God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning,
Professor Night lectures each evening.
Their words aren't heard, their voices aren't recorded,
But their silence fills the earth:
unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.
(The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition
—The Bible in Contemporary Language
|Beautiful cloud formation|
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. My brothers and sisters and I have been sharing amusing e-mails, because this is the first Lenten season without our mom’s presence. She would have been on the phone the past few days, reminding us that Lent is starting and asking us what we were going to be doing to live this special liturgical season.
|Seminarian Ponciano giving ashes in Tlapa's cathedral - March 2014|
My sister Elaine (she’ll kill me for using her name—sorry, Sis) reminded us, in one of her e-mails, of the following: “Mom did agree 8 years ago to the idea that one could take something on, instead of giving something up. (Her novenas had already been answered & I had finally quit smoking.) I am trying to focus on just what to take on.”
|Beautiful mountain scenery|
Readers of this blog know that I spend a lot of time on the road. I smile as I think of my cousin Loyola, who visited here several years ago; she’d probably scream, “Those aren't roads!” When she returned to Canada and my mom asked her what the roads are like, she responded, “I don’t know. I had my eyes closed almost all of the time we were on them.”
|One of the great mountain roads|
But the “roads” are pretty much home for me, and I have lots of time to look around and admire the beauty of God’s creation (without ever being able to forget the suffering of the people who have to struggle so desperately for life amidst this “natural” setting). I am often reminded of words written by Saint Augustine centuries ago (in Sermon 68.6):
“Others, in order to find God, will read a book. Well, as a matter of fact there is a certain great big book, the book of created nature. Look carefully at it top and bottom, observe it, read it. God did not make letters of ink for you to recognize him in; he set before your eyes all these things he has made. Why look for a louder voice? Heaven and earth cries out to you, “God made me.” You can read what Moses wrote; in order to write it, what did Moses read, a man living in time? Observe heaven and earth in a religious spirit.”
|Wisdom, beauty, and life in a mango|
So, if my brothers and sisters don’t mind, I think this is one of the things that I will “take on” during Lent. I will concentrate more on “discerning the artisan,” on reflecting on “the original source of beauty [who] fashioned” “the greatness and the beauty of created things” (Wisdom 13:1, 3, 5—NAB).
|Really "seeing", reflecting, and acting—that's the challenge|
Of course, this will involve more than just “discerning” and “reflecting.” Elizabeth A. Johnson, in her latest book, called Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, reminds us of two important things:
“The Giver of life creates what is physical—stars, planets, soil, water, air, plants, animals, ecological communities— and moves in these every bit as vigorously as in souls, minds, ideas. Earth is a physical place of extravagant dynamism that bodies forth the gracious presence of God. In its own way it is a sacrament and a revelation.”
“Both spiritual and moral responses flow from the understanding of the living world in its givenness, resplendence, fragility, and threatened state as the dwelling place of God.”
|The villages of Yosondacua and Cuahañaña are there on the side of the mountain|
There’s the challenge. What will be my “spiritual and moral responses” to this deeper understanding (I hope) of life and the Giver of life? What will I do—who will I be—as the result of this Lenten undertaking? It’s a daunting task, in one sense. Even to dare to strive for this understanding means that I don’t totally agree with what Ecclesiastes wrote thousands of years ago (in this translation from The Message):
“When I determined to load up on wisdom and examine everything taking place on earth, I realized that if you keep your eyes open day and night without even blinking, you’ll still never figure out the meaning of what God is doing on this earth. Search as hard as you like, you’re not going to make sense of it. No matter how smart you are, you won’t get to the bottom of it.”
|Ashes on Mike's forehead—Ash Wednesday 2014|
Sorry, Ecclesiastes, but you’re wrong. We can figure out lots, even if it’s “indistinctly, as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12—NAB), but even that little bit can be like “a little yeast [that] leavens all the dough” (1 Corinthians 5:6—NAB). Mom, thanks for continuing to remind us of the beauty and challenge of this Lenten season.