What’s Up, Doc?

I know I am not Bugs Bunny. I doubt if I have much in common with the Looney Tunes character who munched on his carrot with such insouciance. And yet, as Lent draws its mantle around me, something within looks forward with nearly the same cavalier abandon.

For some reason, many of the major transitions in my life have occurred at this time of year.  In 1998, after months of nagging phone calls from someone who did not have my best interests at heart, from someone who imagined — fool that she was — that I could be manipulated like a marionette, I acquiesced and accepted a job I did not want. I — fool that I was — imagined I could balance the job with my dream as I had done with other positions.

Seventeen years later, I still have not recovered from that error in judgment. The art career I had built through hard work and sacrifice while working (sometimes two jobs) and raising two children without a dime of child support is just a halcyon memory. The joy of walking into an exhibit space and being surrounded by the work of my hands — gone. The pleasure of hugs from and animated conversation with other artists at opening receptions — gone.

In 2006, Lent brought another leave-taking. With my art career in ashes, I rose like a phoenix to become a respected journalist, winning awards, watching my stories cross the wire, enjoying every day of work as though I had been created for that life. And then, in 2004, a short leave of absence from the newspaper became a resignation when the board of a nonprofit I sought to help irresponsibly failed to fulfill their part in the verbal agreement we had made. I could have walked away and let them deal with the mess they had made, but I did not. I shouldered the burden right up to the day that same board decided to relieve me of it — during Holy Week.

That experience cost me my home. I was so deeply wounded by the board’s betrayal and that breach of trust, that I had a difficult time getting on my feet again. I tried to retreat back into the profession which had given me so much pleasure, but we can’t go home again. With no local jobs, I was forced to move in order to find work — to move away from the river which was the subject of so many acrylic sketches, to move away from the view out my window that filled me with joy in all seasons, to move away from the friends and life I had built for myself.

I have turned over that sequence of events so many times the edges have become smooth. Thy will be done, I learned to pray. Thy will be done. Over and over. Over and over. Thy will be done. The prayer and the desire to submit myself to the will of our Father in Heaven led me into an ever deepening prayer life and an ever deepening trust in God. So, when the newspaper for which I worked experienced financial difficulties, and the publisher decided, during Lent in 2011, to save money by replacing me with someone less experienced — God bless those employment-at-will states which are an employer’s delight — I was shocked, but not unduly disheartened.

This year, I go into Lent feeling change is imminent. At the very least, my status with the nonprofit where I have been in training will change. But it’s possible other change may come as well. To prepare, I have given up fiction for Lent. (I have also given up sweets and snacks, but giving up fiction is the more difficult fast.) Usually, when I walk to work or take care of chores around the apartment, I listen to an audio book. And when I crawl into bed at night, I grab a mystery to distract me from the concerns of the day.

While this habit of escaping into fiction is not nearly as destructive as drinking myself into oblivion or drugging myself to the gills, the effect isn’t terribly different. Instead of embracing the gift of the day, instead being open to the blessings and challenges that make life rich with experience, I’m turning away. That’s no way to prepare for change. Change should be met with an open heart and an open mind. Change should be met with joy as a resurrection experience. Change should be cherished as a gift and grace.

I know this. I know it in my head. Now I cultivate the ground of my heart with prayer and reflection to receive whatever comes, using mindfully the time previously given over to fiction with plots, endings and closure. It’s an adventure, which today took an unexpected twist. For some odd reason, a phrase popped into my head when I grabbed a carrot for lunch, a phrase I haven’t heard in more than 40 years. “What’s up, Doc?”

I laughed with confusion, but couldn’t put it out of my mind. I begin to suspect that whatever comes, I’ll face it with grace and resilience. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even have a little of that rabbit’s arrogant confidence.


Last Call

Scenes unroll this morning like a spool of ribbon dropped to the floor. Verdant fields. The shadow of mountains. Small worn-out houses with fenced yards abutting the tracks. Mile after mile of groves neatly aligned. Vineyards stretching like corduroy as far as the eye can see. The shabby side of businesses and towns.

