Some mornings I just have to give up and get up. Most times, I can let the thoughts roll on by after considering them. I always think I’ll remember the insights when I get up. Alas, it seems that this is one of those days to get up and make notes of all those deep down things that showed up.
A couple of Sundays ago, our young, wet behind the ears priest reflected on the parable of the mustard seed. He caught me short when he started with the idea of faith as all the information about what we [Catholic Christians] say we believe. I thinking “What?” The Catechism, the specifics, all the tenets of the Faith, etc… okay, I guess that is a definition of faith. I, however, think of those things as Religion.
So, I was relieved as he moved on to the idea of faith as trust. Now, we are getting somewhere. Faith is a belief, a trust in something or someone. All those rules, and statements, etc are maybe the result or the revelation of how faith has impacted our lives. Looking beyond the surface and accepting what is often hard to see and trust.
All of this led me to thinking about scrapbooking layouts revealing the image beyond surface. Yes, I know this seems a leap here. But stay with me. Just for a minute. Thanks.
Of late I have been digging into some digital scrapbooking layouts where there is a textured background, but another image is revealed in part. Hard to describe in words, but maybe an image would help:
All that pretty pinky base, and low and behold, sunrise at the beach is partially revealed, with birds laid on top, and a 3 frames to focus one’s attention. In many ways this is how faith works, especially if one practices contemplation. The details of the what lies beyond begin to be revealed.
What is my God? or yours?
Onward marched my random thoughts. All the way to remembering a meme (okay, a quote) I saw yesterday attributed to GK Chesterton.
Once [you] abolish God, the Government becomes God. Whenever the people do not believe in something beyond the world, they will worship the world.
OK. I find it difficult to accept words themselves without considering who is passing them on. In this case, I know the person posting is pretty much a right wing, don’t take away my gasoline/diesel vehicle or my guns type who is seems pretty sure that financial success or failure is due entirely to how hard you try. So, I have issues because of the source. I fully agree that we will believe in something, and that something becomes our God. I find it hard to take these sorts of things without a large grain of salt because I believe I understand that the words mean something quite different to me than they do to the poster. I see the poster’s God being Self, Self Reliance, Guns, Stability. I see the warning to check what/who is my God. Is it security? Is it being right? That’s on me — to take inventory and have a good long, honest look at myself.
So, give me the grace to see unexpected good in unexpected people, and to be able to tell them so.
“I’m struggling. My name is Joe, and I’m an addict. I’ve been to drug rehabilitation twice. I actually spent my 21st birthday there. Five years later, I’m still using drugs and I’m lying to my parents about where my money is going. I’m hurting my health, I know. It’s hard because I really want to be sober, but it’s just hard to stop. I guess I’m writing to you because your letters really are therapeutic to me.”
Today I sat down to write you a response even though, I freely admit, I know nothing about the nature of addiction. I typed one sentence when something happened. My wife came bursting into my office, shouting, “Otis has gone missing!”
Otis is one of our dogs. Otis is an alleged Labrador who might as well be our oldest child. He smells like a giant armpit and has chewed approximately 39 pairs of my reading glasses. But he is loyal, and he is mine. And we love him.
This dog, however, has been known to dig beneath our fence and explore the greater Birmingham metro area. I don’t know why he escapes. He has a pretty cushy life here. We feed him Science Diet, which costs more per bag than a four-bedroom beachfront condo.
My wife and I tore into our backyard and found a big hole beneath the fence. My heart dropped.
“Otis!” we shouted.
He was gone.
Within minutes we were canvassing the neighborhood. I was barefoot, jogging on the sidewalks, hollering, “Otis! Here, boy!”
None of our neighbors had seen him.
My wife and I split up to cover more ground, cruising side streets in our respective vehicles. We were circling the neighborhood while horrific scenarios were dancing in our heads.
In a moment like this, you find yourself acting irrationally. You find yourself losing your own sanity.
“Dear Lord,” you say aloud. “Please don’t let him go toward the highway.”
So you patrol the highway. After 30 minutes of searching, you start blaming yourself. You mentally flog yourself.
You tell yourself that if ONLY you would have reinforced the fence, he wouldn’t have escaped. If ONLY you wouldn’t have let him into the backyard without supervision, this wouldn’t have happened. If ONLY you would have been a more responsible dog owner.
“I’m such an IDIOT!” you say, pounding your hands on the steering wheel.
You’re lavishly and thoroughly panicking now. Your palms are clammy. Your heart is beating like a Sousa march. Your mind is going into dim corners.
You’re envisioning the corpse of your best friend, lying on Highway 31, limp, his little ribcage crushed. You’re envisioning red stuff saturating his white fur. You’re sick now. Physically ill.
Because you’re remembering when you once had a dog escape from your backyard a couple decades ago. He got hit by an SUV but was not killed instantly. He died in your wife’s arms. You are reliving that private hell all over again.
Now it’s been two hours.
Nobody has seen your dog. Everyone keeps giving you that frowny-faced look, telling you that if they see him they’ll call you.
One of your neighbors can clearly tell you’ve been crying and she starts praying for you in her front yard. This is sweet, but she is Pentecostal so she prays longer than anyone else in Western civilization and your legs start to fall asleep.
