It’s been just over seven years since I retired from teaching and during that time a certain morning-routine has evolved. I get up about 7:45, get to church about 8:10, do some praying and meditating, hear Mass, receive communion, go home, do spiritual reading and write to You. This has become my peaceful morning with You every day – and I’ve come to realize that it’s a favored and desired part of my day. I’ve actually felt, frequently, an anxious yearning for the next morning.
In writing to You about this I’m trying to discover why this is so. Good, loving, peaceful, joyful and prayerful things happen during other parts of the day, but never so delightful as in the morning. I know one factor is the peacefulness of the morning itself, and another is the newness of the day – a new beginning! Around our house it is very quiet in the morning and that stillness is special. It goes well with the brightness of the new day. Sometimes the only sound in the morning is the chirping of birds outside my window.
Morning too is the time of day before which the day’s complications set in, a time when our minds are at their most uncluttered. I think it is also a time when it is easier for You to touch us before the pedestrian daily activities take over. Hopefully my mornings prepare me to take You through the rest of the day with me. I still have a powerful yen for other diversions, entertainments, and material things, but as I grow older the desire to spend at least each morning with You grows stronger.
The most dramatic evidence of Your whisper in my life, one about which I feel very confident, comes when, within a short period of time, a particular theme recurs to me through three or four unrelated channels. For example, yesterday I started reflecting on how there is much time in my life that is wasted. I was still thinking about that this morning when, on the car radio, a minister was talking about the same thing. Then, in my spiritual reading this morning, Anthony DeMello talked about it in relation to prayer.
This has happened many times before and, what usually happens next, is that I write to You about it as I am now because I think You’re telling me that You want me to talk to You about it.
I have become aware (rightly or wrongly) of occasional twinges of guilt over time spent one way that might ultimately have been spent more wisely another way. I am admittedly a child of American pragmatism and self-sufficiency. I do, sad to say, worship at the altars of efficiency and do-it-yourself. One consequence of this for me is the abhorrence of empty moments. Too often, when I wake up in the morning, my first thoughts gravitate to what I will get done this day and in what order. Nonetheless I do enjoy the empty pleasure of a good movie or sporting event on TV.
I know there is nothing inherently evil or immoral about such times but I have come to realize that I have not yet learned the surrender necessary to turn such times of apparent vacuity into prayer. They are just as genuinely times of Your Presence to me as moments intended for “prayer time.”
There is also at issue the “empty” time I spend for another versus such time spent for myself. Understanding the word “empty” is important here. Its meaning becomes very relative and subjective when another person just wants or needs me to spend time with them, not necessarily doing anything. I may regard this as “empty” time because it doesn’t fit my agenda. However for most of us, certainly me, time is the hardest of all things to give. I’m talking here not about time to “do” this or that together but time just to “be” together. It is most troublesome to be bothered by feelings of guilt that arise from our culture and society over such “empty” times.
Periods of inactivity, which I try to, in stillness and quiet, fill with calm so that I am open to You, are not what I’m talking about here. It’s in times of selfish inactivity without much purpose other than self-gratification that I need to let You in too. For me it takes much practice.
It seems to me that one of the supreme paradigms of irony is a funeral. In the size, opulence and resonance of the funeral of a well-known international political or entertainment figure there is much irony when compared to the simple funeral of an unknown good person. Inherently there also seems to be some irony in the format of the traditional wake/funeral. The irony is that the principal around whom all the activity centers is in a position of least caring about it. Big, small, splendorous, well-publicized -- it’s all the same to the deceased. The magnificence or poverty of the funeral makes the center of attention no less dead. Therefore it’s pretty clear that wakes and funerals are for the living, not the dead.
If this is so, why is it that we the living most lavishly celebrate the memory of those who, oftentimes, were less than the cream of the human crop? If we need to celebrate with wakes and funerals the memories of our brothers and sisters should we not, as a Christian people, recognize death as the gate to life and consequently reserve our most lavish and meaningful ceremonies for those whose memory serves as an example of the best use of Your gift of life? Popes, bishops and Mother Teresa notwithstanding, this doesn’t happen! Cost, of course, is a big factor and lack of notoriety. It may be the amount of ink and not grace that a person receives in life that dictates the size of the funeral.
The funerals that should be done most splendidly are the ones that celebrate the best and finest lives lived - those who have been successful in discovering the reality and truth of life, not those for whom because of international notoriety, accolades, and even infamy the world deems worthy of a grand send-off.
Grieving over a lost loved-one seems necessary and right. Our customary rite for this is the wake/funeral. There is, however, a worldly compulsion to magnify this rite whenever the numbers of those who grieve is large. The residual effect is to magnify the memory of the deceased. The clanging gongs and tinkling cymbals of the world draw enough attention to themselves in life - for good and bad reasons. We need to pay more attention to the whisperers of life whose passing often goes unnoticed.