Spirituality of the Readings
I sit on a screened-in porch, on retreat in Wisconsin. Tonight, old earth is receiving abundant rain.
I listen to the delicious drenching sounds of this enormous rain, splattering, slapping the ground.
Is it friend or foe? For sure this storm would overcome me if I were silly enough to walk around in its violence. It is restrained mainly by the need to get its water just as fast as possible out of the skies and into the earth.
It has no intention of harming anything. But I remember the many floods I have known and feel a twinge of fright. Well, the rain just ignores me. In fact it redoubles its efforts. Its huge sound gets huger, like a swell of applause.
Rain like this carries goodness for the tough, tender earth. I know this. Comfort sighs deep within the storm’s rough pounding, and the big tree branches bow their heads to receive cleansing and nourishment.
But why so furious a love, one that is so sweetly intended but so able to hurt? I do not have an answer. Maybe it is a “tough love,” one which uses its fury to keep our planet in bloom.
Hopkins once addressed God as
father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung: Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.*
Well, Jesus is headed into such a darkness this Sunday. He is on his way to Jerusalem.
He loves her and her people and he wants to shower abundance upon them. But he knows with increasing certainly that they will put him, not merely down a cistern, and not just outside Jerusalem’s gates and walls, but right straight into the jaws of death. “It is a baptism,” he says, and he wants it. He shouts to his disciples that he has come to set the earth on fire—just like the blazing lightning tonight. “How great is my anguish until it is accomplished,” he says in the Gospel.
Is Jesus the storm or is he the stormed upon?
Both. He is filled with the Spirit of God and says he cannot wait to let it flow. But he must let it flow upon him as a pounding downpour! He will not run away. Sunday he will proceed into a continuous storm that has by no means reached its apex. No wonder he is distraught.
Because, you see, love is not just sweetness and light. It is the dark and pounding rain as well.
I call to mind the First Reading. There Jeremiah is literally “stuck in the mud.” He had prophesied too truly and too many times. They threw him into an empty cistern with just enough mud for him to sink into. How could he prophesy from the midst of mud?
And how could Jesus speak God’s Word from a criminal’s cross?
Yet each one does.
So, tonight, the rain keeps pouring. As I sit I see a single lamp across the lake showing through it all. Is this a porch-light of welcome? Maybe!
As I look, it surrenders itself as just an old, white piece of leaf that has caught on my screen. It reflects light from my lamp inside. I play a game. I shift my eyes up and it is a lantern. I look down and it is a remainder of leaf-life. Back, forth. Which is it really?
It is both.
There is comfort in both, if I will let go of fear and let in God’s plan.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University