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Archive for the ‘from here to eternity’ Category

There is an agonizing sweetness when I slip into the place between the worlds. When I look out the window at the street and the houses, and it could be fifty or a hundred years ago. The birds I hear as I lie awake in the early dawn could be singing in another time or place. I could have been alive for 150 years. And I feel outside of time, as if I could pass between the years at will. I don’t know whether this sweet agony is a yearning for the past, for something lost… or the sorrow of knowing I must, soon, snap back to the realities of the present moment… or whether it is, ultimately, a yearning for heaven, where all that is lost will be restored, when all nostalgia and longing will be abated because all will be as perfectly beautiful as the most long-cherished memory of childhood’s clearest summer day.

I say the agony is sweet because I want to follow to the mysterious somewhere to which it leads, like the child lured away in the poem by Yeats, “with a fairy hand in hand, for the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” But my obligations in this life call me back… There is a pull toward dwelling forever in that twilight place where the past– the past of my youth and the more distant past of my ancestors– calls me to linger there. Or maybe it isn’t the past; but then, where is it?

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight…

woman in garden

And I wonder, If I just let myself keep going… going… shaking off the impatient tug of the present urging me to return, then, where would I…?

But the painful truth is, that to reach heaven, where this sweetness will last forever in an eternal present, when there will be no painful tearing away, there is no choice but to return to this life, to this time, no choice but to endure it. The only way out is through. And that is so painful, for the way is long and I am a stranger in a strange land where no stone under my foot speaks to me, no field or meadow knows my name, and even the trees sigh a foreign language.

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When I was a kid in Pine Orchard Elementary School in Branford, I loved getting My Weekly Reader in school. Partly educational and partly tabloid-style journalism for kids, My Weekly Reader also offered a book club from which, one year, I ordered two items which greatly impacted my life.

The first was a set of ESP cards with an informational booklet on how to use the cards with their squiggly lines and geometric shapes to determine whether you or your friends possessed ESP (extra-sensory perception).

Not only did I score high on the test, but at the ripe age of 9, I corresponded for quite some time with one of the researchers mentioned in the booklet, who kindly took an interest in my fledgling abilities and sent me all kinds of articles on the paranormal.

The second item was the book Fog Magic by Julia L. Sauer. All through my life I have had a sense of a sort of timelessness (see my post “no lasting city”). The veil between past, present, and future is very thin and always shifting for me, and I found this book very affirming. In it, a young girl lives by the sea near a place where old houses used to be; only their cellar holes remain. But when the fog comes in, the houses reappear, along with a new friend from another era. For similar reasons, I love the old Dark Shadows TV series with its themes of time travel in which characters shift between past and present, and parallel time in which they live their lives in completely different ways simultaneously.

Given all the bad decisions I’ve made in my life, I cannot claim to have great psychic powers. But through the years, there have been enough incidents where I have “sensed” something that turned out to be true to confirm that I have at least some heightened perceptual ability. The Catholic Church clearly teaches that using psychic powers to manipulate others, to summon or channel spirits, for financial gain, or other negative purposes is taboo. Yet, we cannot deny the fact of St. Padre Pio’s well-documented telepathic abilities, for example. And a natural ability to “see” realities hidden in the past, present, or future is a gift from God that need not be written off as dangerous.

With God, there is no such thing as time.  God is eternal, with no beginning and no end, and all reality is present for God as one timeless moment. For example, Mary’s purity and sinlessness were foreseen by God, hence her being chosen to be immaculately conceived in order to become the mother of Christ. Our sins were foreseen by God, hence Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection over 2000 years ago are effective in our lives today. And it works the other way too; in his book Consoling the Heart of Jesus, Fr. Michael Gaitley explains that we can console Jesus now even though His passion is completed and He is happy in heaven, because just as He could foresee our future sins and our need of His salvation, He could anticipate our prayers, suffering, and sacrifices and be consoled by them during his agony.

I find myself lying awake most nights for an hour or three. This has become my most fervent time of prayer, a sort of nocturnal adoration when I pray for all the needs of my family and friends but also for the world. On a recent night, I received an image of my father. Dad was an Ivy leaguer turned enlisted Marine who fought in the Pacific theater in some of the bloodiest battles of World War II. I got a sudden image of him, a young man in his twenties, in a miserable jungle hellhole lying awake and longing for home. This image was so poignant and detailed that I knew I was being given a picture of something real. My father has been dead for over twenty years and the war ended decades before that, but I found myself praying to God to console this young Marine, my future Dad, to give him courage and peace, faith and consolation. I prayed that he would not be afraid, and that Jesus would keep his loving hand on him through the terrors of the night in that hostile place so far from home. And somehow, I knew that my prayers had real effect, that through God’s timelessness, they reached back to the jungles of Okinawa circa 1945 and consoled that young soldier. Somehow, it wasn’t too late.

