Thursday, October 21, 2004

29th Week in Ordinary Time

Canadian SnowbirdsDriving up the coast to San Francisco a couple of Saturdays ago, I saw a dark geometric formation streak across the sky. I shrieked in delighted surprise when I realized it was a formation of military planes on its way to perform at Fleet Week. I wasn’t expecting to see them so far south of the Golden Gate, but there they were, shooting across the view of my car window. The week before, I stood on the beach watching a similar formation, this time a quartet of stunt kites. Four men on the beach pulled strings and weaved around each other creating an aerial ballet for anyone who looked up and a ground-level dance for strollers passing by. At sunset I stood at the edge of Pier 39 and saw a familiar formation of geese, not quite streaking across the sky like the planes I saw earlier, but in the same geometric shape nonetheless.

All these mysterious formations evoked a multitude of feelings and memories. Seeing the jets above, I reveled in awe and wonder at the creativity and boldness of the human mind while also dreading and grieving their witness to war. The kites made visible the invisible beauty and grace of wind as they also testified to its destructive power in hurricane and tornado. The flight path of geese, unrehearsed yet perfect, both humbled my sense of human superiority and refashioned me to that one perfect pattern that all creation reflects—Christ the Logos.

Hidden in the patterns and surprises of human achievement and natural creation were signs and reminders that God has fashioned all things to be in right relationship, forming us to be a dance, ordering us out of chaos, transfiguring our weapons of war into plowshares of delight and wonder. The patterns of God’s beauty, God’s creative Word spoken in Christ, are all around us. We need only look, reflect, and remember.

I relearned this lesson with about 200 high school students a couple of weeks before. We sat in the church of St. Lawrence the Martyr in Santa Clara searching for the signs of God’s presence. First we remembered that we were already in the holy presence of God. Then we asked ourselves, “How do we remember that? What reminds us of God’s presence?” This led to a discussion about symbols.

Our daily lives are filled with signs and symbols—birthday cakes and candles, wedding rings and baby’s first shoes, grave markers and memorials. These symbols don’t just remind us of things past but teach us about present things and challenge us to strive for future things hoped for. Because when we speak of symbols, we are not talking about “fake” things, as when we say “it’s just a symbol.” Rather, we are talking about a reality that is so immense that every time we encounter that symbol, we learn something new about ourselves, about our God, and about our relationship with each other and all of God’s creation.

Our worship is filled with symbols. Next time you celebrate Eucharist, seek the more “hidden” symbols—those objects, gestures, people, and places clothed in ordinariness that we often ignore, take for granted, or pass by without thought. Ask yourself: What does this symbol remind me of? What does it teach me about God? What does it teach me about myself as a Christian? What does it challenge me to do so that God’s presence is seen more clearly in my life and in the world?

If we look deeply, enter fully, and reflect prayerfully upon the signs and symbols that surround us, we’ll see that…

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware….
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, Book Seven

Three years ago, All Saints Day, I was at San Quentin. I joined their music ministry made up of inmates for their Mass. Some of these men had been there only a few years; others had been there longer than I had been alive. I had gone there a few times before at the invitation of a Franciscan brother to sing for the inmates, and I was confronted by the hidden presence of God in these men. We sang “Blest are They” during Communion, and as their voices filled the small chapel, I was voiceless when we got to the refrain: “Rejoice and be glad! Blessed are you, holy are you. Yours is the kingdom of God.” These men—condemned, put away, forgotten, hated by society, and some ultimately killed by society—are nonetheless loved and blessed by God. God surprises us with his presence not only in delightful things but also in the dark places of human life.

In this week’s DSJ Liturgy Notes, you’ll find:

This week, look up and look around and search for all the signs that we are in the holy presence of God.

Diana Macalintal
Associate for Liturgy