Saturday, February 25, 2006

Glimpses of Home

Just in case you are still weeping inconsolably since yesterday’s post, I thought I’d offer a few bright spots to help survive the time that remains in the land of exile. Even though the psalmist could not sing the song of the Lord on alien soil, we see that Tobit praised God in the land of his exile (Tob. 13:6), so there is still hope.

The blessings that we receive from God in this life are meant as consolations and helps to persevere in this time of trial—not as encouragements to think that this earth is Paradise or our final destination. Once in a while I go to the coast and find peace and blessing in the beauty of the ocean, dazzling me with sunny coruscations, calming me with soothing surf—coupled with the caress of a light and pleasant sea breeze. But I think to myself: this is too much like Paradise; that’s why I can only come here once in a while. I can’t start thinking that I should have this all the time, as if I could establish some permanent satisfaction in this land of exile. Wanting it all the time is precisely the error we humans make as we turn blessings into addictions. But God’s gifts, however temporary, are still glimpses of Home, reminders that the best is yet to come.

While trials and sufferings are inevitable and inescapable, we are still called to be fruitful in the land of exile, to turn to God, seeking his face, his reflection, wherever we can find it. “The commandment to love God with all our strength, to the limits of our individual capacity, does not extend simply to man, but to all nature, which was created for no other reason than to glorify him, to reveal him, to love him…in confession, devotion, and regeneration. And it is up to us, seasoned, stirred, sharpened, and whetted by the breath of the Holy Spirit, to apply to the universe that fiery tongue capable of translating it and transmuting it into splendor, fragrance, song, poetry and praise” (Paul Claudel).

Yet again, nature itself is not Paradise, for she also provides earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, and other destructive manifestations for which we are not likely to compose ecstatic hymns. We are still in exile, but with glimpses of Home. Beyond nature, however, the Lord gives us foretastes of Heaven through the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, and this ought to be our greatest consolation in this Valley of Tears. This is the most profound “connection” we can experience with that Homeland from which we’ve been banished because of our sins.

The Lord still watches over us. In the Liturgy of St Basil the Great, we hear that even after Adam and Eve were banished from Paradise, the Lord did not cease to care for mankind, sending angels as guardians, giving the law, speaking through the prophets, until the fullness of time saw the coming of the Son of God in the flesh.

So even though we are still in exile—and will be so until the day we die—we’re much better off than many generations of our forebears. We’re in exile, yet redeemed. We’ve been justly banished, but we’re still in possession of our passports, which identify us as citizens of Heaven. We can still sing on alien soil, though our songs are not of revelry, but of longing and hope.

As we enter into Lent, let us accept the human condition of limitation, suffering, and sorrow—and not try to escape from it, deny it, drug it, or put on a phony happy-face while constructing a flimsy sham-paradise to shore up our failing courage. Let’s look reality straight in the face, repent of our sins, take our licks, but live with a lively faith and eager hope for the coming of the everlasting Kingdom. And let us give thanks to God for giving us in the meantime, undeservedly, precious blessings and glimpses of Home.