Thursday, March 31, 2011
Regular readers of this blog will know that I had a very special relationship with my Grandmother. I cherish the memories of our early mornings together in her kitchen, followed by the mile-or-so walk to daily mass and back home again.
I cherish the memories of our conversations, going to and from church or while I helped her cook in the kitchen, when she would tell me the "old, old stories of Jesus and His love."
Often, in my early morning meditation time, a memory of my Grandmother will come to me and hover over my heart, lingering there to stir a deep sense of gratitude for all she taught me and all the things I learned from her.
It was so this morning.
So, a few memories and stories and lessons learned.
My Grandmother was far from being financially successful, but her greatest riches were her beauty, her dignity and her wisdom.
I believe that when I see God I will find a beauty that surpasses my imagination - a beauty I only catch a glimpse of, from time to time, when the beauty of a sunset or sunrise takes my breath away. God is even more beautiful than that, I believe.
I imagine God as One who possesses the a countenance of dignity which our Baptismal vows call us to impart to "every human being".
I imagine that God's wisdom surpasses human knowledge - just as my Grandmother's wisdom, born of the experiences of joy and pain - often left me scratching my head in awe and wonder. And to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest".
My Grandmother was a swift to give you a hug for absolutely no reason as she was to show you the back of your hand if you misbehaved. She was even faster to forgive.
I have felt the sting of God's rebuke when my own blindness or stupidity, my stubbornness or willfulness, have led me to an act that caused myself or someone else harm.
More often, I have felt the warmth and comfort of God's embrace when I've been sad or desolate because of something I did - or something hurtful was done to me. I continue to be amazed by God's power to forgive, which inspires me to go and do likewise.
The unconditional love of God in God's gift of free will does not mean "free reign". There are consequences for our choices and actions. God loves us even when we fall short and miss the mark. God loves us even more when we seek forgiveness and forgives us even before we ask for or imagine God's forgiveness.
My Grandmother's laughter rippled through and shook her entire body - her eyes danced, her shoulders shook, her belly jiggled, her toes did a little tap, tap, tap on the floor.
I feel God's laughter in the wind that blows the trees, ruffles the flowers and stirs the tall blades of grass. I see God's laughter when the sun dances off the hard pavement, or the top of the water, or peeks through the wings of a bird in flight, blinding me with its sudden and unexpected joy and delight.
When my Grandmother tried to convince you of something, she would use every trick and ploy she knew to persuade your opinion. She never relented. Never stopped pursuing you.
God has relentlessly pursued me over these years of my life, presenting me with situations again and again and again, so that I might learn the lessons I need to know. God always, always calls me to my better self.
My Grandmother was always cooking something on the stove or baking something in the oven. One of my favorite images of my Grandmother is standing at the stove in her apron, stirring a pot here, tasting something in another pot there - and offering the end of a wooden spoon for you to taste - peeking into the oven to check on bread or cake or cookies.
God is constantly creating and recreating, continually revealing new delights about God's self or God's creation, beckoning us to come, taste and see the goodness of God.
There was no place you could hide from my Grandmother. She knew all of our hiding places - under the bed, behind the old, round washing machine near the sink, in the hall closet, out behind the woodshed in the yard, or under the thick trellis of the grape vineyard.
She used to say, "I have eyes in the back of my head." I believed her. Indeed, I remember, as a small child, watching her comb her long hair before braiding it and wondering how she kept the teeth of the comb or the bristles of the brush from hurting the eyes in the back of her head. I used to think she put the bun of the braid on the back of her head over her eyes to protect them.
Try as I might, I have never been able to hide from God. I have hidden behind excuses, behind my fear or anger, behind my pride and indignation, behind my hurt or confusion. Still, God calls to me. Sees me. Finds me.
I once asked my Grandmother about saints and how they were different from ghosts. One of the things I remember her saying is that babies, when they are in their mother's womb, can hear everything that is going on in the world. They just can't see through the thick layers of human skin and muscle, fluid and blood, so they don't know.
When newborn babies moved their mouths in their sleep, my Grandmother would say, "They are getting last minute instructions from the angels."
"We are in this world," she would say, "which is our womb. We can hear things and imagine, but we can not know until after we are 'birthed into death' and leave this womb to return to God in heaven."
I imagine Jesus, as Julian of Norwich said, as our Earthly Mother, in whom we are reborn and who will deliver us, at the end, to return to God, our Womb in Heaven.
My Grandmother's house was always open. She only locked the door at night, saying that a lock only kept 'an honest man honest'. You could make yourself comfortable anywhere in my Grandmother's house - even in her bedroom.
However, you could never EVER go into her purse. To this day, I never knew what she kept in there, save for what she would occasionally bring out, like her hand-laced handkerchief or her little tin container of snuff.
There are things about God I will never know, never understand, never be able to explore. There are things about God that are simply beyond my capacity to know or understand.
Yes, I know God through the stories of Jesus, but I also know God because of my Grandmother and her love of Jesus. In attempting to follow the teachings of Jesus, she revealed something of Him in her life, which was also a window into something about God.
I suppose this was her greatest gift to me - an awareness that, as a Christian, I am not only a representative of Jesus, but I also, by the witness of my life, reveal something of the image of God.
It is said that St. Francis taught his brothers, "Your life may be the only Gospel anyone ever gets to read." That's a profound truth for which I gain deeper appreciation every day.
I think St. Francis and my Grandmother shared an ancient truth from a lived wisdom.
There is also a story about the ancient Rabbis who taught that, before every human being go a hundred thousand angels, all crying out, "Behold! Make way! Make way for the image of God!"
Not because of anything I've read, or anything I've learned in school or at church, but because of my Grandmother, I believe this to be so.