Here we are in Lent. These past weeks have been a rich time for me. Hard, but rich.
The 9-month Ignatian Exercises upon which I embarked last September—the extended period of prayer each morning—well, let’s just say—interesting!
My whole trip back East to the New York Encounter seemed to take up about a month of my life. I’d been invited to be on a(n unpaid) 3-person panel about a collection of essays by the late Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete on the mystery of suffering. I thought a moderator would ask questions and we’d have a bit of a discussion (i.e. relatively easy).
But a few weeks before I was told I was supposed to make a 15-20 minute presentation. So I spent really the better part of a week working up a paper, hunched and contorted over my laptop, sweating tears of blood, longing to do homage to the truly great Monsignor and his work.
Meanwhile—New York. Promised to be cold. I bought a hat. I wanted to look nice so I bought a new jacket. I wanted, again, to honor the spirit of Monsignor so I had a mani-pedi the day before I left. No-one’s gonna see my feet in a NY winter, but Jesus will know.
All of my efforts, I saw in retrospect, were the fruit of decades of prayer, of a life grounded in the Transubstantiation, of the belief in an unseen realm: a dimension of love, like yeast all through the loaf where more and more, I’m convinced, everything that’s important, that’s of value, happens. In a place that’s utterly unseen, unvalued, unnoticed by the world but that is shot through with joy, humor and light.
The trip was glorious and the trip was utterly draining. Getting up at the crack of dawn to fly—through Dallas/Fort Worth, as there are no nonstops to NYC from Tucson. Nonstop people, however, once I arrived. I met old friends, on four different occasions. I walked the High Line. I went to museums. I went to a dinner, a breakfast, a launch party, a stupendous Mass.
I participated in the Encounter itself, attending panels of friends. I of course showed up for my own panel. I’d also gotten an expensive haircut but my hair in the YouTube looked awful. Again, no matter. Not about me. I had given my all. I had tried my best.
Then as you know if you’ve been following along I left my laptop with a ton of unbacked-up work on it in the TSA bin at LaGuardia. No problem! They found my “item” (miracle) and a friend retrieved and sent it back (another miracle). I should have a backup laptop anyway so I also bought a new one and spent a couple of days setting that up.
All in all it seemed that what with travel plans and prep, the travel itself—a day on either end—and the “event”—I just couldn’t catch up. I gave it my all and when you give your all there’s nothing in reserve. I was exhilarated, I was joyous somehow. But I was also drained to the last drop.
In the midst of all that—it’s been an extremely unseasonably long, grim, cold winter here in Tucson (and apparently pretty much everywhere)—before I left, I was really thinking, Man, I don’t know if I want to stay here. I’d started thinking, I should move to New York! I’m really a big city person. I always have been. This place isn’t enough for me. It’s not really worthy of me. God forgive me. I actually thought that.
Anyway, for some bizarre reason when I returned—and this was before I even knew they’d found my laptop—this very strange and very welcome feeling came over me. And the feeling/thought was: Wow, I can’t believe how beautiful the sky is. I can’t believe how much I love my little adobe bungalow. Why not be 1000% HERE—where I actually live? Where all my stuff is and I actually live?
So I started to pray each morning to fall in love with Tucson and it’s happening! I am finally meeting people and feeling part of a community and internalizing what I know intellectually to be true: that it doesn’t really matter where we live. The Kingdom of God is a state of mind, of being.
What struck me about Mark’s account is that it’s preceded by this:
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?
What could one give in exchange for his life?
Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8:35-38).
Whoever is ashamed of me and my words…whoever is scandalized, in other words, by the smallness, the last-placeness, the servanthood, the unlikeliness, the hiddenness, the utter lack of ‘triumph’ in the Way, the Truth and the Life is never going to be free from the bondage of self and of the world’s worship of power, property and prestige.
And right after that Jesus takes Peter and James and John up a high mountain and he’s transfigured. He appears snow-white, he’s covered in a cloud, the Father’s voice is heard: This is my son, in whom I’m well pleased: listen to him.
It’s like Jesus is demonstrating to the disciples—I am the realm where everything important and of value and of love take place. I am the Resurrection, as he tells Martha. The world not only can’t see this; the merest hint of the Kingdom of God and the way it works puts the world in a murderous mob-like rage.
It’s like before entering into his Passion Jesus is showing his friends—I am who I say I am. Fear not—only have faith. Because not to put too fine a point on it, things are about to get extremely grim. (Though as my friend the late Fr. Terry always said, “Jesus had a rich, full life—then three really bad days).
Anyway, in reflecting on the Transfiguration, I thought of my time in New York, of how I had brought everything I had and stretched myself to the limit: physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, socially. I was 100% available and responsive to whoever and whatever came my way. I poured out my heart and my mind and my soul into my presentation. I stayed up late when I would have preferred to be in bed. And in giving my all—the giving itself at the urge and under the aegis of a power infinitely greater than myself—I entered for a time into that cloud that covered Jesus on Mount Tabor.
How could it be that I didn’t even freak out when I realized I’d lost my laptop? Why was it that I returned with a strange sense of peace and sort of decision to be and stay planted where I am without even consciously thinking about or agonizing over it?
I do realize that this kind of “giving of one’s all” is exercised every minute of the day, for years on end, a lifetime really, by say the average mother. But however and whenever we find we’ve tapped into it—that’s a grace, is all I’m saying.
In fact, I really don’t even know how healthy that is. 😁