I opened my eyes
To the same leafed trees
Beyond the same windows,
But now the light streamed
From within them
And the life shone there.
I said, “My God, You are here.”
And came the ancient
I’m sitting in our empty church where we intended to pray Eucharist 20 minutes ago at 9am. That’s a change of our usual weekly schedule, so folks arriving for mass might have been expected to be few.
Just around 9, the children and families of our Academy arrived for the day. They gather first in the church and there was life and laughter and movement here only minutes ago.
It’s hard as a pastor not to note the contrast of the two moments, especially as one with a love of the liturgy. The important question is always in this space, and in this heart, as to how in our day real pastoral care and true prayer relate. I know they do. One of the moms bringing her daughter this morning to school shared the joyous good news of her own mother’s freedom from cancer. And she attributed the gift precisely to faith and to prayer.
So faith and a reverence for prayer are not gone. They’re not missing.
The thing rather is the struggle to integrate the settled ways of old church with the lives and legitimate needs of the people of God living this moment. The ‘give’ (as needed) likely needs to be on the ‘old church’ side. An institution, and it is that, does best in having a genuine loving generosity toward all God’s people. Anything less makes little sense and leads nowhere where there are young voices and laughter and possibility in bright eyes.
Arriving at Job’s Pond
On a late May evening
Of a day filled with the Word and the work,
He spied the plot of land
That days before had masqueraded – poorly – as a lawn
Now in the preposterous pretense – worse yet – of being a Prairie.
Procuring his semi – trusty mower,
He took to the task.
The grass, if that is what it might be called, was not impressed,
And the insect life living therein, had never spied a sheet of paper proclaiming this attacker the owner of their home.
The oldest among them, seeing the tool at hand,
Called out to the others incredulous,
“It’s a hand push-mower. He thinks it’s 1948. Attack! We can send this rake scaping!”
And so they did.
And so he did.
I was in an insane asylum
Looking for a girl I knew.
Not a mental health facility;
this was the old-fashioned huge affair,
Bed after bed;
wandering children of God with vacant eyes.
The beds too were empty
Each one only
with a note
On the pillow
Sharing word of that
Person’s unique pain.
I woke under a pier
At an amusement park
Asleep on a thin mattress,
And the tide lapping
Around it’s edge.
I struggled up,
Found my knapsack already soaked by salt water,
And rose into the light
[Danvers (MA) State Hospital, ca. 1893]
Sonny’s yearbook from high school
Is down from the shelf
And he idly thumbs through the pages
Some have died
Some have fled from themselves
Or struggled from here to get there
Sonny wanders beyond his interior walls
Runs his hand through his thinning brown hair
~ Paul Simon, “The Obvious Child”
How is it that some days, some hours, some periods of time seem to carry with them an obvious theme, sometimes even a theme song? These can be happy and light themes or heavier and deeper.
This morning we prayed at our church the funeral of a 29-year old man, Eric, son of gracious parents, oldest of four children, smart, funny, interested in the times we live in, creative and talented, dead of a heroin overdose. A life too short, one of all too many being ended daily now by the vise of this particular addiction. Outside after the Mass I watched friends embrace his just-younger sister, literally hold her up as she sobbed in their arms. I watched his parents lean heavy on each other; faces tired; their son’s whole life and all his love outlined in them.
This afternoon I made my way into Brooklyn, passed through Canarsie, parked and walked through double doors into a school hall and to the front of that hall past people who sat in groups talking. I stood in front of a casket and prayed over the body of one of my classmates from the North American College in Rome, Monsignor John Brown. Those days, featuring us in our 20’s, John strong and tall, serious and brilliant: they seem only weeks ago. And they are. Many many many weeks ago. We have not been in one another’s company, perhaps since the mid-80’s. Today, I had to go there. I had simply to be there for a moment and to pray, in thanksgiving and in hope. I knew no one there except the deceased. I prayed, signed the visitors’ book, picked up a prayer card, and left.
As I drove away I thought of both of these men, gone in their own time and in their own way, into the mystery that I can only believe is a love stronger and deeper than most of us ever even intuit here. My life has intersected with each of theirs in vastly different ways and degrees. Now they know one another in ways I cannot begin to imagine. And there is solace. And there is fullness.
Here we carry on, and we wonder the strangest things. As I drove away from that school hall where John’s body lay in the midst of his people, a thought unbidden began repeating in my mind like a mantra: “John, I hope they loved you. Did they love you? I hope they loved you. Did they love you?” I’ve no reason to think they didn’t, that in fact a mutual love joined priest and people in God’s sight. But still, the question rang.
I carried both of them with me in thought and prayer here to the pond. I cried for them. It carries more meaning than words, And then Paul Simon sang in the car on I-684 of Sonny, his ‘obvious child,’ who sits with his high school yearbook and realizes
Some have died
Some have fled from themselves
Or struggled from here to get there.
And as the late winter woods, dry and bare, rush by on either side I realize that each of us, Eric, John, and me, we all appear in those few words.
Every step of the way to heaven is heaven, so said Catherine of Siena from whose church I traveled Pennsylvania by interstate 84 which passes through unpopulated snow-covered hills clothed with naked trees.
I felt like I passed through the northern terrains of the Italian peninsula or through the memorable passages of Switzerland. I came in time to New York and there unexpectedly heard echoes of the city of Rome at Christmas in the 80’s.
Why does the mind draw parallels between place and place and moment and moment? How does it drive back the curtain of decades, wipe clean the surface of an untended window and make it all new again?
I suppose to make sense, to make meaning, to affirm creation as creation and life as more than nonsense. That is a good making and a worthy creation; a profound sense of fit.
Yesterday I drove from death through memory to musing. The trip was well worth it and someday will need be reversed. In each direction every step is heaven
jpp mcginty 2/15/17