“In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.” ― Dante Alighieri, Inferno
I think we all find ourselves in that dark wood at some point in our lives. Perhaps sooner, perhaps later, but eventually, in this great adventure of life, we all find ourselves in Dante’s dark woods, looking for the lost path.
I was there. But in becoming lost in the woods I also found silence. In that quiet, deep in the dark woods, I heard the voice calling. It had always been calling to me but up to that point in my life it was drowned out in the sound and fury of the world around me. But now I heard more clearly than ever, a voice calling me to take up the journey and plunge into the adventure.
We all hear the voice calling us, but too many times we ignore it or refuse the call. But for me, this was the time to answer, cross the threshold and enter into a new world. I started by returning to the faith of my youth which I had drifted away from in my years as a young man. God had given me many gifts, including artistic ones, and I set off on a journey to find their true meaning and purpose.
I barely started along the newly found path when the voice called out to me again; not like the first time, not a quiet voice that echoed in my mind unbidden. This was the booming voice of a deacon giving the homily at Mass.
“God is calling you!” He said emphatically. As he spoke those words he gestured, pointing off to his side. As it happened he pointed directly at me. Coincidence? Maybe, but I have come to look at the concept of “coincidence” with suspicion. Everything happens for a reason.
And so early on in the journey my quest to find the meaning and purpose of my gifts was tempered by my studies in formation for the diaconate in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento. The journey up the mountain was full of adventure, struggles, and challenges. There were monsters to overcome, dragons of the mind to slay and demons of doubt and uncertainty to exorcise. And there was a villain, mankind’s great adversary hounded my heels seeking to pull me away from the path and give up the journey. For he wants nothing more than to separate us from God’s love, a love he abandoned long ago.
Finally I reached the top of the mountain and my own encounter with the divine. For me it was receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders and again I heard the voice, quiet and still in my heart, “be a deacon, I will take care of everything else.”
I also found some measure of the prize I sought, the realization that my artistic gifts, like all the gifts that are given to all of us, are not for me alone. The gifts that we are given, are given for us to help others in their own journey and their own encounter with the divine.
So now I make my way back down the mountain, helping others along the way rediscover the path. I am now of two worlds, the mundane and the spiritual, the visible and the invisible. Through my art I connect the two and move freely between them. There are new adventures ahead, new trials to endure and new challenges to overcome. But now I am better equipped for the journey, strengthened by what I have encountered thus far, and armed with the prize.
Deacon Lawrence is an internationally acclaimed artist, illustrator, writer and popular speaker on the topic of the intersection of art and faith. His clients have included leaders in Catholic media and publishing such as EWTN, The Catholic Register, Paulist Press and Liturgical Training Publications.
He currently lives in Northern California, serving as a deacon in the diocese of Sacramento.