July 2002What You gave me on that other day. St. John of the Cross (Spiritual Canticle 38 )

No Event Too Small

There are some happenings, sometimes even just one single event, which seem to summarize the whole of one's life and tell us who we are. Although I have never found the word in the dictionary, I know that some writers have coined the expression "fractal spirituality" to describe this. We are told that if one takes a photo, (for example a snapshot of a city's skyline,) and then subjects a very small section of the photo to a high power instrument, the whole photo can be seen in that one small segment of the big picture.

Upon first reflection, the events that could summarize our lives may seem to be quite insignificant. One has only to look back over the last two weeks and ask oneself, "In what way did this certain event reflect the whole of my life? Actually, one could reflect on the events of yesterday.

Recently, I received an email in which the sender referred to "staying at the table." The topic had to do with two different parties having two diverse views, together with very strong feelings, on a certain subject. Knowing the sender of the email well, it occurred to me that all of her life she herself has had the courage to "stay at the table" when times were quite difficult. I know of another person who frequently looks for a "transcendent third" in situations where there are two parties who are not in agreement. In these instances, both parties are asked to find a third approach that would be mutually acceptable. In a way, looking for a transcendent third, and arriving at a solution, characterizes this person's whole life.

Many years ago, now no longer common, Religious Sisters used to have the custom of prostrating before receiving the religious habit or taking vows. Recently, I had occasion to reflect on this ritual in my own life. Although I was only nineteen when doing this, in looking back, I realize that this one gesture has summarized my life. At that time, I could not possibly know what the rest of my life might bring. Still, I recall that there was a surge within my heart to lay down my whole life in self-gift.

During the ritual of prostrating, the choir and the congregation sang the Litany of the Saints, imploring heaven itself to be present at this sacred moment. Upon completion, with the group now standing, the presider reminded the candidates that what they were about to do was something very serious. If they still felt called to give their lives to God, they should take a step forward. Having a whole group take a step forward is quite moving. In a way, I now realize that this one small step may have been another event that would end up summarizing my life, the continuing call to take that one step forward.

Pema Chodron relates something that happened to her when she was about six years old. Feeling lonely and unloved, she tried to kick everything in sight. An old woman, who was sitting in the sun, said to her, "Little girl, don't you go letting life harden your heart."* If one surveys Pema's writings and contacts in the years that followed this event, one sees a gentle heart, a heart not appreciably affected by the difficult things of life.

In poetry, St. John of the Cross speaks of "that other day," in God's time, before we were born. On that day, God showed us what our life on earth would be like and the glory that would be ours at the end. But, with our birth, there is a forgetting of this. Could it be that these seemingly small events are somehow connected with that other day?

*Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You, (Boston and London: Shambhala, 2001)); p.3.

Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.
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