Raindrops crawl sideways across the windows as I watch it all. I am doing something I’ve wanted to do since I was a child — traveling by train.

I don’t know when passenger trains ceased to run in South Dakota, but they were a thing of the past by the time I started school. However, according to reports from older students, my first grade teacher always arranged a field trip for her class — students rode to the neighboring town in the caboose of one of the freight trains that still traversed the state. All year I waited to climb aboard. And then the school year ended and I hadn’t had the adventure for which I longed.

Eventually, that disappointment faded, as childhood experiences do. I even forgot until my dad’s sister brought her family to visit. Part of their journey from Oregon to South Dakota had been made by train. At that point in my life, the longest trip I had made was to a music camp my freshman year in high school — 165 miles. My parents had taken me by car, and it was a one-time experience. I was wonderstruck by the idea of crossing the country by train, and fantasized about places I would go.

But I was not raised to follow the allure of the road. I was raised to believe opportunities were gifts given to others, to believe that I needed to learn how to be content with what I had instead of longing for more. Since my mother died more than 40 years ago and my dad wasn’t inclined to talk about the decisions he made as a parent, I don’t know why I was taught to limit my dreams rather than to pursue them. I just know it created in me a dissonant dichotomy.

On one hand, my world became small; I took advantage of opportunities that presented themselves rather than explored paths that excited my imagination. On the other hand, I was plagued with an inner restlessness; I rarely stuck with a job more than three or four years, and have moved more often than I care to remember. Only my inner journey has been unencumbered by artificial barriers. I’ve studied human development and spiritual development and shied away from nothing.

As I sit here now though, watching the world go by, watching passengers come and go, I find myself wondering if it’s not time to explore the final frontier — not space, but the wonderful world in which I live. I wonder if it’s not time to see how I might be shaped by a broader range of experiences.
I find myself wondering if this morning’s cry of “All aboard” might not become one of many I hear in my lifetime.

I wonder.

I AM Somebody

Recently I was told I could have been “Somebody” if I had tried. It’s not the first time I’ve heard a comment like that. Family members have been expressing that sentiment for years. This time, though, I had an answer.

I AM somebody, I said with quiet dignity.

Strangely enough, I believe it. Yes, I am currently unemployed, and since the Internet has adversely affected the newspaper business, as well as opened up the world of social media in ways that are foreign to me, my professional career is also in abeyance. But, I do not define my worth as a person by the income I draw or by the money I have collected in a bank.

Not anymore, at least. God, in his infinite wisdom, did not give me great ambition or a strong desire for wealth. Those gifts were given to other members of the human family, though when I was young I attempted time and time again to pursue goals which required those gifts — while simultaneously pursuing goals that used the gifts I have been given. That kind of double life is not a formula for success.

Christ said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25), and bitter experience has shown me that statement’s full truth. Unfortunately, 20/20 hindsight does little more than help us learn; it does not rectify our errors. It can, however, help us grow in compassion toward others, if we allow it to do so. If we can look at ourselves and say, “I did the best I could, but I can see now why that decision was a poor one,” we can look at others whose decisions we question and appreciate that they are doing the best they can under the circumstances of their lives.

My errors have also led me to a deep appreciation of the diversity of the human family. The first book of Genesis reveals God’s passion for diversity. Waters teemed with “an abundance of living creatures” (v. 20), the skies were filled with “all kinds of winged birds” (v.21), and the earth was filled with “all kinds of living creatures” (v.24). And St. Paul writes to the Corinthians about diversity in the Body of Christ: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all  of them in everyone” (I Cor.12:4-7).

However, we do not live in a society that embraces the value of all. We reward some generously for their work while depriving others of the basic necessities of life, justifying the inequities in ways that make sense only to those on the top — and to those who want to climb to the top. As devastating as this is economically, the way this mindset affects our relationships with others is even more devastating.

We have become a society that values only those who are monetarily reimbursed for their efforts — and then, only to the extent that they are reimbursed. But there are gifts which enhance the quality of life for all, gifts which sadly do not generate a stable and generous income: creating and caring for a home, mentoring young people who need support and guidance, creating art and poetry and music, loving unconditionally. These gifts contribute to stronger communities and more beauty in the world, but generally don’t pay a dime.

