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Message in a Bottle #5

The Resurrected Lord told his disciples to remain in Jerusalem and to wait for his spirit to come to them, a spirit he promised them at the Last Supper, a spirit that would clothe them with power from on high (see Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4). Waiting is easier said than done. Waiting implies we remain in the same spot, even, and especially, when we would rather be elsewhere.

With the coronavirus severely curbing what we can do and who we can visit, we are forced to remain and wait. Whenever I have to live something difficult, I either want to go back in time long before the difficulty presented itself (the good ol’ days), or I want to leapfrog to some idyllic future where the difficulty is only a distant memory in the rear-view mirror (the happily ever after days).

What the Church invites us to do during these 40 days, the time between Easter Sunday and Ascension, is to grieve and adjust, to remain and wait.  Why?  Because there must be something happening in the “now” that is worth waiting for, something God wants to give us that we cannot give ourselves. Something essential. Something life-giving.  Something that can never be attained by living in the past or the future.

Three guides have helped me to be present to what God is doing in my life and in the life of the world right now.  In one way or another, these guides have been like horse whisperers saying, “Phil, the main thing is to know the main thing and to keep the main thing the main thing.”  Got it?

My first guide on this 40-day journey is Mary Magdalene. According to John’s gospel (John 20:1-18), Mary is the first to the tomb on Easter morning. Distressed by the discovery that the stone had been rolled away, she panics and runs to tell Peter and John. Running is code language for “false consciousness.” As long as we are running, we won’t get it, we won’t understand what is really important to understand. As long as we are running, we are convincing ourselves that the present situation cannot possibly hold any solution to our anxiety. And so, we run from it. When Mary runs back to the disciples with the news that the stone to Jesus’ tomb had been removed, Peter and John start running (more false consciousness) towards the tomb. They do a cursory inspection of the empty tomb and returned to their homes (John 20:10).

Mary does something very different, though. She remains and she waits—the very thing Jesus told his disciples to do at the Last Supper (Acts 1:4).  She probably felt like just going home as Peter and John did. Nevertheless, Mary doesn’t run from her pain, her sadness, her disappointment, her emptiness.  She does not do anything rash nor heroic. She simply remains and waits, and her patience pays off. She encounters the Risen Lord speaking peace to her anxiety, reassurance to her fear, and hope to her disappointment. She does not run seeking the consolations of God, but she remains and waits until the God of all consolations finds her.  If this is true of Mary, it’s also true of each of us.  Can we, like Mary, believe that God is present to us right here, right now?  With all my stress, frustration, disappointments and fears, can I believe that the Risen Lord is present to me in his Presence speaking my name as calmly as he spoke Mary’s name?

A second guide for me through these 40 days is the world-renowned author, Eckart Tolle.  Many of you may have read Tolle’s first book, The Power of Now, which sold millions.  Through this book and his teachings, Tolle tries to get us to see that real power lies not in the past or future but in the present, the Now. He says such things as, “To the ego, the present moment hardly exists. Only past and future are considered important.” Thankfully Mary Magdalene did not listen to her ego. Tolle also writes, “Stress is caused by being “here” but wanting to be “there,” or being in the present but wanting to be in the future.” How true!

And my third guide helping me to live these 40 days between Easter and Ascension is prayer, meditation in particular. I have had to learn that meditation is not what I initially thought it was. It is not about meditating on this holy thought or that one; it’s not about pondering the reality of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. Meditation is simply about sitting in the presence of God.  Period. There is no agenda to be accomplished.  In meditation, there is nothing to live up to or down to, no expectations or demands.  It is simply being fully present to the Presence of God. That is enough. It has always been enough contrary to what our ego tells us.

This pandemic is forcing us, mostly against our wills, to remain and wait. We can wait with a sense of frustration, punching in time until this passes so that we can get back to the way things were. We can wait, similarly, with a sense of anxiety about what the future may hold. Or, we can wait, like Mary did in the land of the dead, with a sense of hope that Life stands in the middle of the tombs and calls our name. We will all think differently, feel differently, and approach life differently when this lockdown is over.  It is inevitable. You cannot not be changed. Until then, let us put frustration and bitterness aside and use this time to surrender ourselves to the molding hands of God.  Let us also surrender to guides who know how to remain and wait.  Like clay in a potter’s hands, we are going to come through this pandemic shaped one way or another.  Why not let it be in the hands of God, the Master Potter?    

Fr. Phil

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