March 18, 2013

Not lost but hidden

Father Joseph in writing about grief over the recent loss of a loved one  (The Aftermath) quotes Thomas Howard, someone I've never read, but I find what he had to say quite beautiful

He [Thomas Howard] speaks in a straightforward yet eloquent manner of the struggles of suffering, death, and grief, and he leaves us with a profound hope in what the goodness of God is working behind the scenes.

“Someone finds he has cancer; the medical treadmill begins, with its implacable log of defeat; hope is marshaled, begins the march, is rebuffed at every juncture, flags, rouses, flags again, and is finally quietly mustered out… everyone is dragged into the maelstrom that marks the place where our experience eddies into the sea of the divine will. The whole question of prayer gapes open…  And meanwhile, the surgery goes on its horrific way, and the radiation burns on, week after grim week; and suffering sets in, and the doctors hedge and dodge into the labyrinthine linoleum-and-stainless-steel bureaucracy of the hospital world, and our hearts sicken, and we try to avert our eyes from the black flag that is fluttering wildly on the horizon, mocking us.

“And the questions come stealing over us: ‘Where is now their God?’ ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’ ‘He trusted in God that he would deliver him…’ and so on… We look for some light.  We look for some help… But only dead silence.  Blank.  Nothing…
“For [those whose loved ones died despite their prayers] there was no walking and leaping and praising God.  No embracing and ecstatic tears of reunion.  Only the silence of shrouds and sepulchers, and then the turning back, not just to the flat routines of daily life, but to the miserable duel with the tedious voices pressing in upon their exhausted imaginations with, ‘Right! Now where are you?  Tell us about your faith now!  What’d you do wrong?’…

“But there is more.  Turning again to the disclosure of God in Scripture, we seem to see that, in his economy, there is no slippage.  Nothing simply disappears.  No sparrow falls without his knowing (and, one might think, caring) about it.  No hair on anybody’s head is without its number.  Oh, you say, that’s only a metaphor; it’s not literal.  A metaphor of what, then? we might ask.  Is the implication there that God doesn’t keep tabs on things?

“And so we begin to think about all our prayers and vigils and fastings and abstinences, and the offices and sacraments of the Church that have gone up to the throne on behalf of the sufferer.  They have, apparently, been lost in the blue.  They have vanished, as no sparrow, no hair, has ever done.  Hey, what about that?  And we know that this is false.  It is nonsense.  All right then—we prayed, with much faith or with little; we searched ourselves; we fasted; we anointed and laid on hands; we kept vigil.  And nothing happened.

“Did it not?  What angle of vision are we speaking from?  Is it not true that again and again in the biblical picture of things, the story has to be allowed to finish?  Was it not the case with Lazarus’ household at Bethany, and with the two en route to Emmaus? And is it not the case with the Whole Story, actually—that it must be allowed to finish, and that this is precisely what the faithful have been watching for since the beginning of time? … And is not that Finish called glorious?  Does it not entail what amounts to a redoing of all that has gone wrong, and a remaking of all that is ruined, and a finding of all that has been lost in the shuffle, and an unfolding of it all in a blaze of joy and splendor?

“A finding of all that is lost?  All sparrows, and all petitions and tears and vigils and fastings?  Yes, all petitions and tears and vigils and fastings.  ‘But where are they?  The thing is over and done with.  He is dead.  They had no effect.’

“Hadn’t they?  How do you know what is piling up in that great treasury kept by the Divine Love to be opened in that Day?  How do you know that this death and your prayers and tears and fasts will not together be suddenly and breathtakingly displayed, before all the faithful, and before angels and archangels, and before kings and widows and prophets, as gems in that display?  Oh no, don’t speak of things being lost.  Say rather that they are hidden—received and accepted and taken up into the secrets of the divine mysteries, to be transformed and multiplied, like everything else we offer to him—loaves and fishes, or mites, or bread and wine—and given back to you and to the one for whom you kept vigil, in the presence of the whole host of men and angels, in a hilarity of glory as unimaginable to you in your vigil as golden wings are to the worm in the chrysalis”

(Thomas Howard “On Brazen Heavens,” from The Night is Far Spent).
Posted by Jill Fallon at March 18, 2013 12:14 PM | Permalink