To live authentically with these gifts, to live without the monetary compensation that will garner the respect of others, individuals need a strong support system, a deep faith with a clear sense of God’s call to use those gifts — or a very thick skin. I know, because those are the gifts God has given me. Yes, if I had been gifted with the desire for wealth and great ambition, I could probably have become “Somebody” because I’m also bright and have a strong work ethic.

But I am not one who can turn my back when God calls. I can only say what she for whom I was named said: “I am the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). And, as far as I am concerned, that makes me somebody.


Some days I feel like a jigsaw puzzle, a thousand-piece puzzle dumped in a plastic bag because the box was tossed out. In other words, I don’t know how I am supposed to look when the pieces are assembled.

Once in a while, though, a few pieces slip together and I feel like celebrating. This morning is one of those mornings. As part of my search for employment, I have been reading books which I hope will help me to succeed — not just succeed at finding work, but succeed in ways which are meaningful for me, personally.

I learned long ago that I am not motivated by money; I am motivated by a need to help others, to make a difference, and I carry that sensibility into most jobs. The only job I ever held which was soulless for me was telemarketing because I could not make a difference; I could not help anyone. I was good at it, and won numerous sales prizes, but I died a little each time I stepped inside the door of that workplace.

I also learned long ago that I am multi-faceted; I can do just about anything that doesn’t require specific physical skills. When I was young and searching for a career path, I would ask people how they chose their professions (or major field of study in college). Invariably, people said, “I was good at it,” or “It interested me.”

That did not help me; as I said, I can do just about anything, and I have a magpie mind — anything about which another is passionate interests me for a while. That’s actually what made me a good newspaper person; every story fascinated me. The only abiding personal interests I’ve had are art, writing, spiritual development and people. I love getting to know people, watching the narratives of their lives unfold, and mentoring the lost souls who need someone to have faith in them.

One of the books I’ve read (and am rereading) is Sister Joan Chittister’s FOLLOWING THE PATH: THE SEARCH FOR A LIFE OF PASSION, PURPOSE AND JOY. Because I want a life of passion, purpose and joy, choosing to read this book was a bit of a no-brainer. (Besides, I’ve read a number of Sr. Joan’s books and like her God — or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say her understanding of God.) Understanding the book on a deep and personal level is surprisingly challenging.

The first time I read it, I was simply inspired, not only by her prose — her sensitivity to language calls to the writer in me — but by her ideas. “The path to wholeness of the self commonly leads through a labyrinth of possibilities, a maze of gifts. The fact is that coming to fullness of life is seldom a straight line. It is a matter of learning to listen to the call — to the magnet of the heart within us — to assess our own gifts, to follow our own passions, and to find, through them, the fit between passion and purpose.” Beautiful! Offering such hope to someone like me, seeking at mid-life greater authenticity, more meaning in the daily business of life!

Phrase after phrase, passage after passage, moved me. “We need, like raindrops in the river, to lose ourselves in what we were made to do.” “The important thing to understand is that when we are doing what we love doing, we are making the world around us a happier place for everyone.” “The song of life is born in every soul. But the song we are meant to sing does not come to us whole…. Learning to hear the song within us, finding the call within us, and then bending our lives to follow it to the fullness of ourselves is the key to happiness, to meaning, to fullness of life.”

Unfortunately, when I got to the end, I was not one iota closer to finding direction for my life than when I began. And so, I began again. This time, I am journaling about some of the passages, and making notes to consider my life in light of others — when I can set aside a day for prayerful reflection, because I know some of it will be painful and must not to be entered into casually.

However, this morning, my reflections on one passage began to bear fruit. Sister Joan had written, “Real passion focuses our efforts. It becomes the compass needle of the heart which presented with multiple options becomes the direction we take at every fork in the road.” I found myself recalling decisions I’ve made and could see the pattern, the direction I have taken at every fork in the road. I live for others.

