driving

 

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I have always valued car time. For me, it is time spent alone with people I love, where conversations can go on for a while without interruption, where all the passengers are looking forward, where scenery is mutually enjoyed and things (sometimes long unspoken) come to light. When I am traveling in the car alone, I like to blast the music from the iPod and sing along, relishing the fact that I can choose the playlists. I listen more closely to the lyrics, allowing them to speak to my heart as the sound fills the car. When I am traveling in the car with others, I savor the chance to hear and to be heard. To listen, and to respond fully. To be aware of the gift of this time together.

It seems that autumn, for me, has been a road trip season. Both of our children have left the nest and are away at college. So, beginning in August, we’ve driven to their respective campuses for move-ins, visits, and various deliveries that could not be accommodated by mail, from mini-refrigerators to repaired laptops to bookshelves. Lots of time in the car, all of it good.

I drove with our youngest daughter to Kentucky, the car packed up to the absolute max, the GPS set to her dorm’s address, her new home-away-from-home. I’m pretty sure we couldn’t fit much more into the car that day than a couple of extra water bottles. More than the physical “stuff,” during the long drive, we filled the car with conversation. We talked about her insecurities about college, from making friends, to getting lost on campus, to managing her money. I responded with motherly reassurances. On my solo trip back to Pennsylvania, my awareness was on the grace of that trip. The grace of both of us being able to really listen to the other. To respond with love. To help the other understand, and to help the other to grow.

A few weeks ago, I drove with a friend to an airport a couple of hours away. Her daughter was coming in on a late flight, and the dark drive on the turnpike is not much fun. In our hectic lives filled with jobs, family, and friends, our conversations have been reduced to 5-minutes of catching up here and there. Having the car time with my friend gave us the chance to go much deeper into many of the conversations we’ve been starting for the past few years. I talked to her a lot about her cancer, her treatment, her recovery, the financial pressures and the celebration of her cancer-free status. The grace of this time of communion with my friend continues to bless me, weeks after the fact.

More recently, I drove with some dear friends to hear Richard Rohr speak at a venue a couple of hours away. These are women with whom I have shared hours in the car, in airplanes, in restaurants, in each other’s homes. My soul sisters. It’s time in the car with them that illuminates the grace that we are in each other’s lives. When I think about it this way, I am astounded. Surprised. Grateful. Somehow, I know that the grace of the time spent together is truly a gift. When this awareness touches my heart, I give thanks.

Today, I pray that during this holiday time of car trips to come, an awareness of the gift of this time of grace will stay with me. I invite you to do the same.

Now is the time to remember that all that you do is sacred.

-Hafiz

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

formation

In the early morning, just after dawn, I see them. Dozens, hundreds, thousands of geese. They form lines in the sky, one taking the lead, now another. Maybe, if it were just one, I wouldn’t even notice. It is the formation of many that catch my eye. They are in communion. With the backdrop of the brilliant blue autumn sky, the field of gold, and the reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn color in the distance, it occurs to me that I’d love to know how to paint this lovely scene. When I was small, I would watch the geese in the sky, and then I’d take my crayons and draw a perfect V formation of birds on the blue construction paper, the birds always precariously close to the sun with its yellow and orange crayon-lines streaming outward.

It seems the geese are always seeking a perfect place, always on the move. It occurs to me now that the geese can represent much to us humans.

We yearn for a perfect place, whether it is a perfect home life, or perfect job, or perfect partner. The geese do this, too. In the fall, they fly south in an effort to stay warm and happy. In the spring, they come back north to raise their little goslings. My mom tells me stories of the geese that return, year after year, to her property to raise their babies. Apparently, the adult geese lose their feathers when their goslings are young. They only get them back when the goslings are ready to learn to fly. If only we, too, could sometimes focus simply on staying out of danger and learning to fly again.

On a recent business trip to Los Angeles, I stopped to visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Its scale and design remind me of St Francis de Sales in my hometown. Four windows form the giant cross above the altar. The walls of the space are decorated with amazing tapestries depicting saints that lived throughout history. What is most striking about them is that their figures face the cross, as if they are standing beside the people in the pews, looking towards the altar. These holy men and women remind us to focus on staying out of danger and on learning how to keep the goal of returning home in focus.

During this month of celebrating our saints, I encourage you to stay focused on the cross. And when you see a formation of geese in the sky, perhaps you will consider the saints in your midst, always focused on their direction, and always there to remind us of our true home.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

-Hebrews 2:1-2

living witnesses

Joyce Rupp is one of my favorite spiritual authors; several of her books line my shelves. In her book Out of the Ordinary, she writes beautiful reflections about the seasons, from spring and summer to Advent and Lent. One exercise spoke to me this past November: A Personal Ritual for All Saints Day.

Sister Joyce describes it like this:

-Have near you a small container, such as a cup, bowl, basket, or small box, and at least 30 small pieces of paper. An index card cut into fours is a good size.

-Ask for divine guidance as you ponder saints who have drawn you to deeper faith, to a closer union with God. These might be people you have known personally, through scripture or history; they might be spiritual and theological authors, poets, or singers – anyone who has inspired you and stirred your desire to be faithful to the Christ-like goodness within you.

-As persons and names come to mind, take the small pieces of paper and write a name on each one. Place these names in the container.

-Keep the container of names any place where you will see them. Each day of November draw out one name. Remember the person whom the name signifies. Ask yourself: what does this person’s life teach me about the goodness of God and about how to live my life well? Write this quality on the back of the paper. After you have recognized this quality, place the name alongside the container.

-Each day, try to live the quality of the saint whose name and life you pondered.

This was such a fruitful exercise, one that surprised me in many ways. Names of canonized saints made my list, like St Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross, St John the Evangelist, St Paul. One surprise, though, was that the majority of my saints are people I’ve known (or still know) who have touched my life in profound ways. Like my mom. Or particular people who have been instruments of conversion for me. Or people who have been important in my life, who have died, like my dad, my Grandma Engle and Bill’s Grandma Rosie. Or individual, living witnesses with whom I interact regularly.

In doing this exercise, I found that the majority of my saints have, in some way, breathed the same air and walked the same path as me. There is much to be mined from this for me. I look forward to exploring this here.