Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Souls of the Just

“The souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them… They are at peace… In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble.” (Wisdom 2)


As I begin prayer this morning, I fix my eyes upon a late-surviving hornet. It is darting about - caught between the window pane and the screen. It keeps walking on the screen trying to get out and in spite of my efforts to lift the screen and send it to freedom, it can’t see the way. It is drawn to the fresh air, but I think it is using its last energy to become free. Now it is slowly flying around the room – not rising above a foot. It seems restless and uneasy. It hovers close to me but does not land. I raise the screen higher, but it climbs further away from the opening. I think it is looking for a place to die. I can’t help it get to the open air. I hope when my time comes, I am at peace and can see the way that Christ holds open for me.

I extend my prayer through walking through the woods I have diligently cleared this year. I promise that I will walk to enjoy my handiwork and I will refrain from attending to additional work. This is difficult because I see much more than can be done. I notice the berries of the bushes and trees and note that every bush and tree has something positive to offer – even if it is located in the wrong place. Red berries are a striking contrast to the fading greens and yellows. Orange nuances peek through the fallen browns. Blues and purples are largely gone from the landscape.

My walk extends to the rocks at the far end of the pathway that leads to the ocean. I admire the stacks of logs that I split earlier in the week as they wait a year to season themselves for the fireplace. I settle upon a cluster of rocks perilously near to the rocky cliffs. Though foolish, I feel safe. I nestle in to shield myself from view.

This cluster of rocks is about the same place where I prayed the Meditation on Hell as a novice. The crashing waves seemed harsh and hostile in the January cold. I feel safe and secure at the very same place now. The autumn temperature is a surprising 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

November is the month we remember the dead. I attended two remembrance services for the dead this past week and the reminder of death pervades the land. A friend wrote to me to tell me that the dead are alive to us because they are in our memory. “The souls of the just are in the hand of God...”

My friends words are comforting and I believe them and yet I sit upon rocks that preexist my arrival for hundreds of thousands of years. So many people have come to these rocks to pray and meditate. I think about the people of a century ago who we no longer hold in our memories. Yes, I believe God remembers them, but are they really alive to us anymore? How long will I be alive to others especially as I have no descendents?

My pondering puts me back to God as the center, source, and end of all life – even that wayward hornet on my window sill. Focusing on God in this way makes my cares go away. If God is my primary relationship, I place other relationships in perspective and if any tension that exists, it is certainly lessened. It helps me to realize that people are typically trying to do what is good and right – even if it conflicts with what I want.

A recent prayer of mine is that God help me each day choose to act in a way that is kind and loving. I used to say, “make me a kind and loving person,” but I realize that is a negative evaluative statement about who I am. If God can help me respond lovingly each time a person crosses my boundaries, I will become that kind and loving man I hope to be. It helps me see everyone as a fellow sojourner – not as a threat to my safety, dignity, respect, or esteem. I pray that God graces me abundantly.

And so I sit here leaning against a boulder warmed by the sun. The sun warms my right cheek as I sit and breathe in deeply. Time is passing and I enjoy my frivolous waste of time. The ocean has no pleasure boats speeding through the waters. The horizon remains quiet. The wind ceases to be. Birds are not flying; insects are silent; mammals have settled in from their feeding for the day – to return at dusk. I hear a few hammers of builders in the far background and their noise is not intrusive. I’m glad to know they are renovating someone’s home. May the residents enjoy their craftsmanship.

Though I sit here alone, I realize how easy it is to think of God and the creation of this world. It is far too easy to think only of God and not of Christ. When we think of Christ, we too often see him as only transcendent and not as a human.

I think of being alone. How nice it would be to have someone with whom I can share what I see and feel. Just as the waves are caressing the rocks below – almost tenderly, I think of how nice it would be to have someone caress my face. I do not lament it. I only know that love is shared when it is received. I want to share this view with others.

As I desire this, I experience Christ coming down to the rock where I am seated. He takes a seat, but he is not alone. With him is his friend Ignatius and a few other men. I look back to see Peter Faber, Juan Polanco, Nicolas Bobadilla, and Robert Bellarmine. I am startled by Bellarmine’s appearance because he always seemed remote to me. Arrupe arrives.

Many more unnamed Jesuits come and sit on those rocks with me. Some are missionaries; others are retreat directors; still others are teachers; most are unnamed. They acknowledge me in silence and come to peer out into the ocean and to see what I am seeing and to feel what I am feeling. Though I realize everyone sees something different, I am glad to share this with them. These men arrived to be in solidarity with me and for me. They arrived because I invited them to be a part of my experience. I want them to see and experience the good I am noticing. I pray that I learn how to keep myself open and to let Christ open me up more widely to them.

The world rotates on love and affection. I pray asking God to help my actions be loving and kind. I know this is the way to happiness and freedom. I want God to blow open my window to the world so I can engage in it more freely. I can’t be like the hornet that can’t make it to that open space. Failure to do so means death. I want to fly through that window of God’s love. Freedom is life. I want it.