When I was much younger, I was flying back from Europe and I sat next to a Priest, who was returning to the United States from the Vatican. During the lengthy flight, we discussed religion. I asked him what made the Catholic religion so popular. He offered a long discourse on the authenticity of Catholicism and related its popularity to the authentic connection between God and Jesus Christ. Now, my mother was a Catholic and my father was Episcopalian, so I have a great respect for Christianity. I also have a great respect for all 730 established religions. However, I could not help myself. I proclaimed that the Catholic religion was popular because of Mr. Darcy, not because of Jesus’ authenticity. That’s right. I argued for Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen’s classic novel, “Pride and Prejudice.”
With my initial two words, “Mr. Darcy”, the Priest choked. But hey, no worry. I was well versed with CPR and dying patients. But, after a long series of coughs and a rather unpleasant amount of sputum, he regained his composure. For the entire flight, we debated the popularity of Catholicism versus the other 730 religions with his belief in authenticity of Christianity versus my belief in Muriel Rukeyser’s quote: “The world is not made of up atoms; it is made up of stories.” Now, before I explain myself (as I did to the Priest), let me highlight one warning. When the Priest finished the flight (and our debate had drawn to a close), he looked at me, his face drained of color, and said, “You know, this has been the longest flight of my life.”
Now, what is my position? Take a look at “Pride and Prejudice.” It’s the love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, addressing the key theme: Can a woman of lower socioeconomic status marry a man of higher economic status during the stifling rigidity of early 1800’s British society? The story starts on a high note with the sudden arrival of wealth to the village. However, the chance for any romance plummets as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy take a strong dislike to each other. It hit its first bottom as Mr. Darcy (and his friend) leave the village. But fate carries an upsurge for the reader as it brings together Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in a different setting. At the midpoint of the story, Mr. Darcy proposes and Elizabeth refuses, basically saying that she would not marry him if he were the last man on the planet. After turning down the chance for wealth, Elizabeth’s world falls apart. Her life and hopes for any romance plummet to the second bottom and its lowest level. Then, fate changes everything – all thanks to Mr. Darcy. There is an unexpected, dramatic upstroke to Elizabeth’s life and Mr. Darcy (and his friend) return to the village. One positive development leads to another, and in the last scene Mr. Darcy proposes and Elizabeth proclaims her love.
So, how is this story and Catholicism related? It’s the role of the “W” diagram. Just reread the above (overly brief) synopsis and you will start at the left side top of the “W”; you will work your way through a down stroke, a bottom point, an upstroke, and a high midpoint (the middle top of the “W”). You will then find yourself falling through another down stroke, hitting the second bottom of the “W”, and then soaring higher on an upstroke, finishing at the top right point of the “W”! That pattern – that “W” diagram – is what determines the quality of all classic stories. Don’t believe me? Then take your favorite book or favorite movie and analyze the plot. You will find yourself moving along a “W” diagram. The better the “W” diagram, the stronger the story; the cleaner the “W” diagram, the longer the story will last through history. Mr. Darcy? For me, he and Elizabeth represented the easiest way to explain the power of a “W” diagram. Still don’t believe me? Then find a copy of “Pride and Prejudice”, open the book to its halfway point, and guess what? You will find the marriage proposal right at the midpoint of the story!
Now, think of Jesus Christ. Surprisingly, we do not know a lot of the details of his life. With earlier prophets, like Buddha (who lived 500 years earlier), we know far more real-life details. Not with Jesus Christ. Instead, our entire knowledge fits perfectly into one of the world’s best “W” diagrams. Think of his birth as the initial top of the “W”. Think of the immediate down stroke with undeserved misfortune and jeopardy as the first down stroke. Think of the first bottom of the “W” as his disappearance and early invisibility. Think of his good work, help for the poor and stricken, as the upstroke to the midpoint of the “W”. The midpoint could be his string of miracles. Think of his arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion as the second down stroke of the “W”. His death and burial is the second bottom of the “W”. Lastly, think of his resurrection as the final upward stroke of the “W”, ending at the right side top. Could it be any higher? Do you know any story that beats that “W” diagram?
What is my point? What was my point with that Priest? It’s simple. God may have created Christianity and the Catholic Church, but it takes mankind (and the work of man, including the work of creating and telling a great story) to allow a religion to flourish. That’s true with all of the great religions. Each religion offers great stories. Each religion required the hard work of its founder and its disciples to spread the word. Well, the same hold true for spirituality. God may come to you at certain moments of wonder. However, if you want God to be part of your life, you need to make that contact a daily habit. How? Read my prior blog. Try daily giving. Try daily connecting. In return, you will be able to establish and maintain that connection with God. Want some additional suggestions? Wait for the next blog …