by Randy Roche, SJ
Below is a title and brief description of each essay. To read the essay, click on the title:
God's Language- We can grow in awareness of God’s language through reflection on the fairly constant flow of incoming messages that come to us.
Enemy- Like hate, “enemy” is a strong word, so we do well to take care in using it appropriately.
Patient- Patience, where love is involved, is not a burden, but a blessed reality of life.
Wreck Conciliation- Now is the time for us to consciously seek to avoid wrecks that will require conciliation.
Ups and Downs- We want to make conclusions that resonate with the truth residing in the depths of our hearts.
On the Grass- Walking, standing or sitting, we sometimes accomplish our most productive work when we stop consciously exerting ourselves.
Addition not Subtraction- The ways of the Spirit are almost always by way of addition, not subtraction.
Wash and Wear- We do not need to be ironed or treated artificially in order to be ourselves.
Geronimo!- The only risk in every leap of faith is that we might place our trust more in our own preparations than in God.
Antidotes- We have learned to trust that all will be well when we do not give in to fear.
Long Day- God created us for love, not some lesser kind of existence that depends upon physical possessions or the judgments of others.
Up and Down- Our spirit-life goes far beyond mere up or down.
Victories- Consolations of the Spirit encourage our trust making it easier to continue in the direction we are headed.
Extraterrestrials- It would seem that we are willing to become, in some ways, “extraterrestrials” ourselves.
When God addresses us as individuals, whether in word-images, ideas or internal movements, the manner of communicating is always within our capabilities of perceiving. We can be linguists or persons of only one language, sharp of hearing or unable to hear sounds, and yet we are able to receive whatever God wishes to convey to us. Any limitations to our reception of the language God uses in relating with us comes from our own “selective hearing,” just as we can either open ourselves to what others say to us or merely give the appearance of listening while ignoring the content of their messages.
God’s communications with us are always for our benefit, and are adapted to each one’s particular educational level, chronological age, mental capacity and all of the qualities by which we readily identify one another’s potentials for receiving information. Having direct access to our minds and hearts, God’s means of relating with us transcend all our usual options of using gesture, intonation, eye-contact, volume, choice of words, phrasing, emphasis and use of images. God uses these and more, such as direct insights and movements of our affections, sometimes without the intermediary of thoughts and concepts. The Creator of our human nature can enlighten our minds and warm our hearts even when we are not at first aware of the cause. And yet, we always retain the freedom to accept or reject, to receive or to ignore every religious experience.
Though we are able to receive God’s personal calls without the necessity of telephones and internet devices, we might be hesitant to accept them as the gifts of love they are intended to be if we are not yet familiar with God’s “caller i.d.” We can grow in awareness of God’s language through reflection on the fairly constant flow of incoming messages that come to us. If we begin by considering ordinary insights and inspirations rather than looking for extraordinary revelations, we are much more likely to perceive the gentle increase in peace and joy that accompany some of our thoughts, especially those that enable us to accomplish whatever we happen to be doing. When we receive a message from God, the voice resonates pleasingly within us.
Words of Scripture, for example those found in the Psalms and Gospel passages, are privileged expressions of God’s language, making use of our own vernacular. For, whenever even a single word or phrase answers a question, provides a helpful idea, or in any way encourages us in trust, hope or love, God has communicated directly with us. The same is true of any truth spoken or written by anyone: when it elicits the movements of the Spirit within us through signs of peace and joy, engendering an attitude that is open to the goodness of God, then God’s language has been expressed to us.
Deep desires that arise from within us are a special example of God’s universal language of love, drawing us to fulfill our purpose in life by revealing specific ways we each can add our contributions to the common good.
Finally, one of the surest signs that we have heard something from God: a spontaneous sense of gratitude.
Though the word “enemy” always conveys the meaning of being against someone or something, we are able to make use of the word in positive ways, such as when we describe chemotherapy as the enemy of cancer cells. If anyone or anything is a threat to us, we usually welcome those who consider the same entity as an enemy, as when strangers become united in a common cause of dealing with a disruptive person at a public event or help one another reach safety in a sudden weather-related emergency.
