“God comes to you disguised as your life” (Richard Rohr)
The sun edges south. Days shorten. Nights deepen. The days are loud with cicadas and nights loud with katydids. It is September. Birds are already gathering in restless flocks, migration on their minds. A mother may paste the summer in an album. Most youngsters have a grudge against September; so do teachers. September always gives a sense of time hastening. September always calls me to look back.
A line in Psalm 40:17 says, “The Lord takes thought of me.” When you think about it, that’s an amazing idea. Do I personally come to God’s attention? I am one of 7.6 billion on this earth.
Am I an object of God’s knowledge, a thought of God? Someone to be listened to, to be understood by Him? It’s an amazing idea. Sometimes I have a sense that I’m just another fleck of life who has my own small importance for a brief span of time. Sometimes I think that we all make some noise in the world for a little while and then get off the stage.
Whenever we tell stories about our lives, we can be expected to engage in a good deal of fanciful reconstruction, cover ups and deceit. It is difficult to see our lives truthfully. We are frightened creatures who can be counted upon to make up stories about ourselves in order to get by.
I think of all the people I’ve been: the bouncing boy, my mother’s pride, the pimply adolescent and secret sensualist. I am no longer these selves, but occasionally I remember scraps and pieces about them. I have a snapshot of myself aged twelve or so with my backpack and rainy weather gear, about to head off to school. My frightened eyes show in the picture. That gaze of sadness is unchanged in me. I’m touched with a certain melancholy. So much strikes me as unalterably sad.
I suppose it’s true that behind us all stand the multitude of our ancestors who through the mysterious alchemy of heredity have each of them passed on to us something of their character of mind and body, of their inclinations, good and bad.
Ultimately, I am a mystery to myself. I sometimes see myself as a man I know but not intimately. St. Augustine wrote: “I became a great mystery to myself.” I can understand the words of the 17th century English author, Sir Thomas Browne, who wrote: “there’s another man within me that’s angry with me.” Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote someplace that “I have lost interest in myself.” Yes, sometimes I’m tired of myself.
I remember my boyhood dreams of the future: as a basketball star, test pilot, private eye, or
Errol Flynn or Fred Astaire. I don’t want to be that boy again, but I like having been him.
When I was a young man I believed, as a young man has to believe, that people can actually change, that society can improve, and humankind can become wise. I felt that my efforts would count for much, they were sure to make a difference to the future of humankind. Now my life seems overpopulated with uncertainties and questions. I think all our own individual lives have brought their share of evil into the world. Now my hope is that I may find in myself a heart more compassionate and less judgmental, more humble and less self-righteous, more grateful and less resentful. I try in simple ways to give what I can give. I’m at a time when old grievances, disappointments, irritations, failures cease to matter much. I’m sorry for having been a cause of sorrow to anyone.
My life’s timeline has two broken places that took a lot of inner recovery. I have never fully recovered. I learned to redefine my life, but it was never the same. There was my mother’s early death, and the death of my wife. They were the losses that defined my life. My wife’s death is the central wound of my history. After she died, I was wed to loneliness. I got used to being lonely. For a while I thought that Someone owed me an apology, or at the very least, an explanation.
Nevertheless, despite the sorrows, much of my life has taken on the aspect of answered prayers. A benign Providence has governed my days. There were times when I was “entertaining angels unaware” (Genesis 18). I have the conviction that God called me to be this rather than that, called me to be here rather than there; called me to be now rather than then. I have a touch of what Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote: “What I do is mine; for that I came.” Or, as Kierkegaard put it: “to be the self which one truly is.”
I wonder how would I respond to Jesus’ question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Lk.18:41).
So I must continue to put up with me and continue to worry my worries. Growing up, Catholicism was in the air I breathed. Today, Catholicism is an asset, a friend.