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 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, 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.