Tuesday, March 19, 2013

a crippled saint against the painted sky


It's not so much what's spoken as what's heard— and recognized, of course. The gift is listening and hearing what is only meant for you. 
And sometimes we proceed by prophecy, or not at all—even if only to know what destiny requires us to renounce. 
- Dana Gioia, The Prophecy

Providence, maybe, is God's surprises to us.

Divine Providence is one of those beautiful, eternal mysteries that rankle our minds. 
As we live in the bizarre yet awe-ful tension between our own agency and the overwhelming mastery of the Author of Creation, we struggle to comprehend that fascinating facet of the world. 
We wrestle to reconcile our own ability to choose with the omniscient all-seeing Lord of Creation.
We wonder how God can accept the gift of our actions if they are never surprises.

As I stood in St. Peter's square this past Wednesday, I was pondering the element of surprise.
I wasn't surprised that I was standing there in the middle of a sea of people, watching a trail of white smoke rise into the velvet, star-less night sky.
In fact, it all felt very expected, and very cozy, tutto apposto, as the Italians would say.
Meaning, everything is exactly in its right place.
Everything is right where it ought to be.

I had no doubt I was exactly where I was supposed to be--which was right there, in the middle of the arms of the Church.
It wasn't really a surprise.

I often find myself confusing gratitude with surprise. 
When you receive an unexpected gift, you are delighted beyond words, and your emotions, unanticipated and unexpected, swell up in one large paean of gratitude to your benefactor.
And we like our gifts given this way--it's fun to receive a Christmas gift in shiny paper, and put forth a thousand different guesses as to what it could be--it heightens the delight when the surprise is finally revealed.

When you receive an expected gift, the gratitude is a different, deeper hue.
When you find yourself, in one of those rare and beautiful instances, so perfectly in tune with the giver of the gift, that you anticipate precisely what the gift will be, your gratitude is tinged with a deeper shade of awe.
You don't have the fizzy foam of delighted surprise bubbling up inside of you.
You are left with a sort of deserted desolation of emotion, and lack the ability to feel anything.

As you find yourself living the moment you'd hope you'd find, all you can do is live in it.
You breathe in and out air you're sharing with hundreds of thousands of others.
You wait.
You listen.
You watch the seagulls hover above the chimney.
You sing along to words that have been the soundtrack of your life for a solid nine months.
Sometimes words become givens for us--they become that out of which we live the rest of our lives.

"Man, you wouldn't believe the most amazing things that can come from...
Some terrible nights"


And then, I was surprised. 
Ironically, I'd always thought that the line was "some terrible lies." Because, if you listen to the song 1.5 billion times (as I have), 1.5 billion out of 1.5 billion times it sounds like they are singing lies.
(This just drives home the lesson that my blessed mother and every director I've worked with ever told me: enunciate, enunciate, enunciate.)

But then I thought of all the terrible nights full of tears, full of anger, full of fear, or frustration, or being cold, or just alone.
And I thought that maybe that wasn't a bad line, anyway. Because night is always what happens before the sun rises.

And then there was white smoke.
And I wasn't surprised.
Just grateful.

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