Not everyone who caused us some kind of injury has consciously done so. Yet, when naming anyone or any group as “enemy,” we might include persons who merely hold opinions that are different from ours, and not just those who are actively hostile to our beliefs or way of life. In most situations, we determine for ourselves who and to what extent we will consider others as enemies. But we need to be cautious of those who, for the sake of their personal gain in terms of money or especially power, try to manipulate our feelings of fear and anger when they designate groups of persons as “enemies.” Some civic officials, and also some of those who editorialize in the media under the guise of announcing “the news,” can cause real damage to us if we let them unduly influence our decisions about who are real enemies might be.
Using the word “enemy” to describe others has the potential for bringing about more harm to us than what they might possibly be able to cause us. Whenever we categorize someone as an enemy, we usually remove from consideration any positive qualities he or she might possess. In so doing, we can easily cut ourselves off from the possibility that either they or we might change in the light of new experiences and insights. While we cannot force or predict others to modify or alter their ideas, we want to keep open to change, since we all possess the God-given gift of radical freedom of choice.
In a similar way, when we focus our attention too much on the negative aspects of others, we can lose ourselves in thoughts and feelings of anger and even hatred, thereby becoming enemies of our own peace of mind and heart: a great loss, and one for which we bear responsibility. No enemy has the power to take from us our vocation to be a loving person. Our best immediate response to the hurts and injustices we suffer at the hands of enemies is to consult directly with God who loves us, and then determine what we will say or do.
Like hate, “enemy” is a strong word, so we do well to take care in using it appropriately, not only when we speak, but especially as we use the word internally. Just as “rejection” might be an overly negative explanation for not having been chosen as someone’s best friend, “enemy” might be too dramatic a word to use for a person who has simply manifested a lack of appreciation for something we said or did.
Rather than placing us in a world filled with enemies to be feared, God has given us an environment where love is the true and absolute reality even though pain and suffering are always possible. Love accepted the cross, and won, even over the enemy death.
Most of us believe that there is a great difference between being patient and being a patient. But the one word “patient” names a single reality which is an integral part of our lives, more than we might imagine. While we recognize that patience is a fine human quality, most of us have a natural preference not to have to wait for whatever we want, and to always have good health. From this perspective, being patient might be viewed as a sometime necessity that we do not necessarily desire for ourselves, just as we do not usually seek to become a patient.
We can take another viewpoint about being patient and even about being a patient that is quite positive. Our culture is focused on having everything “right now,” which consumerist advertising strongly promotes as a manner of living, but our experiences of waiting are sometimes quite positive. Most of us detest the pre-Thanksgiving onset of “buy now for the holidays,” pushing aside what used to be a delightful season for anticipating Christmas celebrations. Advent was, and still can be, a shared time of wondering, hoping, and planning for tangible gifts and also for gifts of grace that make the expectant waiting well worth-while.
Patience, where love is involved, is not a burden, but a blessed reality of life that expands our goodness beyond the limits of immediate gratification. We have found that as soon as we have seen, tasted, or possessed the latest highly promoted “must-have” item, the pleasure quickly passes, and we then seek some new article or event as if it would satisfy us. What a deeper enjoyment we have when, for example, we can anticipate meeting with someone, and planning a meal or a shared event with him or her.
If we think about being patient as something we do by ourselves and on or own initiative, it might seem to be a chore, or a burdensome task that only we are aware of, whether we are a patient in a medical facility, in a line waiting for service or being dependent upon someone else’s timing for a shared activity. But we can change the “alone” aspect immediately and in any situation by adverting to God, who is present with us, and always as a participant rather than as an observer. We know that God is everywhere just as we know that gravity is the force that keeps everything together in the universe. When we drop something on the floor we then become more directly aware of gravity. Whenever we turn our attention to the Lord of Love, with whatever degree of focus we are able to manage at the time, we can have the immediate experience of being understood and accepted with all our thoughts and feelings, just as we are.
Even a slight increase in awareness that God is with us in our present circumstances, especially when we believe that God is more intently concerned with our well-being than we are, makes being patient a positive value, and being a patient a shared experience with the person of Jesus.
