Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On Fireflies and Gratitude

I'm back in the Land of Pain for a few days, having returned for my son's high school graduation. It's a bittersweet event no matter what the circumstances, and this year's relationship disruption intensified both characteristics.

I am proud of my tall son, behind who's strengthening face I can see the soft lines of a young child. Proud of many things, not least of which is his shouldering through the clamoring voices of those who label me evil incarnate to permit short moments of time with me. It would be easier for him to be pulled completely in and simply cut me off as others have. But he hasn't, and I am grateful. Proud and grateful.

I will have a few hours with him today and tomorrow. And I am grateful.

I don't think I could stand up against the pain if it weren't for the amazing generousity of our great God.

DiDi and I camped the first few days in the area. It's a good way to save money and gain peace. Our final night found the campground deserted. We were the only tent left, a long way from other humans. Cell phones can't get service there. Last year a woman at the site said she'd seen a bear walking through camp.

We took precautions with food and did the right things. I didn't feel at risk, but for some reason DiDi's antenna were twitching. She has keen spiritual feelers and gut instinct, and takes the issue of safety and protection seriously. Something had her warning bells clanging.

I put my own feelers out, listening for the quiet whisper of the Spirit issuing warning or reassurance. I felt peace.

And so we stayed, lifting prayers for protection.

DiDi couldn't shake it though.

We went to bed knowing there was a full day ahead, breaking camp and heading back to Rochester and certain pain. The puppy settled quickly, but I could hear that DiDi was restless, jerking up at snaps and crackles in the underbrush. Sighing and tossing. I continued to feel that we were safe, and prayed for peace to fall upon her so that she could sleep.

He answered the prayer in a magical way.

Near the door of the tent, down low and outside, a firefly began blinking. We watched it for a few minutes, marveling. Neither of us had seen anything like it before, despite both having camped periodically all our lives.

The tent was in a clearing, and the bugs I've seen always stayed near vegetation.

They also stayed low. But this little guy started climbing.

On the other side of the tent, another one appeared. The light show intensified and morphed, with flashes coming intermittently from the side and eventually the top, when the first bug settled there.

The second bug began moving upward as well, seeking to join the first.

And that's when a third firefly appeared.

After a few minutes, all three were positioned at the top center of the tent. They moved around slightly, circling and drifting back and forth but staying basically centered.

I marvelled at the miraculous coming together of His beautiful creation, at a time we needed it.

Lightning bug researchers say that the light may be a defense mechanism, warning off predators.

My first picture book contains a page about fireflies. My second picture book centers around the idea of angels and saints working through nature.

And so He sent a trinity of fireflies to reassure and protect us. Reminding us of His immanence and the particularity of His love.

I fell asleep in wonder and peace, waking periodically throughout the dark night, and seeing that the tiny guardians remained, casting His light in waves singing "I am here..."

In the morning we broke camp, and began driving back north. Once cell phones were back in service I discovered that the time planned with my son for the day was cancelled.

But He sent fireflies, like the rainbow we experienced on the previous trip. Miraculous signs and wonders of reassurance and hope.

And I am grateful.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Haunting desire for unity

The desire for unity has haunted me all my life through; I have never been able to substitute any desire for that, or to accept any of the different schemes for satisfaction of that men have desired.

-- F. D. Maurice

Monday, June 20, 2011

I cried in church again yesterday

I cried in church again yesterday.

It's been awhile since I've done that. It used to happen all the time because the pain of my life was ubiquitous and my gratitude for God's love overwhelming.

Now the pain has shifted into new forms and combined with hope, and His love feels more like relationship than tidal wave.

I cried for another reason.

DiDi and I have been trying to find the parish that is meant for us to attend. Little towns and villages are clustered here like grapes, and we've been giving each Catholic church several visits to get a feel for what they are like.

Yesterday was the third visit to a lovely small church with a quaint seaside name in a beach town north of us. The service started at 10:30. We exited the building at 11:07, after 90% of the recessional stampede abated.

I called it the Drive Thru Mass.

It was Trinity Sunday. The homily lasted about 3 minutes.

He devoted 3 minutes to helping us understand the Trinity.

3 minutes.

There is only one way to address the majesty of the Trinity in that little time, so that's what he did. He said it was a mystery and that we should accept it as an article of our faith.

