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Monday, October 20, 2008

Hello…God? Are You There? Hello…Hello...

Contributor Doug writes: Is God really there? I mean, like, right here, right now with us, always and forever, really? The Scriptures say so, and the rest is faith. That faith thing can be pretty daunting for us regular folk. Even Thomas was “doubting.” One of several definitions of “faith,” as provided by my trusty 2nd College Edition American Heritage Dictionary is: “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” Yup. That’s the one! That’s faith, all right! Our “faith” (the other variant of the definition) calls us to be faithful, but being that we can’t see, touch, smell, hear or taste God, that’s a pretty big leap. Let’s face it, when those senses (that God gave us by the way) fail us, what else have we to rely on, but faith? So, if we are faithful, we believe anyway, despite our lack of “logical proof or material evidence.” Or is it lacking? Philosophically speaking, does our significant other love us any less when he or she simply smiles at us than when he or she wraps us in a bear hug and gives us a sloppy smooch? Of course not. Love can be expressed subtly or passionately, but presumably, it’s still there. Likewise, if God shows Himself to us, but only subtly, does He exist any less than how He already does? Of course not. Perhaps our “logical proof or material evidence” does exist, but as the popular 70’s song told us about love, maybe we were “looking in all the wrong places.”
We have heard the sarcastic quip before from others: “God has a sense of humor.” Of course he does! Why not? He created us, didn’t He? If that’s not worth a belly chuckle, I don’t know what is. God also created us in His image, so it stands to reason that if we have a sense of humor, He must as well, and if our perception is keen enough, we can see evidence of it from time to time, albeit subtly so for what are obviously God’s own reasons.
I work long hours on the road and I travel all over the state. I now know Stamford much better than I did 12 years ago, but 12 years ago, I can vividly remember getting lost on Washington Boulevard. If you are familiar with Stamford, Washington Boulevard is a major artery, several miles long, and a divided highway. If you are on the wrong side of it, you have quite a hike before you can turn around. I was running behind one day this week, made a wrong turn, not being able to find the street I was looking for, inadvertently turned onto what I now know is Washington Boulevard. At first, I went off like a bottle rocket on the 4th of July, cursing and swearing, furious and frustrated. Then it hit me: a flashback from 12 years ago. Then I started cracking up laughing! Alone in my car, I looked up in the sky and said aloud, “You do have a sense of humor, Father!” Then I composed myself, and after 3 days and 3 nights, finally found a place to turn around on Washington Boulevard and reversed my course before somebody released the bloodhounds to track me. It all worked out in the end.
For the months of September, October and November, my calendar has more ink on it than white paper. Most of that burden is my own doing. I have identified my three archenemies. They are me, myself, and I. To put it mildly, life has been hectic lately, partially for reasons beyond my control, and partially because of my three archenemies. I hadn’t been to Confession in about 8 weeks. That might not sound bad, but I generally try to go every week or two weeks, so I was behind, and I can tell when I need Confession. I can literally feel it. I know my soul as well as my body, and I was long overdue, so yesterday, I finally went to Confession. The Church forbids my pastor from revealing this information to anyone, but I know of no rule that says I can’t reveal what I confessed, and one sin was my nemesis-like impatience and temper. (Remember Washington Boulevard?) I made a good Confession, received my absolution, did my penance and was about to leave when I decided to first stop and light a candle and write a prayer in our parish intentions book for a colleague whom I thought very highly of and who was suddenly stricken and passed away this week. Now, mind you, I had just finished confessing my patience and temper. Our intentions book sits atop a table. On the lower shelf of the table is a pile of our bulletins. Several older folks were coming in early for Saturday afternoon Mass, and as I was writing this prayer for my deceased friend, one after another said, “excuse me,” as they reached ahead of me to grab a bulletin from underneath. One after another came in, I think about five people in total, and interrupted me and made me lean back so they could get a bulletin. I was on a slow burn. By time the 5th person within a span of about 30 seconds did it, I was about ready to blow! Couldn’t these rude, impatient people see I was writing a solemn prayer? Could the stupid bulletin wait a minute, or maybe they could grab one from the other shelf across the room, or maybe even get one after Mass? Uh-oh…here it comes…. I could feel the steam roiling from within. My hand tightened on the pen with a fist, my jaws clamped, my teeth clenched, my face scowled, my whole body tightened, and then, and then, and then…. Hey, whatcha think I was going to do? He was a little old man about five feet tall and about 90 years old! Give me a break, people! I’m not that much of an ogre! Actually, I really was about to say something to him, what, I don’t quite know, but I’m sure I would have thought of something in the area of 4 letters or so. But I didn’t. I took a deep breath, the elderly man took his bulletin and went on his way, and just then, as I finished writing my prayer, it hit me again! No, God wasn’t tempting me, but certainly Satan was, as I was fresh out of Confession. God does give us free choice after all, a gift of love in itself, and part of that requires that he give “the Devil his due,” so to speak, even if only on a short leash, just enough to see what we are going to do. Confession, after all, does require repentance. I chuckled again, and as I got into my car alone again, I said, “OK, Lord, I hear you!” I passed the test, at least that time.