If we sound out the above two words, we will have “reconciliation,” which might be more practically a part of our lives on an every-day basis than we have thought. Rather than dealing with wrecks, and trying to negotiate who will pay the bills for repairs, most of the reconciling we do is in the form of putting together separated aspects of life that we come to realize are in need of unification. Reconciliation of this sort is among the ordinary gifts made available to us by the Holy Spirit.
Parents can stop two children from fighting and enforce a peace that often remains after their anger subsides. Judges can impose mandatory arbitration in some situations, but if the persons involved do not work through their anger, a legal settlement cannot bring about true reconciliation. The absence of peace in our hearts is often an indication that some wreckage remains as a symptom of disunity. We are responsible to ourselves for seeking whatever appropriate means will restore us to peace. Even when there are irreconcilable differences, it is still possible for one or both persons to become reconciled to the truth that unity is not possible in the particular situation, and thereby come to interior peace.
Many ordinary experiences of reconciliation take place whenever we recognize and correct instances of mismanagement in our ways of thinking that have kept apart concepts, ideas and understandings that belong together. Sometimes we are hardly aware that we set up opposition to simple truths based solely on some of our preferences. At other times we are quite conscious of having minor disagreements with other persons that are for no other reason than our desires for control. Whether at the moment of making these inappropriate separations or especially afterwards when we reflect on these occasions, we have opportunities for reconciliation. The Spirit of God is present within us, offering inspirations for making the corrections that will bring us individually, and at times communally, to that form of interior peace which we cannot cause by ourselves. These quiet graces can take the form of “listening to the voice of reason” as well as simple desires to “do the right thing.”
The reconciliation in which we become active participants is not limited to bringing back together elements that were incorrectly separated from one another. The Spirit working within us offers graced possibilities of new insights that enable us to unite aspects of life that belong together but which we had been unable to recognize as such. Examples of this kind abound: becoming able to see that racial and religious differences can be reconciled not by making them all alike or all one, but by acknowledging a unity that transcends those differences. In a way, such graced insights bring us closer to God’s perspective of loving all people, without distinction. Likewise, the brilliant achievements that indigenous people have made regarding natural remedies that medical science is still discovering, and the need for sustainable practices in the use of natural resources which the world community is gradually beginning to recognize as a universal responsibility, show that the Spirit of God continues the work of reconciliation through all of human history.
Now is the time for us to consciously seek to avoid wrecks that will require conciliation, by relying on the ever-present love of God offering us the way to peace of mind and heart.
Sometimes we use “up” and “down,” or variations of those words, to suggest difficulty or ease rather than a direction. If we walk up a hill, we are likely to walk down later, or if we head downhill at first, we might have to go uphill in order to return. In a similar way, we might experience difficulty in starting a new behavior which then becomes easier over time, or we might decide to perform more difficult tasks while we are fresh, leaving the ones for which we have facility until later when we are tired. In life, we usually have ups and downs in some complementary fashion, rather than only hardships or only comforts.
We do not keep going continually uphill; at some point we turn downhill, whether or not we reach the top. Without the climb, we would have no opportunity to see the view, achieve a goal or overcome a challenge. And so the efforts are not wasted. On the way down, we can reflect on and enjoy what we have achieved. Likewise, we can make our way downhill to a pleasant valley, enjoy a visit with someone or engage in a hobby. We know that any form of recreation has to be temporary, or it will become stale. We need to go back up, to apply our re-energized selves to whatever is ours to accomplish. All of life, including “retirement” includes this familiar movement between up and down, though we might not recognize this truth until we reflect on our experiences.
God did not make a mistake or do us a disservice by giving us a spirit that thrives on the variety and interplay of the ups and downs of life. We could not be happy and we would have little to offer the world if we were linear persons exclusively, either constantly struggling or always relaxed. Rather, in being continually on the way to “more,” whether we are moving uphill with conscious effort or coasting downhill with ease, we exercise our gifts of trust and love in dealing with each days’ interactions with persons, the environment and our own thoughts and feelings. Some of the thoughts and events we encounter are unpredictable and some expected, but we continue to grow through the way we relate with all aspects of reality: pleasant or unpleasant, inviting or challenging.
