By Jack Rigert, Director of JPII Renewal Center
During early spring cleaning last week, I pulled my original backpack out of the attic for the last time. I purchased it, the best model I could afford in 1973, and it has served me well and often over the years, but it’s showing its age and the time has come for a lighter, newer model. From my office window, I watched the garbage collector toss it into his truck. What remains are dear memories going back to my late teens and early twenties when I would spend weeks hiking, fishing, praying and camping in the most secluded, rugged and beautiful places I could find. More often than not that included hiking in the Rockies.
One time in the back-country of Yellowstone National Park I followed a steep animal trail through trees and brush until I came to a clearing just above the tree line. Just a short distance away, I spotted a lone tree standing along what I hoped was the top of the mountain and headed up toward it. Once there, I stood in awe at the scene before me.
Across the valley from where I stood rose a stunning snow-capped mountain. Cascading down from its summit looking like liquid silver glistening in the sun was a waterfall dropping thousands of feet below. The songs of birds were everywhere, bees and butterflies were moving among the wildflowers in full bloom and perhaps a thousand feet below was a herd of elk, the calves running and jumping, while the adults grazed nearby.
I took off my backpack and sat down against the tree to take it all in. It wasn’t long, perhaps a few minutes, when I sensed that the beauty of the scene before me was somehow drawing me in. I began to experience a deep “ache” within that moved up and into my heart. The “ache” was a sense of loneliness coupled with a desire to share the beauty before me. I began to imagine a woman sitting in front of me, my arms around her, becoming one with her beauty and the beauty of the scene before me.
My good friend, CS Lewis, described it like this – “We want so much more—something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” [i]
My initial reaction to the “ache” which had me imagining the woman then moved on to an impulse to get up, leave the beauty of the scene before me, and hike back down the mountain. Maybe I would drive back to the city and seek the “one” that my heart was “aching” for. Isn’t this a common reaction? We sense beauty, we desire it, and then we go out and grasp for ways to fill the “ache”. We seek a person or some material object or activity to fill the “ache” and, if that doesn’t work, we numb it by browsing through Facebook or the medicine cabinet.
This Lent I suggest another way. “Stay in the ache”. Look for opportunities to enter into silence… perhaps while gazing out at the sunset or up at the stars. Take a walk in the woods or imagine the most beautiful place you have ever seen. Read Scripture and be still for ten minutes. Then don’t look for other ways to fill the “ache” but invite Him – who desires to fill your heart – to enter.
As I sat a while longer, my back against the tree, I slowly let go and slowly stopped grasping. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and opened my heart. Into the “ache” He came… Love and Beauty Himself bringing with Him a deep sense of presence and peace. This Lent allow yourself to “Stay in the ache”.
In her diary, Sister Faustina writes – “… and I invite Him to the dwelling place of my heart, humbling myself profoundly before His majesty. But the Lord lifts me up from the dust and invites me, as His bride, to sit next to Him and to tell Him everything that is on my heart. And I, set at ease by His kindness, lean my head on His breast and tell Him of everything. In the first place, I tell Him things I would never tell to any creature … the presence of God penetrates me and sets aflame my love for Him. There are no words; there is only interior understanding.”[ii]
I would like to conclude with something my cousin, Mary Davis, wrote in her beautiful book Every Day Spirit. In a page titled ‘Every Thing We Need’ she writes, “Every aspect of today is a co-creation with the divine… No book, no teacher, no religion, no guru or saint can teach us how to have a personal relationship with God. They can lead us to the doorstep of heaven. They can tell is what it’s like to commune with spirit. They can inspire us with teachings of the ages. Great wisdom from experienced teachers is irreplaceable; but there’s something even they can’t do for us. They can’t be a substitute for our own relationship with our God.”[iii]
This Lent take the time to “Stay in the Ache” and experience the joy and peace of encountering the one who “thirsts for you”!
[i] CS Lewis, The weight of Glory
[ii] Sister Faustina, Diary
[iii] Mary Davis, Every Day Spirit