Another family share — my wife was interviewed on Catholic Community Radio a couple of years ago, and it aired again Tuesday. So I thought I would share it here. Listening to her on the show makes me re-appreciate her strength and vitality. She is such a rock in our family.
A playful post.
My daughter Maria is a film major, and her passion is film editing. For fun, she adds a glowing scribble animation effect to existing videos to highlight and interpret movement. At least that’s my explanation! She adds them frame by frame, so it’s a ginormous amount of work. Such fun! Here’s her latest:
Yes, that. A friend sent me that, and then I wrote this…
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We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now. — Rom. 8:22
The universe has labored in agony for over fourteen+ billion years to give birth a hospitable star and planet suitable for life. The earth took shape over four+ billion years, and life has slowly evolved over three+ billion years. Preparing the way for my life were the endless cycles of cosmic birth and death, violence and suffering, chaos resolving into order; and a hundred thousand years of human genealogy, of the struggle to survive and thrive, to build civilizations and make culture, to search for God and one another amidst the ruins of Eden.
Their gift is my inheritance.
I still remember the episode of Cosmos when Carl Sagan said, “We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.” And I remember the strange feeling of being grateful to the stars for spending themselves for me.
“This is my body which will be given up for you” is written into the very structure of existence.
This grand cosmic and bio-history is my litany of gratitude, which my lifetime will not be sufficient to exhaust. I give glory to God by being grateful for the laboring agony of creation, of life, of humanity, of my ancestors who have given me the opportunity to be, and to do the same.
If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. — Meister Eckhart
Wastefulness is the original Christian attitude. The entire Passion occurs under the sign of this complete self-wasting of God’s love for the world. — Hans Urs von Balthasar
This last weekend, my son and I sat outside till late at night smoking cigars, drinking and talking about everything. Family history, work, jokes, politics, weather, faith, bugs. It was for us what the Greeks call a kairos moment, where eternity and time transverse, hearts unfold and the burdens of life for a time depart.
The same weekend, I led a ministry volunteer retreat. During the retreat, which was on joy, I invited the attendees to join me in dancing as I played the music video for Pharrell Williams’ Happy. More than half of them did and, for me, it was yet another kairos moment I will never forget. I just knew the Son of David was dancing with and in us.
I have often spoken in this blog of the importance of such kairos time-wasting as an essential attribute of love and relationships, especially in marriage and family life. Singing and dancing, hiking and boating, gaming and gardening, feasting and praying, laughing and crying, or beginning sentences with words like…
What do you think about…
How did you feel when…
Do you remember back when we…
I love it when you…
Wasn’t that funny when…
What’s on your mind…
How was your day…
What’s your favorite…
Why do you believe…
Once upon a time…
Can we pray together about…
I love you…
…then be sure to follow these words with an immoderate wasting of time…
[On hearing of the death of his son,] the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
It was told Joab, “The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the troops; for the troops heard that day, “The king is grieving for his son.” The troops stole into the city that day as soldiers steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” — (1 Sam. 18-19)
We Americans live in a culture that has largely lost its shared social scripts and rituals for grieving. How does one grieve loss, failure or tragedy? For how long? How do we move on? How do others respond rightly to those who grieve? With whom should we share our grief? Do we mourn with our clothing? Do we weep and wail aloud in public or in private? Do we share our pain or remain silent? How do we pray in the midst of grief? When do we pray? How should we eat?
And how does faith shape the way we grieve?
Grief is how we bury our dead — the injustices and injuries, losses, failures and tragedies we undergo in life. Grief allows us to heal, surrender, forgive, and move on into new freedom with reverence.
In the face of my parents’ death over the last two years, I have given much thought to this. I have one simple observation.
I and my family were overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, support, care, prayer and compassion shown to us. Cards, texts, emails, gifts, flowers, prayers promised, countless Masses offered, meals brought, memorial donations to charities, sincere words of condolence. One friend had a magnificent chalice made, inscribed with my mom’s name, and donated it as alms to a poor diocese so that my mom would be perpetually remembered in the offering of the Sacrifice.