Our relationship with everyone, including God, depends upon the decisions we make, which are ever new each day, no matter how often some of them are repeated. Some are easy for us to make, as when the circumstances are familiar and fit the habitual expressions of our values. Other decisions are difficult to form when right from wrong or better from less good is not immediately apparent. In deciding how to respond, even if only to thoughts in our minds, we want to make conclusions that resonate with the truth residing in the depths of our hearts. We base our decisions, without absolute assurance of being correct, on that quiet yet graced “compass needle” within that points not to up or to down, but towards truth and beauty, towards goodness and life. This is how we find God present in all of reality, because God, as love, is all of those qualities to which we are drawn.
Up or down, our direction is always towards Love.
Some public parks have signs posted on certain open spaces: “Keep off the grass.” Other organizations have grassy playing fields reserved for use by soccer, baseball and additional team sports. And still other plots of lawn are only decorative. But there are also specific places where people can just step out onto the grass. What might occur when we do so?
Some of us enjoy the feeling of a soft natural surface beneath our feet, something quite different from concrete sidewalks. Others of us like the coolness and texture we feel when walking barefoot on grass. And some of us might take the occasion to let our minds and hearts move with a gentle sense of inner direction while our feet do the walking with a likewise less specific movement than when we are task-oriented. We might play or pray or reflect out on a lawn or in any space where we choose to depart from habitual work-mode, and instead open ourselves to insight, inspiration or relaxation. Whether we move out onto real grass or make use of a metaphorical substitute, we can engage freely there in the activity of receptiveness rather than in absolute control. And in so doing, we are making good and practical use of our time, though the results might not be as immediately tangible as completing something on a “to-do” list.
Our experiences vary according to persons and circumstances, but most of us have learned, probably more than once, that some of our best answers to questions, most significant insights and greatest moments of appreciation have taken place when we were “on the grass,” not consciously directing our thoughts, but still alert to those interior movements that are just as real as any of our ordinary acts of focused concentration. We cannot operate in such a free manner all the time, but neither can we expect to solve every problem and fully exercise our creative capabilities by always giving our complete and undivided attention to the every-day interests and concerns that absorb us. Just as we try to maintain some kind of balance between mental and physical exercise, so do we foster spiritual integrity by sometimes literally moving away from our usual occupations.
Walking, standing or sitting, we sometimes accomplish our most productive work when we stop consciously exerting ourselves and allow our minds and hearts to be engaged in a less directed spiritual activity. If we reflect on the difference between living with constant movement from task to task as compared with the quality of life when we accept frequent graced ideas that come to us when we are relatively inactive, the process can be seen as truly wondrous. Not every insight or inspiration is entirely new or extraordinary. But the beneficial effects of even ordinary gifts are of great value.
When we invite, permit and welcome thoughts that meet not only our practical needs but also enhance our deeper concerns for living according to a transcendent set of values, we continue to exercise our essential human freedom, but we also are implicitly acknowledging the spiritual reality that our receptiveness to God’s suggestions is always for our benefit.
It is good to get on the grass.
One of the marks of truly inspired thinking is the way two ideas that had seemed at odds with each other are suddenly found to have paired links or characteristics. A common experience of such complementarity occurs for example, when we have for some time thought of family and friends as two quite separate kinds of relationship and have at some later moment come to recognize how family members might become friends and friends might become part of our families. Rather than having studied dictionaries to arrive at such a concept, we would have allowed the newer understanding into our minds in a moment of insight. Inspired thoughts of expanded meanings to familiar ideas or words often cause delight, which is a mild form of joy.
We can likely recall instances when we arrived at a pleasing synthesis of previously disparate beliefs or understandings. A great number of Catholics were delighted when they came to the conclusion that they and their friends of other communities of faith were all beloved of God: still different, but not opposed. Many, with the help of different forms of learning, have found much satisfaction in the recognition that faith and science are not opposed, but both have their different and proper ways of explaining the realities they address.
The ways of the Spirit are almost always by way of addition, not subtraction. We are drawn towards acquiring new understanding and greater harmony of all that we know; always more, not less. Even though we grow older and experience physical diminishment, our sense of the unity of everything continues to be revealed in new details, and in an ongoing basis. Our ordinary graced manner of discovering consonance where before we experienced dissonance is like watching a scene on a foggy morning mist become ever more clearly revealed as the light becomes stronger. We are never done learning new things about life, ourselves and others, and finding how they relate with one another in a complementary manner. All of these movements are ongoing manifestations of the Spirit at work within us.
