Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cliff-Jumping: My Very Real Relationship with God

Ever had a vision so strong you could swear it was real? I have. More than once. I guess it's just because I am rather visually oriented... but then again, at other times, it's been a distinctly real internal auditory message. Well, God probably isn't particular about which of our senses he appeals to when he wants us to find him. In my experience, he just insists on finding me where we am, and just when I need it the most.

I first truly knew the presence of God  back in 1989, three days after my now-ex-husband walked away from our marriage. I was in my late 30's, had been a full-time mom raising my two boys, and the shock of learning that I was about to be alone and responsible for two small children with no job was huge. Not only was I emotionally devastated by the demise of my marriage, but I also had no idea how I was going to survive. Friday, Saturday and most of Sunday, I had a very strong recurring vision of being pushed toward the edge of a cliff and knowing I was being asked to jump off. I didn't want to. I REALLY, REALLY didn't want to.

In spite of this, I went through the motions of everyday life, taking care of my boys for the rest of the weekend. I dragged us all to Mass on Sunday morning, where I cried on the shoulders of fellow choir members, who comforted me, and yes, I participated in Mass. I was in a daze, attempting to sing praise and receive the Eucharist trying to stay sane under this huge load of stress. I knew I had to do something that felt like my ordinary routine.

Sunday night was when it happened. I don't really remember there being a specific catalyst, but by evening after I had put the boys to bed, I realized that I was no longer alone at the edge of that cliff - that I could indeed let go and fall off - but I knew without hesitation that God the Father was going to catch me. It was then that I realized I could go on with my life, and that I could rely on the very real presence of God. (Yes, it really took three days to "rise" again.) Looking back, I now see the connection between that turnaround with sharing the Eucharist with my community and with Paschal Mystery.

In retrospect, I realize that was one of several times in my life that God has reached out and definitively made his presence known. It was the first of two instances when it was pretty specifically connected to the grace of a sacrament. The other experience was directly related to celebrating Reconciliation and I have written about that previously. The experience I have described above is one reason I knew to trust the second one. I already had a history with God.

This relationship with God has been is a distinctly personal one, although I admit I probably don't always live up to my part of the commitment as I should. Holiness is not particularly easy for me - and I admit I struggle. But no matter how unworthy I may feel, no matter what I have gone through in terms of life difficulties, I have never for one instant doubted the love of the Father, through Jesus Christ. That is why, whenever I lead psalms and hymns that speak of God's mercy and love for those who suffer, I am genuinely praying - in gratitude for the one who "raises up the lowly."  Because I have been there - and lived to tell of the "marvelous works of God." Because "God, who is mighty, has done great things in me."

At first, for me, it was definitely a relationship with the Father. A child of divorce myself, I had always longed for the daily presence of a father figure. Later, during my Cursillo, I felt drawn to the person of Jesus, who became much more real to me through that experience. As the years have gone by, I have relied on the Holy Spirit directly during my teaching, writing and when I am a cantor. I'd have to say that which person of the Trinity feels closest is somewhat situational, but it is always a personal relationship - I never feel distance between us, though, like any relationship, there can sometimes be interference from distractions.

It saddens me when I hear that many Catholics don't think it's possible to have a personal relationship with God - or that it's simply too "Protestant" to do so. Marcel LeJeune says it's something we can and should choose. Well and good. But I suspect many people do not find themselves free to make that choice. They are perhaps too bound by awe of a distant all-powerful God and by all that keeps them rooted to the things of this world, including most especially their own "agendas" and expectations about God.

I believe the first step to making that choice is simply to be open to a greater agenda than our own - to be alive to the movement of God's grace and to be willing to respond to invitation. God is the one who reaches out to us - and he never stops. The Catechism says "grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life". (CCC 1996)

Do you want to claim your place as a child of God? Wait. Listen. Watch. Be aware. Be open. God is always near - and he has a plan for you. I can testify to that. For some of us,  it takes a mighty time of crisis. We are forced to crash and burn before we can be broken open enough to realize that the one who was crucified stands ready to take us by the hand and lead us through the darkness of human grief and despair that he himself once experienced. What I would wish for others is less drama and more willingness to not only acknowledge the existence and power of God, but to choose intimacy with him.

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