I received a vision recently. A big vision. A powerful, yet sublimely quiet vision. A vision that made me turn around and look at life in a completely new way. Seeing things in life that I had never seen before. It was there all along. But not, until now, in my “seeing.”
I have been using as my focus for my rosary and contemplative prayers a prayer that asks God to come through me and help me to use my gifts in cooperation with his plan of salvation.
It seemed a simple enough prayer when I started out. Obvious. Easily workable. But my reaction to this prayer was unique for me. I have experienced “dry” prayers, those prayers that feel like you could forget the words even as you say them. And I have experienced “pushing” prayers, those prayers that feel as though you are praying them into a gale-force wind of resistance, prayers that leave you breathless, literally and spiritually.
But never before has a prayer made me feel as though I were riding on a bicycle with flat tires down a dirt road made up wholly of pot holes and large rocks. By the end of the first decade of my rosary I feel worn out, beaten up, overwhelmed. And during contemplation I find my focus being transformed, day after day, and always to the same place.
Always to the same thought. The same heart beat. The same breath.
Every day I receive by email an invitation to a three-minute retreat. It’s sent by Loyola Press, and it consists of a series of slides, accompanied by soft, sweet music, focused on a short text from scripture. It’s a mini meditation. The first slide always instructs the meditator to take a few deep breaths, to let go of distracting thoughts, and to become aware of God’s love for you.
I was surprised when I first started these reveries at my strong reaction to the last instruction. It’s written in different words every day, but it always tells me to do the same thing: open myself up to an awareness of God’s love for me.
I thought that this would be easy for me, as natural as breathing. But it was just the opposite. I came to realize that for me, God’s love was something that surrounded me like a bunting, warm and tight, but just there.
These Jesuit meditations forced me to see God’s love as something that is active, ongoing, alive.
And that made me feel very, very uncomfortable.
Other mystics, such as John of the Cross, write about their experience of love of God, and their experiences of God’s love for them, and it is often written in active terms, using action verbs.
It’s just that I could never relate. Love, for me, was always a passive experience. An existence that always was, was there, all around.
Not “at” me.
Not surprisingly, I did not grow up with romantic notions in my head. When young men were attracted to me and asked me out, as I grew comfortable in the situation, I would open my mouth and my ideas would come tumbling out, and a shocked glaze would come over my date.
I eventually married a man behind whom I could hide from the world of romance because he wasn’t there emotionally. Unfortunately, there was a very high toll for being with a man like that, and when his eventual breakdown came, it came fast and furious, and the children and I had to give it all we had not to be pulled under the waves of chaos.
The divorce lasted eight years. It was like surviving a war. It was surviving a war.
I had never wanted romantic love in my life. I had never wanted to expose myself to someone else’s scrutiny. I think that I viewed romantic love as a form of self-gratification, which I judged to be a weakness. Was romantic love just an expression of vanity, I always wondered.
Oddly though, during this time of upheaval love came to me. It felt natural, like a summer breeze wrapping coolness and freshness around you. The feelings were for someone with whom I could not enter a relationship, he being already committed. And so it became something I did not think about for many years.
Until I became painfully aware of it. I thought this a period of “scrubbing” it out of my heart. But, no, it still lingered on. But it settled deeply into me, not an aggravation, more a gentle, glowing light filling my heart from time-to-time until it ebbed away again in the midst of my comings and goings.
And then came this recent period of prayer. A prayer about God’s plan of salvation, and the experience of riding over rocks, being jerked around and slammed about. And no matter how calm I was to begin with, somewhere during the rosary prayers came his face, a memory of the sound of his voice, the movement of his hands.
As I go into contemplation, the focus would turn to him.
Why, I just don’t know. I was not concerned with connecting the dots, really. I just wanted the experience to stop. I wanted to put him aside.
And so the vision:
As you love, so shall you emulate God.
I have heard throughout my life what it is, exactly, that differentiates us from other animals.
In this vision, I came to see that it is our ability to love. It is our ability to love that gives us our experience of God here on Earth. Not just in loving God and understanding, feeling God’s love for us, but in bringing to Earth, to each other that which is God’s greatest creation.
The vision showed me that this is why all children should have a mother and a father, to teach children from their earliest age what love looks like, what it feels like, and what it accomplishes.
It seems that we miss the significance marriage has for the world; even Jesus teaches us that marriage is a sacrament.
We are to restore the Earth by reclaiming the innocence of married love. We are to do our best to return to the garden, to the land of giving and receiving, to our blessed core.
Love, not a frivolity encountered in Pride and Prejudice or at a cousin’s wedding, is, as they say, the answer.
It’s quite a change in the way I see things now.
For those of us who cannot be with the one they love, I would imagine that the next best thing to do is our best to support those in marriage.
In real marriage.