I put aside my art career because I was persuaded that accepting a position for which I had not applied would benefit artists across the state. I put aside a professional career I enjoyed because I was persuaded I could strengthen an at-risk organization that helped abused and neglected children. In small ways, too, I have made sacrifices for others.

This morning, that insight slid into place beside two other pieces. The first was a quotation from GOD’S VOICE WITHIN by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ: “God has a particular calling for each person; we are not called to do every holy action that comes to mind or to respond to every good opportunity” (emphasis added). I’ve been mulling that over for months, asking, “What does this mean in terms of my life?” Obviously, it means I need to be selective, to discern when I am called and when to allow another to respond to a situation. But how am I to know the difference?

The second piece was from this morning’s gospel. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field'” (Matthew 13:44). Out of joy — that is the key. The desire to live for others — the compass needle of my heart — needs to be expressed in ways which lead to joy, to that spontaneous outpouring of praise which is the most authentic expression of joy we can know. Choosing to sacrifice activities to which I actually feel called does not lead to joy, only despair — as I well know.

Telling myself that my sacrifice is for the greater good, when it is not an expression of my particular calling, does not lead to joy either. I can name each and every decision I have made which was not an expression of my particular calling, because I can recall so vividly the weight of obligation I carried with me day after day as I executed my job responsibilities, a weight which felt like a knot in the pit of my stomach. I can contrast those memories with others, with sacrifices that brought joy — not because they were easier to live (sacrifice involves a degree of difficulty), but because the inner peace and the outcomes were so good, so sweet, I would make no other decision if faced with the same situation again.

So, am I closer to getting a job? Yes and no. No, I do not know what career field to pursue. After all, I’ve only identified a small section of the puzzle. However, I do know how to assess whether a position is the right fit, and that seems like progress to me.

Spiritual Foreshadowing

“And though The Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” — Isaiah 30:20-21

I can still remember driving away from Pierre, SD, in the summer of 2006 with tears streaming down my face. I did not want to move, but I was out of money and the only job offer I had received required a significant move. The knot in the pit of my stomach told me I had made the wrong decision, but I couldn’t see any other options.

At least, I had not been able to see any other options until a few hours before I closed the door to my apartment for the last time. I had opened the mailbox that afternoon to discover a letter inviting me to interview for my dream job. If I hadn’t given notice on my apartment, hadn’t rented a trailer in which to pack my possessions, hadn’t enlisted the help of friends for the move, I would have done a happy dance the moment I saw the envelope and would have called immediately to schedule the interview. Instead, I sat in the stairwell, breathing deeply and slowly until the waves of despair had ebbed enough for me to mount the stairs and continue moving boxes out of my apartment.

I knew the gut-level feel of a wrong decision. I had taken a teaching job midway through the school system when my girls were growing up; bad decision. A decade later, I had allowed myself to be guilted into sacrificing my dream to help a floundering nonprofit; bad decision. Just a couple years earlier, I had allowed myself to be seduced away from a job I loved by the siren call of children in need; bad decision. And there I was, making another bad decision.

That decision did something none of the others had done, though. It paralyzed me. I could not move forward because I stood like Lot’s wife, looking back, wondering how I had come to make such an incredible mess of my life. After moving, I plummeted into depression, and would have committed suicide had a stubborn refusal not to leave my daughters motherless given me a small handhold on life. Eventually that lifted, but a pervasive lack of hope settled in its place. I fulfilled job responsibilities to the best of my ability, and cared for friends and family when I could, but I did not expect to be blessed, not in this life.

Years passed one by one, and I lived them with as much grace and dignity as I could muster. And then, I found myself seeking work yet again — and I was terrified by the prospect. What if I made another devastatingly bad decision? Would I survive it? I tried to find a spiritual director who could help me discern God’s will, but wasn’t successful in finding one who could understand that, for me, job hunting was a spiritual undertaking.

