Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A White Tree in the Barren Woods

This is a good view for the last day of 2019, which was such a hard year for me and for others in our local community.

For me and my family, there were certainly joys as well as sorrows and struggles, but in everything there was a note of change. Change, even good change, is never easy for me. But especially loss and grief are different and harder than I ever realized.

Overall, I am grateful for all the good things of this year (and ultimately everything is "working for the good," so I pray that the Holy Spirit will enkindle and sustain that fundamental vitality of gratitude and joy that dwells - often secretly - in the depths of the Christian soul). Still, there is much that is difficult to process, or that simply must be endured. Thus I feel a bit bewildered and existentially "displaced" at the year's end. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is going through these kinds of emotions.

It's difficult to find words to express the significance of so much that has happened in these months. I am pushed beyond the limits of ordinary knowledge. People I loved and saw with my eyes and too often took for granted - above all my own father - have passed behind that "glass" through which things can only be seen darkly... and sometimes it is very dark indeed.

I guess I can say that it has brought me to a "new place in life," even if it's a place that sometimes looks so barren and dry, like a Winter that never ends. But, I tell myself, it’s just a new and rough stage in the journey of life (oh, that sounds so cliché, but still...). My faith promises to me that Winter will end, the trees will blossom, the White Tree will spread its canopy of leaves again. And so it will remain forever, when at last the turn of the seasons reaches its end.

I'm still searching for metaphors. Maybe it's because the darkness is just too much for me to bear.

It is too much. That is why God sent His Son into the world. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). The Word became flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, and took up His dwelling with us. He remains with us, living in the midst of the people He has gathered together (ekklesia, "church") to follow Him and be His witnesses to the whole world.

His presence is encountered through abundant signs and symbols, and especially through the mysterious way that He reaches me here and now through His glorified humanity. Jesus who is Lord of the universe takes up earthly things, gestures, and words, and makes them instruments of Himself so He can touch my life: this is the miracle of the sacraments. These are not like the metaphors I grasp at when I am lost in the dark woods. They do not come from my mind or my imagination. They are given to me.

He gives Himself in the sacraments. He is the Eucharist, present for me, offering Himself to me. I feel blind, powerless, dispossessed. But He still wants to be with me. When I have nothing, He is still "here," and He holds onto me though I know not where I am going in the days, months, and years ahead.

As I have said elsewhere, Jesus Himself is my hope. In my darkest obscurity, He finds me through His presence in the Church, through prayer and the sacraments. Lord, whatever you are doing with me, wherever you are leading me, I pray that I will never give up trusting in you.

"God is good. All the time." Happy New Year!