One other thing happened after Confession, but before the bulletin incident. After leaving the confessional, I returned to the pew, kneeling and praying my penance. As I said before, I know my soul, as crazy as that may sound. I needed to go to Confession, and while praying, I suddenly felt a spiritual lightness about me, a very slight euphoria; a mild relief of some sort. I have experienced this feeling before to varying degrees. I knew the Holy Spirit was now rejoined with me via my now cleansed soul. Just then, the timer went off to turn on the lights for the afternoon mass. As the lights gradually came on in the darkened church, one particular light in the ceiling above my head shown down and brilliantly glossed directly in front of my face on the highly varnished pew ahead of me. Yes, light. Was it a miracle? No. The lights go on via timer at that same time every Saturday, but every Saturday, I don’t see a light dance in front of my eyes while I suddenly feel a pleasant spiritual feeling that I cannot even sufficiently articulate. The timer was man-made, but the timing was God’s way of saying, “Welcome back, my beloved son.” I love these secular so-called documentaries that try to dispute Biblical stories with the very science that God created. And likewise, God creates miracles from the resources He has already created. Science does not refute God: it compliments Him.
In a similar fashion, and in the course of my long travels, when I’m not talking to myself, to God, or mumbling and grumbling under my breath at the brainless maniac who just cut me off and almost took off my car’s fender during that last death-defying stunt he thought was a lane change with flair, sometimes I shut the radio off if I am distressed about something stressful in my life. Like everyone else, I have my share of travails, and my blue moods. Sometimes I just need the quiet to reflect and sort things out. On more than one occasion, I have suddenly seen a brilliant and colorful sunburst break through clouds, exposing a magnificently beautiful panoramic view of some hills or a vast meadow. On such occasions, I know, and often acknowledge that God has shown not only His presence, but His love for me as well, just a slight reminder, “Psst.., hey you…down there in the Chevy, I’m over here. See? I’m here. Now, don’t worry. I’m right here with you. It’s OK. Everything will be OK. Oh, by the way, slow down and try using that turn signal a little more often before that State Trooper I placed up the road apiece stops you when he’s done writing up that guy who just passed you! Yup, that’s right. I saw him, too. I don’t miss anybody, and he’s finding that out the hard way right about now!”
How many times have we heard this phrase: “It was meant to be.” Indeed. It often is. Sometimes in my life, even disappointing or unfortunate events have later shown me that they actually later averted greater catastrophes. It was meant to be. It was God’s plan. As the Bible teaches us, just as He protects a little bird flying in the sky, He cares even more about us, and knows every hair on each of our heads (or the hairs that used to be on some of your heads!). I believe in omens, sort of. I think the traditional interpretation of “omens” has more to do with phenomena. I don’t believe in the unknown. God knows all. He’s just choosy about what he tells us and when. But I do believe that an “omen,” for me, anyway, is when something strange or unpredictable happens because it was part of God’s plan to love and protect us. I have seen numerous such omens throughout my life, some big, some small. I just showed you some examples of some small ones. You might call them just coincidences. Now you’re catching on. Enter “faith.” Is God there? Oh, you betcha! And does He have a sense of humor? The older I get, the more I am convinced of it. People of Thomas’s mindset typically say that “Seeing is believing.” We even have a state (Missouri) that illustrates that mindset with its official motto: “Show me.” Hence, Missouri is often referred to as “The Show Me State.” But faith teaches us, if we are still, quiet, patient, and observant enough, that in fact, just the reverse of the common so-called logic is true. In other words, “Believing is seeing.”
I will leave you with this worthy poem for reflection. It’s one of my favorites, to the limited extent that I like poetry at all (YUK!). More often than not, it is commonly attributed to “anonymous,” but I recently came across a web site that claims (a claim that I can neither verify or refute) that the author is actually named Mary Stevenson. Every time I show it to people they tell me they have already seen it. You probably have too. Too bad. Do yourself a favor and read it again. During a very dark time in my life many years ago, I first discovered it and it lifted me, and I still look back on it from time to time. Maybe things in your life are hunky-dory right now, and if so, that’s great, but please just humor me and read it again anyway. For as they say, “Lest we ever forget….”

“Footprints In The Sand”

“One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there were one set of footprints.

This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow, or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints.

So I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?”

The Lord replied, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints in the sand, is when I carried you.”


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