Rick Fitzgerald experienced a form of worship in poetry and ballet. He tried different churches, from Presbyterian to Catholic to a Zen Center. Then, when he was no longer looking, he found a home at St. Peter’s. This is Rick’s story in his own words …
Bruce Springsteen is on the radio. The gospel chorus swells and he sings:
With these hands
I pray for the faith, Lord
With these hands
We pray for your love, Lord
We pray for the lost, Lord
We pray for this world, Lord
With these hands
We pray for the strength, Lord
I’m driving up the Turnpike. I’m on my way home.
Until college, Central Pennsylvania was home. I grew up outside Harrisburg, in a house at the end of the suburbs, where the farms and countryside began. It’s a simple story. Mom and Dad. Devoutly Irish Catholic. Doctor and Nurse. Seven kids, five girls and two boys. And my grandfather living in the upstairs back room. Classic Adlai Stevenson Democrats in a determinedly German protestant republican place. Together, as a family, we mourned John Kennedy’s death, loved Robert Kennedy’s idealism, and were devastated by the loss of Martin Luther King.
The neighbors across the street, the Sourbeers, were Quakers. Their family’s religious beliefs were as familiar as were those of the Presbyterian family next door, the Cheadles, or the Jewish family behind us, the Soretts. Each one of these three families had a boy my age.
We were four inseparable friends: Harry, Frank, Steve and Rick. We shared every experience, from sport to worship. I may have been the only Catholic boy in Pennsylvania to have attended mass, meeting for worship, temple, and Sunday service. We were some odd, fifties version of multiculturalism. The result, for me, was a deep appreciation for and interest in diverse religions and cultures. My strong commitment to issues of inclusivity and diversity began, in my neighborhood and in my parents’ home, growing-up.
My parents instilled in us a through-going tolerance, the mandate to love all mankind, the love of books, an inquisitive, curious mind, and a commitment to the Catholic Church.
And then I left for college, the place, as far as my parents were concerned, where I lost my faith.
It was not easy coming home in those years. No matter when I traveled, I always seemed to be there on a Sunday and the struggle over whether I would go to church with my parents was constant. I suppose, in some ways, I had lost my faith, at least as my mother and father understood faith. But I was in the process of finding a different kind of faith.
I found contemporary theologians like John Dunne and Henri Nouwen and eventually I starting hearing about Matthew Fox and the concept of Original Blessing. Their thinking allowed me to see that there were many different forms of faith and worship.
And so I discovered new ways – for me – to worship, to connect with the sense of the sacred.
In college, I developed a profound love of poetry. In Blake and Yeats, I discovered the power of personal vision. In Galway Kinnell and James Wright, I found that sometimes words had the ability to reflect the deepest images of the human heart. In such diverse poets as Gary Snyder and Denise Levertov, and Whitman and Coleridge I discovered the important link between the natural world and mankind’s soul.
And, if poetry offered the verbal expression of the spirit, ballet offered the visual equivalent. In my first year of teaching, a young student of mine offered me tickets to see his father dance with the New York City Ballet. That evening, I discovered George Balanchine and the extent to which ballet becomes, in its recognition of the spirit, a form of worship. To sit, utterly attentive and focused, as the dancers perform, to realize suddenly that no one else was moving or making the slightest sound, was to realize the spiritual dimension to which great art can aspire.
And then I met Marilyn, thank goodness, because I’m honestly not sure I would be here today were it not for her. She is possessed of a much more focused faith and that focus provoked us together to keep looking, to keep focused on the journey that finally brought us to St. Peter’s.
When Marilyn and I moved to California, we tried numerous possibilities. In our little Northern California town were Episcopalian, Catholic and Presbyterian churches. We tried them all, especially the Presbyterian one. We tried, also, a non-denominational, Unitarian-style church and we even tried Green Gulch Farm, the Marin County branch of the San Francisco Zen center.
I suppose I was looking for inspiration, the breathing in of faith. An animating influence. I was looking for faith to energize me, to quicken my imagination, like the ballet.
And it wasn’t working. And so I stopped looking. For me, the literature and the ballet and all the other “disorganized religions” in the world would have to suffice.
And then, five years ago, we walked into St Peter’s – maybe because I no longer was looking…..
You see, God somehow had gotten us to move into an old rowhouse at 4th and Pine and here was this ancient and uniquely-designed church around the corner.
And so, naturally, I found what I was no longer looking for –
A place of fellowship and comfort, a community of friends and believers. Instead of the illusion of worship, we found a depth of thought, a commitment to others, a meditative faith….in short, a home.