent and unfettered by all of that claptrap dogma and phlooey. For Gregory, though, it remained the same God. The only difference was that he rejected the man-made dogma and cultural baggage in which the church surrounded itself. He prayed for himself and for others in a new kind of prayer, sometimes confessional, sometimes a quiet thinking prayer, even an occasional Our Father or Hail Mary. Now he was praying for other things than what had occupied his childish mind. but there was still that yearning and that void. His heart was often sad, because...nothing ever seemed to happen.
The years came and went. Gregory finished some post-graduate work. he had traveled places near and far, and was now preparing to settle down. He had yet to marry. rather, he was still looking for that special gal - and enjoying the search!
In his mind he was still thinking of God. He wished to find God, still. His longing brought him in contact with various others. They had interesting ideas and offered books that were profound and beautiful. Gregory began to see that love and contemplation, especially meditation, were the keys to the divine reality that he sought. he was afire with a grand, new optimism that in fact he could realize his dream of encountering the mystical, of experiencing his elusive God. Still unsure of his precise path, Gregory became a pilgrim traversing many paths, researching, experimenting, remaining open - and yet, he never found the kind of role model master that he expected to find (or that Master never found him).
Meditating was difficult for him. He was a man of action. He did try and try, ill-disciplined though he was and without a master nearby to aid him. None-the-less, he remained convinced of its efficacy and resolved to keep trying. Still...nothing was happening.
It finally came to him that he was forming his own spirituality independent of any established religion or path. Oh religions had pointed him in some good directions, but there was always something missing from them. They had no real meaning; he remained largely unmoved by all organized religions and spiritual paths he had encountered so far.
Gregory, having kept some semblance of reverence, even during his descent into his worst periods of debauched living, finally concluded this: that the goal of spiritual seekers, such as himself, is to tenaciously persist - even in the face of utter failure - in trying to find a spirituality to call one's very own. And maybe, just maybe...someday...something will happen.
September 3-4, 1993/ Queenstown, MD