Before I made the decision to move in 2006, I was in what St. Ignatius of Loyola would have called a profound period of spiritual consolation. God taught me in new ways, drawing me into a more intimate relationship with himself and lifting me up with joy unlike anything I had experienced previously. When I chose to accept the proffered position and move, that came abruptly to an end and I didn’t know why. Why had God hidden himself from me?

During the dry years that followed, I was faithful in prayer, attended Mass religiously and became involved in parish activities, but did not experience again that joy — until shortly after I found myself unemployed yet again. I attended a weekend retreat for women and found my heart spontaneously opening to God’s love, spontaneously surrendering to that love. I abandoned myself completely to God in that moment. Over and over, I murmured, “Anything, Lord, anything.” Because an employment decision had abruptly ended a period of consolation in 2006, the one which faced me following the retreat had profound significance.

Somehow, I managed to bumble through the indecision and fear. Rather than make another major change, I took a job for which I was overqualified in order to pay bills and decided to wait for clarity. It came. It did not come quickly, but it came in that quiet, roundabout way God likes to use. At a church meeting I attended, a visiting priest suggested I read THE JESUIT GUIDE TO (ALMOST) EVERYTHING by James Martin, SJ. Through reading that book, I began to learn how to discern the movement of God in my life, and the next time I was faced with making a major decision, I was able to do so in a way that filled me with peace. Did everything fall neatly into place? No, not really, but I am at peace in the decision and have enough confidence to continue striving toward the goals set.

So what does any of this have to do with spiritual foreshadowing? (And what, exactly, is spiritual foreshadowing?) In literature, authors give hints of what is to come, hints which a sensitive reader can intuit; English teachers call it “foreshadowing” when teaching students to loathe the novel. In looking back at 2006, and the decision which haunted me for so many years, I find myself wondering if God wasn’t giving me a few hints — if he wasn’t showing me how it felt to draw close and how it felt to turn aside. Perhaps the decision itself was not actually wrong, but was in truth right — right because it opened my heart and life to be shaped by God.

And, as God says after each act of creation in Genesis, it is good — all of it.

Seamless Whole

“They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down. So they said to one another, ‘Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be.'” (John 19:23-24)

It’s all of one piece … like the robe our Lord wore … one piece … my life.

That’s what I wrote in my journal this morning. Now, I must discern what it means and how I am to live it.

(Before I start, though, let me say: God bless St. Ignatius and the Jesuits with all of their wonderful ministries! I have come to this place primarily due to their ministries: books by Jesuit authors, like Father James Martin whose books BECOMING WHO YOU ARE: INSIGHTS ON THE TRUE SELF and THE JESUIT GUIDE TO (ALMOST) EVERYTHING changed the way I understood my gifts and my relationship with God; the SACRED SPACE devotionals by the Irish Jesuits, from which I learned to pray with Scripture; and now the pray-as-you-go.org website by the Jesuit Media Initiative in London, which has transformed my morning drive time into a grace-filled sanctuary. If it is true that we reap what we sow, let them reap abundantly for the seeds they sow are blessed with the living presence of the living  God.)

But back to this morning, and my journal. A glimmer… an intuition of something as of yet unrevealed … has been flitting just out of reach for a time. I cannot clearly identify when I became aware of it. I no longer have time to sit daily with my prayer journal open before me and record what comes to me as I open heart and mind to God. On the days when I do write, the notes are made in haste, a paragraph or two where once I would have written a page or two.

Late last month, I wrote, “What strikes me is that while I do not know why God has allowed my life to be touched by so much darkness — interior as well as exterior — the darkness did not shape me, at least not in the sense of warping me or making me crooked. Rather, the darkness has in some way purified me so that I can begin to reflect God and his love into the world.” That intentional awareness of the way difficulties have blessed me is part of the sense of wholeness I experienced this morning, but not all.

Wholeness has seemed, for much of my life, to be an unattainable goal — perhaps because I am multifaceted. I can do much, and while some of my skills (such as playing guitar) are rudimentary at best, I can do a great many thing well and a few things exceptionally well. I could not discern from my gifts the course my life should take — the career path I should pursue, the goals I should set for myself. Like the little bird in the children’s book by Philip D. Eastman, ARE YOU MY MOTHER?, I asked searching questions everywhere because I longed for the kind of clarity and purpose which seemed to drive others.