Once we have recognized how the Spirit is active in our minds and hearts through what we experience as spontaneous and unplanned or unsought moments of revelation, we can ask directly for more of the same. Before reading for the sake of learning more about faith or science or both, we can choose to take a very brief moment of prayer, orienting ourselves for the reception of insights and inspirations that we do not ourselves cause.
How beneficial for us and for all when we seek such graces, rather than to waste our time and energy with the kinds of angry thoughts and words that are all about us, and which cause division, separation and differences, and which are diametrically opposed to the movements of the unifying Spirit.
In our daily reflections on some of the causes for gratitude in our day, we may find one or more instances of having been the recipient of inspirations that were clearly addition, not subtraction.
Much of our clothing can be washed and dried in machines, and is then immediately available for use without additional efforts being required. Natural fabrics have been treated with chemicals, and synthetic materials have been designed, so that garments can be washed and then worn, having the appearance of clothes that have been pressed or ironed. We ourselves are “wash and wear;” our natural covering of skin is capable of being washed again and again and we retain our appearance. If we have wrinkles, it is not from washing!
Our bodies reflect a truth about us as persons: there is far more to us than our visible external appearance. Without having “wash and wear” labels, we endure heat and cold in addition to wet and dry; we grow and we age; our physical appearance is affected by all kinds of experiences and sometimes as a direct result of our choices. But we make the decisions, some under duress of circumstances and some by grace and inspiration that governs who we are. No matter how much we are rubbed, pushed and pulled by circumstances, we do not need to be ironed or treated artificially in order to be ourselves.
Our internal condition certainly becomes manifest in our bodies. A constant frown might reveal abiding anger or anxious concern. Someone whose appearance is consistently peaceful is not likely to also be internally torn by various emotions. Reflecting on the connection between our interior state and our outward appearance can provide us with helpful information. If a friend were to tell us that we always appear to be anxious, we would likely ponder such feedback not so as to directly change our appearance, but to seek some appropriate means for dealing with the causes of the visible effects in our faces and bodily stance. And if we ourselves notice that our heads are bowed and eyes cast down, we have a loving responsibility to ourselves and to those around us: something inside us needs our careful consideration for making at least a first step in the direction of healing, acceptance, or action.
We are unavoidably affected by all that concerns our bodies, from outward appearance and general health to specific concerns about a bit of dust in one eye or a sore back. We wash our hands as often as needed to guard against sickness, and cleanse our minds and hearts with even greater necessity to keep us free of negativity. If we have the unpleasant experience of someone criticizing what we wear, we can become defensive or angry. We can also metaphorically wash away the germs of false guilt and hostile thinking, for we are not at fault just because someone gives voice to an opinion, and we can let that person know whether or not we accept his or her thought as our own. The soap and water for interior cleansing are immediately available to us without need of sink and faucets.
For some of us, prayer is a healing context for dealing with those thoughts and feelings that, if not consciously addressed, would likely continue and grow to our harm and perhaps others as well. Having qualities of wash and wear as we do means that nothing external can of itself turn us from being the persons we are by choice. They only present occasions for us to affirm who we are and to continue choosing the persons we want to become.
When some of us were children, we would take turns jumping off a swing, and shouting “Geronimo,” in imitation of American paratroopers who supposedly gave that shout when they leaped from airplanes. We were taking very short jumps with no parachutes, and were having fun. What we had in common with the paratroopers was the experience of leaping from a place of safety, in trust that we would land on our feet without injury.
Each day we often metaphorically jump from a secure habitual way of thinking and acting to engaging a new reality with unknown conclusions. Or, from another perspective, we have an abiding trust that we will land on our feet when we leap from an apparently secure present to a somewhat unknown future. When we exercise the gift of trust, or faith, we have certainty that effects will be positive, though we do not know how or when we will have closure.
