God tents

In 2008 my wife, children and I lived in Tallahassee, Florida, which had been my wife’s home for 30 years; mine for 17. When we decided that a job in Des Moines, Iowa was the best fit for the post-doc advancement of my professional career, my southern-belle wife, Patti, had to face the dire prospect of leaving what was really our spiritual home and head for an unknown land with a northern climate.

After we wrestled over it in prayer and hours of conversation, and finally settled on the decision to go — I still remember the finest details of that last conversation — Patti spontaneously said a most profound thing to me. After I had said (with tears), “I am sorry I’ll take you away from your home,” she replied: “My home is the will of God.”


Later when I was journaling about our conversation, I thought of Dante’s magnificent line in his Paradiso: “For in His will is our peace.”

I also thought of the often quoted line from Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, found in one of my favorite spiritual classics, the anthology of his retreat conferences called The Sacrament of the Present Moment:

The present moment is always full of infinite treasure. It contains far more than you can possibly grasp. Faith is the measure of its riches: what you find in the present moment is according to the measure of your faith. Love also is the measure: the more the heart loves, the more it rejoices in what God provides. The will of God presents itself at each moment like an immense ocean that the desire of your heart cannot empty; yet you will drink from that ocean according to your faith and love.

I wrote this in my journal soon after that day:

…After all that Patti sang Covenant Hymn for me. I’ve gone to weddings just to hear her sing that, now just for me. It reinforced to me that she is for me heaven’s music escaped to earth. Such beauty and joy and sincerity! … From the day our father and mother in faith Abram and Sarai said yes to God’s “Go!”, and then “Went”, all sojourners, nomads and aliens can feel at home anywhere and everywhere they drift. There need not be any fear over crossing any wilderness, fear of traversing the vast and uncharted space that stretches between Genesis 12:1’s Go! and Genesis 12:4’s Went. As I write here I had a cool thought: the “Go” and “Went” of Genesis is perfectly parallel to perilous space between the “Ite, missa est” [Go! be sent] at the end of Mass, and the deliberate choice not simply to exit the church but to succumb to those missionary verbs as a response. Each time we go to Mass we are responding to a vocation: “Venite adoremus!” [Come! let us adore]. Each time we depart from the Mass we are responding to a mission: “Ite, missa est!” Also, the Mass is a screaming Sacramental sign that, as we are sent out into the world each day — out into the unknown — Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us is with us always. Present with us precisely under the form of His own journey of trust and surrender out into the unknown future: His eucharistic self-offering for us on the Cross. Christ, the God-tenter [John 1:14: ho Logos sarx egeneto eskēnōsen en hēmin, literally means “the Word became flesh and tented among us”], accompanies all who journey through life with trust in Him. When we seek Him, seeking to do His will by running in the way of His commands (Ps. 119:32), He is our companion Emmanuel, the one Reason to never be afraid. He is with us in the storms. Psalm 77: “Your way was through the sea, your path through the mighty waters, but the trace of your steps was not seen.” But more! Even when we run far from Him by rejecting His commandments, He purses us, hounds us down the ages. He alone, in all things, makes all the way to heaven, heaven. The last stanzas of Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound of Heaven encompass this enormous truth so ably:

Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
‘And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught’ (He said),
‘And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!

Here’s an online version of Covenant Hymn that Patti sang — wish I had hers to share with you:

[This version of Covenant Hymn was performed by Gary Daigle & Theresa Donohoo. My son uploaded it for me and included a photo I gave him. My friend Paige LaCour, after I told her this story, wrote Patti’s quote on a post-it note a few years ago, and showed it to me again the other day. What a memory! The plant was Paige’s St Patrick’s day gift to me. Thank you, Paige.]

8 comments on “God tents

  1. Jennifer says:

    Your wife is BEAUTIFUL. God bless this beautiful wife and woman of God. Thank you for sharing this glimpse with us.

  2. Joanna Brady says:

    Thankyou for this lovely ,lovely post .everything in the end is all about love,xx a lovely meditation as we begin Holy Week ,may I wish you and your family a very Happy Easter.

  3. nos says:

    I have mentioned it before and undoubtedly will many more Times… the first time I heard the Angel that is Patti Neal was at the funeral mass of a friend’s mother… I wept she has the ability to elicit sorrow ,joy ,and hope all at once… at least for me anyway… I have a smile on my old

    wrinkled face thinking of your priceless bride … thank you JESUS… P.B.W.Y.A.A. . .

    P.S. 2008 was a sad year for the hometown faithful…but like the colorful monarch ,I see a migrational trend… keep it up oh sage kneal…just a bit farther…….

    • Thank you for testifying on her behalf as an eyewitness, nos! She holds you in a special place in her heart, as you know. Peace and all good to you and your family this holy week and Easter. doctah kneal

  4. Judith says:

    Read as many of your commentaries as I can and pass them on to friends as well. Thank you for all your wonderful insights. P.S. Just noticed the reference to Hound of Heaven which is by Francis Thompson, not Hopkins. One little flaw today in a multitude of great stuff.

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