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

seeking water

Today the first reading is from Isaiah chapter 41:

“When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
I the Lord of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.”

Water is such a powerful spiritual image. The story of the Samaritan woman at the well in the gospel of John, the image of a tiered fountain overflowing in the writings of spiritual masters like Origen and St Teresa of Avila, or even the image of God being as vast as the sea. What is it about water that connects us to God?

I remember once, sitting on the beach at Lake Michigan. We had rented a little cottage within walking distance to the beach, and every morning I would take my bible and go walk in the sand. Eventually, I’d find a spot to sit, and I would read some scripture passage, let it soak into my mind, and pray. I remember one particular morning filled with grace. The wind was completely still, and I sat looking at the water, the early morning sun warming my back. I was able to set my bible down in the sand, open to the passage, without the pages blowing or ruffling in the least. My gaze would rest momentarily on the early morning fishermen on the water, the gulls so far off, hovering above the still water, or the tiny grains of sand that surrounded my feet. When my eyes returned to the scripture, my bible was still open to the same page.

That day on the beach, my thirst for God was quenched. I found God in the grains of sand, in God’s creatures, in the simple act of contemplating a passage of scripture. I’d like to say that God showed up for me that day. But I think the opposite is true. I showed up for God, who is always present. I showed up, waiting, a receptacle for the grace. And God filled me with awareness, peace, and a thirst for more.