But instead of finding direction, I became a tumbleweed, catching first in one place and then another, learning along the way that I had gifts I did not imagine possessing, but discovering as well that I was not nearly as skilled in other areas as I had believed. Twice I experienced life-altering moments of clarity and insight. Once, at the Art Institute in Chicago, as I stood before Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Sky Above Clouds IV” and thought, “I can do this.” Before I left the museum that day, the original intuition had set into a single thought, “If I don’t paint, my life will be wasted.” For the next eight years, I worked to build an art career, but I allowed myself to be distracted and it slipped away like a silk scarf caught on the wind.

Later, the year I turned 50, I made a 7-day silent retreat, where I came to understand that to be whole in Christ, I needed to imitate the whole Christ. I needed to be Christ feeding the hungry (Matt. 14:19-20), but I also needed to allow myself to be fed (Matt. 25:42-43) — and not just by the Eucharist. I needed more reciprocal relationships in my life, friendships in which I both gave and received, instead of the unhealthy imbalance which existed. I had a tendency to care for every emotional waif who passed through my life — nurturing, mentoring, feeding, tending wounds — without counting the cost, but counted or not, the toll had to be paid. Over and over, depression would wrap its arms around my neck and I would fall; over and over, others to whom I gave little or nothing would lift me up and carry me with their love and support.

The intuition of wholeness which grows within me encompasses these insights, includes them, but extends beyond them. “What is of God endures … not only in the world, but within us,” I wrote in my spiritual journal earlier this month in response to Gamaliel’s counsel to the Sanhedrin in Acts. “Be careful,” he said regarding the apostles. “If this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:35,38-39). I heard the words as I listened to the meditation on pray-as-you-go.org, allowed my heart to respond, and then began to take an inventory of what remains in my life — my love of God (flawed though I am in so many ways), the pleasure I take in crafting language,  my unquenchable need to create (to paint, when that is possible), my dedication to being a good mother (and now grandmother), my appreciation of my friends.

I understood better that day how God works in my life — not fully. In this world, we cannot see fully, only in part (I Cor 13:9-10, 12), but that day I saw more clearly — for a moment. And then, with equal clarity, I began to understand God’s abundance in a new way. In reflecting on the “thief of life” following a reading from John’s gospel, the passage in which Jesus says, “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), I realized that life drains out of me when my time is consumed by a single endeavor over an extended period of time. God created me with a variety of gifts, and I need opportunities to use those gifts — first this gift and then that — in order to experience his abundance.

All of these flickers of light came together this morning as I listened, for the second time, to Friday’s reading. “And if I go,” Jesus said to his disciples on the night before he died, “and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:3). In this life, I  asked, how do I come to be where you are? I recalled suddenly standing in a grocery store 30 years ago, talking to a friend. In previous conversations, I’d heard this individual denigrate Red Delicious apples, so I was quite surprised to hear praise regarding the display. Above our heads hung row after row of enlarged pictures of Red Delicious apples. Turning, so we faced in the same direction, I saw instead rows of Golden Delicious apples, which he preferred.

I understood immediately, that I experience God in my life here, in my life now, by changing the way I look at things. And I glimpsed — just for a moment — the wholeness of my life, and God’s hand at work in all of it. The tension in my life, the push and pull, has been a creative tension much like that I experience when I paint, when I create depth and richness through creating layers which resonate with one another. That is how God works in my life, I understood. I could not set apart any of my life experiences without altering who I am, who I have become, how God has shaped me to hunger and thirst for him while desiring equally to reflect him into the world. It is good, I thought. It is all good.

What does this have to do with the tunic Jesus wore? I’m not entirely sure. I’ve turned it over and over in my head and in my heart. I can make facile associations, but they don’t feel authentic once expressed. And so I can only do what we all must do with the uncertainties and mysteries in our lives — wait and pray. And trust in the goodness of God.