The lay reader must have been coached about speed as well, because the prayers of the people ended like this:


No pause. No moment for reflection. (I'd intended to pray for the church and its congregation, but no time for that.)

DiDi and I looked at each other with grieved hearts and disbelief.

Words of the consecration prayers also ran together into a nearly incomprehensible stream.

But it was the Eucharistic hymn that finally broke me.

DiDi and I plan to enter RCIA once we find our home parish. Until we join the church officially, we honor its teaching about reception of the Eucharist and abstain, going up to simply receive a blessing from the priest when practical.

There is pain in that abstention. Hunger. Thirst. Longing.

We refrain from receiving out of respect and reverence for the incredible gift that it is. That He is. We do it as a way of honoring Him and His body, the church.

But it hurts.

And so sitting among a body who didn't seem to mind their shepherd rushing through the mass as if it were homework was an affront.

The Eucharistic hymn was "I am the Bread of Life":
I am the Bread of life,
He who comes to Me shall not hunger,
He who believes in Me shall not thirst.
No one can come to Me
Unless the Father draw him.

And I will raise him up,
And I will raise him up,
And I will raise him up on the last day.
The words broke my heart, wondering if this flock would try to lift Him up, when their last day came. I tried to sing but couldn't through the tears.

The Catholic church offers a treasury of gifts. It carries with it the fullness of relationship; understanding the role of Mother within the Holy family. It provides the richness of all the sacraments, with Eucharist as source and summit. It holds the deposit of faith transmitted from Peter.

And yet...

During concluding announcements, the priest looked at his watch and said to the congregation "See how good I am to you?" because the service had been so short. The body responded with a round of applause.

It was the Feast of the Holy Trinity, which fell on Father's Day. The priest stood in the person of Christ to offer His body and blood, poured out for us. Such richness. Such an opportunity for spiritual and intellectual and emotional feeding of God's people.

And yet the priest, our Father, thought that being good to us was getting us out the door in record time.

I repeat Moses' words from yesterday's reading:
"This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own." (Ex 34:9)
Lord, send us to a parish that loves you, respects you, and wants to worship and receive you. In the meantime, may every tear we cry be used for the restoration of your Church.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Contemplatio in action: the Trinity's fulcrum?

I love how praying the rosary opens the mind to to insights about our God.

Contemplatio in action.

Monday night's meditations on the joyful mysteries got me thinking about the Holy Trinity, and about the relationships the three persons have with us.

I often assign roles to them in my thoughts and prayers. For example, when anointing DiDi's forehead with oil, I make the sign of the cross, saying:
In the name of the Father who created you
the Son who redeems and saves you
and the Holy Spirit who comforts and guides you.
There they are in their neat little packages.

I continue the prayer by reminding DiDi that she is the daughter of the King, sister of Christ, and spouse of the Holy Spirit.

So in this "model" we have three distinct roles of Father, Brother, Spouse. Still pretty neat and tidy.

But keep going and the divisions get murky, confusing.

Given that the Father is both Christ's father and ours, Jesus becomes our sibling. But because baptism is a marital celebration, and reception of the Eucharist is consummation of the wedding feast, Jesus is also our husband.

So Jesus is not only sibling, but also spouse.

And it doesn't end there.

While contemplating the Nativity in the rosary, I thought about the opening verses in John's gospel:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be 4 through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; 5 the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Jesus was firstborn, and we were made through him. Without Him nothing came to be. He gave us life.

That's what fathers do. They give us life. We come into being through them.

So this means that Jesus, as the giver of life, is the father.

And that makes the Father really the grandfather.

Let's tally the roles we've got for the three persons so far:

The Father=father/grandfather
The Son=brother, husband/spouse, father
The Holy Spirit=husband/spouse

It is interesting that the roles of the Father and of the Spirit are essentially unchanged throughout the thought stream. They are who they are.

But in the Son, the roles vary. He takes on the roles held by both the Father and of the Spirit, while simultaneously maintaining His own.

I wonder if this is somehow the fulcrum around which the mystery of the Trinity spins?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Space, time, and glorified bodies

I've been thinking about resurrected bodies. Flesh glorified.

The pondering began last week as we read about the Ascension. It is a conundrum to consider Jesus still enfleshed, fully human, fully divine, somewhere in a "place" called heaven. His body is simultaneously broken on the cross, hidden in all the tabernacles of the world, and fully and wonderfully glorified in heaven.

