The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Presence of God

So much of life is made up of things we must do, and so little of things we truly enjoy. The saints, of course, seem to be able to turn all those "must-dos" into gifts, into moments of thanksgiving and praise. I have not yet arrived at that point as I struggle to advance on my spiritual journey. I still have trouble turning mundane tasks into joyous occasions. If, as I take out the garbage, I offer thanks to God for the opportunity to do so...well, it just seems a bit hypocritical, as if my thanksgiving is less than honest. Although I can understand St. Therese's "Little Way," I have not yet been able to put it into practice. This inability to experience joy from the mundane is just more evidence of my spiritual immaturity, but perhaps God will give me a few more years to grow. 

Fortunately God is so wonderfully merciful that, despite my many faults, He has still blessed my life with much to enjoy. Dear Diane, my wife of 48 years, is at the very top of the list. Without her my life would be far less joyful. She has taught me how to give and to take joy in the giving, even in the midst of deep sadness. I have trouble remembering what my life was like before she entered it, or even comprehending how empty it would be without her presence. Other blessings, especially family -- children and grandchildren -- and friends who love us in spite of our oddness, have brought Diane and me much joy. 

To all of this I must add my ordination to the permanent diaconate 20 years ago. That life-changing event has enabled me to do much that I find so very enjoyable. Among these is my facilitation of our parish's two Bible Study sessions. I've now been doing this for over ten years and between these two weekly sessions -- one morning and one evening -- approximately 60 parishioners participate. I'm often thanked for what I bring to these sessions, but what the participants don't realize is how much they have taught me over the years. Perhaps I should tell them this more often.

Because here in central Florida so many of our parishioners fall into the "snowbird" category, we take a break from organized Bible Study during the summer months. It just didn't seem fair that those who went north should miss a summer's worth of studies, and I also needed a break from the weekly sessions. And yet many of our year-round parishioners wanted to continue their studies in some fashion. And so last year I offered a relatively brief Scripture-based course to those who remained here during our summer hiatus. It was open to anyone, not just the regular participants in our Bible Study. 

Last year's course was fairly basic, a three-session overview of the Old Testament. This year I'm a bit more ambitious and have been spending a lot of my so-called "free" time preparing a five-session course that I've decided to call "Temple and the Presence of God." The idea for the course came to me years ago after reading a little book, The Presence of God (1966) by Jean Danielou. Cardinal Danielou was a French Jesuit, one of the Ressourcement theologians who had such a major impact on the Second Vatican Council. The course will focus on Temple in all its manifestations, from the Temple of Creation or Cosmic Temple, to Sinai, Jerusalem, Jesus and His Church, all the way to the Heavenly Temple St. John describes in Revelation -- "I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb" [Rev 21:22]. It trust the participants will find it interesting since it examines the theme of Temple and God's Presence as it runs through all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.
Anyway, all this preoccupation with the Presence of God has had its effect on me. I find myself thinking about it constantly, and especially of God's Presence in the Cosmic Temple of His Creation. Every day Maddie and I -- Maddie's our little Bichon Frise -- take both a morning and evening walk, each a mile or two depending on our collective mood. I especially enjoy our frequent pre-dawn walks when I can delight in the glory of God's creation as manifested in the starlit skies of central Florida. Venus hovers brightly over the Eastern horizon and on many mornings I catch sight of a meteorite or two burning their way through the upper atmosphere. But I must admit, I take far more joy in the sights and sounds of the microcosm close at hand.

I especially enjoy the birds. Before I moved here about the only bird calls I could recognize were blue jays and crows. But thanks to my twice-daily walks through The Villages, I have developed a more discriminating ear and can identify the squawk of the common grackle, the rapid-fire chirps of our many neighborhood cardinals, the brief but strange call of the red-winged blackbird, among many others. And no one can dislike the multiple calls of the mockingbird that seem designed simply to show off this bird's remarkable singing talent. We also have large flocks of black-bellied whistling ducks that amaze by whistling instead of quacking. Another of my favorites are the wonderful sandhill cranes that hangout here in The Villages. These large birds can be heard from afar as they fly over the neighborhood and emit their very loud staccato squawks. They seem to enjoy letting the world know they're up and about.

From these daily encounters with such little pieces of God's Creation I can do nothing else but thank Him for His gift of life. I simply cannot understand how anyone who hears a mockingbird spend several minutes running through its entire repertoire of songs can claim to be an atheist. To me the mockingbird and the sandhill crane and the trail of the meteorite and the brightness of Venus all prove God's Presence and His continued love for us. Indeed, God's care for His creation sends us a message. How did Jesus put it?
"Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?" [Mt 6:26]
He would care for us as well if only we would let Him, if only we would come to realize His love for us.

Yes, God's Presence fills every corner of His Creation, but most miraculously His Presence is within us when we open ourselves to Him. We are, after all, "Temples of the Holy Spirit."

Oops...have to go. It's time for Maddie and me to take a walk.

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