A hollywood clip of where this next post happened:
At the edge of Eastern Point in Gloucester, MA there is a lighthouse that guides the fishing boats back into the harbor. It was once in the movie The Perfect Storm. From the edge of that lighthouse there is a breakwater made of massive slabs of cubed grey granite that extends a hundred yards or more out into the middle of the mouth of the bay. In the evening, if you walk carefully out to the edge of the breakwater, you can see the sun setting over the faint skyline of Boston in the distance. There you can smell the salt air invading your nostrils, and watch as the gulls dart through the sky in the interplay between the gold, scarlet, and orange of the sunset and the deep blue of the North Atlantic. If you turn back towards the light house you might see the gentle sweep of the light over the water as the sun sinks further beyond the horizon, and in that moment the world can almost seem to have been completely transformed as everything stills and all that remains is the sound of the gulls and the water below colliding with the granite.
|The lighthouse, taken from the breakwater.|
(During the Summer)
It was there that I stopped running from God and wrestling with God just long enough to actually start following God. It was a January afternoon, and snow had just fallen freshly on the ground all around leaving everything coated in a white that was in that moment still unspoiled except for my footprints. I was on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a thirty-day retreat that all Jesuits make twice in our lives, and as a novice I was trying to get a hold of the fact that God loved me, and to learn to trust in that. There, in a moment of frustration, I decided to run out to the end of the breakwater. “This afternoon walk will be about exercise,” I thought, and so I made the stupid choice to run. The rocks of the breakwater were slippery with the snow, and the ocean that constantly churned around them had left some ice underneath the coat of snow on the top. The wind was whipping frantically and almost immediately I had to stop running. Slowly, however, I was bound and determined to make it to the end of the breakwater anyway.
As the sun set over the horizon I could barely see the faint outline of Boston in the distance. Sitting there as the edge of this breakwater felt like sitting at the edge of the world. It was bitterly cold, and the wind stung every last bit of exposed skin. There on the edge of the world, I started to laugh. I laughed at the fact that I had tried to run on ice covered in snow. I laughed at the fact that I was sitting on the edge of this breakwater with the temperature in the 20’s. I laughed at myself. I drew the hood of my winter coat down tighter to my face, and there huddled against the cold. I laughed, and said aloud to the God who was still trying to communicate to me through the beauty of everything around me, even if I wouldn’t listen to the still small voice within, “Well you’ve picked a real bright one in me Lord!”
No matter how blessed our lives have been, and perhaps sometimes precisely because our lives have been blessed, it can be hard to really have a grasp on not only that God could love us as much as God does, but also how it is that we, with all of our faults, should be loved. As the retreat progressed I found myself becoming clearer on God calling me to this life, and I also found myself, like St. Peter, saying, “Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man.” In fact, I still find myself saying that sometimes.
A Jesuit friend of mine once described a similar conversation that he had with God in prayer where he said to the Lord; “Well Lord, you know who you chose.” Usually those of us called to this life, when we realize just who calls us, and the immensity of love with which he calls us, feel completely unequal to the task. We know that we are sinners, and we know that we are loved, but to get to the place where one can bring those two things together, where we can say “I am a sinner loved by God,” that is not always easy. This of course, doesn’t just apply to those of us called to ministry, but to anyone who follows Christ.
The truth is that it is right to say that none of us are worthy of the love and blessings in our lives, or the people in our lives, or our vocations, or the beauty we’ve seen, the love we’ve shared, the celebrations we’ve been blessed with. The truth is also that God doesn’t really care much about worthy. My need to run out to the edge of that breakwater was about doing something dramatic, doing something to feel worthy of the beauty of the moment into which I was entering. I couldn’t, and God didn’t care. The truth that I have come to find is that in the end is that when you can come to see all of it as gift, even just living everyday in whatever life God has called you to, even when you know there are a thousand reasons why it shouldn’t be the case, you come to understand the truth and the depth of God’s love. Once you get there you know that all that you can be led to is love in return.
|Sunset over Gloucester Bay.|
Sometimes in our lives, when we are at the edges of our own breakwaters, fighting furiously to prove something that we can’t, that somehow we’re worthy of all of the good we’ve been given, all that we can do is listen along with St. Peter. Sometimes all the can do is put ourselves in the place of one who told Jesus to go away because of his sinfulness and listen to the words of Jesus. Sometimes out on the edge of the breakwater, all that we can do is listen to hear “Follow me.”