God’s feathery providence

“The ultimate evil in the temporal world lies in the fact that the past fades, that time is a perpetual perishing” (A.N. Whitehead).

I have now my full share of years. I’m a man of many winters and vanished summers. So much is done and gone. When I look back over my life, I have the sense of having made a long journey. I can look over a vista of the past, a landscape traveled. I have taken to looking back on my life more often.

I was born one mild and rainy day in the merry month of May—a Sunday to be exact. I’m told I was a quiet child. I had a happy childhood, except that I had been afraid of too many things. It was Shakespeare’s Constance who said she was “a woman naturally born to fears” (King John).

There are all those livedout days of long ago, when the world was sweet with promises. Looking back, I can remember images from those days. I can picture that teenager running down Bleecker Street past a row of apartment buildings, trying to catch a bus. I remember my mother waiting at the window to watch me go and return from school; the mother who lives on in me and will always be part of who I am.

I have always had a taste for solitude. The need for solitude has always been paramount with me, both in joy and in sorrow. Too many waltzes have ended, and I’ve had my times of sorrow. Happiness enough has fallen to my lot. However, my life’s timeline has a break that took a lot of inner recovery. I have never fully recovered. I learned to redefine my life, but it was never the same. The man I see looking out at me from the mirror is a handsome enough fellow, but his expression is sad.

The dead are very close to me these days; people I loved and learned from—people who loved the young man I once was. I yearn for certain beloved faces. Living witnesses of my life are increasingly few. We fade and dwindle and dissolve. “Count then your blessings, hold in mind all that have loved you and been kind.”

There’s a line from a poet in modern India, Kavi Pradeep, who writes of “the song that I came to sing.” Each of us has ben given a song to sing. I wonder what is the song that I came to sing? Gerard Manley Hopkins put it his way: “What I do is mine; for that I came.” Real happiness involves the realization that one is doing what one is supposed to be doing; and unhappiness involves waking up to the realization that one is not doing what one is supposed to be doing.

Looking back on my life brought the realization of how chance and coincidence dictated one’s history. Things might have worked out differently, other choices may have been made, other relationships developed, other opportunities acted upon. How differently things might have worked out if only a small change had occurred at any of a dozen different junctures. Why did I turn out to be the version of myself I am and not another? I viewed my life as replete with “coincidences”, “lucky breaks” and “occurrences”.

I have become convinced that there are no chances or coincidences. Everything that happens is within God’s providence. What I thought of as “coincidences,” “lucky breaks,” and “occurrences” were the result of divine interventions; grace was at work. There were certain incidents, words, replies, questions which passed as the effects of chance, but when examined, proved the presence of God. We often see God most clearly in retrospect. On reflection, I recognize that the providential goodness of God has been following me all the years of my life, and Christian hope involves not calculating the possibilities on purely human grounds. I believe that again and again, at certain moments in my life there was an experience of God, the presence of God. My journey through life was a journey in which God was present along the way. When I reflect on my life, I can sometimes say God acted there; there was God’s feathery providence.

Those black clouds on the horizon never did in fact arise.

There are all the ways grace acts in the world. There are Hopkins’ memorable words: “I greet Him the days I meet Him, and bless when I understand.” God can move in mysterious ways. One of Paul’s main doctrines is: “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” In Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock, there is the line: “You can’t conceive of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”

At this time in my life, I no longer think of myself apart from God. There is much more thought of God, and I leave the future to God in whose love I have confidence: “I bore you up on Eagles’ wings.”

I believe that pieces of a jigsaw have fitted into place. The persons I met, the places I’ve been, the things I’ve been asked to do, etc., have all coalesced into a pattern. and I feel convinced that, as Hopkins put it: “What I do is me, for that I came.” What I’m doing, I ought to do. I’m sure many people think that way.