This timelessness of God.  I am at a kind of crossroads in my life, where at the age of 50 the curtain seems to be falling on certain possibilities, certain cherished dreams. I have been wrestling with accepting these perceived limitations, and at times, the future has seemed destined to be a wasteland of one renunciation after another, “a perfect graveyard of buried hopes” as Anne of Green Gables would say. But these past couple days, in the midst of moments of fear or discouragement, I have been getting sudden flashes of the limitlessness of God. There is a road I travel frequently with beautiful homes from which I usually have to look away lest I go down the rabbithole of dissatisfaction; yesterday I drove past and found myself smiling with a sense of eager anticipation instead of envy. There are places I’d like to go that I scarcely allow myself to think about any more because they seem out of reach; but yesterday, I found myself actually mentally planning what I’ll do when I next go to, say, Ireland, as if it were a reality that could happen tomorrow. In truth, I may not know when it will be,  but there is no reason why it can’t happen! After all, I may be broke, but God is very, very wealthy. I may be getting older, but God says “Old? Don’t make me laugh!” Suddenly I have started waking up to this fact: God loves me! In fact, He is head over heels in love with me, and wants to shower gifts and blessings on me! He actually wants me to be happy. The same goes for you, my friend. Things may look one way now, but God has no limits. He is the clairvoyant par excellence, the time traveler uber alles, able to leap tall limitations in a single bound.  The veil of the present could tear away any moment and reveal an amazing, undreamt-of future. It’s never too late. It’s never too late. And don’t let anybody tell you different.

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This might sound spooky, but at times, I feel like a ghost haunting my own house. But that’s not as strange as it may seem. Let me try to explain.

I love funerals. I saw a movie once in which two Irish matrons in black mourning garb took the bus every day from one funeral to another. Whether  it was a spiritual work of mercy or whether they were just a bit nutty, I found their custom appealing. I feel a strange sense of peacefulness at funerals, almost a joy, because it’s a little glimpse beyond the veil, a step into another world from this present world in which I often feel out of place. It’s also a reminder that this life is fleeting, but eternity is forever.

My two sons are altar boys, so when they served at a funeral Mass today, although I did not know the deceased, I stayed.  Father talked about a comment one of the mourners had made about the deceased, a Polish lady named Mary. She had been infirm for awhile, and, the relative remarked, was finally reaching the end of her journey. Father took issue with that sentiment. He told us that Mary was actually just starting out, that one day we would marvel to see the things she is seeing now.

Back to me haunting my own house. For as long as I can remember, wherever I have lived,  I have experienced a strange phenomenon. Like something from the Twilight Zone, I can glance out my window and see the street, the homes,a passing car,  as they might have been 20, 40, 80 years ago. Suddenly there is silence, hardly a leaf rustles, and it is as if I were looking back in time. And yet, it could just as easily be the future. It could be any point in time; that is, there is a sense of timelessness, and I have an awareness that others have been here before me, others will come after me, and the veil between the worlds seems very thin. It is hard to describe.

I’m part Irish and there is a strong streak of Gaelic melancholy in me. It’s a kind of intangible homesickness, a restless longing. I’m a bit like the Little Prince who keeps wistfully thinking of his planet and his special rose. I love a plaintive song by the Irish band the Chieftains called “The May Morning Dew” of which the following are the last two stanzas:

I remember the old folk
All now dead and gone
And likewise my two brothers
Young Dennis and John
How we ran o’er the heather
The wild hare to pursue
And the proud deer we hunted
In the may morning dew

Of the house I was born in
There’s but a stone on the stone
And now all ’round the garden
Wild thistles have grown
And gone are the neighbors
That I once knew
No more will we wander
Through the may morning dew…

Because I am a bit odd, the references to death do not sadden me; they awaken in me a feeling of expansiveness, of timelessness. A sense that when something ends here, it begins in another place. Same with “Danny Boy:”

Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone, and all the flow’rs are dying
‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh, Danny boy, oh, Danny boy, I love you so.

And if you come, and all the flowers are dying
If I am dead, as dead as well may be
I pray you’ll find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an “Ave” there for me.

And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me
And all my grave will warm and sweeter be
And then you’ll kneel and whisper that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

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I find these songs soothe my soul. Maybe it’s similar to the way scary fairy stories are calming to children; they put into words a nameless something that haunts them beyond their own powers of expression. And it’s because of what Father was saying at the funeral today: death is not an ending, it is the beginning. It is not a closed door but a doorway from one world into the next. I remember when my father died after an aortic aneurism, I felt closer to him than ever, because at last, we were not bound by the limits of time and space. He had entered the infinite, and there I would always find him. When I am feeling sad because of the finite limitations of this life– for example, how rarely I see my family whom I love, or old friends, or travel to cherished places from my past, or when I reflect on mistakes I’ve made or roads not taken– I console myself with this thought:

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. (Hebrews 13:14)

In one of my Bibles (see my post “My Bible Problem”) I wrote that everything we have ever lost will be waiting for us in heaven. This life is not the end, so nothing is ever truly lost, for every departed loved one, every broken dream, every cherished memory, all the people and things that seem lost forever will be restored to us in the Fatherland in ways we cannot even imagine.

I love that term, “the Fatherland.” I first started pondering it after I read The Story of a Soul by St. Therese. In one scene, someone came upon her in her cell while she was praying the Our Father, and with tears of deep emotion she said “It is so sweet to call the good God our Father!” Therese and her family spoke the language of heaven in their everyday discourse from her earliest childhood. In his last gesture to Therese in the parlor of the Lisieux Carmel, shortly before his death when he had lost the power of speech, Therese’s father pointed to heaven with a look of tearful longing. She understood him perfectly: Heaven is where we will meet again. We have here no lasting city.

And so, when I sometimes stand at my window lost in time, that’s okay. This is no lasting city, and I don’t really live here. I’m only visiting awhile before I go home to the Fatherland.

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You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. –Confessions of St. Augustine

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