We have likely learned that impulsive behavior does not include assurance of a happy outcome, since it begins and ends within our minds and imaginations but lacks coordination with our hearts. Imagining a safe landing is not the same as having a trustworthy invitation that it is time to leave the safety of the present for something different. The invitations or inspirations we receive are not the same as impulsive thoughts. Though they too begin in our minds as possibilities for action, we only proceed when we can distinguish an inner resonance of affirmation and of trust that is related to the ideas we have received. With trusted inspirations, we are free to act, and we want to, even though we cannot see ahead of time how things will work out.
Our ordinary experiences of trust-jumps are not usually significant enough to warrant shouting “Geronimo” as we leave a familiar way of understanding a particular reality to accepting a more-encompassing way of seeing the same facts. But even small risks elicit a bit of anxiety or excitement, though we might not consciously advert to such feelings. When we take a seriously considered venture in hand, we still might not give external voice to our sense of the heightened level of risk, but we might find ourselves with interior expressions for our feelings, such as “Here I go!”
Effective trust is neither an automatic response to challenges great and small nor is it so “spiritual” as to exclude physical and emotional consequences. All the thoughts and feelings that accompany our everyday leaps of faith are part of our normal spiritual connection with God. But, just as there is a consequential difference between making decisions where mind and heart are agreed, and acting on impulsive thinking, trust is greatly enhanced when we consider the Person we trust, rather than always leaving that relationship as “understood.”
Paratroopers and sky-divers make careful preparations before leaping from airplanes, but there is always the real risk that some accident could occur, with harmful results. The only risk in every leap of faith is that we might place our trust more in our own preparations than in God, whose invitation we believe we are accepting. Geronimo!
A true antidote works in direct opposition to a poison or other dangerous substance. But we also use the word to name whatever counteracts anything harmful, including thoughts in our own minds as well as occurrences that are external to us. Doctors might be essential for providing medical antidotes for life-threatening snake bites, but we are the ones to employ spiritual antidotes for ailments such as loneliness, anger and depression, to name only a few. Though we might want someone else to give us a pill or otherwise provide the means for healing our maladies, our most readily available antidote is to think and act opposite to offensive or harmful thoughts and interior movements.
We might not think of ourselves as courageous, but whenever we enact decisions that we know are right for us, especially when we face fear as well as negative demeaning thoughts, we act courageously. We might know that if we remain passive rather than acting directly opposite oppressive thoughts, our inner suffering will increase. And doubts from within and comments from without would have us deny this bit of truth. But every choice to think or act in opposition to false reasoning and fear-inducing imagination is not only courageous but definitely in our best interests.
Trust is another word that is closely allied with our use of spiritual antidotes. We are not entirely alone when we act contrary to obstructive and destructive thoughts, even though we are solely responsible for our decisions. Whatever self-confidence and courage we have at present has been developed in direct, personal moments of prayerful interaction with God and in graced relationships with other persons. Sometimes we might have whined and complained about the difficulties we faced, but were encouraged to work through adversities by the witness of those who have consistently acted appropriately no matter what the obstacles and inconveniences. Or we might have asked God to take over and either make our decisions for us, or dismiss the challenges that confront us, only to find that we have within us the graced capacity to trust our inspirations and act accordingly. We have learned to trust that all will be well when we do not give in to fear.
No matter how we describe some of the various ways by which we might have come to acknowledge it, the shortest and least painful means of dealing with poisonous ideas is to apply the antidote of opposition. If the thoughts assailing us are about the possible difficulties and suffering we might endure, we can focus on our deepest desires and on our objectives, and then decide what we will do. Giving our attention to the thoughts that we are likely to fail is like listening to someone who belittles us: the accompanying feelings are definitely negative. Deliberately choosing to think rather of the purpose and intention that inspires both mind and heart together is an honest and practical exercise of spirituality.
Spiritual antidotes are not obtained at pharmacies but in the quiet, secure interior source that lies within our hearts.
Usually, if we say that it has been a long day, we mean that whatever we did was emotionally and physically draining; not exactly a complaint, but not a very strong declaration of having had a wonderful day. But, if we look carefully at the decisions we made and the quality of our efforts relative to the events of such a day, we might recognize that our time was well spent, and that we are pleased with how we responded to the day’s challenges and opportunities. Our thoughts and feelings will change in accord with the quality of reflection we make upon our experiences.