So many mysteries...

If I were a physicist I would work with joy toward a physical explanation of how this is possible. Some new understanding of spacetime, of string theory M evolving into N O P and Q, and then from string to liquid, and liquid to mist.

Instead I sit and ponder.

Last night it came to mind again, this enigma of glorified bodies, as I prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary. I thought about the fourth mystery, Mary's ascension into heaven. I thought about the angels and saints waiting with joy to greet her, this amazing person who's fiat wrought so much change. Most of these beings were incorporeal, with only three exceptions: Enoch, Elijah, and Jesus himself.

I wonder why our triune God decided to give Mary and the other two humans a taste of what the rest of us will only discover at the end of time?

I went on to think about Peter and the sons of thunder on the mountain, with Jesus transfigured, communing with Elijah and Moses.

Unlike Elijah, Moses died a traditional death and was buried. And yet there he stood with the others, similarly glorified.

I think the disciples walked up the mountain and stepped outside of time for a moment, and into a time to come. They saw Christ as He would be post-resurrection; shining like the sun. They saw Elijah, still in the bodily form he'd had when the wheels drew him up into the sky. And they saw Moses also in bodily form, though his body would have long since turned to dust.

The boys undoubtedly received a foretaste of resurrection to help equip them for the work of spreading the gospel. But for me it is says so much more than just that.

(Though "that" is no small thing.)

For me the story says "Wonder."

Do it.

Don't be afraid to think "how can this be?" Not in the way you would think it if you were told that a purple Leprechaun just brought you a pot of gold. But in the way that you think about the colors of a sunset, knowing there is an explanation and wondering what it is.

Do it.


And know that Pascal, Newton, Magnus, Bacon, Kelvin, Henrietta Swan-Leavitt, Florensky, Milne, Einstein, Jaki, and Sandich anticipate their own glorified bodies, watching and urging us on to keep searching.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Inexplicable demonstration of His love

Yesterday I returned home from a trip back to Rochester, the Land of Pain. I was able to spend most of one day with my son, and am grateful for it but wished for more. DiDi's daughter stayed with us the three days we were there, which was a blessing. Time with friends and loved ones was also good.

But the place itself is a complex mix of love and pain.

Perhaps over the years that will change, but for this first trip back, we could feel it driving in, a cloud hovering over the region.

Dark. Threatening. Intimidating.

The cloud followed us as we drove back out of town a few days later, the darkness infiltrating the car and our hearts. It clung for hours into the trip. Almost the whole way home in fact.

But as it began to withdraw, somewhere around the middle of Massachusetts, our amazing God blew the rest of it away.

Real storm clouds loomed, the gray sky full of rain to come. And into this gray promise bloomed a rainbow. At first the colors were tepid, weak, uncertain. As they came into focus, a second rainbow began to appear in an outer arc, this one bleary as the first had begun.

They remained in view for at least 10 minutes. The first bow grew more saturated until we could see the separation between colors distinctly. The ordinarily blurred flow from indigo to blue became tangible. When we came to a part in the trees, we could see the bow in its entirety, the two ends touching the horizon.

It was breathtaking.

We took picture after picture with our phones, wishing for a real camera, amazed that the rainbows lasted so long and changed so much. Eventually we stopped trying to capture it, and just watched the main bow fade as we continued driving east, the secondary bow remaining insubstantial but still present.

The show seemed to be almost over. And that's when the miraculous happened.

It looked like we were getting closer and closer to the weak rainbow, which I didn't think was possible. After a minute or two, we saw the left end of the rainbow touching down on the road up ahead. We watched it grow larger as we approached, until it was just a few car lengths away. The van in front of us drove through it as if it were a curtain of light; you could see the spectrum travel over the metal. Then we also drove through it, and the light washed over the hood and disapeared behind us.

It was amazing.

Incongruous. Beautiful. Inexplicable.

Maybe even impossible, depending on which website you read. Wikipedia says that someone standing at the end of a rainbow could not see it.

But that doesn't change anything, because it happened.

As you can imagine, the rest of the trip was different. Astonishment jolted us out of our spiritual and emotional miasma. Our laughter and joy returned. We arrived home a bit later, light of heart.

We left Rochester, driving away from what had become a center of heartache and pain, bringing some of the darkness that clings there with us. And for some inexplicable reason, He washed us with His light and love.

Because that's just who He is.