Thursday, September 19, 2013

Joy in Despair

For me, in dark moments, moments of grief, I am helped by focusing on moments of joy from the past, knowing that life is a balance of both. As we await the pulling of the plug and the formal end of Ray's life, with the understanding that he really died a week ago and has been artificially kept alive thanks to marvelous modern technology, I think back to something that happened a few years ago and which I describe at the end of my book, Blest Atheist.

Even if there are difficulties ahead, there will be help and protection. There will also be rewards. There always are. With God, the rewards are unanticipated and unusual. The simplest among them are the greatest.

One evening last December, the thought came into my head that I should take my evening walk around the mission grounds early. Normally I walk there around 9:00 p.m., and it was only 6:00 when I felt the push to go outside for my walk.

No, I thought. Why would I want to go now? Even though the eventide falls around 5:30 on December nights in San Ignatio, I still prefer to go later—after dinner and dishes and before retiring for the night. It is a marvelously restful way to end the day. Walking brings out the happy endorphins, and just being at the mission provides great encouragement toward prayer.

No, I’ll go later, I thought and began cleaning the kitchen in preparation for dinner. Then the impulse came again. The “argument” went back and forth a couple of times until I approached Donnie, who usually accompanies me on these walks.

“Donnie, how do you feel about taking our evening walk early tonight?” I asked.

“Why?” he asked.

“I don’t know why,” I answered. “I just feel like we should go early.”

Donnie acquiesced and quickly assembled his pipe tools. (He likes to sit and smoke while I walk.) We opened the door and stepped out under the night sky. And there it was, spread across the heavens: a breathtaking lunar ice halo.

Ice halos are rings of light that surround the sun, moon, or other sources of light, such as street lamps. The ones in the heavens are caused by millions of ice crystals in thin, cold, cirrus clouds floating in the troposphere reflecting and refracting light. This particular ice halo was circumhorizonal, a rare phenomenon for which adequately descriptive words, other than scientific ones, are even rarer. Refracted light from the moon spread in a 360-degree circle all around the sky on the same level as the moon yet at the same time touching the horizon wherever we turned—or so it seemed although in actuality the circle of light was parallel to the horizon and not lying upon it. The halo filled the whole sky, with the full moon in its zenith filtering a stream of light through a gossamer foramen in the firmament onto the mission grounds below.

I could almost hear the proud words, “Look what I did!” The hymn of Isaac Waats came to mind instantly: “The moon shines full at His command, and all the stars obey.”

On the mission grounds canopied by the horizon-to-horizon crystal glow, I walked, my arms extended. Irrepressible joy spread past my fingertips, riding on the splendor of light toward the horizon.

Then it was gone. Had I come at my usual time, I would have missed it.

These then are the things that have been seen and experienced by the blest atheist. All the events reported herein [in the book] have enriched my life, but the greatest of these was God sharing with me the lunar ice halo: “Look what I have done!” The hound of Heaven had finally caught me and then had shown me what I had been missing: “Look what I have done!” Indeed, I could almost hear those words and a few more: “Look at what I have done—for you, for all people, because I love you whether or not you even believe that I exist.”

All the miracles that God has done in my life and in the lives of others through me have been wondrous, but pulling me outside to view the ice halo stands out above them all as the most affirming act of God’s love. The miracles were about healing and turning bad into good. They have been important, of course. Viewing the ice halo, however, was about relationship: God’s relationship with me, God’s relationship with all of us. When God called me from my house onto the street and into the field at the mission, I understood that I was special—not special out of many, but special among many, special like all people are special to God.

On an individual level, I was and am at best only a Good Samaritan, and still God wanted a relationship with me. In so many ways, I was and am but a child who finds the adults who can help a sick child artist, a crying lady, a boy in white, or an orphan dying from brain tumors. Like a child, I have no burning desire for financial gain, material possessions, or fame and power. Those desires were beaten out of me in my youth. Although many of these things have appeared unbidden in my life, my true treasure is the people who have come into my life from all continents of the world. There is where my heart is. I want to “pass on” the good that God has brought into my life by using my linguistic proficiency, cultural acumen, and multi-domain knowledge gained from living in the land of splat! to connect people who need help with people who have the ability to give help, no matter where they live or what language they speak. For what good is money if it cannot be used to help those in need? What good are material things unless they make this world a friendlier place: a blanket to warm a homeless man, food for a hungry family, clothes for those burned out of a home? What good is power if not used to empower the powerless to be free to flourish? What good, too, is dreaming an impossible dream if it does not kindle the dreams of others? What good is reaching an unreachable star if it does not sprinkle light onto a dark existence? What good is happiness if it does not splash joy onto dispirited ground, inspiriting the life within to sprout and reach for the heavens? If, indeed, as I have found, helping those in need, making the world a friendlier place, empowering the powerless, kindling dreams, lighting the dark, and splashing joy across the land is what a Good Samaritan does, then I want to be a Good Samaritan for life. To my delight, God seems willing to use me in that capacity. For certain, God knows my heart and what I treasure.

God has many Good Samaritans. Some, like me, are blessed to help a few wounded souls in intensive ways. Others are blessed to help many people in more extensive, but less intensive, ways. Some God leads with their full knowledge. Others, like me for so many years, God leads through their hearts alone. In return, God gives them a treasure far greater than money, honor, power, or prestige: they know a perfect joy that nothing else can give.

I am sure that others saw the ice halo that night for God encourages all people to step bravely out of the grey boxes in which they are cowering and stride buoyantly forth into a divine world resplendent with color, love, and joy. In our tiny town, though, I was the only one who showed up at the mission to see the splendor on that particular winter evening. Others may have showed up elsewhere for the ice halo could be seen for miles. Perhaps even more were called to behold it but were not listening. Those who did listen experienced an unrelenting tug to come outside and witness an awe-inspiring manifestation of God’s loving caress ephemerally spread against the heavens and permanently imprinted in the mind and on the heart.

Note: Concurrently published on all Mahlou blogs.

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