Sunday, January 7, 2018

And yet you are

"You didn't have to be this good to us," prayed Nicholas Ayo, CSC once, while looking at a tree. His words have become a favorite prayer of mine, repeated often.

It pounded through my head as I ran up the steps—there are so many steps—leading up to the Church of the Visitation. Google Maps and my own optimism have led me to dramatically under-estimate the amount of time it will take me to reach this lovely little Crusader Church on the outskirts of Jerusalem, so I am woefully late-to-mass, a habit which is true-to-form, but one I'd like to break. It's 3:15pm, and the sun is hitting the hill country of Judea, gilding the trees with golden hour light. I run past the streams of pilgrims descending from the church, and am greeted by the lovely pavement, with colored stones that spell "MAGNIFICAT."

I run through the courtyard, through another set of stairs, winding through a lovely garden, into the upper church. I hear the seminarians singing mass before I see them. I have arrived post-homily, but just in time. I slip into a pew next to my friend Sam. We grin, as I imagine Mary and Elizabeth must have, too, upon their meeting. I wonder if Mary ran, breathless, the last final yards to Elizabeth. Maybe she did, but maybe she didn't, as a newly expectant mother, overly solicitous for the health of fragile new life inside her.

Two days before, I met Sam at the Jaffa Gate leading into the Old City in a terrible rainstorm, fresh off the Mediterranean that battered Jerusalem. The wind whistled through buildings with an eerie melody, rattled windows, and battered at shutters. It was as though the wind which whips through the Judean desert had escaped and let loose into the city. Rain fell nearly horizontal, soaking my pants before I'd even gotten to my bus stop. They were the first casualty, followed by the umbrella, which was ripped inside out by a giant gust, moments before the bus arrived to rescue me.

Sam, however, was not interested in seeking shelter from the rain at once, but suggested we explore the Old City in search of a gift for a friend. I tried prevent the horror that filled my heart from showing on my face, but I feel I was not successful. As we set off down King David Street, the rain subsided, which again, caused my heart to say: You didn't have to be this good to us.

The storm picked up steam again as we approached Tantur, and as we alighted from the bus, we entered a torrential downpour. We ran up the winding driveway, laughing. Then warmed ourselves in front of Tantur's precious space heaters, which are few and far between.

As I sat in the Bethlehem room with Sam later, sipping tea and eating the juicy, sweet dates which I can never get enough of, the sheer contingent unnecessary dispensability of the moment hit me. I would never have asked for this specific vision, but of course it is everything I wish for in life: sitting with a true friend of the heart in a place I love dearly eating simple, beautiful food. To find my general vision incarnated in such an exquisite, particular moment is enchanting, en-rapturing. Augustine says: "How could any description to justice to all these blessings? Think of the abundant supply of food everywhere to satisfy our hunger, the variety of flavors to suit our pampered taste, lavishly distributed by the riches of nature, not produced by the skill and labour of cooks! Think, too, of all the resources for the preservation of health, or for its restoration, the welcome alternation of day and night, the soothing coolness of the breeze." (City of God, XXII, 24)
It's the details that break your heart with their gratuitousness. How great thou truly art, oh God, to think of the precise and glorious relief of a slight breeze, which simply never would have occurred to me. The intricacies of creation witness to the superabundant love of a God who slumbers not, but who has fashioned for us the comfort of a full night's sleep.

You didn't have to be this good to us, I pray, basking the blessed warmth of the Tantur space heater, admiring the snaps of lightning cracking through the shuttering trees outside the window, and yet each day, sweet God, you are.

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