Monday, April 15, 2013

The Illusion of Change

My mother saw me off on my first day of Kindergarten, wearing giant sunglasses and a plastered-on smile.  I think she was closer to tears than I was. It was such a foreign experience for me to be away from her that I knew I had to stare hard at her face, trying to singe the image on to my brain permanently.  That smile was not her own.  I would see it again many years later, when she tried to tell me she was going to fight the cancer.  We both knew the truth.  And again I looked at her face, green of her eyes, tremble of her smile, and took a photograph in my head.  Stay, stay.  

I heard a psychologist on the radio once say that the world is comprised of a bunch of five year olds making life and death decisions, because we are all essentially the same people we were at two years old, the very same people, just adding experiences and snapshots along the way, usually to our own emotional detriment.  I can see a sliver of truth in it.  When I'm comforting my son, I sometimes feel we are two children together, completely equal.  Who's comforting whom anyway? I'm no wiser than he is, and no more able to understand evil.  I've just been around longer, so I can only whisper, "Mom knows.  Mom knows."  

My husband is my anchor.  I can't hold him tightly enough.  Sometimes I hug him so hard I hope I'll just blend in, stop being me for a second and be able to be him.  It would be easier to just absorb into him instead of trying to carry on alone, with my own plastered on smile, and my big bag of snapshots.  

But a mother, a child, a spouse . . . these aren't gods.  These are not the foundations of a life lived abundantly and rightly.  Marriage is Sacramental and motherhood is a noble and wonder-filled vocation, but neither is the rock.  Only Jesus is that.  Only Jesus.

John Donne said for all eternity to heed: "No man is an island, entire unto himself."  None of us has to feel isolation and loneliness.  None has to fear the changes in the future, or look darkly back at the hideous images of the past.  Because that is all illusory. The future is non-existent, and the past impossible to retouch.  Only in this moment can I reach out my hand and have Jesus grab it.  Then the assurance comes.  Nothing changes, at least nothing that matters.  Jesus is still Jesus.  He has always been here and always will be.  Heaven is Heaven.  Being is Being.  The eternal things are immutable, and they exist beyond our linear and limited space and time.  This is confusing to some, but really the very simplest element of our faith.  Because it's the first principle: what is a thing? Identify it.  What does it do?  What do we do?  We hang in existence and bob and weave through this earthly battle, and occasionally manage to glimpse Divinity.  That's it.  To surrender should be the easiest action, particularly when we are surrendering to the author of the universe, the One who formed us from top to bottom, inside and out, numbered each hair and pore, He who measures and loves each breath we take.  To whom, to what else, would any reasonable person give any power in her life? Give any obedience? Succumb to, open fully to, and trust with the growing pains of her trip here in this dimension? There can be no other name, no other answer.

All around me people are being born, being killed, crying, drinking, laughing, deciding on idols and costumes.  They want so badly, fight so passionately, to manage and control, predict and stockpile, assess the angles, predict the changes and permutations of the changes.  What futile strivings. 

 My son calls out randomly, "This is the best day of my life!" Nothing has happened to prompt it; he feels in the moment that he is secure even in this mystery.  That is the faith I aspire to: to look at Kermit Gosnell, and hear about bombings in Israel, and find out someone I thought was a friend is not a friend, and pray for yet another person dying of cancer and in the apparently ugly face of all that to still know that all is well with my soul.  This is not the "crutch" or denial of religion that non-believers scoff at and use to write off even our most complicated theological principles.  This is above anyone's opinion.  

I almost have to suppress a giggle when someone thinks that, despite my love for the Eucharist and my daily immersion in my Catholic faith, that he can say something or show me some new piece of evidence that will make the entire construct fall around my shoulders. The hubris is not the amusing part; that's human nature, the sin of pride.  Sin numero uno.  The part that makes me giggle is this little secret I have that this person can't get, almost like he isn't in on a private joke.  Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  Jesus is alive.  He's a person; He's with us, every day in every Catholic Church in every place in the world.  I have THAT.  And you think you're going to sell me your secular snake oil?  Oh, dear.  That is a hoot.  I guess there is something to that radio doctor's theory, because the notion that you can pry me away from my focus on the Real Presence is very childlike in its wishful thinkingness.  You want it to be so.  You want me to think the way you do.  But I can't; I can't ever go back.  Once you've been that intimate with Jesus, you can never go back to anything less.

Pain is real, alright.  I do not endeavor to tell you today that your pain is illusory.  I do intend to tell you that it's only a paper moon, hanging over a cardboard sea, and that nothing on this stage is made of anything that's going to be here for as long as Jesus is.  Today might not feel like the best day of your life.  It may feel like the worst.  But a day in His courts . . . it's worth it all.  Think on it.  Meditate on it.  On this stage, on this island, we do have to say goodbye occasionally.  Give that pain to Jesus.  He knows what to do with it. He will not let anything be taken from you that you really need, and that which is taken here that is for your good He will give you back, refined and beautified and perfected.   He knows every second of what you are experiencing, and He knows your limits.  He cannot err, and He will not fail.  No one who walks with Him will be ashamed or disappointed.  These are things He told us; do you not believe Him?  Keep His face always before you, and your view will never change, in spite of how high you fly or how far you fall. 


  1. Thank you for this insightful reflection. May the Lord continue to bless your writing!

  2. Very nicely put, Nicole.

  3. I've never had too much difficulty in accepting the suffering that the good Lord has apportioned for me; most times anyway. It's the suffer of loved-ones, and quite honestly, the suffering of just about anyone that I'm made aware of that brings tears to my eyes. Something in my heart tells me that I have as much responsibility to bear their sufferings as my own. It can be very overwhelming at times.

    1. Your instinct is right, and means you have the heart of a Christian. We are to rejoice with others' rejoicings and suffer with others' sufferings.