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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Meaning making

Finding meaning in traumatic past events is clinically understood to be a healing movement toward wellness. It is always a marvelous, amazing moment to hear a patient tell me that cancer or other diagnosis, an accident, a personal tragedy, or other horrendous event was the ‘best thing that could have happened to me.’  Stories of lives being turned around, of meaning being made out of the ashes of disaster … these are the stuff of miracles. Fingerprints of the Redeemer on a life, a family, a community.

For that is how I see these moments: through the lens of an understanding of the significance of the Incarnation on the world. When ‘God became flesh and dwelt among us,’ the miraculous work of redemption ignited, and time, like Aslan’s table, ‘worked backwards’ yet transformed to living gold. Redemption: the greening of our parched histories of trauma, tragedy, and sheer nastiness is a reflection of this act of love.
Why is it, though, that it is so much easier to see the fingerprint of redemption on our personal worlds when we have undergone a horrific experience? Why do we resist seeing the ongoing work of redemption in the routine, the mundane of our lives?
You know what I mean when I speak of the mundane. Those everyday moments of our 24/7 that stitched together make up 99% of our lives. Those moments of cleaning the bathtub, making lunches, doing the dishes, writing (or listening to) classroom lectures, paying bills, seeing the tenth diabetic patient that day, triple checking medications for the nth time, listening to the student with an issue …
Why is it so hard to see the Redeemer in the commonplace of life?
Perhaps because the Redeemer is only needed for the extraordinary? Set aside for the ‘spiritual’ events of life when we are primed and God is ready? I cannot accept that, given the nature of the incarnation, which touched earth along with spirit. No, I think that this disconnect lies is in our concept of the mundane, which by definition excludes the idea of eternity and profundity. Times of prayer and worship have become for us disconnected from the everyday. Worship means for us to be lifted above the everyday. However,  I think that Brother Lawrence and St Francis (among so many others) had it right.

In The Practice of the Presence of God, “Brother Lawrence felt it was a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times. We are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action, as by prayer in its season. His own prayer was nothing else but a sense of the presence of God, his soul being at that time insensible to everything but Divine Love. When the appointed times of prayer were past, he found no difference, because he still continued with God, praising and blessing Him with all his might. Thus he passed his life in continual joy. Yet he hoped that God would give him somewhat to suffer when he grew stronger.”

Similarly, St Francis saw Christ in all he met. For Francis, there was no distinction between the holy and the earthly—or perhaps more correctly, he saw through the earthly to the Incarnated Christ, the Redeemer. Bodies of clay and the blessed body of Christ became one and the same: the leper was greeted by Francis with a holy kiss. Birds, the sun and moon, received words of encouragement and thanksgiving by virtue of their transformation by the Incarnate Christ.

I pray that I learn to practice this eternity-altered visioning in my mundane: to greet Christ in every visage of my students, of patients, residents and research participants. To welcome the eternal in the interruptions of life, in the earth-shattering personal events, and in the daily humdrum routine of everyday. And, to share an encouraging glance and kind word to all of creation and in doing so, to honor the ongoing redeeming work of the Incarnate Christ.

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