Last evening, my friend C. told me about an experience she had earlier in the day, of driving along and suddenly seeing a cross at the head of the street. Not just a cross, but The Cross. As she got nearer, she realized it was “only” a telephone pole, but the experience convinced her to continue looking for Crosses in moments of dayliness. She could not have known it at the time, or even afterward, but her words continue to be an inspiration, a reminder, a witness to me. I woke up this morning thinking about them.
It is eight days since I arrived at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington for a four-day retreat/reconnaissance tour. (On arrival, I was thinking about writing a book, a thought that seems presumptuous to me today.) Since I am a blogger, I blogged about my experience at the DHS, but always there was this nagging feeling of presumption, that I was absurdly quick to form judgments, that I was, after all, an outsider, an intruder. The exemplary men living in the House of Studies seemed to take my presumption in stride, and in friendship.
This morning, after further thoughts of C.’s Cross, I opened my e-mail to find a note from a Dominican father working overseas. He said that someone had directed him to my posts about the DHS. I must admit that I momentarily braced myself for criticism. Instead, I received a shower of encouragement.
Father L. in fact asked me to excuse his audacity in writing! Can you believe that? I thought I was the audacious one.
“It has been a great pleasure for me to read about your impressions of our house in Washington,” Father L. wrote. “It's the place where I really fell in love with the Dominican life as a young professional in D.C., and where I lived during six very happy years, and it's filled with my brothers and friends, many of whom you met. . . .
“It is always a grace to know, in the concrete,” he continued in a much longer message, “that our communal life is bearing fruit. And, as Aristotle says, the best friends are joined most closely when they love the same things, especially when those are the highest things. So to read about how much you love the same things that I love, well, it made me experience again the joy of, and my gratitude for, the unmerited gift of my vocation to be a Dominican.”
After re-reading Father L.’s message, I had to re-read it, then read it aloud to my wife. I guess the message I take away is this: It is hard sometimes to speak up on matters of faith, and especially from personal experience. Especially in our culture, where faith is so often suspect. But we are always witnesses, whether we like it or not; it’s just a question of to what we witness.
Thanks to Father L., I will continue to witness here, surely encouraged, hopefully chastened. I opened the Office of Readings this morning and found these words:
The man of God welcomes the light,
So that all may see that his deeds are true.
I guess my seeing a personal message in these words suggests that I think I am a “man of God.” But then, if I am not a man of God, what am I?