And still you keep looking. You visit local gas stations. You visit businesses. You knock on doors. “I’m sorry,” everyone says. “Haven’t seen any dogs.”
And eventually, you go home.
Because what else can you do? It’s been half a day now, the sun is setting and you’re nauseous. You stagger into the bathroom and kneel before the toilet because you feel like puking. But nothing comes up.
Later that night, you’re sitting on your sofa, lost in a morbid daze. Your eyes are puffy, and you realize you were supposed to be writing a response letter to a kid named Joe, but you can’t do it. Because your heart has been removed with a garden shovel.
Your dog is missing. Your dog is likely dead. Your dog IS dead, and it’s all your fault.
A tiny thought occurs to you. It’s a small thought. An infinitesimal thought. A nanoscopic thought. A thought so small you almost ignore it. But you don’t.
Something makes you stand. Something makes you go outside. Something causes you to make a beeline for your backyard shed. You were in the shed earlier today, doing yard work. Could it be?
The crickets are screaming. It’s nighttime. You unlock the shed door and 80 pounds of canine muscle shoots from the door and hits you like a steel cannonball. You fall onto the ground.
You are weeping.
“OTIS!” you shout.
He licks your face.
Your mind and body are so flooded with inexpressibly potent joy hormones that, if it weren’t for the laws of biology, they would cause your entire circulatory system to explode.
And in this intense moment, you realize that you cannot recall being this happy before. Not ever. You might never be this happy again.
Because, you see, what once was lost is now found.
So often I find non-religious, totally secular descriptions of a concept to be so much more effective than the stuff published in Christian literature. I offer the following link as an example of how to “See Christ in each and every person I come in contact with.” oh, and why that can be such a good thing!
Of late I been more aware of thin places. Places or moments when the veil between the present and eternity is less opaque and even feels almost translucent. When one can feel the rocks singing, or the air shift, or hear the heartbeat of the universe. Some of these are times when you know that you need to remove your shoes because you are standing on Holy Ground.
Last night, in the midst of family Christmas celebrations amid adults talking and children laughing, Pacabel’s Canon in D (the version from Home Alone) caught my attention. A thin place for me. The Canon, that low, steady 8 note progression that opens the music and stays steady and low throughout is the heartbeat of the universe. The lines that come into play as the piece progresses dance like all of creation. Some lower and slower, some lighter and brighter. I feel the creation of the land and the sea, earth and sky. The eternal is present in the here and now.
When I pass by Mother Mary at the entrance to the Blessed Trinity Shrine Retreat (hereafter referred to as Holy Trinity), the air shifts somehow and I know that this bit of east Alabama ground, so close to Fort Benning, is Holy Ground. I’ve known it since my first visit 50 years ago as an undergrad. I’ve felt it on every trip over since that time, even the times when I myself was in a place in life where I felt isolated and miserable and unloveable.
I’m not alone in recognizing Holy Trinity as holy ground. Very likely, it was the sight of the first mass celebrated by Spanish priests exploring the area with DeSoto. It is the place where Fr. Judge lived and worked in his tiny house. Home ground for a lay missionary ground, an order of sisters and one of priests. It seeps a Presence that attracts one to come, and listen.
I’m not much of a fan of Adoration. You know, where Catholics sit in the presence of a consecrated Host. But, I begin to understand a bit if it is a thin place. Not a place where we have God trapped in the Host, but a place and time where the veil between eternal Love and the present begins to disappear snd one can rest in that love.
There are places I would love to visit in this world to see if they are thin places. I’d like to visit Stonehenge to see if the rocks might sing to me. There are places in Ireland I’d like to experience. Would I sense history as I did at Santiago de Compostela at the end of the Camino? Would I know that God is near as I used to sitting in a pew at St. Mary’s? Would I experience the wonder of the gibbous moon looking down at me at 9 am on a clear winter morning?
I’m drawn to return to thin places I already know, and to seek others and stand quietly where the veil is almost drawn back.
I have no idea who Becky Hemsly is, but she speaks to my soul
‘She sat at the back and they said she was shy,
She led from the front and they hated her pride,
They asked her advice and then questioned her guidance,
They branded her loud, then were shocked by her silence,
When she shared no ambition they said it was sad,
So she told them her dreams and they said she was mad,
They told her they'd listen, then covered their ears,
And gave her a hug while they laughed at her fears,
And she listened to all of it thinking she should,
Be the girl they told her to be best as she could,
But one day she asked what was best for herself,
Instead of trying to please everyone else,
So she walked to the forest and stood with the trees,
She heard the wind whisper and dance with the leaves,
She spoke to the willow, the elm and the pine,
And she told them what she'd been told time after time,
She told them she felt she was never enough,
She was either too little or far far too much,
Too loud or too quiet, too fierce or too weak,
Too wise or too foolish, too bold or too meek,
Then she found a small clearing surrounded by firs
,And she stopped...and she heard what the trees said to her,
And she sat there for hours not wanting to leave,
For the forest said nothing, it just let her breathe`
~ Becky Hemsley ~