Glimpsing Heaven on Earth
The hot summer day in our Midwestern town began with no warning that the soft, cozy rug my husband and I had under our feet would suddenly be pulled out from under us. He called in the afternoon to tell me he had lost his dream job, not due to lay off, ineptitude, or any other defect on his part, but due to a major ethical disagreement between him and his boss about which both were immovable. My husband considered acquiescence impossible as a matter of conscience. I can’t say it was completely unexpected after weeks of heart-wrenching discussions about the increasingly hostile work environment, but the timing was an utter shock. I wholeheartedly supported him but I was afraid. We had two kids in college, lived away from our families and the very community we had relied on for years was suddenly and irrevocably gone – we were persona non grata. I met him at the office, we packed boxes filled with memories and loaded our cars in a raging thunderstorm. Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script.
Once home, we put things away in silence, then he relayed the horrible events of the day. This had been one of those jobs where both husband and wife are integrally involved. I had never seen my husband suffer so acutely – as the primary breadwinner of the family, so much was at stake. But it involved far more than income, something far deeper had shaken him and I could see it would take every scintilla of mental, emotional, and spiritual courage he could muster to get himself back on track. As a result, he wasn’t going to have anything left to comfort me in my own suffering. My very best friend upon whom I always relied, couldn’t be there for me. I think these times are the most difficult in a marriage.
One day I was doing some mundane errands, going through the motions. After one stop, I sat in my car and just started weeping. I had never felt such deep sadness; the physical pain in my chest was suffocating. I looked up and asked God – begged Him – “Please, please help us! I do not know where to turn.” Like a gentle whisper in my ear, a thought came – it isn’t just the two of you in this marriage, remember? Like a cooling, soft breeze on my tear-drenched cheek, God reminded me, “I AM HERE…” I was able to move forward, albeit not easily, in the knowledge that He was, always had been, and always would be with us.
Perhaps you’ve had a moment like this. These precious moments, these tiny little graces seem as though God has given us a fleeting glimpse behind the veil which separates Heaven and Earth. They are so subtle we could easily miss them, especially in the frenetic, techno-saturated time in which we live. They come when we least expect them, often when we need them most. It has caused me to reflect more deeply (and gratefully) on other “God-incidents” in my life.
My Dad used to take my siblings and me deer hunting on the dunes of Lake Michigan. When I was about 13, he and I sat in a blind which he had dug into the side of a dune overlooking a patch of scrub pine trees. It was not quite dawn yet, the light just barely beginning on the horizon of the lake. The indigo sky was the sort of crystal-clear you only see on the cold northern days of late autumn and winter. He looked up and pointed out the constellation of Orion, the Hunter – I had never noticed it before, and frankly didn’t pay much heed at the time. Little did I know that seven years later my Dad would die suddenly in a tragic accident. I was living with my folks at the time, married less than a year, pregnant with my first child, and facing the extended absence of my husband who was away for work. During those subsequent months, I could hear my poor Mom crying herself to sleep every night.
I had never dealt with anyone else’s grief, let alone my own. It was a tough time. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but one clear night as I was out for a walk, I looked up, and there it was, Orion – the Hunter. That long-forgotten memory of hunting with my Dad came flooding back, tears of hope and relief with it. I’ve seen Orion many times since then and know not only my Dad, but my Heavenly Father is with me.
I recently read a beautiful story on the pages of a newspaper. A woman, grieving over the suicide of her son just days before, was walking her dogs – racked with grievous weeping. A beautiful butterfly was hovering very near and she recalled that someone had remarked this was a sign that a loved one was nearby. She asked it to land on her hand if it was indeed her son and to her stunned amazement, it did. It stayed there long enough to take a photo with her phone, then thanked it, and off it flew. She said she truly believes it was a sign from God – a little reminder that He was here amid all her suffering. It gave her courage to go on.
Hope. Can we live without it? Courageous men and women, triumphing over adversity or fear, whether they are Christ’s apostles, a POW, Holocaust survivors, those battling grave illness, addiction, or disability, all provide powerful examples of hope to us. What do they all have in common? They all have little epiphanies or signs, granted in divine moments of grace, most often when they least expect them, but always when they’ve awakened to their inability to control unfolding events. For three of the apostles, it came in the spectacular vision of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:17. For the POW, it came in a sudden tap on the wall, and the realization he could communicate to his fellow prisoners. The hell those Holocaust prisoners experienced was suddenly interrupted by a song or prayer by a Catholic Priest, martyr, St Maximillian Kolbe. A young mother, devastated by the news of yet another cancer relapse, experiences a moment of serenity as she sits before the altar, contemplating Christ’s passion.
Some of us live in the stubborn (and mistaken) notion that we have control over our lives. If you are like me, you’ll remember for a while, then get sucked right back into old delusions.
It’s not until we’ve had that rug pulled out from under us that we realize that we’re NOT in control. For many of us, it is then, and only then, when in the depths of despair that our souls cry out for God.
We live in a fallen world. We are all sinners, suffering the consequences of not only our sins but those of others. Just as a good deed echoes into the crevasses of the universe, so too does sin, wreaking havoc in ways unimaginable. But God didn’t mean for us to be in this alone! He has equipped us – armed us – for the spiritual battle in which we live. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
“It is not easy for man, wounded by sin, to maintain moral balance. Christ’s gift of salvation offers us the grace necessary to persevere in the pursuit of the virtues. Everyone should always ask for this grace of light and strength, frequent the sacraments, cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and follow his calls to love what is good and shun evil.”
“It’s not easy for man,” says the book; it’s downright hard sometimes, as it is in our current day. So many friends and family members share my worry about how we can go on, day after day, the news going from bad to worse. We are questioning the wisdom of our civil and spiritual leaders for decisions that are followed by threatening diktats. The social order is in upheaval; fear of illness or death and distrust of neighbors seem worse with every passing day. Our natural reaction is to either absorb ourselves in the clickbait du jour, mistakenly thinking that by knowing about it we can somehow change it, or to ignore it and choose to live in blissful ignorance, but neither ever brings us the peace our souls long for. There is a third way, and that is to acknowledge our categorical inability to control the situation – or even to determine the correct path – and rest in the knowledge that God is in control. Have hope.
Certainly, God has given each of us gifts which we are to use to try to make this life better, and this missive is not to dismiss this task at all, but God has also infused into our very souls the theological virtue of hope, along with faith and charity (love,) so that we will be so equipped to act as his children and win eternal life. The Catechism continues:
“Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” (emphasis mine)
A Christian soul constantly seeks God’s assistance – and He constantly grants it. The stories I shared may seem rare occurrences, but in truth, God’s grace is around us everywhere, we need only attune our eyes, ears, and hearts to notice. We must surrender all that is blocking our clearer view of God’s world and how He is infusing the Holy Spirit into every aspect of our daily lives. When we are paying attention, suddenly it comes into focus in the form of a stunning sunset, a ruby-throated hummingbird, an intricate butterfly, a call from a friend. Did a tear come to your eye when you saw your child say or do something? Were you struck silent by a beautiful piece of music, its beauty so profound? Was it a gentle breeze on your tear-stained cheek? Has the “still, small voice” come to you today? (1 Kings 19:12)
THESE are the God moments, the tiny glimpses of Heaven, the “God-incidences” which give us hope. And they are among the best of things, truly. Let’s not miss the next one…