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Ultreya Witness
Lionel E. Deimel

Cursillo is a Christian renewal movement within the Episcopal and other churches. The movement originated in Spain, which accounts for the use of many unfamiliar words to describe Cursillo-related activities. Central to the work of Cursillo is the Cursillo weekend, on which participants (cursillistas) listen to talks (rollos) relating to the Christian life and participate in discussion and worship. The talk below was delivered at an Ultreya, a reunion of Cursillo participants shortly after a weekend on which I was a team member. If you have no experience with Cursillo, some of the references in the talk will be obscure, but the overall message of an approach to the Christian life should be accessible. (Delivered 4/29/1994.)

I'd like to tell you a story about my spiritual journey in which Cursillo plays an important role. The story covers most of my life, so I’ll have to leave out lots of details, but I think I have enough time to tell you everything that really matters.

Most of you know little about me, so I need to tell you something about myself. I grew up Presbyterian, but I became an Episcopalian a decade ago, along with my wife, who was converted from Unitarianism. Neither of us had been religiously active for many years before that. For much of my life, I could be fairly characterized as an intellectual and computer scientist. (If that statement brings to mind certain stereotypes and prejudices, it’s done its job.) In recent years, I've also described myself as a writer and editor.

The classic sermon, I am told, has three points to make. This isn’t a sermon, but I will offer three insights for your consideration. First:

Faith may not look like what you expect.

The two central religious questions of my life—perhaps the central spiritual questions of any life—have been “What should I believe?” and “How should I live my life?” As an adolescent, I ardently wanted to answer the first question so I could get on with the second. I was very concerned about Truth and became a student of theology. In early adulthood, however, I became spiritually discouraged, not as a result of theology, but from observing the seemingly tepid response of Christians to their faith. When I rejoined the flock with my wife many years later, it was in the context of a more active Christian community than I had seen previously. I felt comfortable in this community, even if I had not exactly found intellectual certainty.

We now move forward in my story a number of years. This is where Cursillo comes in—I attended men's weekend #31. I was told the weekend would be a good thing, but, like most of you, I didn’t have a clear idea of what it was all about. I also had been told to take away from it whatever seemed useful and to not worry about the rest. Oh, and I had been told I would probably hate the music.

I hated the music, beginning with, but not limited to, that bloody song. On the other hand, like most cursillistas, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and concern I experienced. Most especially, I was impressed by the message of Cursillo, which I saw as a coherent plan for Christian living. It set forth a vision one never sees in regular Christian education in our churches, where instruction is always too fragmented to convey such a view. The Holy Spirit now had me ready for what, at the time, seemed like a relatively obnoxious conversation.

I was strolling about the grounds during a break and found myself talking to someone. I haven’t a clue as to who this person was, but he was asking me if I had been “born again.” As this was an Episcopalian function I was attending, I found the question offensive, and I spent most of my time in the conversation trying to disengage from it. In answer to a question about my belief in Christ, I replied that I was unsure of my belief, but that I liked what I saw in Christianity, and I intended to act as though I did believe. This, I asserted, amounted to the same thing. My interrogator seemed skeptical.

I don't think I had ever articulated that idea before, but several things had got turned around. For one thing, I was experiencing a large number of truly committed Christians, and I was impressed. For another, I was seeing an answer to my second spiritual question, the one I had been putting off pending an answer to the first. Perhaps most importantly, I was beginning to view Christianity not as an intellectual puzzle having a fixed solution, but as a process, a journey. I wanted to be on that journey.

Point 2: God probably doesn’t assign tasks the way the Army reputedly does.

Having finessed spiritual question 1 and accepted a plan for addressing question 2, I faced problems of implementation. I felt I understood Piety and Study, but Action gave me problems. Visiting the sick and feeding the poor didn’t feel very natural for me, and if that’s what God wanted me to do, then I didn’t at all understand His notion of resource allocation. I didn’t really feel a calling to do those things, though I secretly felt somewhat guilty about it.

When I went into the Army, there was a rumor that the Army put you through a lot of skill and aptitude testing so they could be sure you were put into a job for which you had no qualifications. I was never sure whether there was any truth in that rumor, but I doubted that God worked like that. So I kept my eyes peeled for good opportunities to serve.

An important opportunity presented itself a few years later when my church, St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, began an extensive renovation that was to involve most of the building and that would, therefore, disrupt most activities in the building at some time or another. I volunteered to maintain a “Construction Update Bulletin Board” to keep parishioners informed about and interested in what was taking place. For 30 weeks, I weekly posted on a bulletin board large-print articles about the construction, its effects on the people of St. Paul’s, and its promise for our life together. When I got the idea to do this, I knew it would not happen unless I did it, so I volunteered. I hoped it would be appreciated, but had I carefully calculated the time it would take and the likely reception I could have expected, I probably would not have done it. In any case, doing this was something I felt qualified and perhaps even called to do. The response was overwhelming. Parishioners read it; staff read it; workmen read it. I received many thanks and even requests for reprints. I published an article about the work in Congregations: The Alban Journal.

I suddenly felt a part of the Christian community in a way I had never experienced before, and it felt very good. There was a way for me to serve that felt right to me, something I should have known from I Corinthians:

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members of the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? ... Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
I Corinthians 12:14–19, 27

Of course, Paul goes on to describes gifts within Christ’s church and the greatest of those gifts, love.

Recently, I was asked by a friend, Joanne Best, to serve on the Fourth Day Team of co-ed Cursillo #34. This brings me to my last point:

Sometimes you have to stretch.

When I took on the bulletin board, I felt well-qualified for the task, though I did search unsuccessfully for a teacher with “bulletin board” expertise, whatever that was. I was less certain about being on the Fourth Day Team, whose function was something of a mystery but which seem to consist primarily of running errands and being at the beck and call of everyone else. In a moment of weakness and in a leap of faith, I accepted the invitation.

Everything I knew about the job turned out to be true, and the work was dull and exhausting. But I found there was a lot I didn’t know about being on the Fourth Day Team. I got to offer suggestions to improve the lay rollos, and I was good at that. I got the idea of having the Fourth Day Team give the lectionary bookmarks I had developed for my own study and piety as palanca, and that seemed the perfect gift from us. And I got to set up chairs and microphones for the closing, and that called on my experience from St. Paul’s as Audio-Visual Co-ordinator and Worship Commission member. And I got to know some wonderful people on my team. When I let myself be used by God, He used me well after all.

My spiritual journey continues. I worry less about question 1 now, and believe that “faith” probably doesn't involve getting all the details straight. I have an eternity to clear that up. Meanwhile, question 2 has become much more interesting.


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