For a number of years, I have been in the habit of writing a Thanksgiving essay as my way of expressing gratitude for the many blessings in life. Typically, those essays have taken the form of a single, sometimes lengthy story. This year’s entry, however, represents a departure from that tradition.
Earlier this month, I turned sixty-one years old. Having now completed the first full year of my seventh decade of life, I am in a scattered yet reflective mood. So, this year’s Thanksgiving entry finds me less with a (longish) story to tell and more with a few short musings possibly consistent with this later stage of life.
I hope one or more of them will bless you.
A friend of mine recently said to me: “God cannot be put in a box.” Her intention, of course, was to express that God is bigger and greater than we could ever imagine; and, I wholeheartedly agree with her. Yet, virtually every day of my life I violate that awesome truth.
When I sit down to pray, I most often do so with a concept/image of God in mind, something to make God seem more real and approachable. I suppose “boxing” God in that way helps me to cope with the mystery, especially God’s silence – even apparent absence – at difficult moments in life.
One such depiction of God, an anthropomorphic image found in the book of Genesis, grips my imagination like no other. It appears in the story of the fall of Adam and Eve, and it reads as follows:
“And they [i.e., Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” (Genesis 3:8a, RSV-CE)
I cannot explain my fascination. I can only admit to bringing a personalized version of this verse (i.e., a God box) to prayer countless times. In truth, one of my deepest longings has now become walking with God in the garden in the cool of the day.
To talk. To listen. To finally understand. And then, to rest in God’s peace.
This past summer, my wife Marianne and I attended several of our grandson Joseph’s little league baseball games. One inning of one game left a lasting impression.
The field where the game was played restricts spectator access along the baselines, so we were watching from behind the left field fence. Since we arrived a few minutes late, and our vantage point was a healthy distance from the dugouts, we weren’t even sure Joseph knew we were there. That question, however, would soon be answered.
When Joseph got up to bat for the second time, he got an infield hit. As often happens in little league, a series of fielding miscues followed; and Joseph, who should have been on first base, made it all the way around to third. His foot had no sooner safely landed on the base when he pivoted around and waved enthusiastically to us.
“Did you see that? Are you proud of me?” his wave seemed to say.
That endearing gesture spoke volumes to this grandfather’s heart. Joseph’s Mom and Dad had dropped him off that day, but they couldn’t stay for the game. If we’d not been present, with whom would Joseph have shared his great accomplishment?
Joseph’s wave reminded me of a child’s vulnerability and of his/her need to know support, affirmation, love, and acceptance. Since we are all God’s children, and since my mind inevitably works this way, it also taught me a lesson about prayer.
Sometimes I turn to God with a broad smile and wave. Other times, I turn and desperately search for God’s face in the crowd. Still other times, I turn and can only bow my head in sorrow.
What matters is that God comes to every game.
And, as it turns out, 3rd base is an excellent place to pray.
When I was a boy in parochial school, I learned that we all have a guardian angel assigned to guide and protect us. I can’t help wondering what the guardian angels of the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School were doing while Adam Lanza was on his hellish rampage.
Years ago, when I was working for the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), I was invited to deliver a presentation about preservation microfilming to an audience of imaging scientists at the Polaroid Corporation. That was, perhaps, the most intimidating lecture I’ve ever had to give. Before speaking, I remember studying the faces of those in attendance, knowing full well that every one of them was more knowledgeable than I about photographic processes.
Some years later, I had a similar experience while teaching a six-week adult-education course in my parish on the topic: “God and Human Suffering.” Looking out at the participants before my first lecture, I realized that every person in the room had suffered, many quite profoundly. Further, each person had processed his/her suffering in such a way as to reconcile it with his/her view of God. I was an amateur charged with speaking to an audience of experts.
Fortunately, the course was very well received. In fact, after the final lecture, many expressed a desire to meet for an additional session just to talk about what we had collectively learned. We did so, and it was a beautiful and humbling experience – so many moving stories.
I’m now convinced that discovering the beauty and goodness of God in the midst of our suffering is one of the most important adventures in life.
I can’t imagine a more central element to the spiritual life than daily prayer. Yet, in all the parishes to which I’ve belonged over the years (nine or ten, if memory serves), I’ve never found one that consistently prioritized teaching adult parishioners how to develop and deepen their personal prayer lives.
The divisions that exist in the Catholic Church today exhaust me. Twitter, in particular, has become a battleground wherein uncharitable comments from both the right and the left abound.
With that in mind, it is an interesting exercise to read James 3:1-12, while mentally substituting the word “keyboard” for the word “tongue.”
It is also worthwhile to recall that, whenever someone expresses an opinion that differs dramatically from one’s own, that person is defending what he/she believes to be good, i.e., he/she is not knowingly proposing evil. In all circumstances, deeper understanding is called for, not aggression.
I have a friend I greatly admire, who is an atheist. He is kind, thoughtful, socially conscious, a devoted husband and father, and he certainly has known his share of suffering. Though we’ve never discussed the matter outright, he and I would surely differ in our views about an afterlife.
Of course, the only way we will know which of us is right is if I’m right.
Should that prove to be the case, it would gladden my heart immeasurably if my friend were to walk with me – and with God – in the garden in the cool of the day.