THE OCCASIONAL SMILES OF 2017
Our Jesuit astronomer, Guy Consolmagno, S.J., commented on the beauty and "coincidental" nature of a total eclipse back on August 21 calling it a "divine coincidence" that "brought a smile to his face."
I have been praying with that phrase as I look back on the year. Yes, things like hurricanes and fires and terror attacks caused so much suffering this year. And then the long-term prospects of the tax bill, the anxiety of DACA and the school-yard taunts of Trump vs. Kim Jong-un don't bring smiles to most faces. (Besides all this I get more "pageviews" from Russia on this blog than I do from the United States!) But still I turn to some personal events of this year:
1. The death of my niece, Lisa, after 23 years in a persistent vegetative state. Fortunately she went to God ahead of her parents and was not subject to becoming an orphan on this earth. During her funeral we smiled at her unique way of embracing her life with race horses during those wonderful years she had before her disability.
2. The confessions of children always bring a smile to my face. After his confession I questioned a nine or ten-year-old lad about his life on a farm and his duties of feeding thirteen cats and two dogs...not to mention the pigs and goats that he and his siblings care for. "Do cats go to heaven?" I asked. "Yes." "Do dogs go to heaven?" "Yes." "What about pigs?" "I don't know."
Another lad spoke generally of his sisters:\. I asked, "How many sisters do you have?" "Six." "How many brothers?" His face fell and he joined his thumb and first finger and held up a big zero!
3. I had occasion in recent years to at least be consoled if not register a sad smile when I thought of the two or three men I've known who died young and who also had the experience of a Kairos retreat while in high school. Retreatants (like men and women from scores of high schools) during such a retreat receive letters from their parents and friends with expressions of pride in them and of love for them. Such messages both for those who wrote them and for the one who read them provide a tiny strand of consoling memories even in a time of devastating tragedy.
4. Generally thinking that "living in the now" is overrated, I pray most frequently about a memory or about a concern for the future. But a retreat master with whom I spoke this year during my retreat strongly advised me to pray with God "in the now." So I took a seat at the side of a nearby country stream. Coincidentally God sent two kingfishers to the site to entertain me while diving for fish and preening their feathers in a nearby tree. The retreat master was not surprised. The event brought smiles to both our faces. Now I get up in the morning and look out the window. Often just outside are the morning star and a rosy dawn. (This morning both Jupiter and Mars and a rosy dawn, too!). Later if I have time to be outdoors the sights very often engage me. Even the atheist Barbara Ehrenreich had such experiences that led her to puzzle over this thought: amazed as I am perhaps God made me to be a witness of creation.