Finding God Where??

Sundays are special. Sure, it’s about going to Mass which is special since I see a greater number of people there than I do at a week-day Mass. The church looks and sounds livelier too on a Sunday. The singing has obviously been practiced and goes smoothly, though we’ve lately had the benefit of very beautiful and calming piano music at the weekday services.

So I see a lot of folks I know, and many more I don’t know, all of whom seem nevertheless to be acquainted, drawn together by a single motive – but I’ll get to that later.

The other part of Sunday that makes it special is that I often go to the supermarket after Mass. [I think I’m allowed to say it’s most often Wegman’s.] It’s usually quite crowded during the post-church hours, so again it’s a real community time.

I have yet to meet anyone crabby at the supermarket. You’d think there would be a few – especially the parents who are trying to keep two or three young-uns from fanning out from one end of the aisle to the other. (Oh yes, I remember that time of my life!) Or maybe there could be some exasperated sighs as a shopper discovers that they’ve rearranged some of the products.   No, instead just about everyone is ready to step from the middle to the side of an aisle, or to move their cart to let you pass, or to adjust calmly to the new marketing design.

I’m a special needs shopper, being “vertically challenged” and needing someone to reach the skim milk that’s on the top shelf of the dairy case. It might have bothered me a very little bit the first time I had to ask for help, but now it’s no problem at all. I simply watch for someone who’s taller than I – which includes 99.99% of the people in the store – put on what I hope is a confident smile, and fire away. Invariably, the person I ask responds with a ready and even pleased demeanor, as if I’m doing him or her a favor.

On one occasion (at Weis’s this time) a family of visiting Spaniards was at check-out and asked the rest of us where would be a good place to have a picnic lunch. A flurry of suggestions were offered but eventually there was a consensus to refer them to Eldridge Park. Everyone started giving directions (and I could picture them trying to remember all the turns they’d have to make, and unsuccessfully navigating one-way streets), until one gentleman said, “Wait five minutes till I check out and I’ll lead you there.”

I was once in the position to offer help to a shopper in a wheel chair. There’s not much you can reach from a wheel chair. The woman thanked me but declined my offer. Instead, she somehow got a conversation going about the Lord. “Are you saved?” she asked, point blank.

“Yes, I am!” I responded with total assurance. (This was no place, after all, for a theological discussion.) I suppose I could have guessed that she’d then proceed to the next step. “May I pray with you?” and I consented.

A bit surprising. After all, she was the “disabled” person here. But on the other hand, maybe she saw my height as a condition more disabling than her own. Or perhaps . . . Oh, who knows what prompts a person to share God with another, even a stranger (in a public place, no less!)­.

In the Vatican II era we used to call these kinds of events “encounters.” For me, they extend the Mass experience: People forming a bond of sorts, coming together to be fed; being helpful, kind and giving to one another; serving others, even strangers; teaching the Gospel without quoting from it.

We’ve gotten so that we think being holy (ooh, that word!) consists of going around kissing lepers or being martyred. Thank God he hasn’t made it that difficult for almost all of us, for it’s these small, do-able acts of kindness that express an everyday holiness, that create true joy in our lives and the lives of our fellow humans whom we don’t even know.

And even when we arrive at check-out, we are sent on our way with a cheerful benediction: “Have a nice day!”

Translation: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord in one another.

Up-sizing

Thirteen years ago we moved into a home that was at least half the size of the house we vacated. We had needed a place large enough for the seven children we blended into one family: outdoor space to accommodate the sporting interests of the four boys still at home, indoor space to host out-of-town relatives and assorted high school friends for overnight holiday gatherings. But in 2004,  my husband’s health issues and an empty nest made relocation an easy decision.

I know that some of you readers may have faced the joys of downsizing. For us, it consisted of two garage sales (one at each property), truckloads of “stuff” for disposal, tons of books donated to the local libraries, in addition to several pieces of furniture given to the two local married children, still at the acquisitive stage of life.

The night we moved, we collapsed in bed, feeling that at our age we had been barely able to accomplish the ordeal. And we were still a good deal younger than 75-year-old Abram and Sarai when they got their marching orders from the Lord. One big difference: they were up-sizing.

abram-leaving-urGod directed them to take their servants and farm animals with them, and to settle in a much more extensive territory. There God would give them countless descendants to fill and eventually inherit the land.

Abram had a few questions, the most important of which had to do with heirs, since he and Sarai were childless and at their age quite likely to remain so.

Major lessons from the Old Testament have to do with total obedience to whatever the Lord commanded. It didn’t matter that the people so commanded might think themselves utterly unfit and even unqualified. Moses argued that he couldn’t lead the Israelites to freedom because he couldn’t speak very well, or persuasively. Not to mention his lack of management training. He was a shepherd, remember, in charge of gentle animals who are easy to lead — a far cry from the independent-minded, faithless Israelites.

Jeremiah complained that he was too young to be a prophet, and Abram certainly could have said, “We’re way too old for a move like this! We’ve gotten used to our life and are happy the way things are.”

“Not good enough,” I imagine God replying. “Staying in the same place all your life simply means you’re in a rut. Grow up and out! Take on an adventure, for heaven’s sake! Expand your horizons! Blossom!”

And so says He to us who would rather keep on doing the same old thing over and over, fighting tooth and nail against any change — particularly those of a spiritual nature.

Isn’t it odd that it’s usually adults, not children, who complain about change? A child can’t wait to get to the next step in its development. Like the little girl I recently met who took the opportunity to brag to me, a stranger, “I just turned 5!” Hurray!

Children consider it a badge of honor to outgrow last month’s new clothes. Bring on the new set! Moving up a grade is a significant milestone. I can remember starting 4th grade, how my classmate, with a twirl of her pigtails, proudly remarked that this year we were to launch into the new subject of HISTORY!

So how does it happen that we outgrow this eagerness to grow, especially where our faith is concerned? Our spiritual life can and must grow and change, ever deepening in our knowledge of the God we serve and of the Savior we love. How can we think that everything we need to know about God was learned in the 2nd grade? Have we so fully understood all there is to know in the Gospels? And Christ purposely told cryptic parables, challenging his audience to work at understanding their meaning and how they might change their way of looking at life, their way of living.

So here we are now in Elmira, our worship space and schedule shrinking. We may be downsizing in these respects, but in the grand scheme of things we’re up-sizing. We’re merging into one community, thankfully an optimistic development. What if it were the other way around? Instead of merging, what if there were some form of rivalry causing us to split?

Let’s offer prayers of thanks for this solution. Our graceful and grace-filled unity offers an opportunity to be seen as a public model of Christianity, an image of living evangelization. What a blessing! What new forms of living and growing in our faith might be open to us now? Christ tells us that the unity of believers images none other than his all-inclusive love for us.

“I pray that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one . . . that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. Father, they are your gift to me.”
(John 17:20-21; 23-24a)
Together