“Before the Gospel is a word, it is silence. It is the silence of…life. It is life with the sound turned off so that for a moment or two you can experience it not in terms of the words you make it bearable by but for the unutterable mystery that it is.”
“To be a witness does not consist in engaging propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
-Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard
We’re on family vacation this week which is always preceded by a blitzkrieg of packing. Halfway out the door, I realized I’d forgotten my charger so I ran back into our bedroom to grab it. The shades were drawn and the power chord was lying on the ground. I reached for it in the darkness and when I pulled it across the carpet the friction ignited a tiny spark. It was instantaneous though, and before I registered what it was the spark had disappeared and darkness resumed.
It seems to me, sometimes, that the pace of life is rapid and relentless. Science coins this the cycle of life; children’s songs sing about life as a circle. But, try as I might, I can’t see either of these. I see a straight-line path, and the further I get from the beginning the further away it seems. The road ahead isn’t turning or circling back around. But still I’m sprinting.
When I was a child, the notion of eternity scared me. I’d lay in bed at night and become paralyzed with fear at the prospect of time that never ceases. To this day, I cannot allow my mind to wander that direction. Some sort of deep and overwhelming panic takes hold of my heart; a suffocating anxiety builds up within me. On the occasion that my mind slips that direction, like hikers on a steep mountain trail, I cope by refusing to look down into the unknown, distracting myself with a notion that is more finite and manageable: a chocolate chip cookie, sports match or perhaps that novel I’ve been meaning to read. Anything temporary, anything fading, anything to which I can relate.
Perhaps the idea of eternity is startling because I cannot help but wonder what the point of it all really is. Sure, I can spurt off the Sunday-school answers, with felt-board words like “glory”, “plan”, “salvation” and “redemption”. But these seem to be as tangible to me as shooting stars on a rainy night. I know they exist, I know there’s something magnificent behind the cloudy words, but the night is overcast and the darkness overwhelming.
But then I think of two lovers beneath a gazebo, in a story I once read. Clouds break and the light of the moon sneaks through the branches and settles on her cheeks. And she looks up at him, and says what he’s thinking.
“Now, can’t you see?” she asks. “It’s like everything makes sense.”
For everything is connected; that is the core reality of my faith. It hinges on the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Eternity is the notion of never endingness and for the most part, this is something I cannot understand.
But now and again I see sparks of this all around me. Don’t we all? As the friction between metal and carpet electrocutes the air in a dark room, do not our lives and this world sometimes ignite a spark of light in the darkness of our own understanding?
I am sixteen, steering my Jeep out of the driveway for the first time. The air is hot and heavy but doesn’t weigh down my spirits; I passed my driver’s test that day. I turn onto the main road, push the accelerator down and feel the wind respond and sift as freedom through my hand while I hold it out the window. And I see sparks.
I am twenty, broken-hearted and alone walking along the train tracks out by my apartment. Suddenly the light of a locomotive shines upon the tracks, its approaching horn sounds up ahead. I look down at my feet, up at the train, then slowly step off the tracks before it flies by. As the train passes, I watch the spot where I’d just stood, where the wheel meets the rail. And I see sparks
I wake up in the early morning hour; dawn crawls through our bedroom window. I turn over in bed; her head is on the pillow, facing my way. As I look, her eyes drift open, as green and pure as shallow water at the edge of the lake. Then she smiles. And I see sparks.
The sparks of eternity surround us, if only we take a moment to notice them. And when we do, we find ourselves encompassed with the thought: I could be here forever.
For they consist of nothing unusual but something brilliant: a foundation of normalcy with a dash of wonder. We cannot control these sparks, like meteor showers in the nighttime. But we can look for them, even if it’s overcast, even if clouds shroud our view.
Because sometimes, for a moment, we can see them.
And: “can’t you see? It’s like everything makes sense.”
The other day, I thought I saw a spark.