Friday, August 22, 2014

Bless You - It's Not Just for Sneezes

Dear Theophilus,

I’ve been getting a few strange looks lately. This is nothing new, really, I think the world has always seen me as a little off-kilter (when I came home from living in Belgium, I was in the habit of kissing male friends on the cheek instead of shaking their hand).

Lately, though, I think I’ve been making the people I meet in my daily travels a little uncomfortable. Although I’ve always tried to see the image of God in everyone that I meet (see my previous blog post on Greeting the Image of God in One Another), I find that sometimes I need to pinch myself as a reminder that God has a plan for each and every one of us in His Creation. So lately, when parting ways with someone, I try to say “God bless,” instead of “Goodbye,” or “See you later.”

Family, friends and colleagues have hardly batted an eye at this new expression that I’ve added to my vocabulary. Some of them are probably surprised that I didn’t start saying “God bless” sooner. They know me, and they know that I’m on a never ending quest to not only make God the centre of my life, but the centre of everybody else’s life as well (or at least plant the seed of Christ in their hearts). When parting ways with family and friends with a “God bless”, I am increasingly being met with a “God bless you too.”

It’s the strangers in my world that seem to be a bit taken aback by the words “God bless.” Whether it’s at the check-out counter at the grocery, hardware or convenience store (or bus, or restaurant, or wherever else I happen to have a short conversation with someone); once I receive my change and we are parting ways, I’ll say, “God bless.” These two little words and a brief moment of eye contact are usually followed by a blank stare and an awkward silence. After this momentary hiccup, some will smile back, while others will simply turn away to the next person in line.

In many ways, I understand this discomfort when confronted with the words God bless. Western society has trained us not to talk about God. Since everything in the world today has become relative, it comes as no surprise that God has become relative too, and He is something (not even someone) reserved for our private lives, not to be mentioned in public. Yet, there seems to be a strange comfort that comes across the faces of the people I meet when His name is spoken; like we’ve shared a great secret that shouldn’t be talked about in the open, but we wish we could. With the others, those who look confused, scared or indifferent; at least I know I have planted a seed with them, and with time and proper nurturing, hopefully this seed will grow into something great.

The other little expression that I have that raises eyebrows until people get used to it is “God willing.” As I leave school at the end of the day, invariably someone will say, “See you tomorrow,” to which I always answer, “God willing.” I think it’s a bit of a culture shock for most to openly admit that, like everything else, our comings and goings are dependent upon God, even the more devout Catholic teachers that I work with found this troubling at first. Especially when we are younger (which seems to be 80 and under these days), we all assume that we will be back at work tomorrow, that we hold our destinies in our own hands, and that it’s the decisions we make that bring us back. Truly, however, God has a plan for us, and if that plan does not involve work tomorrow, then we will not be there. One of the best laughs I’ve ever had at school was upon arriving one morning and a colleague looked me straight in the eye and said, “I guess God wanted you back here today too.”

A final thought on the words we use when we take leave of one another; my Portuguese father-in-law refuses to say “Adeus” (Adieu or Adios) when saying goodbye, he would much rather say, “See you later.” For my father-in-law, saying Adeus means that the next time we’re together, it will be in the presence of God and not on this earth; something he’s not ready for yet.

I do fervently hope, though, to one day be in the presence of God with my father-in-law, my wife, son, the rest of my family and all those who are created in His image.

God willing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Sabbath Made for Us

Dear Theophilus,

I have always dreamt of taking a sabbatical. Of the places I would go, the books I would read, all of the writing I could do… Unfortunately, silly things such as the mortgage, car payments, and groceries always seem to get in the way. But all of these responsibilities have not gotten in the way of my family taking mini-sabbaticals in the form of a yearly holiday, and even weekly when we celebrate the Sabbath.

I find it funny how the world rejoices in taking time off for a sabbatical, yet rarely takes time off to rejoice in the Sabbath (the very root of sabbatical).

Sometimes I think we forget that God created the Sabbath for humanity, so that we could take a break and revel in all that He had created. In fact, the Sabbath was the very first full day that humanity enjoyed in all Creation – God created humanity at the end of the 6th day (and saw that it was very good (cf. Gen 1:27-31) before …

And on the seventh day God finished the work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all the work He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that He had done in Creation. (Gen. 2:2-3)

I know Genesis states that God rested, not humanity, but remember that Christ calls us to be just like the Father: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:48) And since God rested on the Sabbath, then we too should rest on the Sabbath – but how often does that happen in our digitally connected world?

There are times when we are forced to take a break from it all. It could be that our bodies begin to shut down through illness. There are times when we simply can’t keep our eyes open because we’re exhausted. Sometimes we just find ourselves somewhere where we can’t stay connected and the world has to wait until we return (although, to our humbling, it seldom does).

This was the case my family found itself in when we spent a week at a cottage at the beginning of August. My wife and I are blessed in that we are both teachers and enjoy an abundance of down time through the summer (there are moments between September and June when we don’t see this as much of a blessing, but we knew that before we even started our careers), but even with all that down time, we find we are increasingly busy through the summer months catching up on everything we put off during the school year, along with new jobs that always seem to come along. We find that we’re just as attached to the internet (via computer, phone and tablet) through the summer as we are during the school year, and now that our son has hit his pre-teen years, he seems to be as connected, if not more, than we are.

So a week at the cottage with no WiFi was a blessing of a forced sabbatical.

We still had our phones to keep in touch with family, but not being able to check e-mail, Facebook and Twitter took a few days to get used to. Being able to see the number of interactions without being able to follow-up on them had me twitching the first day or two, but then I learned to ignore them and revel more in the beauty of God’s Creation spread out before me.

Instead of staring blankly into my phone’s tiny screen, here are a few of the things during that week that was set apart (made holy):

·         Read Scripture and sip coffee beside a lake so calm it was mirror-like;

·         Pray and meditate deeply on the Rosary with my son;

·         Have Wildlife-Wednesday where I came to within 10 feet of loons, turtles, a crane, snakes, frogs, chipmunks, squirrels, geese, fish, and a lake otter;

·         Canoe and chat with my son for over an hour each day;

·         Paddle-boat with my wife;

·         Have water-noodle fights with my son;

·         Fish off the end of the dock;

·         Read in a mission church the size of my classroom.

By no means is this list definitive, it’s just the tip of the iceberg, but I found as the week went on that my pulse slowed, my shoulders relaxed and I enjoyed the leisurely pace of our mini-sabbatical. Gone were the worries of meeting deadlines, getting to appointments and the frustration of once again being invited to play an internet game.

This mini-sabbatical gave me a deeper appreciation of what the Sabbath really is: holy time, hallowed time, time set a part to truly appreciate what God has created and to thank Him for the countless blessings in my life.