It was an idyllic scene. It could have been an Impressionist’s painting of families vacationing at the beach: August sun, white sand, gentle surf of the Gulf, blue sky, fathers building sand castles with their daughters, mothers lathering their sons with lotion, people of all ages walking the beach. It was peaceful and serene. In the evening, grown-ups in beach chairs faced the west to watch the sun go down. When there are clouds, the sunset seems to span the Gulf of Mexico in a spectacular array of colors.
Looking at this scene, I realized that, even though I did not know the vacationers on the beach, I was connected with them. Each of us is a child of God, the Creator who had separated dry land from the waters, made the sun and the sky, and brought beauty to the formless wasteland. Our Father wanted us to enjoy his gift of the world and to live in harmony. “Let everything that has breath give praise to the Lord” (Psalm 150).
I was moved by the wonder. I thought of St. Francis of Assisi seeing each person as his sister or brother, praising God for Brother Sun and Sister Lark.
I remembered from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander the famous revelation of Thomas Merton at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville in 1958: “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
I know I was only seeing a snapshot that day. It was real, but not the whole picture. I was at the beach because my sister-in-law let me use her condo for a week. Others in our society are not that fortunate: seniors who can’t afford their bills, hungry children during the summer months without school lunches, workers who do not get a vacation, refugee families from Iraq or Syria living in stark poverty.
If from my spot in the shade I could see all the people there as my sisters and brothers, how would I see them when I left the beach? There I was relaxed with leisure time to pray, read, and think. Would I be patient with the driver who cut me off in traffic, the shopper at the supermarket who couldn’t find her credit card? Would I greet and express my gratitude to my sisters and brothers collecting the trash? They are all children of God.
As it reads in Psalm 8: “O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth!”
Dear Friar Jim: I was able to share your message about working in a retirement home and the comforting thought of God always being near us and our loved ones. Two friends had to place their mothers in hospice care. They do not live in the same town and cannot be with her 24/7. Hopefully this advice will comfort them, too. Pat
A: Dear Pat: Thanks. I know there are so many left alone in nursing homes with no one to visit them. It is consoling to know that God never leaves them. Friar Jim
Dear Friar Jim: Thank you for your reflection on the ways God communicates with us. I admit to sometimes having the feeling that God is “up there,” even though I know God is all around me. Your reference to a mother communicating her love to her child really hit the mark, as I could easily remember holding my daughter, feeling a tsunami of tenderness wash over me. Louise
A: Dear Louise: Thanks. It’s normal for us to think of God “up there,” so I imagine God is used to that. But there is no question that God is with each of us. I imagine that he is particularly close to the thousands of refugees risking their lives to find freedom, and all the children who live with hearts full of fear and terror. God is with them, too. Friar Jim