Absolutely overwhelming. How can one possibly begin to offer gratitude sufficient to repay these acts of kindness? “Pay it forward,” as one friend suggested. Lovely, right and just.
The beauty and power of all these gifts notwithstanding, what I found most powerful personally was the sacred space afforded me by two people I know. Each offered me a guarded sanctuary within which I could grieve.
One of them, while my mom was dying, asked me, “How are you?” I knew he meant he really wanted to know, and was prepared for whatever would come out. So I told him. He just listened as I dissolved in front of him. He didn’t attempt to mute my pain with pious words of comfort or counsel, neither did he say he knew what I was going through by telling me of his own tale of loss. He simply listened, revering the infinite power of silence.
At the end he said, “I’m so sorry.” And embraced me. We left in silence.
For me, he was the weeping Christ-with-me. A real Presence reserved in the Tabernacle of compassionate silence.
Aside from the Funeral Mass, nothing has allowed me to bury my mom and return her to God more than that hour I spent with this friend. He brought alive for me the beauty of the words of Job 2:13
[The friends of Job] sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
May I be able, by God’s grace, to pay that forward…
Without any commentary yet, I have to recommend with the strongest insistence that all see Terrance Malick’s new film, A Hidden Life — about Austrian farmer Bl. Franz Jägerstätter and his family. It is a masterpiece of iconography that powerfully and convincingly narrates how beauty saves the world. He is now the patron saint of all my work on the lay vocation.
My wife and I saw it last night at the New Orleans Film Festival.
And we need reminding of what time can do, must only do; churn out enormity at random and beat it, with God’s blessing, into our heads: that we are created, created, sojourners in a land we did not make, a land with no meaning of itself and no meaning we can make for it alone. — Annie Dillard
I had an exchange with a friend, who’s also a dad, about the impossibility of fully appreciating your children’s childhood. Here is a part of what I wrote to him:
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You know, you are so right to say it that way. I try so hard to appreciate things in the moment, but always feel later a failure. When my mom was dying, as I sat beside her bed I tried desperately to appreciate her still being with me…but in some ways it was too hard to think that way, as the grief of impending loss, of the water’s imminent escape from my hand, clouded my ability to receive the moment. Such a paradox!
But an insight I had with my mom, and have had with the kids, was in the whole liturgical sense of ‘anamnesis’ [Greek word for ‘remember’]. Remembering “in God” what has sunk into the past has become the primary way I access the unsearchable depths of the beauty present in each moment. So much of my prayer has become remembering the past in God’s presence … is this not what praying with Scripture is? Only in prayer can I see clearly that, to the eternal God, all is present. And to the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, our memory and God’s memory have become one remembering. Such is the Eucharist.
Prayer also allows me to realize my nostalgia, the painful desire to not allow what I love to vanish into the past, is an imago, an echo of God’s eternal — agonized — love for all things:
For you love all things that exist,
and detest none of the things that you have made,
for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.
How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?
Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?
You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living. – Wisdom 11:24-26
This morning I had breakfast at City Diner with Maria (our little monthly tradition), and we remembered the past — the special moments, random happenings, and funny things we treasure together…and it was incredible, always is, left me filled with a blend of joy, sadness and hope as I drove away. And when I go to my Mom’s grave, I sit there and remember. So much, everything really. And somehow I go deeper into what was, with a mix of sadness, gratitude and hope.
At once, I must treasure and let go. ☨
To me, as you know, this is what I believe the new creation is about in its deepest structure: forever unpacking in the eternity of God what was the infinite depth of time, of the now, of the sacrament of the present moment that none of us has, or can receive wholly in this life.
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Astonishing thought, in every moment of our lives in this world we are called to “churn out enormity” — to impregnate each minute of each hour of every day with love, readying its labored procession for eternal remembrance in everlasting Resurrection.