How often we have become angry at what we perceived as someone treating us with disregard, but, after having come to the realization that we really do not care what that person might think about us, the anger dissipated. Or we might have become disappointed in ourselves while thinking that the work we accomplished was of no particular value, until we looked back over our endeavors and found them to be the best that we could have managed, and became pleased with our performance. One day is not substantially longer than another, but the perspective we hold determines the kind and intensity of our feelings regarding the day’s happenings. We have the competence to evaluate any and all of our experiences so that we can make reasonable and helpful interpretations of the realities that affect us.
It is so easy to judge events by external criteria, such as whether we made a financial profit or not, or whether we had to work hard or found it easy. But if we make our judgments carefully, using the internal power of conscious reflection and applying our personal values and beliefs in coming to our conclusions, they will be appropriate, and we will be content with what we have done. Long day or short day, however we describe it, the perspective we choose to take about the expenditure of our time and energy can always be positive as long as we are honest with ourselves.
We can use others’ standards or opinions when we engage in evaluation of our experiences. But better than leaving to others what belongs properly to us, we can more reasonably focus our attention on the data we have within us, for it relates directly with the indwelling Spirit of God. Nothing of reality, even suffering, can keep us captive to thoughts that are ultimately injurious to our well-being. We have direct access within our own hearts and minds to non-coercive but always supportive movements towards goodness. God created us for love, not some lesser kind of existence that depends upon physical possessions or the judgments of others.
Once the northern hemisphere of our home planet has passed the spring equinox, the days grow incrementally longer. But whether or not we at first consider any particular day to have been a long one because of the difficulties encountered, when we reflect upon our experience in the presence of God’s love, we will be able to appreciate our day, and find cause for gratitude in it.
When we say that God is in heaven and gesture upwards, we do not really intend to specify a particular direction. As Psalm 139 and the Shield of St. Patrick prayer exemplify so well, we believe that God is all around us. There is no direction for going to God since we exist in God. But the metaphor is helpful for us who look up to the sun, moon, stars and sky, and look down at our feet and at the ground. Many of us are familiar with a description of prayer as “lifting up our minds and hearts to God.” Also, if we come to God downhearted, we hope to be uplifted by the encounter.
We are embodied persons who find it quite reasonable to use place names and directions in exercising our faith when thinking and talking about realities that transcend our physical bodies. As long as we reflect from time to time on how our vocabulary is only metaphorical when we refer to matters of the spirit by using spatial, directional and other such terms, we maintain appropriate balance. We would never become attached to a literal meaning when saying that heaven is “up there,” but our minds and hearts are refreshed when we consider our beliefs, however we think about them, as being not just concepts, but descriptors for our experiences of relating directly with God.
We give directions to people for meeting us somewhere if they do not know exactly where to find us, and we often spontaneously employ concepts of direction in our personal inner dialog. For example, we might think that we had better pull ourselves up from depressive thoughts, or tell ourselves to stop thinking of things that take us down. We know what we mean, and the directional imagery we use helps us in making good decisions.
Once we have raised our conscious focus towards God, we most likely have no further use for thoughts, images or words relating to up and down. When we are engaged in any form of prayer, whether using words, meditating, using Scripture, music or the use of imagination, we usually remain aware of our physical surroundings and of the passage of time. But, just as we can become completely drawn into an exceptionally engaging interchange with someone, or become fully absorbed in a performance, reading, work of art or outdoor scenery, we sometimes even lose awareness of time when we pray. All such experiences are transcendental, whether in or outside the context of intentional interchange with God.
If we can recall even a small number of incidences when we completely lost track of space and time, they are enough to show us that we are capable of such experiences. When we accept and appreciate this capacity of being fully occupied in some activity as a human person while not being aware of the physical realities of location and the passage of time, we have a fine example of spiritual activity that is ours and more than ours. We can deliberately seek such experiences, but we do not of ourselves make them happen, any more than we can put ourselves into the state of sleep by simply deciding to do so.
Our spirit-life goes far beyond mere up or down. God is with us always, in and through everything.
