Last week was first Friday, which means Nocturnal Adoration at my parish. I work an odd shift, so when I get out of work, it is usually a good time to go and sit with Him for an hour or so and just check in. This month, my wife decided she would come along as well and we both sat for a while with the Lord. It was her first time going and at the end she told me that the realization she came to in her time with the Lord, was that she, in her own words, sucks, because she doesn't spend enough time in prayer and quiet with Jesus. I am right next to her in that boat! So as someone who loves her and wants what is best for her, I should be looking toward bettering both of our prayer lives. Perhaps we could read the next day's readings together before we go to bed like we did when we were first married. We could tie it in with discussing her observations for NFP (a practice I will not share the details of here, but also an area where we need to improve our consistency).
But if she were ever to ask me what to do for Adoration, I would be no use to her. I couldn't help her decide what to do, because quite frankly, I am never quite sure what to do during Adoration. Part of the time I sit in silent conversation with Christ, bringing my needs to Him and expressing my gratitude, and asking His mercy for my too frequent lack of gratitude. Some of the time I spend asking His help for the things I think I need. The rest of the time I spend listening. Sometimes silently, and sometimes by reading some of the readings out of the missal. I look for something to jump out at me, you know? I wait for that 'aha!' moment where His voice rings in my ears with the choirs of angels saying, “Tom, this is what you should do! This is my will for you!”
I read scripture waiting for words to light up on the page spelling out my path like a giant 'highlighter from Heaven' pointing out the parts of the readings that are a must-see for me!
As of yet, neither of these things has happened. If they do happen, I'll keep you posted. Perhaps God will light up numbers in the readings, prompting me to buy a winning lottery ticket. If I start writing a lot more, you'll know that this has happened and I have quit my job, but I'm not holding my breath. So how does God speak to us? He apparently does not have my email address. I have not received any text messages...
“Tom, was looking over ur plan for ur life. OMM (instead of OMG) ROFLMAO. Will txt u my plan 2morrow. ;0) Your BFF, JC”
No, God would not send a text message, and if He did, I'm pretty sure He would skip the emoticons. In fact, when I was at Adoration last month, I was thinking about how He speaks to us and it led me to sit there looking at the Body of Christ in the consecrated host and thinking about Robert Frost. Or at least about Frost's poem, 'The Road Not Taken'. I imagine most of us are pretty familiar with the poem...
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I posted the whole poem because it is just beautiful and makes me think of many things in my life. Even as I pondered it that night, in the quiet, a lot of different things came to me. It made me think of men who pursue the priesthood in these modern times when the culture we live in has so many things to discourage them from doing so. It made me think of when I was engaged for the first time. My fiancee was a perfectly nice woman, but she had not been brought up in any particular faith and I was beginning to hear the call to return to my faith, which she had no interest in pursuing. The engagement fell through and eventually, I met my wife who was beginning her journey back to the church. I cannot imagine where I would be now had I continued down that road and not followed what many would have you believe is the road less traveled by returning to the Catholic Church.
But all of these thoughts came afterward. What struck me originally was that opening image of the poem. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, / And sorry I could not travel both / And be one traveler, long I stood / And looked down one as far as I could / To where it bent in the undergrowth;”
That image reminded me of what happens when I talk to God. And when I say 'talk' I mean that in the conversational sense. Let me give the example I was confronted with that night...
Anyone who has read this blog knows I do not like my job (see: Job Searching II: Jeremiah Strikes Back) and at the beginning of last month, I was in the running for what was going to be a great job. I had made it through the third round of interviews and I was just waiting for the call. So I was chatting with God thanking Him for bringing this opportunity to me, hoping and praying it would come through, then it occurred to me; What if I don't get it?
Briefly I thought about that... well, if I don't get it, then it is time for me to 'buckle down' where I am and get serious about doing what I need to move ahead...ah, now we have two roads diverging in the wood...and as quickly as I could, in my mind's eye, I looked down that other road to where it bent and I said, 'I don't even want to think about that! Forget that other road!'
And a horrifying thought came to me. When you're praying for God's guidance and you have a thought like this that you dismiss soooo quickly, how do you know that's not the road toward Him? As we say in my house, 'Oh poop!'
So after thinking about this image for a month, there I was at First Friday Adoration for September, sitting with my wife. I decided to review the readings from August. The readings from Sunday August 7th really stood out to me.
The first reading was 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a. It is the reading about Elijah going to Mount Horeb and being told to wait for the Lord as the Lord will be passing by. As he waits, a strong wind, an earthquake and a fire come, but the Lord is in none of these. After all of these things pass, there remains a tiny whispering sound, a still, small voice, and Elijah recognizes this as the Lord. What better example could I have that it doesn't make sense to look for a grand demonstration from God, but that His voice will come to us as a tiny whisper. Perhaps it is a new opportunity, maybe it is a conversation with a friend that gets you thinking about something. There are people who are alive today, have earned a living, made millions or met their husband or wife because of a 'mistake'. And I realized, sadly for me, these 'roads less taken' that we don't want to take, may also be God's voice quietly guiding us.
The gospel reading for that day was Mt 14:22-33, another one we are all familiar with. This is the passage when Jesus sends the apostles ahead in a boat. A storm comes up, and they look up to see Jesus walking toward them on the sea. He calls Peter out of the boat. Peter starts walking toward him, but he takes his eyes from Jesus and starts to fear the storm, so Peter starts to sink. He cries out for Jesus to help and Jesus reaches out and catches him, admonishing Peter for losing faith. Well, this reading struck a chord with me because you see, I did get that call and the company decided to put off hiring anyone until early next year. I was pretty discouraged and again, if you've been reading this blog, you know that it just seems I can't catch a break lately, see Job Searching (as in 'the book of Job'.... but if you hear of anything...), and this just seemed like another kick in the gut. I was exactly like Peter. I was so focused on the 'maelstrom' around me that I took my eyes off of Jesus. I have been very afraid that I won't find the way to move my family forward. It pains me to say this, but my faith is shaken and I am most definitely sinking.
As I imagined myself in Peter's place, stepping out onto the sea, having fear get the better of me and starting to sink, the reading made it very clear what I would need to do next. Like Peter, I would need to cry out to Jesus so that he can reach out and catch me. But as I thought about the still, small voice and all those 'roads' that I have dismissed in prayer or quiet contemplation, I realized that there is something I need to do before I think too quickly that I am sinking. I need to take a good, hard, honest look around me. Because there is a good chance, that I haven't even left the boat.
Please comment as I would love to get different perspectives and experiences as to when / how you have heard His voice and your own reflections on the question, 'Have you left the boat?'