Holy Week Reflection: Understanding

“What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.”  — John 13:7

Yesterday, as I was driving to work, I was being led in prayer by pray-as-you-go.org. A friend referred me to the site a couple weeks ago and I’ve found it perfect for my morning drive — a little music, a Scripture reading and a few questions for reflection. I start it in the morning before I shift my pickup into drive and pull away from the curb, and by the time I’m entering the community in which I work, I’m joining in the closing prayer, usually the Doxology.

Yesterday’s Scripture reading was the gospel from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, John 13:1-15. Jesus is washing his disciples’ feet, and Peter — being Peter — objected. I would venture to guess that if the Myers-Briggs had been around back then, and Peter had taken it, he would have been an ENTJ — one of those natural leaders, quick to see patterns and to take charge, quicker to voice opinions and ready to plan for the future. At least, that’s the Peter I see in the gospels: first to verbalize his belief that Jesus was the Messiah (Matt.16:16), quick to make the offer of tents when privileged with the vision of Jesus with Moses and Elijah (Matt. 17:1-4). But, like all leaders, he was not always right — because like all of us, he was human.

As often as I’ve heard this gospel and read it, I’ve never before been struck by what Jesus said to Peter when he objected to having his feet washed. “You don’t have all the information, Peter. You are making a decision based on what you know, but you will learn more in the future which will enable you to understand why I am doing this. Just trust me for now.”

OK, that’s a very loose paraphrase of what Jesus said to Peter, but that’s what I heard as I was listening to the gospel, heard with my heart rather than my ears. And then, the Lord tacked on, “And that goes for you, too, Mary.” A verse from I Corinthians 13 flitted through my mind almost simultaneously: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (v.12).

“Ah, yes,” I thought, “we know in part.”

As I had dressed yesterday, I’d been thinking about work. I knew I had handled my piece, in what I’d seen weeks earlier as a no-win situation, with as much grace as possible, but I derived no satisfaction from seeing matters unravel. I strive for win-win resolutions whenever possible, but I’d not been in a position to exert any influence when decisions were being made. I was simply being swept along by the inevitable turbulence of conflicting expectations, and not in any way enjoying the white water experience.

We know in part. With those few words, I was reminded how often 20/20 hindsight has revealed to me the way in which God was working in the difficult situations of my life — or the way he used those experiences in wondrous ways.

I remembered the night hope sparked in the eyes of the women in my journal-writing workshop as I shared with the class of inmates stories about some of the violence I had experienced in my life. I could see them thinking, “If it didn’t beat her, it doesn’t have to beat me. I can build a better life for myself, too.” I went home that night and thanked God for my dad’s hand across my face, his leather razor strap across my back. I thanked God for the kick my ex-husband leveled at my stomach when I was pregnant and the choker of bruises his hands left around my throat. That pain had been transformed into a gift the moment I knew others had been given hope by knowing I’d walked in their shoes.

I remembered other difficult work situations, other difficult life situations, and the grace I’d received with insights gained years later. I knew in that moment God was asking me to trust him; asking me to say, “Thy will be done;” asking me to forgive those whose decisions had caused such turmoil for me. Jesus was attempting to wash my feet. He had told his disciples when sending them out, “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words — go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet” (Matt10:14). If our lives are to  be our witness, then we, too, must have the grace to simply walk away when our presence is not considered desirable. Jesus was offering to help me walk away, encouraging me to be at peace in doing so.

I experienced all this in far less time than it has taken me to write about it — in the briefest of spaces between spoken words. But, even with this new understanding, I knew no more about God’s plan than I had before listening to the gospel, no more than Peter knew about the night and the future which lay before him when he objected to having his feet washed by Jesus. I was, however, comforted.

Throughout the day, I kept returning to that phrase — “we know in part” — and appreciating anew the mysterious way in which God works. God gives us our lives one day at a time. Like Peter, we want to take charge, we want to decide how things should be done. But like Peter, we can never fully understand what God is doing in our lives. We can only trust him, as Jesus — in his full humanity — trusted our loving Father that night as he knelt before Peter and each of the disciples, knowing what was to come.