I had to go to the dentist yesterday for a regular cleaning and exam. Good news, no cavities and my blood pressure is 100/60. Most of the time was spent with the hygienist. The dentist is usually in and out in less than 5 minutes. They say nice things to me like, “You’ve got great teeth for your age.”
The patient before me was a Lutheran pastor. When I sat down, the hygienist told me that he was trying to convert her. I asked her, “From what?” and she said, “From the Catholic church.”
She went on to explain that she and her husband are both “cradle Catholics” but they have been unhappy with the new priest in town, so they haven’t been going to church and want to start going somewhere more regularly. I asked, “So you’re trying to decide if you want to be a good Lutheran or a bad Catholic?”
At this point, her hands were in my mouth. She laughed and said, “Oh well, I’m probably going to hell either way.”
Thus began an interesting one-sided conversation with only nods and “awwww”s from me.
“This priest is so conservative. The last time we were there, he said that if you use birth control, you might as well not bother coming to church.”
“I am used to tuning out the priest, but my husband is pretty upset.”
“We might visit the Lutheran church, but they have closed communion. Really I shouldn’t be taking communion anyway since I haven’t been to confession.”
She went on to explain how she does confession. She said she takes an outline of the ten commandments and lists her sins in the appropriate category and makes subcategories so she doesn’t miss any. She said one priest laughed when he saw her outline.
“All of the Catholics taking communion can’t be going to confession. If they were, the confession hours would be a lot longer than they are.”
“I guess the Lutherans just shoot their confessions straight up to God.”
“Our daughter has been learning bible stories at her preschool. But I am afraid we are dropping the ball at home. Since we are “cradle Catholics” we don’t know anything about our religion. We haven’t ever paid attention.”
“The other day, one of my patients told me he has a new Bible, and it is written in plain, everyday language. Can you believe that?! I thought they were all like the one I have, full of thee’s and thou’s. I called him at home and asked him about it and ordered one for myself on Amazon.”
“I haven’t decided yet what to give up for lent.”
“Time for fluoride. Okay, bite down gently on this and hold your mouth closed.”
It was ironic to me to run into this great spiritual conversation and literally not get to say a word. In less than a half hour she hit on the topics of church, liturgy, scripture, baptism, communion, sin, and eternity, all with a serious curiosity about what role God plays in a person’s life. It was fascinating listening. I am not sure what I would have said, given the chance, but in this case, I had no choice except to be a good listener.