Stepping into a Mystery

by Fr. David May

Some days the old brain feels like sludge. This appears to be one of them, as I’m having trouble getting any thoughts together for this issue of Restoration. So please bear with me as I find my stride!

Finding one’s stride doesn’t get any easier as one ages. Or does it?

When it comes to walking or running, I agree that this may be true. Younger people around here go from “zero to sixty” without apparent forethought, afterthought, or even any thought at all. They go. They stop. It’s as simple as that.

Whereas, at a certain age, one has to actually make plans to cross a busy street, climb stairs, or even go outside at all. We think about going. We plan to go. And barring the unforeseen, we actually start shifting gears towards some kind of movement.

However, when it comes to expressing one’s thoughts, older folk have all the advantage. We know what we think. We say it again anyways. And everyone who knows us knows just what to expect. We start. We don’t stop. Then we doze off. It’s as simple as that, whereas the younger set might actually come up with something new and original.

However, experience has shown that the preceding sentence doesn’t always hold, and that even young people can be in a rut when it comes to fresh insights into life, human nature, or God.

Finding one’s stride may be defined as finding or hitting our “most effective natural pace, that is, one’s maximum competence or capability.”

Naturally, this will look different at age 30 than at age 69 (I’m currently somewhere between those two figures.)

It all depends on lots of factors, from size to shape to degree of health to attitude towards life generally. But when you add to that the factors of faith and the grace of God, finding one’s stride takes on still another dimension.

For example, Moses was 80 and Aaron 83 before they were told to speak to Pharaoh. Moses was still going strong at 120 when his time on earth was up. 80 years of age seems a bit old to embark on an adventure that involves setting a whole people free from slavery followed by a 40-year journey through a desert wasteland.

On the other hand, you need someone who can listen to instructions without presuming right away that he has a better idea, if such a humanly impossible task is to be carried out,

What kind of stride is really in keeping with what God expects of us? That is really a tough question to answer! Who hasn’t experienced God moving too fast?

Problem after problem piles up, simultaneously or in quick succession. And when you point this out to God, he responds something like he did to Jeremiah’s complaint about his endless troubles: If you can’t run with men, then how will you run with horses (Jer 12:5).

In other words, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, Jeremiah! Or was he speaking to me? Or to you?

On the other hand, God can seem to move so slowly that he appears not to be moving at all. Or he can even seem to have absented himself.

Those are the days when no prophet speaks, but rather all is silent. It is not a comforting stillness but feels more like an emptiness and an absence. One believes the Lord is at work, but now he remains hidden from view, while all life grinds relentlessly on towards its inevitable denouement, like a mill grinding grain exceedingly fine.

Finding one’s stride in the Lord is a downright mysterious process, but a necessary endeavor all the same. All the experts in the spiritual journey recommend establishing a routine of prayer, reading, fasting, and so forth.

I had a routine that worked well for me for years, and to some extent, important remnants of it still carry me today. But circumstances change, and practices that were once fruitful spiritually are so no longer.

Slowly, the Lord cuts us adrift into the dark sea of his mystery, and you just have to let it take you where it will. Finding one’s stride in such a setting is a bit like Peter’s walk on the stormy waves of the Sea of Galilee. You can never quite get the knack of it because the watery “ground” is forever shifting.

All you have (and all you need) is to gaze constantly at the face of Jesus as he makes his merry way across the waters. He doesn’t seem to have any difficulty at all doing this. In such a setting, he alone can be my stride, guide, and support when I falter.

I’ll give you an example of all this. As the summer season drew to a close, I had to travel to Ottawa for a doctor’s appointment about 200 km (120 miles) east of Combermere.

I dropped off a friend at his home the evening before and spent the night with other friends in the city. When traveling like this, I’ve learned to go with the flow, since you are never certain, traffic being what it is, exactly when you’ll be where, or is it where you’ll be when!

The next morning, we were up bright and early for a little visit, breakfast, and while Rhea went to work, Martin and I went to Kanata to see and bless their new home.

What I didn’t know was that during the night one of our members, Irene DeRoché, had died unexpectedly of a heart attack.

She and I had made an appointment for her to be anointed the coming Friday in preparation for surgery the following week.

However, the Lord took her on Tuesday morning early while I was resting in Ottawa. I peacefully went about my day—neurologist’s appointment at 11, lunch with the Sisters at noonish. There I met the parents of one of the newly professed and didn’t hear about Irene because the phones were off over lunch.

They got the message moments after I pulled out to drive home. It was only upon arrival around 5 p.m. that I heard the shocking news. After concelebrating at Mass, I drove down to St. Joseph’s House, where Irene was stationed, to commiserate with the staff there and to hear the details of what had happened.

As Irene’s spiritual director for the last couple of years or so, I regretted not being around at her moment of passage. Jesus had passed his beloved on the waters of the night and said to her as to Peter, “Come!” Irene had an invincible childlike faith, so off she had gone, leaving us with our own waters yet to cross.

Yet it is all one: the daily journey and the final stepping onto the waters of eternity. It is there where we will find our stride perfectly at last, in accord with a rhythm and a music we now only hear distantly and in faith.