A Grey Nun friend of mine used to say that August in summer felt like Sunday night during the school year, when both students and teachers put off that last bit of homework or preparation, stretching out the hours of freedom as long as possible. We try to hold on tight to August, wanting it to stay forever (except for the 90+ degree hot days), even if we’re long out of school. Already, we see that the days are shorter and I, for one, lament the dark creeping up on us earlier and earlier. It is so lovely to have sunshine into the evening hours and sit outside late lapping up the lightning bug dance and the birds’ vespers. Okay, yes, we could do without the mosquitoes, but not really. They are summer, too!
I am not particularly good at maintaining consciousness of and gratitude for the simple gifts of life, taking for granted as I often do the basic treasures – nature’s overall goodness to us (in spite of our abuse), our ability to think, to see, to hear, to speak, to move about, to lift and put down and bend. Recently, though, in visits to my brother following a bad fall and to some of my sister Grey Nuns in the nursing home, I received that divine nudge which I often need – the one that reminds me how incredibly wonderful it is to be able to do what I can do and how important it is to acknowledge these graces.
“God’s ways are not our ways,” says one of my Sisters at the nursing home, quoting Isaiah the prophet with both her words and her faith. She talks to God about this with beautiful familiarity. Some of God’s ways are her ways, however. She wheels herself around the whole complex, reaching out to many women and men who count on her smile, her laughter, her good cheer. Gone, for her, is the pleasure of eating – nothing much tastes good. Gone, too, is her ability to hear most conversation. She endures the frustration of being unable to remember people’s names or, sometimes, what day it is and what activities are scheduled. But, she holds on to prayer, to looking after others, to reaching out in kindness to staff. How I hope and pray that these essentials will be there for me still when I begin to lose the gifts I now take for granted.
In the safe house for victims of human trafficking or commercial sex exploitation where I work, I have the privilege some days of seeing individuals come to a consciousness of the gifts still offered to them, even after many years of being used and abused and treated like dirt. Recently we were given the gift of a day at the beach. Everyone and everything there seemed to want somehow to make up for the horrors and sadness of our residents’ past. The ocean’s cool refreshing waves reached out in welcome, eliciting so much laughter and fun that it was as if I were witnessing the very face of God’s compassion. Moments like these are the kind that renew faith and hope and strengthen the capacity for love. I experience many tinier such moments, which I try to notice, believing, as I do, that a stance of humble gratitude in the good times enables me to be courageous and faithful in difficult, darker days. I believe, too, that such a stance opens me to the power of God so that I can be an instrument of healing for those who have been wounded by life.
The days will get shorter. We cannot hold onto the light; such is the season of earth’s turning. We can see hard times, loss, even tragedy; evil will sometimes appear to prevail. But, we can hold onto the faith expressed in this hymn, based on the Book of Lamentations, in the Old Testament, which I am adapting here: “Great is God’s faithfulness. Morning by morning, new mercies I see. Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest, sun, moon, and stars in their courses above join with all nature in manifold witness to God’s great faithfulness, mercy, and love”.
This article originally appeared in the Bucks County CourierTimes, From a Faith Perspective column, August 23, 2013. Reprinted with permission. From a Faith Perspective is written by people from a variety of faith backgrounds. Sr. Eileen White, GNSH is a frequent contributor from her perspective as a Roman Catholic Sister.