I remember as a small boy helping my father to build a garage. I’m not sure I was much help as I mixed some cement in a saucer with a knife and poured it onto a concrete block. Dad would then lay the next block on my little pile of cement and I would use my knife to smooth the join.
I don’t remember too much about the building, but I will never forget the moment the Mormans came up the drive. They were better dressed than any Catholics I had ever met. They were more direct too. They asked if we had been saved. My father seemed to think we had been and chatted with them as he carried on with the building.
The Mormans got a bit frustrated. They didn’t seem to find it easy to talk with people who kept on building garages. They got a bit desperate for attention and told us that the world was going to end. The nuns had told me about this at school so I wasn’t too shocked. My father seemed to have heard this before too. It probably got mentioned at St Bede’s once or twice.
But Dad went on to react further. put down his trowel, stood up and wiped his hands. The Mormans looked pleased. They had his attention. My father looked uncertain and asked the visitors: “well, is there any point in me finishing this garage?”.
Sadly the Mormans had been trained only to give answers to questions that were in their handbook. They had not been programmed to talk about garages. Such complex implications of theological certainties were beyond them and they walked their new Hallensteins suits back out the gate. Every time I think of the end of the world, or the end of a human life I remember my dad and those Mormans.
The security of health, relationship and employment we live in is really very unstable. Yet these changing realities of life are the place where we must live in every moment. These sometimes gentle, sometimes traumatic realities, serve to keep us awake to God breaking into our lives anew in every moment. Jesus said to his disciples: “there will be signs…”
Over the past week our country has been shaken awake by the trauma and the tragedy of the mine explosion at Pike River. At a time like this the citizens of our country become a family. We share the enormous pain and grief of the closest family and friends of the miners and contractors.
We have been shaken out of a complacency that convinces us that we are in control, and can design our own destiny. In the event of such a wake-up call we feel a profound helplessness. We turn to prayer.
If we look to our prayer to provide answers we will often be disappointed. Prayer is not about getting answers to our own limited questions. Instead, in our prayer we find a home with God where (in the midst of our trauma and loss), we find a sense of peace and perspective.
In these moments of prayer we realise that God has come to us anew in the midst of our grief.
I’d like to meet those Mormans again. I think we could have a great conversation about the ways in which God enters our communal and personal human reality. They may have added a chapter on garage-builders to their handbook by now.
These difficult days reminds us that the signs God uses to wake us up are usually not what we expect. The signs are rarely of our choosing.
The circumstances that we have to live in at any moment, whether they be attractive or painful, are simply the circumstances of my life in this moment. The circumstances themselves are little more than the environment of my life today. Before I finish reading this reflection things may have changed by a phone call or a memory. But for this moment, this is where I live.
Two thousand years ago a young woman was visited by an angel. Mary’s presence of mind and heart and her response to this moment meant that nothing was the same again for the world. Three years later Jesus noticed Judas leave the table early… At this moment Jesus had many valid options before him. He could have gone out with Judas and in a brief conversation changed Judas’ plan. He could have run away. Instead he chose to place his total trust in his Father. The one who had argued with Pharisees, turned over tables in the temple and raised the dead to life, now simply relaxed into total dependence on God. The person of faith is sensitive to these hourly advents. The person of faith sees every moment as an “advent”, an opportunity for intimacy with our all-powerful and all-loving God.
The events of each hour are above all else a reminder to “wake up” and to be aware. God is coming anew into my life in the midst of whatever circumstances I have been dealt at this moment.