Another day, another shooting. Another bit of evidence – as if I really needed more – of the phenomenal ways in which our world is fractured. Perhaps it seemed more poignant because the new students arrived at Gettysburg College today. What began as a day full of promise was interrupted with this harsh reminder that not all promises find fruition in this life.
I spent my lunch hour at church, praying the Divine Mercy chaplet for perpetrators of violence, as I do nearly every day. As I prayed with perhaps a heavier heart than usual, I wondered,
Does this even matter? Why am I here in this dark church on this beautiful day when everyone else is out enjoying the sunshine? I come faithfully each day and pray and it doesn’t seem to make any difference. The world still tilts on a broken axis and children go hungry and those who have, take more, and three more people are dead.
To say I felt discouraged by the stormy waters swirling around my heart would be more than a mild understatement. I begged my favorite saints to gather close and pray with me through my chaplet because I wasn’t sure I could finish it on my own. But finish it I did, and I looked up to see those familiar words painted on the walls behind the altar:
I Am the Bread of Life.
I Am the Cup of Salvation.
I look at those words nearly every day, so often that they have become part of the background, largely unnoticed. Yet for some reason today at lunch they reminded me of that great Mystery which draws me back, day after day. It is Love Himself who lives in that Tabernacle. Love is why I’m there in the dark on my knees. It doesn’t matter if I can see the efficacy of my prayers. It doesn’t matter if I can see anything at all. And that’s a very good thing, because my vision is incredibly limited.
I don’t have all the answers. On my most honest days I admit that on my own I don’t have any answers at all. Any glimpses of understanding I get are gifts to be cherished and shared. But love is not dependent on any of these things. Because I have been loved, I can choose to respond in love. That choice is always mine and I can exercise it regardless of anything else I may be experiencing. I can feel heartbroken, lost, confused, even hopeless, and still choose to love.
Love is not an emotion. That’s the greeting card industry talking. Well, maybe it encompasses emotions, but it is so much more than that. Love is just a series of choices and actions. Day after day, hour after hour, sometimes even minute after minute when the going gets hard, committing to making the choice for love again and again and again and again and again.
And so I’m thankful that my vision is limited. If anything depended on just what I can see and feel, I would be in trouble indeed. Instead, I’ll be back to pray tomorrow and the day after and then again the day after that. I’ll pray on days when it feels like prayer can conquer the world and I’ll pray on days when it doesn’t even feel like prayer can conquer my own restless heart. Thomas Merton wrote:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”