August 8, 2021
SCRIPTURE READING: 1 Kings 19:4-8
We had a wonderful time at the beach a week ago – five families, 18 individuals in one house. I wondered how we would all deal with that. I hoped we would all be patient with one another and our uniqueness. As usual, I wasn’t expecting the first lesson to be mine.
When we first arrived, several were already settled – some already walking the beach. Warm greetings being passed around. Rooms were assigned. They were small but it was going to be fine. We would all just adapt, right? Make the transition. Not like home, but that’s OK.
I found myself getting kind of grumpy about little things. Minor inconveniences. It lasted maybe 24 hours. I didn’t like being that way. I went to a quiet place and started to read about the life of Teilhard de Chardin – brilliant, independent scientist and thinker, Jesuit Catholic, deeply spiritual. Born in 1881 in France.
Here was a man who believed in the power of God to shape history and yet when life threw him a curve (and he had some big ones), he was at times reduced to tears. I wanted to know how he learned to cope during all the transitional times of life. His upheavals were so much more intense than mine. But I wondered what principles or practices he held to when the going got tough.
His hardships were almost unimaginable: He faced enormous obstacles to his teachings scientifically and spiritually. In fact, his own church continually opposed him – finally withdrawing permission for him to teach! He lived through the horrible WWI as a stretcher-bearer and then lived through WWII. He spent 6 years in Japanese occupied China.
I wanted to know how he did it, how he kept on going, how he kept the kind and loving spirit those who knew him felt. What sustained him in his big set-backs when I couldn’t seem to settle peaceably into a crowded house just steps away from the Atlantic Ocean!
It’s such a common issue, isn’t it? If life were a straight line, we could cope but it isn’t! It’s twists and turns. We are constantly being asked to adjust to the unexpected and often the unwelcomed. Sometimes those turns are as big as roadblocks to your career or horrors of war, like they were for Chardin. But more often, they are as small and annoying as not having your own familiar space to live in for a while.
The author of the book I was reading answered that question for me as he spoke of his friend Teilhard: “But calling on all the resources of his will, he abandoned himself to the supremely Great, to his Christ, as the only purpose of his being; and so hid his suffering and took up his work again…”
So what is to be learned from Teilhard de Chardin? When you face a troubling corner / a transition moment in your life, how can you get through it with just a little more grace?
- It’s not by giving in to wallow in self-pity. He called on all the resources of his will.
- It’s not by trusting in your own cleverness and will-power alone. He abandoned himself to the supremely Great, to his Christ.
That’s the part I think we often forget. There is this inner resource that we can draw upon to anchor us, refresh us, and sustain us during life’s upheavals – life’s transitions whether they are large or small. This resource is not just for life’s biggest disappointments or hardships. It is like an inner artesian spring that is inside us, always available, and it never dries up. It’s not something we have to carefully measure out for fear of running out.
It is all well and good that we use our will, our own strength to cope. We were given those strengths for a purpose, but we should never forget that calm center – that inner wellspring that is not from ourselves. It is the living presence of God within!
Although I believe that this presence is always available to each of us, it takes a little practice to stay connected to it. I think this is what Allison is trying to teach us on those monthly Contemplative Prayer experiences.
We can’t access that inner resource without “Practicing the Presence” as Brother Lawrence advised us. It’s like the resource is THERE all the time, but we can’t connect to it without tuning out the noise and clutter of our daily living! We have to get still – learn to be quiet and silent – learn to listen and be receptive.
Elijah was an Old Testament prophet trying to be faithful, to speak truth to power, who found himself crosswise to the political systems of the day, namely Jezebel, the queen. She wanted to kill him.
Now that’s what I call facing a transition! It’s no wonder he was shaken to the core – unglued and cranky. He, too, ran away to a quiet place in the wilderness where he could cry out his agony and fear under a broom tree! He asked to die! But what he most needed was to learn to connect to that inner voice and strength.
God sent an angel to attend to him in his misery. He was not criticized for being “immature” but he was fed. (See the connection between the emotional self and the physical self?) Twice this happened while Elijah wailed and slept. The angel said he was preparing Elijah for a great journey – to meet God in Mount Horeb.
It was there on Mount Horeb that Elijah hid himself in a cave and where God found him and asked him what he was doing there. Elijah spouted out all of his complaints about the bad turns life had dealt him.
God said: “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” First there was a wind, then an earthquake, then a fire. God was not in any of them. Then, a gentle whisper! That was the voice of God and that was the power Elijah needed and the power that you and I need every day to sustain and empower us.
May God teach us in these chaotic times, the essential need is to “be still and know that I am God.”