There is an ancient story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the farmer. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. What do you think the farmer said? “Maybe.”
I have been pondering the timing of the COVID-19 event with our annual observance of Holy Week. Besides my initial thoughts of, “It could have picked a better time to happen,” I am discovering spiritual lessons within it.
Granted that “lessons” aren’t always enjoyable or convenient, I have come to believe we are in a phase of “spiritual training” that we would not otherwise find ourselves had the virus come at a different time.
The spiritual life is full of paradoxes which first present themselves as contradictions. St. Francis made some of them into his prayer: “It is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” The psalmist realized the revelation that “Darkness and Light are both alike.”
The point is, we often meet God at the center of the tension of opposites.
It is not until we experience the tension and yield to God’s presence are we taken to the center of the polarizing tensions. And that it is only by waiting in the presence of God at the center of the tension opposites are we raised to live with Christ above those tensions and polarities. As much as we sometimes fight them, we have no control over the forces of life, only how we respond to them.
I once had a spiritual director years ago who told me: “If you give me a choice between Choice A or Choice B, I will take Choice C, thank you very much.”
We don’t always have to decide between two poles, the Divine offers us the Spirit wherever we are and whatever situation we find ourselves.
So we find ourselves in the contradiction of remembering the night Jesus took the bread and cup, blessed them, said, this is my body, this is my blood, and gave his disciples his living presence which he commanded them and us to do for the last 2,000 years. However by force of nature, we find ourselves unable to “do this” which leaves many of us in a state of longing. If we are frustrated, we are also in a state of longing. A state of longing is what God implanted in human beings in Creation—that we would long to be in the Heart of God.
The gift of frustration and disappointment if we sit with it, and do not grasp it, will leave us with our longing for what Jesus described as the spiritual food in himself.
We are not dependent on the bread and the wine for Jesus to convey and give himself to us even though we are accustomed to receiving him in this manner. Jesus comes to us in our longing and this is the place we prepare for him in our prayers and in our silence—creating yet another space for his Spirit to dwell within us.
Such is the reason that St. Alphonsus Liguori, wrote his prayer to receive Jesus when he was unable to be present at the Eucharist. We along with those throughout history have been hindered by forces of nature beyond their control: those who suffered through the Black Plague, soldiers on the battlefields, sailors at sea, pioneers in the wilderness and other trials that tried the soul of humans.
If we remain steadfast in experiencing our longing, in experiencing the pain of our absence from God—if we are willing to stay in the center of not being able to receive Christ in the Eucharist while being frustrated that we at this moment cannot, Christ will arise in us through all our contradictions and hold us firm in the Light of the Father’s love.
This process cannot be intellectualized. Walk the path into the center of the tension of opposites, experience them and then allow the internal noise to dissipate into the Silence of God. For it is in the Silence of God that we most truly know the Spirit.
Let’s say that you and a companion are at a museum or art show. You come across a painting or photograph that “captures” you—calling you to it.
You begin to observe it, the painting engaging you and you engaging the painting.
There are no words. Suddenly your companion comes up beside you and begins talking to you.
What happens with your communion with the painting or photograph?
Your state of communion is broken—and that breaking can be most painful to you internally—so much so that it would be easy to bite the head off your companion.
But restraining yourself, you explain yourself to the companion and create the boundary of silence around you so that you can continue to commune with the painting.
Such is what prayer is. We can receive the Presence of God through our intention of prayer and silence preparing us to open our minds and hearts to create a space for the Spirit to manifest in us. Silence is the fertile soil for communion to take place.
So as much as it pains us to forego the bread and wine, we can still create a place within us for the Spirit to dwell. Even though our culture is allergic to silence and solitude and that we are not accustomed to it, silence can still be nurtured so that we discover and receive the Holy Presence to our Greatest Longing of All.
Be still, observe your longings, sit with them, allow the Spirit to commune with you. Do this to remember Him.