We continue in these new, strange, evolving days, and every morning in the friars’ chapel, we three friars pray the liturgy of the hours, the ancient prayer of the church, a combination of psalms, readings and prayers, and every morning one of us voices the prayer “for the parish, for us all.” Just a few words, spoken, followed by a silence, and just those words express something of our hope for these times we are in. I look out the window of my office at a parking lot with a few cars in it, and with a lot of green pollen coating everything, and imagine once again a live and active church once these days give way. We continue to pray.
Last week I was away in Atlanta, at a retreat center called Ignatius House, on a silent retreat from Sunday evening until Friday noon. During that time my phone was off, and so I had no emails, texts, phone calls, or any news. Each day at 9:15am I met with a spiritual director. He assigned me scripture passages to reflect on during the day. Since I had been reading a very good book on St. Paul (Paul: A Biography by N.T. Wright – superb!), he had me reflect on Paul’s road to Damascus experience, found in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 9. This also had to do with transition; it was a transitional moment in the life of St. Paul, and of course we friars have also been addressing transition.
I opened my bible and read that section of Acts 9. I did not read it quickly; I read it slowly, letting the words speak to me. In the story, Paul (at that time still known as Saul), is on the way to Damascus to persecute anyone who is part of “the Way” which is what the early Christians were known by. On his own “way” Paul finds himself struck down, knocked flat, as a “light from heaven shone around him.” It’s a moment for Paul, an in-between moment that will forever define him going forward.
Paul, knocked flat, disoriented, blinded, then speaks the words “Who are you, Lord?” It’s a question that opens something. It’s a question that seeks to know who the Other is, a question that seeks an opening to some kind of relationship, even as it admits a kind of unknowing, “Who are you, Lord?” Paul is powerless, on the ground, cannot see. He hears the voice of Jesus speaking to him, telling him to return to the city, and saying “you will be told what to do.” Paul is no longer an agent of his own agenda and must become, in a way, one who receives grace and insight from the risen Lord. His own plans are over. Something new is happening in his life.
“Who are you, Lord” became for me, on my retreat, a way to pray. They are four words that ask for a revelation of who and how God is working in my life right now. They are words that imply a depth relationship, an ongoing way of coming to know the presence of God in my life not as static, but as continuously revealing and coming to know, within the particular circumstances of my, and our, lives.
We are all in strange and new and unsettling times. We have, in some ways, been knocked flat on the ground, like Paul. We are left disoriented and uncertain about a way forward, like Paul. Amid disorientation and uncertainty, the Word is with us, in ways that continuously invite us to deeper relationship, “who are you, Lord?” We can pray, slowly, with words from scripture, opening a way for the Word of Life to speak to us in uncertain times. May the Lord give you peace!
Fr. Steve Patti OFM,