All of us have likely had many happy occasions of celebrating others’ recovery from some kind of sickness, injury or personal suffering. Ours is a special sort of joy when we have accompanied family members, friends or colleagues through difficult times and have been able to witness their subsequent improvement or progress. Suffering is a part of life, but so is the satisfaction of surmounting all types of challenges that have come to us unbidden or have been taken on voluntarily. The most gratifying victories are not from prevailing over opponents, but rather from determining to continue on as best we can no matter what the circumstances might be.
When Jesus rose from the terrible death he had suffered, his immediate celebration of victory took the form of going personally to those who had in some ways accompanied him in his suffering: his mother, his friends and his disciples. They were, and we are today, those whom God consoles in all our suffering, including our compassion for the pain and travails of others. There is no physical pain, rejection by others or any other form of human suffering that is unknown to Jesus. As both God and a person like us, he not only understands all that we might endure, including the experience of dying, but lovingly accompanies us and celebrates all our victories with us.
Just as we do not trivialize the suffering of those whom we console with our words and presence, we do well not to make light of our own tribulations by thinking about how small they are in comparison with that of others, including the crucifixion of Jesus. The gift of compassion we give to others is not an intellectual exercise about the quantity of suffering, but is a movement of loving concern for the persons we accompany. And so God consoles us as an expression of personal love in every least and greatest challenge we might endure, not according to any kind of measurement.
When we participate in celebrations of life for those who have died, we can believe that those we remember in such a way have been granted victory over all pain and suffering, and that the first warm hug and wide smile of congratulations they receive after death is from their Creator and Savior who has their welfare more at heart than even we do. In beliefs such as these, we ourselves receive consolations, for God accompanies us even in our own victories over doubts and fears concerning our loved ones.
Consolations of the Spirit encourage our trust making it easier to continue in the direction we are headed. We still have to walk the walk, we still suffer and have challenges, but we have particular experiences affirming that we are where we belong at this moment, that we are moving forward and not backwards, and not remaining in the same place either.
Since we receive so many consolations for ourselves, we might be moved to celebrate the Easter victory of Jesus over all his sufferings and thereby have the experience of our sincere congratulations being gracefully accepted.
Since the discovery of a large number of planets around numerous suns even in our own Milky Way galaxy, more of us are seriously considering the possibility of life on planets other than earth. Some might be inclined to consider, as C.S. Lewis did in his Space Trilogy, if another species of creatures with reflective thought and free will would be without sin and so would have no need for redemption as we do. Others ponder what it means for us if intelligent, self-reflective life might exist concurrently with us in another part of our universe.
Thinking about other life-forms that could be somewhat like us can either enhance our reverence for the creative power of God or can lead to doubts about God’s love for us, on the supposition that other creatures with free will might be more careful with their planetary environment than we are and therefore be more deserving of love. No matter what we read or hear with regard to extraterrestrials, we can pause for a few moments and call to mind some of our beliefs.
God is infinite in every way, and quite capable of creating in love, and for love, other life-forms like us, including beings without bodies, such as angels or spirits of various types. We could think that God might love some beings more than others. But infinite Love does not compare one with another. God loves all of creation, each and every individual of all the kinds that exist, including those not yet known to us.
Fear of the unknown can lead us to irrational conclusions such as: some unknown beings are likely to destroy us. But no creature in this world or beyond could do us the ultimate harm of causing us to turn away from our purpose in life. God has given us free will in an utterly definitive way, so that we might love as we are loved. God’s Spirit abides in us no matter what powers of any kind might come into contact with us.
Whatever or whoever might exist, does so ultimately by the hand of the One God who has revealed and continues to reveal self to us in direct personal contact, and indirectly through all that we can encounter by means of both our physical and spiritual senses. Unless we fail to accept the possibility of life after death, we already have, or can have, contact with life-forms different from ours. Many of us relate directly and regularly with recognized Saints, and likewise with other loved ones, all of whom have passed through death to a mode of being that we do not presently experience for ourselves.
After his Resurrection, Jesus said that “we shall be like him as he is” and we are consoled rather than troubled by such a possibility. It would seem that we are willing to become, in some ways, “extraterrestrials” ourselves.
Upon reflection, we have no cause for doubt or fear about the possibility of there being other creatures in the universe that are both like us and also quite different from us. May they all be capable of love, as we ourselves are!
Last Updated: 07/10/16