|Icon of Christ, written in 2013|
The fact is that I was not supposed to have begun this dance. My parents were young schoolteachers in Longview, Washington, in the days when teachers could lose their jobs if they were married. They certainly were not allowed to start families! Thus, I arrived into the world and began my dance unbidden. As I skipped and bounced to the music of my life those first years, I knew I was unwelcome, but that didn’t matter because I knew I wasn’t alone. I sensed the presence of an other, a companion, a partner who was with me and would remain with me so long as I continued to dance. And this partner was glad I had been born!
At times during my childhood, the tempo of my dance slowed, sometimes almost stopping, but my partner and I always found reason to keep dancing. Entering Sunday school at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Longview was one of those reasons. Although my parents were atheists and made no effort to nurture my spiritual development, they allowed family friends to take me to Sunday school. My Sunday school teachers welcomed me, and I looked forward to coloring pictures of Jesus with little children on his lap, talking to my friends, and singing “Jesus Loves Me.” I believed that Jesus truly did love me, and I happily imagined myself sitting on his lap like the children in the pictures.
When I was four, my parents allowed their friends to have me baptized, and then when I was thirteen, I was confirmed by Bishop Stephen Bayne. The tempo of my dance accelerated to reflect the joy I felt at taking on the responsibility for the Christian aspect of my spiritual development, but I was still unable to name my dance partner. In Sunday school and during church services, I had heard a lot about God and Jesus but not much about the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost, later renamed the Holy Spirit, was there, however, my faithful dance partner. Again, I sensed the Spirit’s presence and was comforted even though I did not know my comforter’s name.
In addition to pondering the matter of my dance companion’s identity, I pondered other matters such as the meaning of the expression “in God’s time,” the concept of Eternity, and, most puzzling of all, the matter of saints, both upper-case saints such as St. Paul and St. Winifred, and lower-case saints such as the lower-case saints mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed that I recited most Sundays and mentioned also in that quaint song written by Lesbia Scott that I sang each All Saints’ Day, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” Each time I sang that song about the lower-case saints, I became more determined to lead the sort of life that would allow me to “be one, too.” I wasn’t certain as to what I had to do to become one of those lower-case saints found in such ordinary places as shops or “at tea,” but I knew in my heart that trying to be a “good person” would be a starting point. I was not sure, though, exactly what I had to do to be a “good person,” but I hoped that one day even that question would be answered.
Since my parents refused to discuss religion, I was left to ponder the questions on my own—or so I thought. I did not know that my dance partner was also my Counselor and would, by and by, give me clarity of insight so that I could answer my own questions just as that same Counselor led me to crucial insights as I danced through my life. And then on a Sunday in 2007, at a time in my life when I had long since abandoned my search for answers to the questions of my childhood, the Holy Spirit answered these questions in a manner and at a time completely unexpected.
In 2007 I was living in Sherwood, Oregon. There was no Episcopal congregation in Sherwood, so since St. Francis Roman Catholic Church was an easy walk from my apartment, I attended that church. Mass at St. Francis was much as it was in the Episcopal churches I’d attended, and I had no problem following the liturgy. I felt somewhat out of my element, though, simply because I was not allowed to participate in Holy Communion. Thus, after a few months of faithful attendance, I became fed up with this situation, and I talked to the priest about becoming a Catholic. I told him I wanted to participate fully in the Mass, and I realized I could do that only if I became a Roman Catholic. The priest, being a Jesuit and somewhat liberal in his theology, read my spiritual autobiography and set a date to admit me to the Church. Thus it was that I became a Roman Catholic and settled into the Roman Catholic way of worship.
Usually, I attended Mass on Sunday morning rather than on Saturday night, and I always tried to find a seat where I could see the sunshine, whatever sunshine there was. St. Francis church had a new, rounded sanctuary with a high ceiling in which skylights had been installed. Whatever sunshine was available beamed down through these skylights, and each Sunday I was drawn to a seat under the center skylight.
Often, during the homily or sermon, I let my mind wander and travel in whatever direction it chose. As I sat that Sunday morning, mind drifting into a quiet place of no thought, I became aware that the sun’s light, which had at first appeared to me as one soft beam, had separated into three beams of intense gold. Caught up in these three shafts of gold floated an infinite number of tiny, moving, shining particles. Dust specks? Certainly. But dust specks of a vibrancy and glow I had never before beheld.
At first, I did not know what to make of this vision. I had sat in this same place many times, but I had never before seen the soft shaft of light separate into three intense beams nor had I seen the shining specks moving, vibrant, suspended in the light. And then I understood—these three intense shafts of golden light and the infinite number of tiny, glowing specks were all parts of a message to me from God, conveyed to me by my companion, Counselor and dance partner, the Holy Spirit. The message and the answer had taken a while to reach me, but I knew then that God’s time and human time are not the same.
As I beheld those golden beams, I became aware that I beheld Eternity. At that moment, I clearly sensed and understood the nature of God’s time or, as some might say, the nature of the Universe’s time. In this time, the past, the present, and the future are one. Our time may move from minute to minute, hour to hour, marching from life to death, but in the Universe as with God, time is different, and we mortals cannot devise instruments capable of measuring this different time. Furthermore, I understood that all those glowing, moving little particles were the souls who had gone before me, the souls of those in the present, and the souls of those who will exist in the future—all saints of God. And then I understood that if I but let myself be guided by my precious Counselor, “there’s not any reason, no, not the least, why I shouldn’t be one too.” (verse two, “Saints of God.”)
Lesbia Scott had gotten it right, and now I understood. I understood, too, that those three sunbeams of gold had brought me a precious gift, a message of comfort, a sign that I need not be afraid of death or of failure or of human frailty, a sign that my wonderful Comforter, Counselor, and dance companion was with me still and would remain until I no longer danced my life’s dance.
As I walked home after Mass that day, I reflected upon the third verse of Lesbia Scott’s song, especially upon the words “. . . for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one, too.”
“How lucky and how loved I am!” I said to myself.
They lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still;
The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.
(“I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” verse three, by Lesbia Scott, 1898-1986.)