David Ozab is a writer living in Eugene, Oregon. Raised Episcopalian, he joined the Catholic Church in 2011. He is married and has an eight-year-old daughter who will receive her First Communion in May.
"Beauty will save the world." – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
God speaks to us all the time, but he usually speaks in subtle ways. Beautiful whispers that draw us little by little toward him. God spoke to me many times in the most unlikely places, although I didn't recognize his voice until much later.
Thirty years ago when I was in high school, God whispered to me for the first time. My mom bought a book at a garage sale titled Men, Ships, and the Sea. It was beautiful: filled with color photos of all kinds of ships, fine works of nautical art, rapturous descriptions of sailing, but the most beautiful thing in the book was left there by its previous owner. When I opened the pages for the first time, a picture of Jesus slipped out. As a Protestant, and a nominal one at that, I didn't recognize the image of the Sacred Heart but the simple beauty of that picture spoke to me. I mounted it that day – a single tack piercing the spot labeled "If you wish to hang up this picture make a hole here." That picture has moved with me several times since, and today it hangs at my bedside.
God whispered to me a second time by placing the desire in my heart to become a musician, and giving me the courage to tell my parents I was going to study music in college. Had I pursued music outside the academy, I would have traveled down the wrong road: nightclubs, alcohol, and casual sex – the rock and roll life. Instead, God sent me to music school and immersed me in the beauty of the Mass. Compositions written by some of the greatest composers – Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and Palestrina – were settings of the Latin Mass. I had a passing acquaintance with the liturgy through my occasional visits to church; now I was learning it through the most beautiful sacred music ever written. I studied it in classes and I sang it in choirs. Even in a public university, I couldn't get away from God if I tried.
The third time God whispered to me was after I moved to Oregon for graduate school. Despite years of exposure to sacred music, I still stayed away from church and from God. So he employed a less subtle beauty this time. He brought an amazing woman into my life, and I fell in love. Julia is a Catholic whose faith helped her through a very difficult time in her life. At first, I was drawn to her physical beauty: her shimmering topaz-brown eyes, sparkling smile and lustrous burgundy hair. As I got to know her I saw another kind of beauty that was deep and profound: her kindness and compassion. I knew God created her physical beauty, and also nurtured the seeds of faith that blossomed into her spiritual beauty.
It was Julia that finally brought me to church. After months of encouragement, I agreed to go to Midnight Mass with her. All it took was getting me in the door. Within weeks I returned to the church of my baptism: The Episcopal Church. Now God had me where he wanted me and there was no going back. But he wasn't done with me yet.
The time for subtlety had ended. God plunged me into beauty: the music, the liturgy, and the smells and bells of High Church worship. The Episcopal Church at its best is as close to Catholic as you can get while remaining a good Protestant. God knew he wasn't getting me into a Catholic parish right away, but he pointed me in the right direction. Within weeks of joining, I bought a copy of the Book of Common Prayer (the book used in all Episcopal worship) and taught myself how to pray daily. The beautiful language drew me in, creating a quiet, prayerful space in my heart where I could talk to God without worrying about the right words.
Through private prayer, God drew me closer to Benedictine spirituality. I didn't know this at the time, but it was St. Benedict's Rule that formed the foundation of all Western monasticism, which in turn influenced the prayers I was saying each day. Once I learned this, I began studying the Rule. At first it seemed distant to me. I wasn't a monk so what did I need to know about sleeping arrangements or scheduling meals in a monastery? However, with time and guidance I began to see the simple beauty in Benedict's practical suggestions. Humble, self-sacrificing love: that's what it was all about. I didn't need to follow the Rule as if I was a monk, but I was compelled to keep the spirit of the Rule as a husband and father.
Having tasted that spirit, I sought out the closest Benedictine community. I found Mount Angel Abbey about ninety minutes away and began taking annual retreats. There in the abbey church, immersed in the chants of the monastic hours and kneeling before an icon of Christ mounted above the Tabernacle, I broke into tears overwhelmed by the beauty of his presence. God embraced me. He was always there, but now I knew it.
Still something was missing, and the Tabernacle, the monks, and the Sacred Heart picture at my bedside revealed to me what that was. I would never be home until I came all the way home, until I put away my last reservations and joined the Catholic Church.
On the first evening of RCIA, we visited the Adoration Chapel, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved at all times. The consecrated host – nestled in a golden sunburst at the heart of a large glass cross – sat atop an altar, and several people knelt in quiet prayer. I knelt as well and made the sign of the cross. As I did, I felt a wave of electricity course through me, and at last I recognized the voice I'd been hearing all along.
I found my love, my faith, and my church. God saved me through beautiful whispers.
Edited by Rachel Waugh