I sat in the back of the church and felt the sobs rising to my throat. The urge was so abrupt and overpowering that I almost ran out the back door to save myself the humiliation. But I stayed and tried to breathe while I pressed an old ratty tissue hard into my eyes. It had a stale piece of gum stuck in the middle of it... who knows how old and to which kid it had belonged... but it was all I could find in my pockets. I didn't know I would need a tissue today.
Today was the day that God revealed Himself to me a little after months of hiding. I don't really know if He'd been hiding. Perhaps I just had my eyes so focused on the ground... one step at a time, trying to hold myself up... that I couldn't see. Wouldn't see. It has been many months of knowing and believing He was there... without a drop of feeling it.
Those dry times burn. They take the soul to ugly places and threaten to leave them there. Faith walks the deadly high wire and a Catholic girl knows it will pass but is frightened by the thought that it might not actually pass this side of heaven. What do you mean I might have to die to find relief? That is too hard. That is for saints. Canonized ones who start foreign missions or something... and are martyred before they're 30. I'm not one of those.
Through the years, I have hoped for consolations during hard to times but, right or wrong, I stopped praying for them. And I know it's impossible to manufacture them... just as it's impossible to summon the presence of God as if He's a genie in a bottle. He is not a puppet but a Lover. Not a formula but a burning fire. I pray for relief and for healing and for courage and strength and faith... but the consolations I leave to Him entirely. It comes in His way and His time. Always better than mine. He is faithful and always shows up...
Unexpectedly. Tenderly. Powerfully.
We cannot order that kind of grace as if it were a hamburger. It is a wonderful but hard truth that He can take our pain and wipe it away with a whisper and a moment. He has that authority and power. It is wonderful because He is a loving God and always chooses our good. But it is hard because we know He can remove it... and He doesn't.
So I sat in my pew... unsuspecting and silent... and without a word He unveiled a bit of His presence to my soul. And I crumbled...
There is no doubt that today He came in His time and not mine. It was the late Sunday "sinner's" Mass... for all of us who somehow managed to miss the dozens of other opportunities to fulfill the Sunday obligation at normal hours... Sparse and dead and kind of sad. The cantor singing alone to music that faintly reminded me of Sesame Street. The kind that I couldn't figure out how to sing but felt obligated to pretend to in order encourage Father. And Father with a homily perhaps too hastily prepared (those do tend to be the longest)... and me, with closed eyes, hoping I appeared meditative instead of inches from sleep. The dullness of the hour began to grate. And yet...
God still came.
He swept in like a mighty rain shower to my utterly parched soul. Caught me unprepared for the power of His whisper. How many Masses have I missed while these last months while sick? How many opportunities to pray? How often I have been tempted toward anger at my helplessness... and perhaps a little at God?
And yet He came.
My cross has seemed unusually heavy recently. And the time has passed with a kind of dry cracking that only One can soothe and heal. I have not waited well.
I did not ask for the consolation of His Presence in these months. In my self-centered prayers, I had only ever asked for relief from pain. One is joy... the other a numbing. But when the true consolation comes, the soul always knows the truth...
...that true relief is not an absence of suffering... but the very Presence of Jesus Christ.
He is enough.
There were no words that I could hear with the ear but the whisper seemed to say...
Remember when we first danced? You didn't really know me but I swept you into my arms and you knew Love for the first time. These walls hold some of our memories. Remember when you grew and learned to love me more... and to seek more? And I lifted you and fortified you. This was the first place that you finally prayed past your fear. Remember when you did that? You said "everything"... that I could have everything. Right over there... on your knees. And I heard you... and loved you. You prayed for courage and I gave it. You trembled because you afraid.. and you prayed it anyway because you loved Me. Do you still?
The Presence of God is more than we can bear. He is beautiful and compelling beyond our powers to resist. It is a wonder and mystery why He does not come in His glory and capture us once and for all, free will or no. Yes, Lord. I do still. Where have You been?
And that question fell into the mighty silence and I was gently chastised. He did not come to relieve me of my crosses... but to remind me that He is holding me up and that He has never left. That knowledge is a piercing joy.
God help this world that seeks to be so numb. How shall we ever know the fullness of joy if we have drunk, medicated, distracted ourselves into an unholy stupor? We pray for relief and when it does not come in our time, we demand to be rendered indifferent. But in doing so, we rob ourselves of the moment of Grace... and Joy.
If I can't have the joy without the suffering... I will take the suffering. It is a leap of trust. But He has overpowered me with His presence. I can hardly say no.
If I ever become a saint, it will not be because I am so good... but because He is so irresistibly beautiful.
I have watched many times when babies are overcome by emotion and seem confused about whether to laugh or to cry. It's hilarious really. The smile and frown play together on the same face as the child grapples with pure overwhelming emotion. Is it sadness or joy? Is she laughing or crying? Not even baby knows. And...
Is the crucifix horrific or beautiful?
Is it about dying or rising?
And so I wept.
One of the most powerful prayers I've ever prayed (at the direction of a good priest) was "Lord, show me Your face." And the Lord came to my soul and I was flattened and then renewed by grace. This time, I just waited for Him to come, but much more like a petulant child who expects a meal at a certain time but bangs her fork in irritation up until the last moment.
I am thirsting. I am starving. I am broken! ... and yet He always comes. Thanks be to God.