realization

It’s funny how time works.

For example, I find it hard to believe that next weekend begins Advent. It seems like it was just the first day of my daughter’s Senior year. I ask myself, “How is it that time sometimes moves so quickly?”

There are situations in which time seems to stand still, too. Like when you’re waiting for your child to come out of surgery, and you need to know that all will be well.

Then, there are the places where time splits a particular thing into two separate and very distinctive parts. Something happens that changes the landscape of a particular situation so dramatically that you can’t help but think of it as two, rather than one.

…The life I knew before I got married, and the life I have had afterwards.

…The dynamics of our family before my dad died, and the dynamics in our family afterwards.

…That life-giving friendship before we had a falling-out, and the pain and sadness in my heart over it afterwards.

…The distance I felt from God before I went on retreat, and the transformation in me afterwards.

…It may be the day of your cancer diagnosis. Or the day you found out you were expecting a child. Or the day you decided to transfer to a different college.

A few years ago, I made Ignatius’ retreat for everyday life. One of St Ignatius’ primary teachings is that by entering into the stories of scripture using one’s imagination, you can experience God in an intimate and personal way. Perhaps you are one of the shepherds that come to Bethlehem after hearing the angels on high. It could be that you are Peter’s mother-in-law, healed by Jesus’ touch. Maybe you are the centurion at the foot of the cross. As you image yourself in each of the scenes, you consider the sights and sounds, you tune into an awareness of your feelings, and you give honor to where you resist going deeper.

Powerful and sometimes life-changing, this profound use of the senses invites and challenges you to a deeper understanding of your life with God.

In this month of honoring our saints, I have been invited by God to enter into a similar closeness with those who have gone before me. In my mind’s eye, I have been at the old house sitting with Grandma and Grandpa at the kitchen table, her long, red nails and the perpetual twinkle in his eye drawing me close. On another day I saw myself at my dad’s knee, “helping” him in his workshop out back.

In doing this, what have I learned this November?

I’ve discovered that when time seems to split a relationship with our deceased loved ones into two distinct parts, there is hope and comfort found in a continued connection with them.

I’ve learned that regular prayer and meditation sometimes stretches me in unexpected, powerful ways.

God is good, and God’s time is good. Today, I find myself profoundly thankful for this mystery.

I invite you to give thanks for this mystery of God’s time.

We should honor our dead and honor the cemeteries where their bodies now rest, but we meet our deceased in “Galilee”, in those places where their spirits flourished and where our own souls were stretched and instructed and warmed in our contact with them. More than honoring their graves, we need to honor their lives, we need to honor the wonderful energy that they uniquely incarnated and which, in turn, nurtured, instructed, stretched, cajoled, consoled, warmed, teased, honored, steadied, and blessed us.

When we do that our relationship with them does not just continue, it deepens.

-Ronald Rolheiser, in Finding Our Loved Ones After Their Deaths

resurrection

As God’s providence would have it, the summer after I graduated from college I was in a minor car accident. The brand-new little car I had bought for myself (using college grad rebates as a downpayment) was in the body shop for three weeks. The providence in this is that during that time, my dad was able to drive me back and forth to my job in a neighboring town. That hour I spent with my dad every day helped me to know him as an adult after the four years of being away at school. We’d talk about things we heard on the radio, discuss quirks of family members, laugh at the sportstalk show that dad loved. He always listened compassionately to me, and it was rare that he gave me life’s answers or told me what decision was the right one in any particular situation.

Occasionally, dad and I would leave a bit earlier in the morning and go out for breakfast along the way. One of these mornings, the hostess seated us in a booth next to the window. Once we had ordered, we passed sections of the newspaper back and forth and drank our coffee in a comfortable silence. I remember one particular vivid detail. That morning, the sunlight came streaming through the window and cast an ethereal glow on our table. A random person in that restaurant would not have noticed anything out of the ordinary in the scene. As I look back on it now, though, it occurs to me that the memory of that ordinary breakfast is something I’ve carried in my heart for over 25 years. Now, the memory of the streams of light suggests resurrection.

My dad died of a heart attack few years later. At the time of his death, I had been married for a while and our oldest daughter (his first grandchild) was six months old. Dad was there when she was baptized, but didn’t live to see her first birthday. Now, Lauren is a freshman in college and lives 3000 miles away.

The memory of breakfast with my dad that day is sometimes enough to sustain me. The beauty of the sunlight streaming down… the love and affection we shared… the daughter seeing her father in a different light… This is the stuff that life is made of. This memory is sometimes enough when I miss my dad and wish I could take him out for breakfast. It is sometimes enough when I am having a particularly difficult conversation with my college freshman. It is sometimes enough when I am attempting to console a friend who has lost a loved one. What makes it truly enough is the grace to be able to see each scene with the eyes of faith. What makes it enough is the grace to know that my presence might be the one thing that someone else holds in their heart 25 years from now. Not because of anything I could do or say, but simply because of God’s grace.